Pittsburgh Truck Accidents Attorney
LARGE TRUCK CRASHES: A MAJOR PROBLEM, LIKELY TO GET WORSE
Every year trucking companies pay out millions of dollars in compensation to victims of trucking accidents. Throughout the nation, big rigs cause or contribute to innumerable accidents on the nation’s roadways. The Ohio River Valley is no exception. Trucks are often poorly maintained, do not have their hazardous loads properly secured or are operated by negligent or irresponsible drivers. They often cause catastrophe for other vehicles and their occupants. In other cases, co-drivers are injured as the result of their partner’s dangerous behavior. On some occasions there are accidents that are no fault of the driver at all; a truck part defect, dangerous road conditions or other factors may contribute to a truck crash that are out of the drivers’ hands. If you or a loved one have been the victim of an accident involving a large truck in the Ohio River Valley region, contact our experienced team of Pittsburgh truck accident lawyers right away.
While trucks deliver vital goods to cities and towns across the Ohio River Valley region and beyond, too often, they also reap devastating injuries and catastrophe. If you or a family member has been injured in a trucking accident in the Ohio River Valley, our Pittsburgh auto accident lawyers at Chaffin Luhana, LLP are on your side in the fight for justice and compensation. No matter the challenges of your case, we have the resources to investigate and litigate these high-stakes cases and we have recovered nearly $1 billion in compensation for our injured clients. We the resources to challenge even the most formidable corporate interests. Rarely do trucking companies admit to fault or offer fair compensation. Instead, victims’ rights attorneys, like our Chaffin Luhana truck accident lawyers in Pittsburgh, PA must force them to do what is right.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, approximately 333, 000 trucking-related accidents occurred in the United States during 2012. Nearly 73,000 people were injured in trucking crashes during that same year and nearly 3,500 trucks were involved in fatal crashes. In 2013, more than 4,100 trucks were involved in fatal crashes on the nation’s roadways. These data are representative for the last several years and there is little reason to believe the number of fatal crashes will be reduced dramatically in the near future. While the number of non-fatal truck crashes decreased between 2011 and 2013, the decrease does not indicate that fewer crashes will occur in the future. In fact, there may be reason to believe that more fatal trucking “accidents” will continue to occur and they will continue to increase in severity since truck crashes are, so often, catastrophic. As the population continues to increase, suburbs continue to sprawl and online retail transactions become more commonplace, the amount of commercial goods being delivered will certainly increase as well. There are millions of trucks on the road traveling to and from docks and warehouses, rail stations, and other hubs as they deliver their goods across the nation to retail outlets and, increasingly, individual homes. While online retail may have had a positive impact for many Americans, it may be one of the underlying reasons for the increased dangers on the road. Throughout the nation, crashes involving large trucks are causing widespread suffering and tragedy. No region of the country is immune to the dangers.
In Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, combined, there were 308 fatal trucking accidents in 2013 and hundreds more involved serious injuries according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the federal agency tasked with overseeing the commercial carrier industry in the United States. There are rarely “minor” trucking accidents since these behemoths of the road often inflict cataclysmic damage on surrounding cars, light trucks, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. In the Ohio River Valley and throughout the nation, some of the most common causes of truck accidents are:
- Dangerous lane changes
- Driver fatigue (driving for too long without stopping to rest)
- Driver error
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Failure to adjust to weather and road conditions
- Improperly secured load
- Poorly maintained trucks and trailers
- Speeding, running a red light or other moving violation
- Texting or being distracted while driving
- Other types of driver negligence
The above are only a small sample of the many ways that a truck accident might occur. In many cases, the individual truck operator may be solely responsible for the crash but, often, the company that hired the truck operator will also be liable. They may not have vetted or trained the driver effectively. They may have forced the driver to work more hours than are allowed by law or they may not have monitored the driver appropriately. They may have failed in their duty to properly maintain the truck.
Billions of dollars in cargo travel the nation’s highways in the care of these trucking companies. They have vast wealth at stake and their profit is often contingent upon their drivers making deliveries on time. Crashes are just a part of their business plan: with so many trucks on the road, they know it is only a matter of time before one of them causes catastrophe. While they may look at these crashes as just another part of their business plan or one factor in the “cost of doing business,” for victims of these crashes, the results can be life altering.
