Common Legal Questions: Semi Truck Accidents
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How Do I Find The Right Semi-Truck Accident Attorney?
Being involved in a semi-truck accident is one of the worst things that can occur on the road. Any accident is bad, but when a semi-truck is part of the collision, the result is often catastrophic.
After a semi-truck accident, not only are there usually mountains of medical bills, but victims often face a long road to recovery. Long-term medical treatment can be needed, including multiple surgeries and physical therapy. Once a victim has physically healed, there are oftentimes emotional scars that linger. Many people that experience a semi-truck accident have post-traumatic stress.
The fallout from a semi-truck accident makes recovering damages more important. The serious nature of these events requires a semi-truck accident lawyer with the experience, knowledge and confidence to combat the trucking company and its lawyers. Here are several tips for picking the right attorney for your semi-truck case.
1. Start looking ASAP: It’s a good idea to have any type of accident case started as soon as possible, but it’s especially important in semi-truck accident cases. Trucking companies and their lawyers are extremely aggressive in defending their drivers, sometimes going to the scene just hours after the accident and offering victims lowball settlements. The sooner you have someone on your side fighting for you, the better.
2. Look at the attorney’s experience: Negotiating with a trucking company and its lawyers requires a lot of experience. Knowing what evidence to collect and pitfalls to avoid is key for your attorney to win you the highest possible settlement. A lawyer that has gone up against trucking companies and isn’t afraid to go to trial is paramount.
3. Ask questions and do research: Hiring a semi-truck lawyer might be the biggest decision you ever make. Hiring a flashy lawyer that promises a certain settlement amount or tells you the case will be settled quickly isn’t the right person for you.
4. Make sure the attorney has resources: Not all attorneys are created equal. The right attorney that can win your semi-truck case should be in the financial position to hire the necessary experts, take depositions and invest properly in your case. These cases sometimes take years to settle, and some go to trial. Make sure your attorney has the resources to see your case through to the end.
Davis Law Group, P.S.
Over the past 20 years, Davis Law Group, P.S., has successfully helped countless victims of semi-truck crashes caused by negligent drivers. Attorney Chris Davis has the experience needed to go up against trucking companies and their aggressive lawyers, having won cases at trial and recovered millions of dollars in settlements for his clients.
Davis Law Group offers a free evaluation of your case and will never take a fee until you win your case. If you were injured or lost a loved one in a Washington State semi-truck accident, call (206) 727-4000, use the chat feature below or fill out the form on this page to get started.
How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Semi-Truck Accident Lawyer?
When you hire a lawyer after an accident involving a semi-truck or any commercial truck, you don’t pay any money up front. Your case evaluation is free, and your attorney will work on what is called a contingency fee.
A contingency fee means that your attorney and their legal staff is paid a certain percentage – typically one-third – of any damages you are awarded in the final settlement. If you don’t win any damages, you do not owe any attorney fees.
This gives your attorney a strong incentive to not only win your case, but get the highest settlement possible. In semi-truck accident cases, this can mean outwaiting the trucking company, a tactic attorney Chris Davis and the legal team at Davis Law Group, P.S., have plenty of experience with.
Advantages Of A Contingency Fee Agreement
Wondering how you’ll pull your life back together after a serious accident involving a semi-truck? Hiring an experienced trucking lawyer is a smart first step, and with a contingency fee agreement, there’s no stress for you worrying about how you’ll pay for your bills.
These accidents are serious. They often take years to settle and require hundreds of hours of work for your attorney and their legal staff. Having a contingency fee agreement eliminates the financial risk of an hourly rate, a situation in which you could lose your case and still owe thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
Can I Just Settle The Case Myself?
Yes, but you’d be leaving potentially millions of dollars on the table in the case of a serious accident. Trucking companies and their lawyers often offer victims quick settlements that briefly provide money and security for those affected. Unfortunately, what the trucking company offers you right after an accident is not enough to cover the full amount of your damages. If you take any money from a trucking company, you’ve likely forfeited your right to win additional compensation down the line.
Hiring the right semi-truck accident lawyer is proven to pay off in the long run. While your case may take longer to settle, an attorney that knows how to deal with trucking companies can get you on average 3.5 times more in settlement money than by handling a case on your own.
Hiring A Semi-Truck Accident Lawyer
Having someone on your side to fight for you after a semi-truck accident is key. Do your research and find an attorney that has your interests in mind and the skill to negotiate with trucking companies and their aggressive lawyers.
Attorney Chris Davis and Davis Law Group, P.S., have over 20 years of experience representing semi-truck accident victims in Washington State. Mr. Davis and his legal staff will inevestigate all angles of your case and form the appropriate legal strategy to get you the largest settlement possible. Call (206) 727-4000, use the chat feature below or fill out the form on this page for a free case evaluation.
How Do I Pay My Medical Bills After A Semi-Truck Accident?
Victims involved in semi-truck accidents have often suffered serious and life-changing injuries. The victim and their family is often wondering, “I wasn’t at fault in this crash, so who’s going to pay my medical bills?” The answer isn’t always simple.
If you’ve been involved in a semi-truck accident caused by the negligence or fault of another person, the most important thing you can do is get medical treatment immediately. One of the most common ways that insurance companies diminish the value of a claim is to use the injured person’s own medical records against them. Their logic: If you didn’t get treatment, the injury must not have been that severe.
The attorneys at Seattle-based Davis Law Group, P.S., have handled cases against trucking companies for over 20 years. In most cases, a personal injury claim can be filed against the trucking carrier (usually covered by their insurance company) to pay for your reasonable and necessary medical treatment.
