Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion in a truck accident case that was brought by the family of a woman who was killed when her vehicle was rear-ended by the defendant truck driver. The case required the court to determine whether the owner of the truck, who was not driving at the time but was present in the vehicle, should qualify for a limitation of liability under a state statute. Since the court found that the owner of the truck “loaned” the truck to the passenger, the owner was entitled to a limitation of his liability.

Yellow Semi-TruckThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs’ daughter was driving on a divided highway behind the defendant truck driver. At some point, she attempted to pass the defendant. As she pulled back into her lane, she realized another vehicle in front of her was making a left turn. The plaintiffs’ daughter was able to stop in time, but the defendant truck driver was not able to stop his rig in time, and he collided with the back of the daughter’s vehicle, pushing it into oncoming traffic, where it collided head-on with another truck. The plaintiffs’ daughter was killed as a result of the collision, and her family filed this wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and the owner of the truck that rear-ended her.

The owner of the truck asked the court to limit his liability under a state statute that provides a maximum of $100,000 in liability in situations in which a vehicle owner loans out his vehicle to another person who negligently causes an accident. The truck’s owner explained that, while he was present in the truck, he had temporarily loaned the truck to the operator when he asked the operator to drive the truck while he took a nap in the back. The trial court found that the truck owner was in a joint venture with the truck’s driver and denied the owner’s request to limit his liability.

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Truck drivers, as well as the companies that employ them, have a duty to ensure that the vehicles they use to transport goods across the country are well-maintained and in good working order in order to prevent hazards to other motorists. Part of this duty requires truckers to double-check that their rig is safe to drive after each stop.

Dirty TireWhile it may seem that equipment failures on large trucks are rare, the opposite is true. Many of the parts on a semi-truck are rated at certain speeds, and when a driver exceeds that speed, there is an increased risk of equipment failure. Of course, any part of a semi-truck can fail, but tires are the main culprit and present the most serious risk of causing a serious or fatal accident.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that of the roughly 14,000 truck and bus accidents occurring between the years of 2009 and 2013, approximately 200 were caused by tire blow-outs. In some cases, tire blow-outs are due to manufacturer errors, but blow-outs can also be caused by user errors. For example, if a truck driver fails to ensure that a tire is properly inflated or drives on a tire that is too worn, blow-outs are more likely to occur.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued an interesting opinion in a truck accident case that required the court to determine if the company that employed a truck driver who was responsible for a serious accident could be liable for punitive damages. Ultimately, the court concluded that under some other set of facts, punitive damages may be appropriate, but, given the facts presented in this specific case, they were not.

Trucker's ViewThe Facts of the Case

In 2014, the plaintiffs were driving through a construction zone on Interstate 14 when they were struck by a truck. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the trucking company that employed the driver, arguing that the company was liable for the driver’s actions because he was an employee working within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the company was negligent for hiring the truck driver in the first place, given the driver’s checkered past. The plaintiffs sought punitive damages on each claim.

In support of their negligent hiring claim, the plaintiffs introduced evidence that the truck driver had previously been convicted of drug offenses and had a significant history of traffic offenses. There was also a report that the truck driver had been found to be traveling at 99 miles per hour while on the job just a week prior to the accident.

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Earlier this year in March, an accident involving a school bus, a passenger car, and a semi-truck claimed the lives of two men and injured several of the students on board the bus. The accident occurred when the semi-truck inexplicably veered out of its lane, across the center median, and into the path of the school bus. The driver of the school bus was able to swerve to avoid a collision; however, the high-school track coach driving in a vehicle behind the bus was struck head-on by the semi-truck.

Truck AccidentAfter evading the oncoming semi-truck, the school-bus driver lost control of the vehicle as it ran off the side of the road. The track coach and the semi-truck driver both died in the collision. In all, 18 students were hospitalized, most with non-life threatening injuries.

According to a recent news report, the police conducted toxicology tests on the semi-truck driver after the collision. The results came back showing that he had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the collision.

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Large trucks have the capacity to cause major damage when they are involved in an accident. These dangers are increased when a truck being driven is on a crowded highway. In general, it is a motorist’s duty to ensure that they are operating their vehicle in a safe manner and in compliance with state and local regulations.

School BusesDue to the size and weight of large vehicles, this often means that truck drivers must leave additional room between their rig and other vehicles on the road. Indeed, a large truck traveling at highway speeds can take the length of a football field to come to a complete stop. When a truck driver fails to take the necessary precautions when operating his vehicle, he may be liable for any injuries that result.

Notwithstanding a truck driver’s negligence, sometimes other motorists contribute to truck accidents. This may be a distracted motorist who swerves out of her lane or an aggressive driver who cuts off a truck that ultimately crashes into another vehicle. In these situations, it may be the case that both the truck driver and another party are liable. In such situations, it will be up to a jury to decide which parties are liable and the percentage of fault for each driver.

