18-wheelers, dump trucks, Mack trucks, delivery trucks and many other types of commercial vehicles share the road with private motorists each and every day. Most people simply want to reach their destination safely; whether it be home, work, or another destination people expect to travel on safe roadways in Arkansas and throughout the United States. Unfortunately, and sometimes tragically, accidents do happen. When those accidents involve large commercial vehicles the consequences are often severe.
However you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, medical bills and other damages. Working with an experienced Fayetteville, AR personal injury lawyer, like Ken Kieklak of the Law Practice of Ken Kieklak, can improve the likelihood of achieving a favorable settlement or jury verdict.
Who Regulates Commerical Trucks in Arkansas?
In 2000, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was formed. The FMCSA oversees most activities by commercial vehicles and other covered industries and organizations. The FMCSA can craft and enforce rules regarding driver safety, cargo securement, cargo loading, and in many other areas of concern. While commercial transportation of cargo is certainly under the purview of the FMCSA, the agency also regulates bus companies and other organizations who are transporting 15 or more individuals.
Arkansas also has its own state regulations involving certain types of cargo and loads. For example, Arkansas law 8-6-407 Commercial refuse hauling by uncovered vehicles prohibits any commercial garbage-hauling company from transporting their cargo without covering it with a tarp or ensuring the design of the truck is such that the cargo will not leak, drop, or fall from the truck. Such regulations can reduce the likelihood that cargo becomes roadway debris and causes and accident. Additionally, Arkansas has laws and regulations regarding the transport of hazardous materials on its roadways.
How Do Trucking Accidents Occur?
Each and every accident is the product of a unique combination of factors. However, certain factors tend to be more common than others. Certain factors that are common to many trucking accidents include:
- Distracted driver– A commercial driver may become distracted for the same reasons any driver can. The driver may be looking for a place to rest, operating a mobile phone, feeling ill, or be involved with a multitude of other distractions.
- Fatigued driver– While FMCSA regulations require drivers to take breaks after driving for certain durations, some may be tempted to forego these mandated rest periods. A drowsy or exhausted driver can fall asleep at the wheel and cause a catastrophic accident.
- Driving under the Influence – Drinking and driving is often deadly. When a driver is drunk, their mental and physical capabilities are impaired. Many truck drivers spend long hours on the road. To help fight fatigue, they turn to artificial stimulants. When drugs such as amphetamines might keep a driver awake, they still adversely impact their cognitive skills.
- Inexperienced truck drivers – Driving a truck is much more challenging than any other vehicle. Large commercial trucks are difficult to maneuver. If a driver is inexperienced, they are liable to make a costly error. Trucking companies that hired inexperienced drivers or failed to adequately train their employees, could be held accountable if an accident occurs.
- Improper securement of cargo– Cargo that is improperly secured or not secured can shift during transit. This shifting of cargo can cause the truck to jackknife or overturn. Cargo should be secured as per FMCSA regulations using a combination of securing devices and tie-downs.
- Tire blow-out– A tire blow-out can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle. Trucks may swerve or veer after a tire blow-out.
- Poor weather conditions– Like for any motorist, poor visibility and slippery road conditions can greatly increase the likelihood of an accident. Snow and ice present the biggest risk during the winter, while violent summer storms with torrential rainfalls or hail are the chief concern in the summer months.
If you have suffered a serious injury like a broken or fractured bone, a traumatic brain injury, or other serious injury due to a trucking accident, you may be entitled to compensation. The compensation could include both the expenses you have incurred due to the injury and the income that you have lost.
Differences Between Car and Truck Accidents in Arkansas
When a car accident occurs between two motorists, there are usually two primary parties involved in the aftermath: you and your insurance company and the other driver and their insurance provider. While this is a simplified version, in many cases, the blame is apportioned out between both drivers, with one probably having the lion’s share of the liability.
Every driver in Arkansas has a duty to operate their vehicle safely. This means exercising reasonable judgment, following the traffic rules, and ensuring that their car is roadworthy. People who drive commercial trucks or large rigs share this same duty. However, there are a number of additional factors that come into play when an accident involves a large commercial truck.
