What to Know About Commercial Vehicle Accidents

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There are more vehicles on America’s highways than ever before, and a large number of them are being used for commercial purposes. Thousands of commercial vehicles travel through urban and rural areas in and around Omaha each day on their way to deliver goods and passengers to their destinations.

What Constitutes a Commercial Vehicle?

A commercial vehicle is classified as any vehicle that is used to carry goods or fare-paying passengers. They can include semis and tractor trailers, delivery or box trucks, cargo and passenger vans, tour or school busses, taxi cabs, ride-share service vehicles, company cars, fleet vehicles, or any other vehicle being used for commercial gain.

Vehicles that are registered or titled to a company or corporation automatically receive the commercial designation. A vehicle may also be recognized as a commercial vehicle if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • It’s used for business purposes.
  • It’s being leased and is in the name of the financial institution that owns it.
  • It’s designed to carry more than 15 passengers.
  • It exceeds a certain weight limit or class and is classified as a commercial vehicle, even if it’s not used for commercial purposes or commercially owned.
  • It’s used to haul hazardous materials.

If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, you may be entitled to damages caused by a commercial driver’s negligence or by the negligence of the fleet vehicle company that owns it. Compensation can cover lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other costs related to your accident.

Why are Commercial Vehicles at Risk for Accidents?

Commercial vehicles may be more susceptible to accidents involving a driver who is distracted because commercial drivers spend a large amount of their lives on the road. Boredom, loneliness and fatigue are common occupational hazards as they work long hours to deliver their loads. Distracted driving is the second leading cause of tractor trailer rollover accidents in the United States.

Sleep deprivation can lead to fatigued or drowsy driving, which accounts for a third of all commercial truck accidents. Other behaviors, like eating, drinking, smoking, talking to another passenger, or using a handheld electronic device such as GPS or a cell phone also serve as distractions for commercial drivers.

A study by the University of Utah found that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Talking, texting or browsing the Internet takes a driver’s eyes from the road ahead of them. This limits his or her ability to recognize and process information in enough time to prevent the use of defensive maneuvers drivers are trained to execute. 

Truck drivers using handheld devices are six times more likely to be involved in a serious accident, with those who are actually texting while driving 23 percent more likely to be involved in a catastrophic or fatal collision. Nine percent of commercial drivers who are involved in an accident that resulted in a fatality were later found to have been using a cell phone at the time of the crash. 

As a result, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has banned all cell phone usage by commercial drivers while they are engaged in operating any commercial vehicle unless they make use of a completely hands-free device for phone calls.

In addition to distractions, large commercial vehicles like busses and tractor trailers are at risk for involvement in blind spot accidents due to their sheer weight and size. While anyone driving a commercial vehicle should be trained to be alert to the amount of traffic around them and proceed with caution before changing lanes, large vehicles have blind spots that make it difficult for drivers to see the traffic around them.

Blind spot accidents often result in sideswipe or rear end collisions, as well as rollover crashes. Drivers can run the risk of being run off of the road or into other vehicles when they don’t see traffic in their blind spots. In other cases, a large commercial vehicle has even run over smaller vehicles that were sitting in the vehicle’s blind spot.

The larger a vehicle is, the larger its blind spot is likely to be, and the greater potential it has for creating damage in the event of an accident. This is especially true when a large commercial vehicle collides with a much smaller car. Approximately 840,000 large commercial vehicle accidents each year involve a driver’s inability or failure to see a hazard in their blind spot. An estimated 300 of those will involve fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Even drivers of smaller commercial vehicles are at increased risk for accidents when employees on the clock feel the pressure to multitask or conduct business while on the road. A haste to meet looming deadlines or rack up fare money can cause accidents involving commercial vehicles.

Other common causes of commercial vehicle accidents include:

  • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Failing to properly adjust mirrors or use provided safety features
  • A failure to use a turn signal to signal intentions
  • Rarely, mechanical issues with the vehicle

Do Commercial Vehicle Accidents have More Serious Outcomes?

Large commercial vehicles like tractor trailers or busses are more vulnerable to driver error and require extra reaction time to come to a stop or avoid a collision. Accidents involving large commercial vehicles often result in severe injuries and sometimes death due to their size. 

Additionally, these trucks may be carrying unstable or hazardous loads like livestock or gasoline that can lead to graver outcomes in an accident. Lacerations, burns, fractures, damage to internal organs, traumatic brain injury and paralysis are common injuries resulting from these types of accidents.

Who Is Liable for Damages in a Commercial Vehicle Accident?

Even in situations where it seems clear that the driver of a commercial vehicle caused an accident, it can be difficult to determine who is legally liable for any injuries or damages that occurred. In accidents involving commercial vehicles, the issue of liability is complicated by the fact that commercial vehicles are not typically owned by the person driving them.

Instead, there is often a chain of responsibility that starts with the vehicle’s driver, the transportation company and the manufacturer or shipper of goods. A driver’s employer may be held liable for an accident if it occurred while the driver was on the clock. An employer can also be found responsible if the accident was caused by a driver who was not properly vetted before hiring. For example, negligent hiring practices could include failure to run necessary background checks or a failure to ensure a driver was properly licensed to drive a commercial vehicle.

Employer liability extends to accidents that are caused by drivers who were not properly trained or by equipment that wasn’t sufficiently maintained. Regardless of the size or type of vehicle involved, it’s the responsibility of the management of any motor vehicle fleet to ensure that drivers are trained well enough to avoid causing an accident and that their equipment is properly maintained.

In certain cases, the manufacturer or shipper could also be found liable for damages if they failed to warn the driver or transportation company of cargo that was highly flammable or otherwise combustible. This is especially true if the cargo worsened the outcome of the collision, as in the case of gasoline that ignites at an accident scene. A manufacturer has a duty to inform the driver or transportation company of any potential dangers of the materials being hauled.

What Is a Commercial Vehicle Accident Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Personal injury cases are built on the following premises:

  • Commercial drivers have a duty of care toward other drivers on the road.
  • A breach of care occurs when a driver is found negligent for the accident in some way.
  • When the negligence causes property damage or injuries to another driver, fault is established, and the driver or company of the commercial vehicle is found to be financially liable.
  • Illustrating the injuries and destruction of property caused by an accident shows that monetary damages occurred.

The aftermath of a commercial vehicle accident often involves costly medical bills and rehabilitation, missed days of work, lost wages, and a deduction of sick leave. While the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle may be covered by an auto policy, hidden expenses like renting a car may not.

In addition to physical pain, a victim of a truck accident may experience emotional anguish that impacts his or her day-to-day functioning and ability to earn a living. A personal injury lawsuit can’t restore your physical health or sense of security, but it can provide you and your family with the finances you need to help get you back on your feet.

These cases are often lengthy affairs and require an experienced personal injury attorney who will not seek a rushed settlement. Instead, your attorney will review police reports, accident reconstruction notes, and eyewitness accounts, which can uncover negligence and prove fault. Both are necessary for recovering damages.

Call the personal injury attorneys at Berry Law. Let their knowledgeable team review the facts, details, and evidence of your case to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.

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