In the truck crash cases that Chaffin Luhana Pittsburgh trucking accident lawyers handle, we investigate every detail of the crash and the company’s background. We conduct a thorough analysis of the crash site and meticulously study the vehicles involved to gather vital evidence. This may include collecting log entries from the trucking company or the subcontractor that was hired to maintain the vehicle. We will also scrutinize appropriate records of past misconduct by the driver or trucking company. All trucking companies are required to keep detailed records of their vehicles, contractors and employees. Failure to do so may be grounds for criminal penalties or fines. Furthermore, if a company withholds required information or they are not completely transparent about their business practices, they may be hiding something. If they are, we will find the truth.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT TRUCKING CRASHES
Most tractor-trailers and big-rigs are considered “large trucks” by government agencies. This means that they weigh more than 10,000 pounds. The average car only weighs 4,000 pounds and a large truck, with its load, can weigh up to 80, 000 pounds. States may impose individual laws but they typically defer to federal guidelines when determining size and weight limits since so many trucks, especially in the Ohio River Valley and on the Atlantic Coast, cross state boundaries regularly. Furthermore, states are at risk of losing their National Highway System funding if they develop laws that are different from those established at the federal level for trucks that travel the National Highway system. Despite strict regulations and rigorous attempts at oversight by government agencies and industry watchdogs, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reports the following:
- Each year in the United States over 200,000 crashes occur that involve at least one car and one large truck.
- Truck crashes involving passenger cars often lead to fatal consequences for the victims in the car or other smaller vehicle. In fact, in fatal automobile-truck crashes, four out of five times it is at least one of the occupants of the car who are killed rather than the truck operator or truck passenger.
- Because such a high percentage of crashes are caused by truck operator error that often involves driver fatigue, the Department of Transportation, with the guidance of the FMCSA, issued new guidelines in 2011 to reduce the accidents caused by fatigued truck drivers. These are called the “hours of service” rules for truck drivers. Two new requirements were added to existing regulations according to “Why We Care About Truck Driver Fatigue” by Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation. The new regulations require drivers of large trucks to get more rest than was previously required. The agency’s goal was to reduce the amount a truck driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours per week. The goal was also to force drivers to sleep in regular intervals. Long periods without consistent and lengthy sleep breaks can lead to long-term fatigue that has a lasting impact on safety.
- A 2006 study by the FMCSA found that most truck crashes were typically caused by human error or negligence rather than other factors such as manufacturer defect, weather or road conditions. Fatigue often had a direct impact on the crashes caused by human error.
When a tractor-trailer collides with another vehicle on the road, the results are usually devastating for the driver and passengers of the other vehicle because of the size and weight of the truck. Injuries can be serious and even fatal. Our truck accident attorneys in Pittsburgh, PA represent individuals and families who have suffered any type of significant loss as a result of a truck accident including:
- Amputation injuries
- Back and neck injuries
- Broken bones
- Crushing injuries
- Facial fractures
- Severe lacerations
- Spinal cord injuries, paralysis
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Wrongful death
Severe injuries can result in a lifetime of pain and medical challenges. In some cases, victims may have to depend on 24-hour care for the rest of their lives and undergo multiple surgeries and lifelong pain management. People that suffer brain injuries may experience memory loss and changes to their personalities that affect their own lives, as well as the lives of their loved ones. Serious injuries are devastating for an entire family. At Chaffin Luhana, our Pittsburgh truck accident attorneys recognize the severity of truck accidents and the injuries they cause. We serve as advocates for people injured in these types of accidents as well as their families. We tirelessly work to get them the maximum amount of compensation possible.
EXAMPLES OF LARGE TRUCKING COMPANY SAFETY REPORTS
In an effort to keep the roads safe, the federal government requires commercial motor vehicle companies—including trucking companies and bus operators—to file reports detailing their safety record and compliance with regulations for these “common carriers.” The FMCSA, under the authority of the United States Department of Transportation, collects data on bus and trucking companies and penalizes them for non-compliance with strict reporting requirements and safety standards. But despite their best efforts, truck crashes still occur. In addition to the innumerable ways in which a trucking accident can occur, there are also innumerable trucking companies with millions of vehicles on the road. According to the America Trucking Associations, there are over 3 million large trucks currently in operation in the United States. The sheer volume makes monitoring them extremely challenging though the government should be lauded for trying to ensure public safety. However, litigation is often the most effective way to get the attention of these companies and force them to change their dangerous behavior.
Many crashes are the result of non-compliance with applicable state and federal regulations. And some regulations only impact trucks that remain in one state (intrastate trucking) while others impact only trucks that travel across state borders (interstate trucking). Some of the regulations are related to rest, alcohol and drug use, background checks and even age of drivers. These state laws can vary from federal guidelines. For instance, in many states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, a large truck operator must be 18 years old to qualify for a commercial driver’s license but federal law requires that drivers who travel interstate must be at least 21. Whether interstate or intrastate, all drivers must pass a medical background check, must be fully vetted and effectively trained before they are allowed to get behind the wheel. Additionally, if a driver has violated any regulations in the past and there is a record of such a violation and they were not appropriately reprimanded, this may also be useful evidence in a plaintiff’s lawsuit. The trucking company may not be willing to take a driver off the road if it will cause a breakdown in efficiency. Too often, these massive companies place profit over safety. The regulations are in place to foster a safe environment. If there is a disregard for any regulations or safety requirements, the company may be penalized. Any violations may also work as evidence in a lawsuit to reveal a pattern of negligence contributing to unsafe conditions.