Trucking companies and their insurance providers won’t pay your medical bills as they come due. Instead, the trucking company’s insurance will pay for your medical treatment in a settlement or trial verdict. Unfortunately, cases against trucking companies can sometimes take years to settle, leaving victims in a bind.
Will My Attorney Pay My Medical Bills?
Your attorney is not allowed to pay for your medical treatment. But your attorney can help establish medical liens or deferred payment for your healthcare providers. Ask your attorney about negotiating medical liens or deferred payment on your behalf.
Use Your Own Health Insurance To Pay Bills
Upon arrival at the hospital after a semi-truck crash, provide them with your medical card and have them bill your health insurance. Most health insurance plans are required to pay for your medical care regardless whether a crash was the cause of your injuries.
Your health insurance company will want to be reimbursed for what they paid from your settlement or jury verdict. This process is called subrogation. An experienced semi-truck attorney can take care of this.
What If I Have Insurance With PIP Coverage?
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance is automobile insurance coverage which will pay your medical bills, wage loss, or funeral expenses following a car accident. PIP coverage pays for expenses up the coverage amount regardless of fault. If you have an automobile insurance policy that includes PIP coverage, your insurance company should cover the medical bills you incur up to the limits outlined in your policy.
Contact An Attorney After A Semi-Truck Accident
If you don’t have health insurance, make sure that you get it. Most people don’t expect to need the financial protection, but are glad they had it when life happens.
If you are suddenly facing a mountain of medical bills after a serious semi-truck accident, contact Davis Law Group. Call (206) 727-4000 to schedule a free case evaluation.
How Do Attorneys Investigate Semi-Truck Accident Cases?
When Davis Law Group, P.S., is hired to represent the victim of a semi-truck accident, there are several things that may be done to investigate the cause of the collision and to make sure that important evidence is collected and/or preserved.
It is extremely important for reasons that have already been stated in this book that the investigation of a serious truck accident occur immediately or as soon as possible. The investigation must also be thorough. A timely and thorough investigation can substantially increase the odds of a successful outcome. It can also result in a much more valuable claim, literally increasing the value of a claim by tens of thousands of dollars, or in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There is no “standard” investigation because every case will be unique. However, we will investigate several areas connected with the claim that could prove impactful. These areas and specific tasks are detailed as follows:
1. Visit or Analyze the Collision Scene. It’s important to collect or preserve any evidence at the collision scene. Sometimes it may be prudent to visit the scene. Sometimes not. But here are certain things we may want to obtain, record, or preserve at the scene of a collision:
- Physical debris left at scene
- Photograph and/or videotape scene
- Skid or gouge marks on the roadway
- Lighting or visibility issues
- Traffic patterns
- Traffic control used at the scene
2. Contact Witnesses. People who may have seen what happened are always important. Sometimes it may be necessary to visit nearby businesses or homes to see if there were any people that may have seen something, but whose identity may not be known to police. We usually perform one or more of these tasks:
- Contact known witnesses
- Obtain recorded audio or video statements
- Contact nearby businesses or homes for unknown witnesses
- Obtain statements from the truck driver involved
- Obtain statements from other motorists at the scene
3. Request Law Enforcement Records. Almost always we will contact the various law enforcement agencies that were responsible for responding to the collision and performing investigation at the scene. We will usually will want to obtain one or more of the following:
- Probable causes statement from investigating officer or detective
- Complete investigative report
- Accident reconstruction analysis
- Scene photographs
- Computer Assisted Diagrams (CAD drawings)
- Witness statements
- 911 call recordings
- Traffic surveillance videos
- Motor carrier inspection reports
- Traffic citations
- Driver’s criminal history
- Driver’s accident history
- Drug and alcohol testing records
4. Send Out Preservation of Evidence Letters. One of the first things we will do is contact the defendant driver and the trucking company involved, as well as their insurers, to make sure that they preserve any evidence that may be relevant. The Department of Transportation mandates that certain evidence only be preserved for six months. So sending out notice that a longer preservation time is necessary can pay huge dividends in the case several months or even years later. These “preservation letters” will usually ask that the responsible parties and/or their attorneys and insurers take reasonable steps to preserve certain types of evidence, including:
- Driver logs
- Dispatch records and audio recordings
- Vehicle crash data
- On board computer data
- Cell or smart phone data
- Trucking company business records (e.g., inspection reports, bills of lading, etc.)
5. Investigate the Trucking Company and its Driver. We will also perform as much investigation as possible into the trucking company and the driver involved in the collision. Some of the information can be obtained pre-suit, but others usually must come after a lawsuit is filed because of the subpoena power that litigation provides. This information will include:
- DOT safety history
- Annual inspection reports
- Prior claims history
- Prior accident history
- Media reports
- Criminal history
- Prior lawsuit or litigation history
- State business records (annual reports, licensing, etc.)
- Safety policies
- Drug and alcohol testing policies
- Driver training and other employee records
6. Retain Experts. When we investigate trucking accidents, it is often critical that we contact and retain appropriate experts to help us with the case. Often there will be few qualified experts in a particular field so it will be important to contact or hire the expert first before the trucking company and its lawyers do. Having the best expert in a critical field that is relevant to the case can also substantially increase the chances of a much more favorable outcome in the case. Here are some of the types of experts that we may want to retain in a serious truck accident:
- Accident Reconstruction Expert
- Major Accident Reconstruction Expert
- Truck Driver Standard of Care
- Commercial Driver Standard of Care
- Commercial Vehicle or Truck Mechanic
- Transportation Investigator or Safety Expert
- Drug and Alcohol Recognition Expert
- Trucking Company Standard of Care (hiring, training, and supervising)
- Engineer (traffic engineer, mechanical engineer, etc.)
