Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog

Low visibility and big trucks don’t mix. With their heavy weight, increased stopping distance, and unwieldy controls, drivers need to be exceptionally attentive when driving in wintry conditions. This is especially the case for snow plow drivers, who, more than other truck drivers, travel on smaller roads through neighborhoods and near schools. In fact, most of us have seen the damage that a snow plow can do, often to a parked car or an unlucky resident’s mailbox.

plow-1619668However, not all snow plow accidents involve stationary objects. Sometimes snow plow drivers don’t see occupied vehicles or even pedestrians while on their route. In these cases, the victims of a snow plow driver’s negligence may suffer a serious injury or worse.

Of course, pedestrians and other motorists should also be safe by keeping an eye out for snow plows and maintaining a safe distance. However, there is only so much that a motorist on their way to work or a child on their way to school can do. In cases in which a snow plow driver fails to take reasonable precautions and causes a serious or fatal accident, that driver as well as the company or municipality that employs them may be held liable for any injuries suffered as a result.

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Earlier this month, a Nevada court denied a motion filed by a trucking company for a new trial after the court determined that the company’s driver was responsible for a 2011 accident that killed six people, including the driver of the truck. According to one local news source, the court ordered the trucking company to pay roughly $4.5 million in damages.

railroad-crossing-1470982The Truck Driver Slams into a Moving Amtrak Train

The fatal accident occurred back in 2011, in Nevada’s high desert, near the intersection of Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 95. Evidently, the truck driver was driving an empty truck when he approached a railroad crossing. Evidence showed that the crossing was marked and that the engineer on the train was engaging the train’s whistle prior to reaching the crossing. However, the truck driver failed to slow down in time and ended up crashing into the second car of the train. The impact between the semi-truck and the train killed the truck driver, the train’s engineer, and four passengers aboard the train.

It also came out in evidence that the truck driver began to apply the brakes about 300 feet prior to the crossing, but he was still unable to stop in time. The National Transportation Safety Bureau conducted an investigation into the fatal accident and determined that the cause was an inattentive truck driver with a history of speeding violations, as well as the fact that the truck he was driving had faulty brakes.

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Every driver on the road owes a duty of care to the other motorists with whom he or she shares the road. This duty encompasses a wide range  of conduct. Some conduct is required under certain circumstances, and other conduct is prohibited. It is up to the motorist to know what to do and act appropriately in the circumstances. One of the duties all drivers have to others on the road is to stop and render assistance to anyone involved in a vehicle accident, regardless of who is at fault and whether it looked as though anyone was injured.

old-chevrolet-dump-truck-1173047Truck drivers, with their large, cumbersome vehicles, are no exception to this rule. In fact, many duties and “rules of the road” are more strictly enforced against truck drivers, since they are commercial drivers. When a truck driver causes an accident, or is even involved in an accident that was not his or her fault, that driver must stop to exchange information with the other parties involved, as well as to determine if they need any medical assistance. If they do, the truck’s driver is legally responsible to help them obtain that assistance. This may mean just exchanging information if the accident is minor or calling 9-1-1 and waiting for an ambulance to arrive in more serious accidents.

A driver’s failure to live up to this duty may result in that driver being held liable for an accident victim’s injuries.

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Truck drivers have always been under constant pressure to get to their destinations as quickly as possible. And the fact that some truck drivers push their physical limits to make better time and increase their profits is nothing new. However, after actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was seriously injured in a truck accident in New Jersey last year, truck driver fatigue has finally gotten the attention it deserves.

gasoline-tanker-1453689Resting Requirements for Truck Drivers

Truck drivers all must abide by certain state and federal regulations when it comes to how much time they spend resting and how much time they spend out on the road. The nuances of the rules are confusing, but suffice it to say that drivers need to take short breaks every few hours to rest their eyes, as well as longer breaks every few days to “reset” their system between long hauls.

To enforce these requirements, state and federal governments require that truck drivers maintain logs of their driving and rest times. These “rest logs,” however, have historically been the focus of some controversy because they can easily be changed or forged.

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Truck driver fatigue is one of the major causes of truck accidents across the country. In fact, about 18% of all truck accidents list driver fatigue as at least one factor in the accident. The result is that truck driver fatigue results in hundreds of accidents each year, as well as dozens of fatalities.

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The U.S. government takes truck driver fatigue very seriously and recently re-examined the regulations regarding the necessary amount of rest drivers must get. One requirement is that drivers take at least a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of driving. Another is that drivers take longer breaks between long trips, ensuring that they get substantial periods of actual rest. In the past, drivers have been able to keep their own paper logs, documenting the time they spend on the road versus the time spent resting.

However, this system lends itself to abuse. Over-worked truck drivers are often pressured by their employers to get from one destination to another as quickly as possible. This encourages truck drivers to get as little rest as they can. In some cases, truck drivers have fraudulently filled out their rest logs or kept two sets of rest logs in order to get around the requirement and to make their employer happy.