In terms of a personal injury lawsuit, the most significant difference is the number of parties that could be held accountable for an accident. Obviously, the truck driver is one of the primary parties that could be liable for your injuries and damages. Because a truck driver is usually working for someone or hauling another company’s freight, an experienced Arkansas truck accident attorney will have to thoroughly investigate an accident to determine what parties could be held accountable.
Finding Out Who is Liable in an Arkansas Truck Accident
One of the reasons truck accidents often result in complicated legal battles is because there could be several potentially liable parties. There are also many various reasons truck accidents happen. While most accidents are caused by driver negligence, this is not always the case.
Type of Truck Driver
First, all truck drivers are not the same. Typically, truck drivers fall into three different categories.
Some drivers are both the owner and operators of their rigs. These drivers own their trucks and either work for a company as an independent driver or lease their trucks to a trucking company. In most situations, an owner-operator truck driver is hauling freight for multiple companies.
A similar category is an independent driver. Like the drivers mentioned above, they own their own trucks. However, instead of contracting through a trucking company, an independent driver will enter an agreement directly with the company or individual that requires freight to be hauled or delivered.
Then, there are company drivers. These drivers do not own the truck but are employed by a company that provides the vehicle and the routes. A common example of this type of driver is a UPS driver. However, many companies own large fleets of eighteen-wheelers and employ hundreds of truck drivers.
Determining liability for a truck accident depends on which type of truck driver was involved in the accident.
One reason truck accidents occur is a malfunction with the vehicle. As stated above, in addition to following the rules of the road, a motorist has a duty to ensure their vehicle is in safe operating condition. If you were involved in a car accident because your brakes failed and you did not have your car routinely inspected or perform necessary maintenance, your liability could increase.
Trucks are much more complicated machines and require routine maintenance and repairs. The trucking company or person who owns or leases a commercial truck is responsible for the vehicle’s upkeep. However, this could be further complicated by contractual provisions between the owner, shipper, or other parties involved in the truck’s maintenance. An experienced Arkansas truck accident attorney will have to unravel the contractual relationships between the parties.
In some cases, the defect in the truck is inherent in its manufacture. In this instance, it might be possible to hold the company that built and sold the truck accountable for any damages that occurred.
The Driver’s Employment Status
The relationship between the driver and the trucking company is important in determining liability. A truck driver could be employed by an independent company that contracts drivers out to other shipping companies, an independent driver operating on their own and contracting directly with a trucking company, an employee of a trucking company, or a self-employed driver operating their own rig and entering into their own delivery contracts.
While most accidents are the direct result of driver error, such as speeding, fatigue, or driving while distracted, the employment relationship could mean that a trucking company will bear some accountability for an accident. In fact, in many cases, it is the fault of the trucking company when a driver is tired and on the road for too many hours. The truck driver’s employer could also even be held liable in cases where a driver was operating their vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Improperly Loaded Cargo
Under state and federal law, there are specific requirements for how cargo is loaded and stored on a truck. These restrictions include the amount of weight a truck is permitted to haul, the types of materials, and the methods on how goods are loaded and stored.
When a truck’s cargo is not secured correctly or balanced, it becomes much more difficult to control the vehicle. In many cases, it increases the chances of a rollover accident or makes it more dangerous because the truck cannot stop or maneuver efficiently.
If hazardous materials are not adequately secured or loaded, then even a minor accident could quickly turn catastrophic. Some typical types of dangerous cargo that are hauled across Arkansas include fuel, dry ice, oxygen tanks, fertilizer compounds, and other chemical or toxic materials.
If a shipper failed to secure cargo or if a driver did not thoroughly inspect their rig before transport, both could be held accountable for any injuries resulting from the improperly loaded or stored cargo.
Proving Liability After a Truck Accident in Arkansas
Determining what party could be held liable is just part of the equation. To prevail in a personal injury lawsuit arising from a truck accident, a plaintiff must be able to prove liability.
There are many types of essential evidence that our experienced Arkansas truck accident attorney will have to gather and investigate to build a case. Evidence alone is not always sufficient to prove liability. In nearly every case, the evidence must be given context that provides a jury or judge a specific way to interpret the evidence in your favor. Even if your case does not go to trial, a reasonable insurance settlement will typically require compelling evidence that makes going to trial too risky for any responsible party.