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Large trucks always present a danger on the highway, due to their large and cumbersome nature. Moreover, construction zones are an area of increased risk, especially when they are not adequately marked or require drivers to stay in extremely narrow lanes.

Road ConstructionIn most cases, it is the truck driver’s responsibility to ensure that the truck safely navigates the construction zone. However, there can be times when the government entity or contractor responsible for marking and maintaining the construction area is liable. For example, if drivers are not given sufficient notice of a construction zone that requires they come to a complete stop, a contractor may be liable for this failure. Similarly, if the construction zone itself is unsafe due to excessively narrow lanes, debris left on the roadway, or other hazards, the party responsible for the construction may be liable.

In most other cases, the truck driver is responsible for making sure that he is able to safely travel through the construction zone. This may require the truck driver to slow down or even stop to double-check clearances. One of the most common accidents involving large trucks and construction zones is a truck driver’s failure to take notice of the construction zone. In such situations, trucks have been known to plow through construction cones, stopped cars, and even cement barriers, putting everyone from the construction workers to fellow motorists at great risk.

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The truth is that most drivers roll through the occasional stop sign. However, the fact that running a stop sign is a common occurrence among motorists does not make it acceptable. Running a stop sign is a very dangerous driving behavior. In fact, drivers who run stop signs cause approximately 700,000 accidents each year. In roughly one-third of these accidents, someone is seriously injured.

Stop SignWhen a driver runs a stop sign and causes an accident, that driver may be held liable for any injuries that occur as a result. However, several issues can arise in a personal injury case alleging that a driver ran a stop sign. Initially, the issue of credibility may come up, meaning that unless there are independent witnesses who can testify to what happened, a driver may offer up a self-serving version of what happened in the moments leading up to the accident. With the increase in popularity of private surveillance video, there is a chance that an accident is caught on camera, but that may only be revealed through an in-depth investigation.

Another issue that may arise is the injured motorist’s own role in the accident. In Maryland, any motorist who is even the slightest bit at fault for causing an accident is not permitted to recover compensation for their injuries. This means that a defendant may be able to avoid liability completely by shifting just a small portion of the blame onto an accident victim.

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Over the past several years, technology has advanced to the point at which almost every motorist has at least one electronic gadget with them at all times. Whether it be a cell phone or a GPS system, drivers have begun to rely heavily on these external gadgets to assist them in reaching their destination. While responsible use of a GPS system or a cell-phone navigation app does not necessarily present a safety issue, the reality is that drivers are not always responsible when it comes to using these items.

TextingWhen a driver’s attention is removed from the road – even for a split second – the chance of causing an accident greatly increases. Indeed, it is estimated that one in four traffic accidents are caused by texting and driving. Some studies suggest that distracted driving is even more dangerous than drunk driving.

Despite the known dangers of distracted driving, motorists continue to use their phones when behind the wheel. In Maryland, it is illegal to talk or text on the phone while driving. Motorists can only use their cell phones with approved hands-free devices. While a violation of Maryland’s texting-while-driving ban will only result in a $40 fine for a first-time offender, there may be more significant penalties if an accident is caused as a result.

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Large trucks are made to bring goods across the country, and as a result, they are specifically designed to carry large amounts of cargo on the nation’s highways. However, at the beginning and end of a truck driver’s journey, he or she will at some point have to drive on smaller surface streets.

Going to SchoolDriving on small city streets can present difficulties for many truck drivers, whose rigs may be upwards of 70 feet long and may consist of several trailers being towed by a single truck. For example, many city intersections are much smaller than truck drivers are used to navigating, and they may require special maneuvers to safely negotiate them. In addition, the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists presents additional hazards that truck drivers must take precautions to avoid.

Despite the additional difficulties of driving on smaller roads, truck drivers remain responsible for safely operating their vehicles and may be held liable when they cause an accident on city streets. Of course, some accidents may be unavoidable even with the exercise of due caution, and truck drivers are not likely to be responsible for these. However, when a truck driver’s negligence or inexperience results in an accident, the truck driver – and potentially their employer – may be held liable for any injuries that result.

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Being involved in any kind of traffic accident can take its toll on an accident victim. Between the physical recovery and the emotional distress most accident victims endure, the recovery process can take months or even years. Add to this the likely prospect of mounting medical bills and time away from work, and the recovery process becomes one of not just physical and emotional wellbeing but also financial stability.

Cloudy HighwayIn Maryland, those who have been involved in a serious truck accident may be able to seek financial compensation for the injuries they have endured through a Maryland truck accident lawsuit. Depending on the circumstances of the accident and the severity of the accident victim’s injuries, recovery packages may include amounts for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering that the accident victim endured as a result of the accident.

Before an accident victim is entitled to receive compensation, however, they must establish that the named defendant or defendants were legally responsible for causing the accident as well as the accident victim’s injuries. A dedicated personal injury attorney should be consulted prior to filing any truck accident case, not just to ensure that all procedural rules are followed but also to assist the accident victim in preparing a strong case for recovery.

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