- Roadway Design Expert
- Physician (surgeon, neurologist, orthopedist, physiatrist, etc.)
- Vocational Rehabilitation Expert
As you can see, there is a lot to do when it comes to the investigation of a serious trucking accident. Usually, time is of the essence in these types of accidents because you are likely to encounter a very quick, responsive and aggressive investigation from the trucking company and its experts and lawyers. Sometimes, the success of a case may depend on the timeliness of the investigation. When months or years go by without the victim performing his or her own investigation, it can result in the loss or destruction of evidence and hence lower the chance of a positive outcome in the case.
Whenever the claim involves serious or life-changing injuries or death, that means the trucking company and its insurance company face the increased chance of having to pay out a much larger settlement or jury verdict. This means that when there is a potentially large damage claim at stake, the company and its insurer will usually mount a much more aggressive investigation to mitigate or lower its potential exposure of having to pay out a large sum of money to the victim or the victim’s surviving family members. In these types of cases, it is then even more important that the victim or surviving family members retain experienced counsel as soon as possible.
When does OSHA regulate trucking companies?
While the FMCSA and DOT are jointly responsible for regulating and governing the trucking industry on public roads and highways, another large portion of the trucking industry takes place solely on workplace property. This might include warehouses, air and sea ports, construction sites, and other workplaces that involve the delivery, loading, and unloading of cargo for business purposes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is tasked with overseeing and enforcing workplace safety and health legislation and regulations, oversees nearly all trucking-related activity that occurs on workplace property. Since this area of the trucking industry does not technically occur on public roads, it is not at all governed by the DOT or FMCSA.
Many of OSHA’s regulations can be and are preempted by other federal agencies, such as the DOT or FMCSA, even in cases where that agency’s rules and regulations are less strict than those of OSHA. Section 4(b)1 of the OSH Act prevents OSHA from enforcing its regulations if a specific working condition or related issue is regulated by another federal agency.
OSHA’s primary focus is preventing workplace injuries and illnesses among all workers, and it therefore sets many standards for trucking companies to follow in order to protect everyone while on the job. Some of these standards include walking surfaces, environmental safety and sanitation, toxic and hazardous materials and substances, protective safety equipment, first aid, handling and storage of all materials, and fire protection. OSHA also sets standards for “special” industries, such as logging and grain storage and handling facilities.
Collectively, the trucking companies, drivers, and anyone involved in the docking or receiving of whichever materials are being transported bear the burden of ensuring a safe and compliant environment for all workers involved in trucking-related activity.
For a real-life example, the DOT (and FMCSA) would maintain jurisdiction over all trucking-related activity and working conditions while a semi-truck is driving on public roads (interstates, highways, etc.) en route to a delivery. Once the semi-truck arrives at its destination and the truck driver begins loading or unloading cargo, OSHA’s rules and regulations come into play. OSHA’s regulations apply most often to the loading and unloading of cargo shipments. However, a hazardous materials spill or similar type of accident would be an example of a scenario that would be subject to OSHA’s governance.
Do Trucking Companies Do Background Checks?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires trucking companies to complete background investigations into each and every single driver that they plan to hire.
First, trucking companies are required to request three years worth of driving records from each state in which the driver held a valid motor vehicle operator’s license. Next, companies are required to investigate the driver’s safety performance history. And finally, trucking companies are required to obtain the ten-year employment history for every driver.
All of these records are required to be included in the driver’s “driver history investigation file” within the 30-day period after the driver is hired.
In the event of an accident for which a carrier may be held liable, trucking companies may claim that they were unable to locate all of the driver’s historical records. That excuse on its own standing is not enough to absolve the carrier of that responsibility. The carrier is required to document the extent of its “good faith effort” in obtaining the information and certifying that the driver did not have any potential red flags on his or her driving record.
If the driver simply had no employment history to speak of, then that information must be documented in the employee’s file as well. The federal regulations permit the carrier to conduct this investigation via phone, mailed correspondence, or in person.
The FMCSA also regulates the collaboration between carriers for the purpose of making the background check process as transparent and efficient as possible. If a carrier attempts to contact another carrier for the sake of obtaining driver’s history records and that carrier fails to cooperate, the prospective carrier is encouraged to report those actions to the FMCSA.
Federal regulations require previous carriers to respond to prospective carriers’ investigations into potential new hires within 30 days of the request, either by providing the necessary information or confirming that it does not exist. Previous carriers are also required to take all necessary reasonable precautions to ensure the accuracy of the information, as well as provide their contact information so that a driver may get in touch with the company to amend or dispute the information. Previous carriers are also required to keep records of all requests for information on former drivers for at least one full year.
The 'Driver History Investigation File'
A summarized list of the information required to be collected during the prospective carrier’s investigation is included below:
- General driver identification information, such as license numbers and personal information;
- Employment verification;
- Data and information regarding any accidents that involved the prospective driver;
- Records concerning the driver’s violations of the alcohol or controlled substance prohibitions;
- Failure to undertake or complete rehabilitation program(s) prescribed by substance abuse professionals;
- If a driver has successfully completed a rehabilitation program(s), any information on whether the driver failed an alcohol or drug test, or refused to be tested.
The FMCSA also actively manages the Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP), which serves as an online database designed to make trucking companies’ hiring processes more effective and efficient. While it is not explicitly required that carriers use PSP during their hiring process, they could be potentially found negligent if an accident occurs and it is determined that using PSP could have helped prevent the accident from occurring. The FMCSA stores and maintains all of this information in a large online database of driver profiles and updates it on a monthly basis.