Evidence helps create a picture of what occurred and provides the building blocks our office needs to prove the various elements of the allegations made. For example, one of the major elements necessary to prove in a lawsuit based on negligence is that a defendant breached the duty of care they owed the plaintiff. In a truck accident case, this would mean demonstrating that the truck driver failed to operate their vehicle safely. Evidence to support this allegation could include cellphone records establishing that the driver was either talking on the phone or texting around the time of the accident.
Proving reckless behavior or poor decisions is not enough to win a personal injury lawsuit. The conduct of the truck driver or another responsible party must be shown to have been the proximate cause of your injuries. In many cases, this is the most contentious part of a lawsuit. The defendant or defendants will work hard to show that someone else, even the plaintiff, was to blame for the accident. For example, if a truck turned into your lane, a defendant could claim that you were passing illegally, speeding, or otherwise putting the truck driver into a dangerous situation. A trucking company or driver might also attempt to shift the blame to a shipping company or the truck manufacturer. Through the evidence collected, it will be your attorney’s job to show that the real cause of the accident was the negligent conduct of one of the defendants. This is one reason why it is critical to ensure all potentially responsible parties are included in the lawsuit.
Another critical element to prove in a negligence case is that you suffered actual damages or harm. By gathering medical records and other documents, perhaps detailing the amount of income you lost because of your injury, our office will work to establish both your financial losses and the physical pain and suffering you endured because of the accident.
Evidence Used by Arkansas Truck Accident Lawyers to Prove Liability
To prove a case against a defendant, many different types of evidence are required. For instance, reports filed by police and first responders are helpful in determining what happened at the crash site. Additionally, by contacting and interviewing witnesses to the crash, a story could be constructed. Other evidence from the accident scene often includes photographs of the vehicles and roadways. In some cases, there might be surveillance video from a nearby business or home that could prove critical in showing what occurred,
Evidence in a complicated truck accident case is not worth anything unless a jury understands what is being presented. For example, if the evidence supports that a driver was driving under the influence of opiate metabolites, the jury must understand what that means and how it impacts a driver’s cognitive and physical capabilities.
While witnesses to an accident are critical in helping a jury understand what happened, an expert witness is vital in helping the jury understand the evidence presented. This is one way our Arkansas truck accident attorney gives context and meaning to the evidence we gathered. An expert witness could testify to explain the science behind a crash, the accepted industry practices, and discuss how a truck driver or company deviated from those accepted standards.
For example, an expert accident reconstructionist could be employed to explain exactly what happened during the accident. By using police reports, photographs of aftermath, and a thorough investigation of the scene, a skilled reconstructionist could testify and explain how a truck accident happened.
As stated above, large commercial trucks are complicated pieces of machinery. By having a mechanical expert on hand, our office could present testimony as to why a truck malfunctioned, what part or parts failed, and give a jury an understanding of how it contributed to the accident.
Showing a jury a drug or alcohol test will usually not help a plaintiff’s case if the jury does not understand what they are seeing. A medical professional or toxicologist is useful in interpreting these tests and explaining exactly how the use of drugs or alcohol compromised a driver’s ability to function.
Arkansas Truck Accidents and Modified Comparative Negligence
Some accidents are the result of the conduct of one driver. However, in many instances, both drivers play a contributing role. In personal injury lawsuits, Arkansas follows a modified comparative negligence doctrine. According to this doctrine, fault or blame in a truck accident case will be apportioned out between all parties involved. Because each party could be held partially at fault, a plaintiff’s compensation could be impacted. For example, if an accident occurred because a truck driver was tired and failed to properly check their mirrors before changing lanes, they could be held entirely liable for an accident. However, if the driver of the car involved in the accident was texting at the time, they could be held to be at fault as well. If a jury determines that the truck driver was seventy percent to blame and that the plaintiff contributed thirty percent to the accident, the awarded compensation would be reduced by that percentage. In this case, a $100,000 award would be lowered to $70,000.
