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.
Truck accident cases are often complicated, involving more than just the truck driver and the injured accident victim or victims. A pragmatic attorney will look at the driver, the trucking company, the entity that loaded the cargo, and various other parties to determine who contributed to the accident. Having counsel that focuses on litigation involving commercial trucks is vital when trying or negotiating an accident claim.
However, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, medical bills, and other damages. Working with an experienced Fayetteville 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 COMMERCIAL 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 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 that 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 an accident. Additionally, Arkansas has laws and regulations regarding the transport of hazardous materials on its roadways.
Factors That Cause Truck Accidents in Arkansas and Contribute to Liability
Many factors contribute to truck accidents in Arkansas. Some of these factors are out of the control of the truck driver or the trucking company. However, others are directly related to the conduct of the driver and the company’s business practices. When someone is injured in a preventable accident, the at-fault party should be held liable for any damages. Truck accidents often result in devastating or catastrophic injuries due to their sheer size and weight.
Truck Driver Fatigue
A significant contributing to truck accidents is driver fatigue. When a truck driver has been on the road for an extended period of time, they present a danger to themselves and others on the road. Large commercial trucks require a driver to pay close attention to the operation of their vehicle and the surrounding traffic.
Many drivers on long journeys will use the federal short-haul exemption to avoid reporting their working or driving hours. Under federal law, a short-haul exempt driver does not have to record the hours they are on the road despite still being required to comply with work and rest regulations. The exemption from recording their hours opens a door for abuse. In some cases, drivers are on the road much longer than they should be.
A tired driver will make poor decisions or fail to react to changing road conditions when necessary. Depending on the circumstances, a driver or the company that employs them could be held liable if an accident occurs. For instance, a trucking company could demand that their drivers complete their hauls in an unreasonable and unrealistic short amount of time. In other cases, a driver will make the decision themselves to increase their potential profits. Our Arkansas truck accident attorneys will thoroughly investigate the driver’s logs and company records to determine if federal and state regulations were met. Additionally, newer vehicles are equipped with onboard devices that monitor and record data related to the truck’s operation and use.
Other Truck Driver Conduct
Driving fatigued is just one behavior that endangers other motorists. To combat tiredness, some truck drivers will turn to artificial stimulants or drugs. While this might keep a driver awake, it still impairs their mental and cognitive abilities. The slightest wrong decision or action could prove devastating or deadly for other nearby motorists. Any truck driver who harms another person because they got behind the wheel of their massive vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol should be held accountable.
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of automotive accidents. Truck drivers are not immune from this negligent conduct. Long and lonely hours on the road are often disrupted with a text conversation or a phone call. Even changing a radio station or consulting a GPS could take a truck driver’s attention away from the task at hand. Because of the size, maneuverability, and large blind spots, any distraction is likely to cause an accident.
Unfortunately, some truck drivers are just reckless. When the need to finish a trip quickly trumps safety concerns, a truck driver might drive at an excessive speed or ignore other traffic rules and regulations. Reckless or careless operation of a large commercial truck puts other motorists at risk.
Arkansas’ topography and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and western plains play a crucial role in the state’s extreme weather patterns. When warm, moist air travels through the state and mixes with cooler air coming in from the plains and the Rocky Mountains, supercell thunderstorms are produced. These devastating storms form quickly and travel across Arkansas. Extreme weather conditions make driving treacherous – especially if someone is operating a large commercial vehicle. When visibility is restricted, truck drivers should slow down to a safe speed or pull over altogether. However, when a deadline is looming, safety concerns often take a backseat. Truck drivers have a legal duty to safely operate their rig. While weather is uncontrollable, a trucker’s decisions are. Ignoring the current weather conditions to keep a delivery schedule endangers other motorists.
Truck Part Malfunction or Defect
Truck accidents occur when vital system malfunctions or is defective. If a truck’s braking system fails while in heavy traffic, an accident is likely to occur. In this situation, the best a truck driver could hope to do is mitigate the damage. However, someone should still be held liable. Depending on the facts, it could be various parties. If a defective part was installed in the truck during the manufacturing process, then the company that built the truck could be responsible for any damages. When an issue stems from a lack of repair or maintenance, then the truck owner could be held accountable. The owner might be the truck driver or a trucking company. By reviewing the truck’s maintenance logs and the accident history of the particular model, our office will look to determine what parties should be held liable.
Poor road conditions cause some truck accidents in Arkansas. A truck driver might have to react to debris in the road or lose control because of an uneven surface, resulting in a collision with one or more other vehicles. When the road condition contributes to an accident, the municipality that is charged with maintaining the road could be held liable. Construction debris is also an issue. Should materials or other debris enter a roadway and cause an accident because of the actions or carelessness of a construction crew, the construction company might be financially responsible for any injuries.
Poor road conditions do not eliminate a truck driver’s responsibility to operate their vehicle in a safe manner. When traveling through a construction area, a truck driver should proceed with caution. Furthermore, if the road is uneven or in a state of disrepair, a driver should factor the conditions when changing lanes, turning, or determining a safe travel speed.
Truck Accident Lawsuits Can Be More Involved Than Other Types of Accidents
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.
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 the context that provides a jury or judges 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 the 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.
OUR ARKANSAS TRUCK ACCIDENT LAWYERS CAN HELP
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.