Standard operating procedures in the trucking industry – though not federally regulated by the FMCSA or DOT – set the precedent that trucking companies use extreme care and caution while engaging in the hiring process. Some of the more common red flags for the employment screening process that have become more prevalent in the trucking industry include, but are not limited to:
- Substantial gaps in employment history;
- Disciplinary history for traffic citations, accidents, and safety violations;
- Experience with specific types of vehicles and cargo;
- Total years of driving experience.
It is also standard for trucking company hiring managers to ask more intensive “probing” questions during the interview process, as well as implement thorough skills and knowledge examinations. Carriers must also document applicants’ medical history and physical qualifications in order to ensure that the driver is mentally and physically fit for duty.
While drivers certainly can be held individually responsible for causing a commercial vehicle accident, the bottom line is that federal regulations place much of the responsibility – and therefore, legal liability – on the carrier. Ultimately, trucking companies are responsible for their drivers’ actions, and should take the necessary steps to ensure that they are hiring competent drivers who truly value safety and compliance with federal regulations. As we have seen over the years, failure to do this can cost innocent people their lives and have other profound consequences, financial and otherwise.
The FMCSA states, “…while a trucking company clearly has a duty to investigate the driving experience and qualifications of a driver, most jurisdictions have held that the company does not have a duty to investigate the driver’s non-vehicular criminal background. Accordingly, a trucking company cannot usually be held responsible under a negligent hiring or retention theory for an intentional assault inflicted by a driver.”
In Washington State an employer can be held responsible for the intentional criminal acts committed by an employee if it is conducted in furtherance of the employer’s business. This can occur if the employer authorizes or ratifies the criminal conduct during the course of the employee’s employment. The employer can also be held liable if it is aware of facts that would put it on notice that it was foreseeable that the employee would commit intentional criminal acts while on the job. This prior notice may take the form of prior complaints, or similar prior intentional conduct by the employee that gave rise to the foreseeability of another similar act occurring in the future.
Why Are So Many Truckers Falling Asleep At The Wheel?
Trucking companies have a duty to implement and maintain a procedural system that allows the company to accurately verify drivers’ logs and ensure that they are complying with the "Hours of Service" regulations. Trucking companies are also well aware of the risks of driver fatigue, and are explicitly prohibited from allowing their own drivers to continue working if they are fatigued or otherwise unsafe.
If trucking companies do not provide drivers with a traveling companion to monitor the driver’s activity and warn them of potential fatigue, they must employ other methods to ensure that their employees are not driving while fatigued.
A significant problem with the trucking industry is that companies’ safety and compliance departments are often only focused on maintaining compliance with federal regulations, rather than actively focusing on preventing accidents that result in injuries and fatalities. Simply complying with federal regulations only helps the trucking company avoid fines and penalties from the federal government, and does not automatically result in a safer and less dangerous environment.
Sleeping disorders and other cognitive problems in drivers are also common factors in trucking accident cases, with the main issue being that trucking companies often fail to adequately screen new hires for these issues or train drivers about the dangers of fatigue or how to recognize it.
This leads to trucking companies sending drivers out on cross-country trips without knowing whether their drivers are at risk of falling asleep unexpectedly or becoming impaired by fatigue due to some sort of underlying medical condition.
Safety Issues Associated With Fatigue
Sleeping disorders and other medical issues that lead to driver fatigue can result in the following safety issues:
- Slower reaction time;
- Reduced ability to process information quickly;
- Decreased ability to recognize dangerous situations;
- Decreased attentiveness and attention to surroundings;
- Stronger likelihood of attention lapses.
Federal studies on trucking accidents have found that driver fatigue may contribute to somewhere between 20 percent and 40 percent of commercial transportation accidents, and that a fatigued driver was between four and six times as likely to be involved in a crash. This means that a large percentage of serious and potentially fatal crashes could be considered easily-preventable, provided that the trucking companies and their drivers simply followed HOS regulations.
Some scientific studies have been able to draw a relatively level comparison between driver fatigue and alcohol impairment when it comes to driving ability. In one study, it was determined that a semi-truck driver who is awake for 17 consecutive hours was comparable to a driver with a 0.04 blood alcohol level, which just happens to be the legal limit for driving a commercial vehicle. Response times for drivers under both of these impairment conditions are thought to be reduced by as much as 50 percent. Drivers who were awake for 21 hours had a level of impairment that was more comparable to a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent, which is legally considered to be drunk driving for drivers of passenger vehicles.
Following HOS regulations can save lives, but only when trucking companies take them seriously and are focused on improving safety for everyone on the roadway, rather than simply accomplishing the bare minimum level of compliance in order to avoid suffering fines and penalties from the federal government.
How Is Fatigue Still An Ongoing Problem?
When the lawyers at Davis Law Group, P.S., explain to a non-lawyer the egregious conduct of the trucking industry that allows fatigued driving to continue to be a problem, they often get a response of skepticism and disbelief. If driver fatigue is well-known by so many experts and trucking companies to be one of the most prevalent causes of serious and fatal accidents, how can it continue to remain so common?
There are several factors at play here, many of which stem from the overall competitive nature of the trucking industry in the United States. There are nearly 1 million authorized trucking companies nationwide, which increases the level of competition and lowers the average pay for drivers, who are essentially paid “by the mile.” This motivates drivers to drive as far and for as long as possible, which increases the likelihood that drivers will ignore fatigue for the sake of getting the job done and getting paid.