Arkansas also follows a “fifty percent” rule. Under this rule, if a plaintiff is found to be more than fifty percent to blame for an accident, they are not permitted to receive any compensation. In most truck accident cases, the defendant will work to show that the injured plaintiff contributed to the accident to lower their liability. Part of the job of our Arkansas truck accident attorney is not only to prove that the defendant was at fault but also to counter any arguments that our client contributed to the accident.
Can I Sue for Injuries from My Arkansas Truck Accident?
Every automotive accident could result in devastating, life-altering, or fatal injuries. However, when a large commercial truck is involved in a collision, the chances of severe injuries increase. A truck accident victim could be facing multiple surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, long months or years of physical therapy, or even permanent disabilities. Our committed Arkansas truck accident lawyers fight for injured victims and the compensation they deserve. Some of the common truck accident injuries we see in our office are listed below.
Every automotive vehicle accident could place an excessive amount of force and pressure on the accident victims’ bodies. When large commercial trucks are involved, the forces are usually significantly greater. Bones are often fractured or shattered depending on where the truck impacts a car. An injured victim could suffer several breaks in their hands or feet and more severe fractures of their larger bones, including their skull and spine.
Neck and Back Injuries
Back injuries can be challenging to diagnose. In some cases, the symptoms do not appear for several days or weeks. Unfortunately, back and neck injuries are often debilitating, rendering a truck accident victim immobile. These types of injures will impact your ability to work or enjoy life. In some catastrophic cases, a back injury could result in permanent paralysis. Neck injuries are also painful and could linger for years.
Spinal Cord Injuries
When the back is injured, it could extend to the spinal cord. Damaged nerves could result in everything from numbness and weakness to complete paralysis. In some cases, an injury to the spinal cord is unable to be medically repaired. Truck accident victims who sustain severe spinal damage could require a lifetime of medical care and support.
Soft Tissue Damage
Some of the most common types of injuries in car and truck accidents are soft tissue injuries. When a victim’s body is subjected to the forces of an accident, it is slammed against metal, plastic, and glass. Impacts with these hard substances could easily damage the soft tissue, muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout the body. Depending on the individual, these types of injuries could be a minor annoyance, severe discomfort, or an unbearable pain.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
The brain is protected by the skull and a sac of cerebral fluid. This fluid acts as a cushion, serving as a buffer between the brain and the protective skull. The excessive force that the body and head experiences in a truck accident are often no match for these natural protections. The impact of a collision with a commercial truck could cause your brain to strike your skull with enough force to cause permanent damage. In some cases, an accident victim might not be aware of the extent of damage their brain sustained in an accident.
Burn injuries can be horrific. When a truck carrying volatile chemicals is involved in an accident, the chances of burn injuries increase. Burns are difficult to treat, are prone to infection, and could leave an individual scarred for life.
The same forces and extreme pressures that could shatter bones and cause brain damage in a truck accident could crush a limb. Depending on the severity of the injury, a crushed limb could require amputation. Sometimes, a body part could be amputated during an accident. Amputation could not only adversely impact your ability to work again, but it could also require constant home healthcare. Our Arkansas truck accident truck accident attorneys will fight for the compensation you deserve if you lost a limb in a crash.
As stated earlier, a truck accident could subject your body to excessive forces. Many of the injuries that a truck accident victim suffers are readily apparent. However, internal injuries might not show symptoms for days. These types of injuries could be life-threatening and often require surgery. Because you might have sustained internal injuries, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention after a truck accident in Arkansas.
Too many people walk away from truck accidents permanently scarred or disfigured. While many scars might not impede your ability to work, any disfigurement might be a constant source of embarrassment and humiliation. Victims who are disfigured in a truck accident are entitled to recover compensation for their physical and emotional pain.
Cuts and Bruises
People will often refer to minor injuries as “just some cuts and bruises.” However, cuts or lacerations could be serious. They also could result in permanent injuries. When glass and debris are flying around during an accident, a victim could be scarred, blinded, or otherwise injured by sharp and deadly objections.
Contact Arkansas Truck Accident Lawyer Ken Kieklak Today
For more than 20 years, Arkansas personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law has stood-up for those injured due to the recklessness or negligence of others. He provides aggressive and strategic representation. To schedule your free and confidential legal consultation, call (479) 316-0438 or contact us online.