Trucking companies are required to share extensive safety information with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration under their Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement program and other state and federal reporting programs. Furthermore, the federal agency and state equivalents also gather extensive data through individual inspections and reviews. Below is a snapshot of some of the types of information gathered by these organizations through inspection, law enforcement reports and other resources. This information is available to the public at FMCSA’s website under the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System. These are a few of largest commercial carriers that do business throughout the nation and in the Ohio River Valley:
While these reports are critically important, they do not put an end to the threat that trucks pose. Reporting this information may also work as a deterrent to the creation of unsafe conditions but, in many cases, the trucking company will simply accept paying fines and settlements after crashes to maximize profit. In other words, a few injuries or deaths are worth the cost as long as they don’t detract from the bottom line. This is one of the many reasons attorneys like those at Chaffin Luhana fight for maximum compensation on behalf of our injured clients: these companies will only change their ways when they are hit hard in the pocketbook. When truck crashes occur, contacting experienced attorneys at a well-funded law firm is crucial. Truck crash cases can be extremely challenging to litigate. But at Chaffin Luhana, we have the experience to overcome even the most complex legal challenges.
COMPENSATION IN TRUCKING ACCIDENT CLAIMS AND LAWSUITS
Every trucking accident case is different because there are so many factors to consider and details to uncover. Furthermore, no one can guarantee that they will win a case or predict exactly how much money will be recovered in a truck accident lawsuit. However, the FMCSA requires trucks to carry large insurance policies because the damage they can inflict is so severe. Many of these insurance policies are in excess of $1 million and this may not even include insurance on the material being transported by the truck. These large insurance policies may be enough to cover injuries and losses for victims but, often, they are far from adequate. In many cases, a trucking company’s insurance will move quickly hoping to offer what appears to be a large settlement. They will, perhaps, encourage the victim to sign a promise never to sue and then offer them several hundred thousand dollars for pain and suffering and property damages. To a victim, this may seem to be an attractive deal. However, in the weeks, months and years after, the victim may still struggle with medical challenges, may be unable to perform their job, may experience personality changes and their difficulties may become worse. What appeared to be a great deal after the trucking accident is no such thing. The insurance company may have offered a low ball settlement to save themselves money in the long run. This is why we encourage any injury victim to speak with an extremely experienced attorney before they speak with an insurance company.
Chaffin Luhana have helped their clients recover nearly $1 billion after they have suffered injury. Had these clients settled with the insurance company before seeking legal representation, they would have recovered far less compensation. In some cases, they may have received nothing without our diligent efforts. The following settlements and verdicts were won with the help of skilled truck accident attorneys throughout the nation and with the help of specialized investigators. These indicate the value of having experienced allies on your side if you have suffered in a truck crash:
- New Mexico 2015: $165 million truck crash verdict
- Michigan 2014: $34 million truck crash settlement
- Texas 2013: $281 million truck crash verdict
- California 2013: $150 million truck crash verdict
- Illinois 2012: $26 million mediated truck crash settlement
These are only a small sample of the many verdicts and settlements that have been publicly disclosed by law firms throughout the nation. Many tractor-trailer accident claims settle out of court and are confidential. Many of the massive settlements will never be made public but the victims will be able to take comfort in knowing they have obtained some type of justice. Furthermore, when a large corporation such as UPS, Fed EX, Mayflower or some other commercial carrier is forced to pay substantial compensation after a crash, they may change their policies and make the roads safer for everyone. However, they may aggressively fight back and their insurers and lawyers may stop at nothing to avoid taking responsibility. Chaffin Luhana is prepared for any challenges they may create.
LEGAL CHALLENGES—AND SOLUTIONS—IN TRUCK ACCIDENT LAWSUITS
The injuries may be catastrophic. The need for substantial compensation may be acute. The complications involved in truck accident lawsuits are certainly related to the suffering, pain and anxiety a family may feel when serious injury and loss has been inflicted upon them. Not only is the human cost a factor—families and individual victims are often devastated by the severe injuries involved in a truck crash—but life-saving surgeries and rehabilitation, life-long medical care, pain management and lifestyle alterations also come at a cost. In many cases, there are also factors related to lost wages and lost career opportunities. A truck crash can change the course of a life forever and create substantial financial costs. Especially because the amounts of compensation may be significant, the truck company and their insurer may aggressively fight to pay what is fair or may refuse to pay anything at all. They may do anything they can to avoid taking responsibility for the tragedy they caused. They will hire teams of lawyers, investigators and experts to discredit victims. They may blame the victim. They may delay the claims process in hopes that the victim will simply get tired and let them win. Chaffin Luhana have our own experts. We have our own investigators. We have extensive experience and limitless resources to fight back against even the most formidable and well-funded adversary in the most complex truck crash lawsuits.