Drivers are also typically not paid for loading and unloading of cargo, leading to a situation where drivers may feel pressured to make up the time by driving faster and longer.
What Are The CDL Requirements In Washington State?
To legally drive a large commercial vehicle – such as a semi-truck or tractor-trailer – truck drivers must undergo more advanced training and testing. Commercial truck drivers are subject to more stringent regulations than drivers of passenger vehicles.
The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) requires drivers to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in order to operate any vehicle that may be categorized as one or more of the following:
- All single vehicles with a manufacturer’s weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more;
- All trailers with a manufacturer’s weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, and a combined vehicles’ gross weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more;
- All vehicles designed to transport 16 or more persons (including the driver). This includes private and church buses;
- All school buses, regardless of size;
- All vehicles used to transport any material that requires hazardous material placarding or any quantity of a material that is classified as a select agent or toxin by the federal government.
Types of Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs)
There are different types – or "classes" – of Commercial Driver’s Licenses that allow drivers to legally operate different types of commercial vehicles. For this purpose, commercial vehicles are divided into three different classes based on their size and weight. Below is a table from the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) that outlines the various CDL classes and the types of vehicles that are authorized by each class of CDL:
Types Of Vehicles That Can Be Driven With Each Class Of CDL
Commercial vehicles are divided into 3 size classes: A, B, and C.
*Requires a Special Endorsement. Visit www.dol.wa.gov for more information.
Exceptions To CDL Requirements In Washington
There are also a number of scenarios that do not require a driver of a large semi-truck or tractor-trailer to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Some of the exceptions to the CDL requirements include:
Farmers and Farm Employees who transport farm equipment, supplies, or products – such as trees, lumber, and other wood products – using a farm vehicle are not required to obtain a CDL as long as the vehicle is:
- Operated by a farmer or a farm employee;
- Not used to operate a common or contract motor carrier;
- And operated within a 150-mile linear radius of the location of the farm.
Recreational Vehicle (RV) drivers are not subject to CDL requirements provided that they are driving the vehicle for private, personal use, rather than for commercial purposes. This extends to the operation of two-axle rental trucks and horse trailers.
Firefighters and Law Enforcement Personnel are not required to obtain a CDL in order to operate emergency equipment provided that they carry an official certification card which proves that they have completed the Emergency Vehicle Accident Prevention Program (EVAP), which is regulated and overseen by the Washington State Patrol and the Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Members of the Military are only exempt from CDL requirements if they are operating a military vehicle and have been issued a military license by their specific branch of service. Currently active military personnel with two or more years of experience driving commercial vehicles as part of their military duties may also be eligible to have the training certificate and CDL skills test requirements waived. The written knowledge tests cannot be waived, however.
Commercial License Permits
The Department of Licensing also issues Commercial License Permits (CLPs) to new drivers who are still learning how to properly and safely operate a semi-truck or other type of commercial vehicle. The CLP system bears some resemblance to the non-commercial driver’s license system that most regular drivers are accustomed to. After a driver obtains a CLP, they are permitted to operate a commercial vehicle provided that they abide by the following restrictions:
- The CLP holder is accompanied by a valid CDL holder, who also:
- Has two years experience driving the same type of commercial vehicle;
- Has at least five years of total driving experience;
- Sits in the seat directly beside the driver in order to give proper instruction.
- CLP holders are prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle that is carrying or is classified for hazardous materials.
The Smith System®
This training system is commonly taught to drivers of commercial vehicles, and it seeks to help drivers develop the habit of “driving with traffic instead of against it.” This training system has been around for more than 50 years. The System claims that at least fifty percent (50%) of all Fortune 500 companies use the System for their commercial drivers.
The System teaches all truck drivers to follow the Smith-5-Keys™:
- Aim High in Steering®: Drivers of large trucks or commercial vehicles should look further ahead than the drivers of other smaller vehicles.
- Get the Big Picture®: Drivers of trucks must see more around their commercial vehicles than other drivers can.
- Keep Your Eyes Moving®: Truck drivers must be more aware of their surroundings than other drivers.
- Leave Yourself an Out®: Truck drivers must always position themselves and their large load in traffic better than other drivers. This means anticipating hazards and allowing themselves a safe “out” to avoid a collision.
- Make Sure They See You®: Truck drivers must make themselves more visible to other motorists.
What Mistakes Commonly Cause Semi-Truck Accidents?
It can take several months for a truck driver to complete the required classes in order to receive a Class-A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in Washington State. In that time, drivers receive hands-on instruction and training about the many technical maneuvers that are required to safely operate a semi-truck or other type of large commercial vehicle. A qualified and experienced trucker knows that patience and caution are the two most important qualities of a safe driver, and all drivers must prioritize these two qualities when it comes to turning and performing other maneuvers behind the wheel of a semi-truck so that other drivers are not forced to stop or make other last-second decisions to avoid a crash.
When an injury victim calls my office about a potential semi-truck accident case, I immediately begin investigating to see if any common mistakes might have caused the accident. While the list of potential mistakes made by any driver is never-ending, below is a list of just some of the most common mistakes made by truck drivers that we see in semi-truck accident cases.
Improper Left-Hand Turns
In almost all situations involving any type of motor vehicle, a driver who wishes to make a left-hand turn must do so in front of oncoming traffic. For a passenger vehicle, the process of beginning a left-hand turn and passing through the intersection may typically take only a second or two. For a semi-truck, a left-hand turn typically means the truck will block oncoming traffic for a much longer period of time. An oncoming vehicle may not have adequate time to react to a semi-truck’s sudden left-hand turn, or may have limited options for avoiding a collision due to the size of the semi-truck.