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Earlier last month, a state supreme court heard a case involving the tragic death of a young man who was killed by a train when he attempted to cross a pair of railroad tracks. In the case, Gonzalez v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, the plaintiff was the mother of the young man who was killed. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the railroad, alleging that the company’s negligence was the cause of her son’s death.

train-tracks-1223064The Facts of the Case

At around one in the afternoon, the plaintiff’s 13-year-old son, Efrain, approached a set of railroad tracks that crossed the road. There was an eastbound track and a westbound track. According to the court’s written opinion, Efrain waited for the eastbound train to pass and then began to cross the tracks. However, the westbound train quickly approached and struck Efrain, killing him instantly.

Efrain’s mother filed suit against the railroad, arguing that the company was negligent in having the two trains cross the road on separate tracks so close together in time. She argued that since the extremely loud noise of the first train passing drowned out the noise from another approaching train, her son would not have been able to know that a second train was approaching.

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As if large trucks are not dangerous enough, when an intoxicated driver gets behind the wheel of a semi-truck, tractor-trailer, or other large truck, the risk factors skyrocket. It is for this reason that the Maryland legislature has determined that those who hold Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) are to be held to a different standard when it comes to drunk driving.

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In Maryland, non-CDL holders are considered “drunk” under the law when they have a blood-alcohol content of .08 or greater. However, due to the risks involved with driving a large truck while intoxicated, a CDL holder’s blood-alcohol content cannot legally exceed .04. Depending on the driver, a person’s blood-alcohol content may reach .04 after just one drink.

The .04 limit applies to all commercial drivers, not just truck drivers. For example, taxi cab drivers and school bus drivers are also subject to that limit. Importantly, the prohibition on intoxicated driving is not limited to alcohol. Commercial drivers are also prohibited from operating a vehicle with any trace of an illegal drug in their system. Similarly, liability may even arise if the driver is taking prescription medication, if it can be shown that they were impaired by the medication.

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Every accident involving a semi-truck has the potential to result in serious injury or death. However, under-ride accidents present some of the highest risks. An under-ride accident occurs when a car or smaller truck rear-ends a large semi-truck, which is higher off the ground. As the vehicle coming from behind collides with the truck, the force of the collision sometimes sends the smaller vehicle underneath the semi-truck. These accidents are notorious for causing serious head trauma and even decapitation in some cases.

truck-1524620Not only do under-ride accidents present a high risk, but also they are remarkably common. Of the 400 deaths each year caused by cars colliding with the rear of a semi-truck, roughly one-third of them are due to under-ride accidents.

Aside from driving safely, semi-truck owners are also responsible for keeping their vehicles safe. This includes performing all necessary maintenance as well as installing required safety features. When a truck driver fails to keep their truck safe, they may be held liable for any accident caused by their negligence.

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Like other large trucks, dump trucks are heavy and difficult to steer, and they take a long time to come to a complete stop once a driver begins to apply the brake. On top of that, the cargo in a dump truck is often loose stone or other debris that is covered only by a tarp, if it is covered by anything at all. The combination of these factors results in dump trucks being some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road.

dump-truck-3-1416869In fact, dump trucks have the highest number of fatalities among all kinds of commercial trucks, with about six fatalities per million miles traveled. Garbage trucks are not far behind, with about five fatalities per million miles traveled. Semi-trucks are a bit further down the list with about 3.63 fatalities per million miles traveled.

Another reason why dump trucks are so dangerous is because they have the capability to cause mass destruction when they are involved in an accident. Most dump trucks are extremely heavy and have a great mass, giving them the power to plow through several vehicles before coming to a complete stop. Dump trucks are often prone to tipping, due to their high center of gravity. This can result in additional accident victims because people driving behind the truck are forced to deal with the debris that spills onto the roadway.

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With the many highways across the State of Maryland, one need not look too long to find a semi-truck. More so than other smaller vehicles, semi-trucks are capable of causing mass destruction when they are involved in an accident. This is especially the case when the other vehicles involved in the accident are smaller cars, trucks, or motorcycles.

truck-4-1478008Since they are operating such dangerous machines, semi-truck drivers are under a duty to always safely operate their vehicles. Of course, this means remaining free from the intoxicating effects of drugs or alcohol, but it also requires more than just that. In fact, semi-truck drivers must follow many different state and federal regulations in order to be in compliance and legally operate their trucks on the nation’s highways.

One area of regulation that is often disregarded by truck drivers is the federal resting requirement. Under federal law, semi-truck drivers can only be on the road for so many hours each day before taking a rest. Additionally, truck drivers may only be on the road for a certain number of hours per week. Truck drivers who cause an accident and are in violation of this regulation may be held civilly liable for the injuries and damages they caused.

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