Trucking companies such as CRST, PENSKE, OLD DOMINION, UPS and others have to expect that their drivers will be involved in collisions; crashes are inevitable with so many trucks on the roads. A truck crash is only a question of time. Because they anticipate such crashes, commercial carriers and their insurance companies develop extensive resources to put up a legal fight. Most large trucking companies have their own specialized investigators to launch immediate investigations into crashes. Many times they may publicly announce they are investigating in order to ensure safety in the future. While this may be partially true, they are primarily tasked with deflecting accusations of wrongdoing, negligence or irresponsible behavior. In short, they are liability denial teams. They will begin developing a defense strategy in the immediate wake of a truck crash. This is a further complication of truck accidents and a reminder that, in the event of a truck crash, victims should contact an attorney immediately to protect their best interests. The trucking company investigators and insurance company lawyers may not have victims’ best interests in mind. They are beholden to their corporate client. Victims need a formidable ally in these cases even if they believe they were partially at fault.
The corporate lawyers and representatives of the trucking company ay attempt to blame the victim. In some cases, the truck operator may not be exclusively to blame. But the driver of a car during a truck-car collision may still have access to compensation even if they contributed to the crash. We can determine if comparative negligence or contributory negligence were involved or if the car driver had absolutely no responsibility for the crash. Speed, however, is essential since the sooner the lawyers and investigators for Chaffin Luhana can get to work, the sooner we can develop your case to show evidence in the most favorable light. We want to begin immediately: interviewing witnesses, photographing the crash scene, collecting crucial evidence and seeking out appropriate truck log books, accident reports and other details that will help us build a case for you. Our version of the crash may significantly contrast with the trucking company’s version of events.
Truck operators and technicians tasked with maintaining vehicles are required to keep detailed logs and to maintain records that may be used as evidence in the case of a collision. These types of regulations are designed to protect the public and force the companies to prioritize safety. The destruction of evidence to deny liability is a serious offense. However, a crash can also lead to massive problems for the trucking company and the driver so, often, they may hide evidence or destroy it in order to conceal their own fault. For instance, a truck operator is required to maintain a logbook containing information about their time behind the wheel, when they rested and other important factors that ensure compliance with the law. These logbooks, however, can be easily distorted. If there is evidence of false information or we suspect the driver has not been completely truthful, we will collect evidence that may lead us to the truth.
Our Pittsburgh truck accident lawyers should be consulted as soon as possible after a crash so we can minimize the risk that evidence will be lost or damaged. These risks reside in all trucking accident cases. A commercial carrier might repair a damaged tractor-trailer and place it back into service as early as possible. When this happens, vehicle damages might be concealed or removed. Our investigators should be able to access all evidence before such essential information is lost. We also want to gather details from the engine data recorder that may contain evidence supporting our client’s claim against the trucking company.
These are only a few of the many complications and challenges. All of these challenges can also be exacerbated by other factors. In some cases, the negligent party is not even the truck driver. This also adds complexity to such cases. At Chaffin Luhana our team of attorneys also handle cases involving defective truck parts such as defective tires and faulty brakes. When problems arise with truck parts, the responsible parties might include the product designer, the manufacturing company or even the company responsible for maintenance and repairs on the vehicle. We will meticulously analyze all details of each truck accident case we take. This may involve holding multiple parties liable and demanding maximum compensation from several companies. Some of these companies may be headquartered in other states from where the crash occurred. A subcontractor may be tasked with maintaining the vehicle and may be based in yet another state. There are a plethora of complexities that may impact a truck crash case but we will subpoena the appropriate records when necessary and leave no detail unaccounted for. If there is a trail to the truth, we will find it and fight for justice on behalf of injury victims.
The physical, emotional and financial toll experienced in the wake of a trucking accident makes it critical to obtain a full recovery for injuries and financial losses. In some cases, punitive damages may be available if the truck operator or owner violated the law in any way. There may also be shared liability among multiple parties or there may be multiple vehicles and victims involved. These, and many other factors, will impact a truck accident lawsuit and we have the resources necessary to investigate and litigate even the most challenging cases. Having a sophisticated, proven and well-funded trucking accident lawyer to represent your interests will make a dramatic impact on your chances of achieving success. Eric Chaffin and Roopal Luhana not only have many years of combined successful experience but they are also fully committed to providing clients with the best possible legal representation.
Most truck crash claims and lawsuits are settled out of court. Chaffin and Luhana Pittsburgh personal injury lawyers are shrewd negotiators and we pursue maximum compensation for our clients in out-of-court settlements but we are also highly experience trial attorneys. If a case must go to trial, we will use all of our vast resources to persuade a jury that our client deserves maximum compensation.