A vehicle that collides with the side of the cab or trailer of a semi-truck is at risk of “underriding” the truck. This means that a vehicle can become wedged between the bottom of the trailer and the ground. As you can see from the example below, a driver in a vehicle which underrides a semi-truck’s trailer can suffer serious and potentially life-threatening injuries due to the sharp edge of the trailer ripping through the vehicle. In extreme cases, underriding can even result in decapitation.
Today, most semi-trucks are legally required to have underride guards – designed to greatly reduce the damage done by these types of crashes – built into the rear end of the semi-truck. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) even petitioned the NHTSA in 2011 to enforce stricter standards for these guards. Research data from the IIHS shows that these guards are inadequate for preventing fatalities in crashes that occur at the outer edge of the trailer.
Improper Right-Hand Turns
For passenger vehicles, making a right-hand turn seems like one of the easiest maneuvers a driver will have to make. For semi-trucks, it’s an entirely different story. Because semi-trucks are so much longer than even the largest of passenger vehicles, truck drivers must actually begin the process of making a right-hand turn by veering out wide to the left and then swinging the truck back around to the right. This allows a driver to create a larger turning radius for the semi-truck and helps prevent the truck from crossing the median into oncoming traffic once it passes through the intersection.
As you may have seen before, many semi-trucks are equipped with warning signs that read something along the lines of, “CAUTION: THIS TRUCK MAKES WIDE TURNS.” And while clear signage can be helpful in warning other drivers, it’s a common misconception that these signs serve as a catch-all warning that therefore places responsibility on passenger cars to yield to the semi-truck at all costs. Even if a semi-truck is completely covered in a variety of warning signs, the truck driver still bears the responsibility to ensure that it is safe to begin making a turn and that they are not jeopardizing the safety of other drivers by doing so.
Blocking an Intersection
If a semi-truck is blocking the roadway – while trying to make a wide turn or back into an alley, for example – the driver of a passenger vehicle may not have an adequate amount of time to stop and avoid a collision. This is another example of a scenario that may lead to underriding, which can cause serious injury or even death to the driver of a passenger vehicle.
If an accident occurs because a semi-truck driver is blocking an intersection and it is determined through physical evidence and official inspections that the truck was not properly visible – either due to dirty or damaged reflectors or lights, or a lack of reflectors or lights altogether – it can be easier to hold the semi-truck driver and/or owner/operator accountable for causing the collision. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains strict requirements on the number of headlamps, reflectors, and other safety accessories that various sizes of semi-trucks must be equipped with in order to ensure their visibility to other drivers. Violation of these rules could not only result in criminal penalties and fines, but could also place liability on the truck driver and owner/operator in the event of a crash.
Common sense tells us that larger and heavier vehicles will take longer to come to a complete stop than your standard and smaller passenger vehicles. Commercial vehicles are no exception to this rule, and the sheer size of the average semi-truck makes a rear-end collision much more likely to result in serious injuries or even death to a driver of a passenger vehicle. Rear-end collisions involving semi-trucks are often caused by driver fatigue, driver impairment, or distracted driving. Malfunctioning brakes, poorly-maintained wheels and tires, speeding, and oversized or improperly-secured cargo are other common factors found in rear-end collisions involving a semi-truck. Cargo that is too large or improperly secured can throw off the semi-truck’s weight balance and center of gravity, which makes the truck harder to stop and generally more difficult to control.
Conversely, liability for a collision that involves a passenger car crashing into the rear of a semi-truck can also be placed on the semi-truck driver. This is another scenario that can lead to underriding, as the rear of a cargo trailer is typically higher than the front bumper of a passenger vehicle. The mechanics of this situation can cause a passenger vehicle to be wedged between the trailer and the ground, and the trailer can even tear the top off of a passenger vehicle if underriding occurs. A slow-moving truck driver who tries to merge into fast-paced traffic or fails to make the truck visible to other drivers may be held responsible for a crash if the truck is rear-ended by another vehicle.
Stopped Trucks: Improper Use of Markings and Warnings
In the event that a truck experiences a mechanical problem or has to suddenly pull over to the side of a roadway or highway for any reason, there are several precautionary steps that need to be taken in order to ensure the truck is visible to other drivers. The FMCSA requires semi-truck drivers to first turn on the truck’s emergency hazard lights, just like the hazard lights you and I have on our passenger vehicles. The FMCSA requires the truck’s emergency hazard lights to be activated while the driver sets up a series of three (3) physical warning signals that are spaced apart to adequately warn approaching drivers of the truck’s location.
The FMCSA states that semi-truck drivers may either use triangle-shaped reflectors – which are usually a dark red color and made of hard plastic – or roadside flares that produce a flame. For drivers who use flame-producing flares, the FMCSA also has strict requirements on the placement of those flares in the event that a semi-truck is leaking flammable or otherwise hazardous materials. Failure to follow these rules could lead to an explosion on a busy highway, exposing a large number of people to potential injury or death.
Driving a semi-truck in reverse – commonly referred to as “backing” among the truck driving community – is one of the most difficult and dangerous maneuvers for a driver to make, mainly due to truck drivers’ limited visibility of their surroundings. According to one study commissioned by the NHTSA, there are an estimated 30,000 injuries resulting from backing accidents involving semi-trucks each year in the United States. Of those, 3,000 are estimated to be considered serious or incapacitating injuries, and 171 are estimated to be fatal.
Even smaller semi-trucks are massive vehicles relative to regular passenger cars, and they don’t need to be traveling at highway speeds to inflict serious damage to other vehicles and the people inside of them. Many trucking companies advocate for their drivers to follow the G.O.A.L. philosophy, an acronym that stands for Get Out And Look. Truck drivers who fail to ensure that their surroundings are clear put nearby drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists at risk of being seriously injured or killed, for which the truck driver could presumably be held responsible.
Dangerous and Sudden Maneuvers
In cases where a semi-truck accident has been caused by a truck driver who swerved suddenly or recklessly changed lanes without checking the truck’s blind spot, it is not uncommon to find a history or pattern of similar behavior in that truck driver’s driving record – previous traffic citations or employer disciplinary history, for example. These factors can help support an injured victim’s claim that the trucking company was negligent in hiring, training, and/or retaining the truck driver. The trucker’s driving history records may also shed light on a history of driver fatigue or Hours of Service violations, which can also help bolster an injured victim’s claim for damages.
Unsecured Cargo or Improper Storage
Failure to properly secure or store cargo on a semi-truck can throw off the entire truck’s center of gravity, causing it to be unbalanced and much more difficult to control or stop in a safe manner. This also frequently causes large commercial trucks to jackknife. In the event of a semi-truck accident, we often see truck drivers claim that the shifting of the cargo load they were carrying caused them to lose control of the vehicle, leading to the collision. While the driver’s claim may be true, it does not excuse the driver and/or trucking company from bearing at least some responsibility for the injured victim’s damages. As is true in all cases, preservation of evidence such as photographs and video is critical in supporting claims under these circumstances.
Are Truck Drivers Required To Keep Logs Of Their Hours?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that semi-truck drivers keep log books.
These logs must include the following information:
- All dates of duty
- Changes in duty status
- Locations of changes in duty status
- Total miles driven for each day
- Vehicle licensing and registration information
- Name of carrier/owner/operator
- Starting time for 24-hour period
- Carrier’s main office address
- Co-driver information, if applicable
- Total hours worked
- Off duty hours
- Documented information of shipper and shipment
- Graph grid (see below)
- Driver’s official signature/certification
The FMCSA’s "Hours of Service" regulations require drivers to regularly update their logs throughout the course of each work day as well as make and retain duplicate copies of the logs. Drivers are required to keep copies of the logs in a readily-accessible location for up to seven days so that they may be inspected, as well as to submit the original copies to the carrier within 13 days of completion. The FMCSA also requires that all logs are written and submitted legibly, for obvious reasons.
Likewise, the carrier is required by HOS regulations to actively monitor these logs as they are submitted by their drivers. In the event that the carrier is using a driver for the first time or on a temporary basis, the carrier must “obtain from the driver a signed statement giving the total time on duty during the immediately preceding seven days and the time at which the driver was last relieved from duty prior to beginning work for the motor carriers.” Carriers are also required to hold onto all “Supporting Documents” regarding their drivers’ logs.
The FMCSA explains that supporting documents might include “any document that is maintained in the ordinary course of business and used by the motor carrier to verify the information recorded on the driver’s record-of-duty status.” Examples of supporting documents might include traffic tickets, shipping and receiving records, fuel invoices, and meal receipts.
In today’s world, semi-trucks are often equipped with on-board recording devices that automatically document a truck driver’s activity. Some of the activity that these devices record includes engine activity, miles driven per day, speed data, date, and time of activity. These devices also allow drivers to manually enter additional information that may be required to adequately complete official HOS records. The FMCSA also permits electronic logging devices, which require more manual entry but are more convenient and easy to save and share than simply using pen and paper logs.
Falsified Logbooks And Noncompliance
It is unfortunately common, particularly in instances where an accident has occurred, for truck drivers to falsify their logs in order to appear to be within compliance of the HOS regulations. In these cases, the supporting documents can prove to be very useful in verifying or discrediting the truck driver’s logs. On-board ELDs are much more difficult to falsify, so those can come in handy as well.
In the event that an attorney believes a semi-truck driver has falsified his or her logbooks following an accident, the attorney will typically investigate the driver’s logs while looking for a few red flags. These red flags can help the lawyer prove that a driver falsified records in an effort to appear compliant with HOS regulations, and therefore was likely fatigued at the time of the accident. Some of these factors include the following:
Disproportionate Travel Time And Mileage
If it appears that the number of miles traveled appears to be unreasonably high for the number of hours that a truck driver has reported as being “on-duty,” there is a significant chance that the driver actually spent more time driving than he or she should have. We at Davis Law Group, P.S., may hire experts to prove that the driver’s records do not add up and that the logbooks have been falsified.
Only Recorded Driving As 'On-Duty' Time
If a driver’s logs show that all of the driver’s “on-duty” time was spent actually driving, then there could very well be a violation of the HOS regulations. Drivers are required to log other job duties, such as inspections and loading or unloading cargo, as “on-duty” time. If it is proven that a driver has failed to properly log all of his or her “on-duty” time, then the driver is not complying with the laws and fatigue may be more easily proven.
Run Times And Locations Are Identical
If a truck driver makes a number of trips – or “runs” – within a short period of time that appear to be identical, that is usually a red flag. The likelihood that a driver would reach the same locations at the exact same time of day on different trips is very low, and is likely a sign that the driver did not accurately record his or her activity.
Inconsistencies with Company Records
In our experience, comparing a driver’s logs with the trucking company’s records can reveal inconsistencies and raise questions about compliance. Sometimes, drivers feel pressured from their employers to drive over hours or violate other federal regulations for the sake of the company’s productivity, profit, and efficiency. In these scenarios, the driver is forced to admit to either falsifying his or her logs, or that the company pressured or encouraged the noncompliance.
Are Truck Drivers Required To Submit To Drug Tests?
Commercial trucking carriers are required to create and enforce a drug and alcohol testing policy. Federal regulations require that trucking companies conduct several types of driver testing to ensure that all drivers remain compliant with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's drug and alcohol abuse laws.
Specifically, the FMCSA requires carriers’ drug and alcohol enforcement policies to include the following types of testing for their drivers:
Per the FMCSA guidelines, “a new driver must be drug tested with a negative result before an employer can permit him to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).”
There are some exceptions to this rule, including if the new driver has participated in a sufficient drug testing program within the previous 30 days and has passed at least one drug test in the past six months.
Testing After An Accident
The FMCSA’s Federal Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations pamphlet requires truck drivers to be tested for the presence of drugs and alcohol in the event of any fatal accident or if they are issued a citation following an accident resulting in injury or the disabling of a vehicle.
All CDL drivers are required to undergo random testing for substance abuse. Most carriers are required to randomly test at minimum 10 percent of their average number of yearly active drivers for alcohol abuse and 50 percent of their average number of yearly active drivers for controlled substance abuse. These percentage rates are based on the FMCSA’s records of the average reported violation rates for the entire trucking industry.
Reasonable Suspicion Testing
Trucking companies employ supervisors who are trained by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to observe drivers’ behavior and determine whether there is reasonable suspicion for that driver to undergo drug and alcohol testing. Carriers have a duty to act if one of their drivers exhibits suspicious behavior.
If a supervisor notices potential signs of drug or alcohol abuse, the supervisor may subject that driver to drug and alcohol testing.
If a CDL driver fails a drug or alcohol test or refuses to take a drug or alcohol test, the Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines require the employer to immediately remove that driver from safety-sensitive functions. There are a number of steps that a driver must take before being able to return to work following a failed or refused test, but the final step in this process is for a driver to undergo a final return-to-duty test.
Provided that a driver has been cleared to return to work by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) after a failed drug or alcohol test and passes a return-to-duty test, the driver is required to undergo a minimum of six unannounced, observed tests during the first 12 months following the return-to-duty test. Follow-up testing is in addition to any random testing selections, and may be prescribed by an SAP for a period of up to five years for drivers who have tested positive or refused a drug or alcohol test.
The FMCSA specifically outlines how these tests are to be conducted, who administers the tests, what they test for, and how the carrier is to handle the test results and records. If a semi-truck driver causes an accident and it is later determined that he or she was impaired, it could potentially be argued that the company’s drug and alcohol testing policies were insufficient, and that the company was therefore liable for not doing enough to prevent an accident from occurring in the first place.
It is uncommon for carriers to face penalties or fines from the FMCSA for an inadequate drug and alcohol testing policy, though trucking companies do face other consequences for failing to properly implement or enforce them. If it is proven that a carrier did not have sufficient testing and enforcement procedures in place, the company could be held liable for damages resulting from an accident. In the legal world, this is called a failure to establish a program of deterrence.
What Are WSDOT's Rules For Semi-Truck Licensing?
Individual states are responsible for the licensing process as it relates to truck drivers and other operators of Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs). Specifically, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, states “issue the licenses and assess the qualifications and validity of each of their drivers.”
The scope of states’ responsibilities when it comes to the trucking industry centers mostly on the ability to become certified or licensed to operate a CMV in the first place. The FMCSA, DOT, and OSHA guidelines that we have discussed thus far in this book are not even applicable until a driver has passed through states’ background checks and officially obtained a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
Steps To Obtaining A CDL In Washington
When a prospective driver applies for a CDL, or a previously-certified driver attempts to renew his or her CDL, the first step for the state is to review the drivers’ records for that state, as well as the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) and National Driver Registry (NDR). This allows the state licensing agency to determine if the driver has been disqualified from obtaining a CDL in that state or any other state, or if the driver already has a CDL from another state.
If a driver does already have a CDL from another jurisdiction, then the driver will be required to give up his or her CDL from that jurisdiction before being issued a new CDL.
States are required to obtain the prospective driver’s comprehensive driving records and other related information from all jurisdictions where the applicant has previously obtained a license. Per the FMCSA, the new state must take the following steps in the licensing process:
- Require the driver to certify as to the type of operation the driver expects to conduct and post the driver’s self-certification to the State’s driver history record;
- Obtain the original or a copy of the medical examiner’s certificate documenting that the driver is physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle and retain the certificate for three years beyond the issue date of the certificate; and
- Post the information from the medical examiner’s certificate within 10 business days to the CDLIS driver record.
Washington's CDL Knowledge And Skills Test
States are also tasked with developing their own CDL knowledge and skills tests for drivers to complete during the licensing process. These tests must meet the minimum federal standards set forth by the DOT and FMCSA, which also provide written manuals for drivers and examiners that states may use if they decide not to create their own. The FMCSA permits states to authorize a third party to develop training materials and conduct testing of CDL applicants, provided that they meet the following conditions:
- Tests must be the same as those given by the State.
- The third party has an agreement with the state containing, at a minimum, provisions that:
- Allow the FMCSA, or its representative, and the State to conduct random examinations, inspections, and audits without prior notice.
- Require the State to conduct on-site inspections at least once yearly.
- Require that all third party examiners meet the same qualification and training standards as State examiners.
- At least annually, State employees must evaluate the programs by taking third party tests as if they were test applicants, or by testing a sample of drivers tested by the third party and then comparing pass/fail rates.
- The State must take prompt and appropriate remedial action against the third-party testers in the event that the third party fails to comply with State or Federal standards for the CDL testing program, or with any other terms of the third-party contract.