Ohio Trucking Accident Overview

Ohio truck accident overviewThe types of trucks involved in the almost 4,000 injury crashes in Ohio in 2013, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS), were: 1,859 tractor/semitrailers; 940 single-unit two-axle trucks; 427 single-unit three-axle trucks; 312 single-unit trucks; 256 other medium/heavy vehicles; 82 bobtails (no trailer attached); 49 doubles and 5 triples.

The ODPS cited the following major causes of the accidents involving trucks where injury resulted:

• truck rollover
• trucker ran off road to the right
• equipment failure (blown tire, brake failure)
• trucker ran off road to the left
• trucker crossed centerline
• cargo loss or shift
• truck jackknifed

Overall, the number of people injured in crashes in Ohio decreased in 2013 and large truck fatalities declined for the first time since 2009, according to the NHTSA.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) emphasizes that trucks often weigh 20 to 30 times more than passenger cars. They are taller and have greater ground clearance. Thus, it should not be a surprise that, as the Institute points out, the majority of deaths in large truck crashes are drivers of passenger vehicles and their occupants.

It takes a loaded tractor-trailer 20 to 40 percent more distance to stop than a passenger car, therefore truck braking capability can be a significant factor in crashes especially on a wet, slippery road.

What Happens After a Trucking Accident?

Investigation

If a trucker is involved in an accident while on duty, there are five things he or she should immediately do:

• Call the authorities.
• Take the proper steps regarding cargo, especially if it is hazardous and can damage the environment.
• Contact the employer.
• Contact the insurance company
• Take photos if possible.

If the accident is serious, the authorities should begin an investigation to determine who is at fault. Federal and state agencies will send a representative who is a certified truck inspector, or they will send a team of experts to review the condition of all significant mechanical parts of the vehicle involved. Perhaps, the manufacturer of a specific truck part may be implicated in the accident.

Alcohol and Drug Screening of Driver

Many times a driver will have to submit to alcohol and drug testing immediately after a crash to determine if he or she was drinking or may have been using controlled substances at the time of the accident. This may be at the request of the authorities, or it may be pursuant to the policy of their employer.

Gathering of Evidence

The police will write a report about the accident noting the positioning of vehicles after the collision, any skid marks, any injuries and any road or inclement weather conditions that may have affected the accident. They will note if poor maintenance of tires may have resulted in a blowout or if the cargo may have been loaded improperly.

In addition to the police investigation and report, it may be necessary to employ the services of an accident reconstructionist with extensive experience and knowledge related to trucking accidents. While police are trained to investigate the scene, they are often not qualified to make determinations of causation, especially in the complicated fact sequences that often lead to trucking accidents.

In-truck Recording Devices

Most trucks and some newer passenger cars have a “black box” or event data recorder (EDR) similar to those found in airplanes.

After a crash these small computer hard drive units can reveal such data as the speed patterns of the vehicle, the steering wheel angle, airbag deployment, engine performance level, when the driver used his brakes, how fast the driver was going, and how long the driver had been on the road. If there are cameras inside the truck, they can record activity in the cab and on the road in front of the vehicle.

The purpose of evaluating these various types of evidence is generally to demonstrate that the truck driver and the trucking company were or were not in compliance with government safety regulations. This evidence can also help piece together what was going on with the truck driver, vehicle and cargo in the minutes, hours and days before the accident.

This information can lead to important answers that were never previously available to accident investigators.

Truck and Vehicle Computers

After an accident, computers inside the truck can provide valuable information about the truck’s maintenance and inspection history. Data from on-board communications systems and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) tracking units can also be downloaded.

Video Recording Equipment

Many commercial vehicles use video recording equipment to monitor their employees’ activities while driving. These cameras often show the view looking into the cab of the vehicle, as well as the view from the driver’s perspective. These cameras automatically record while the vehicle is on, and can capture video evidence that would otherwise not be available. The cameras can show what a driver was doing immediately before an event (like dozing off or texting), and can be crucial evidence against a negligent carrier.

Preservation and Spoliation

Federal regulations require interstate carriers to maintain and preserve their records for a period of time. The destruction of documents, often referred to as “spoliation,” can lead to sanctions against a trucking company. Moreover, it is important to request that the company keep all of the above evidence for any potential claim against the carrier for negligence.

If the court finds spoliation has occurred, it may: 1) charge the jury that a rebuttable presumption has been created that the evidence would have been harmful to the defendant 2) exclude any testimony about the evidence, or 3) enter judgment against the party that tampered with the evidence. The severity of the court’s sanction can increase if it is determined the party seeking sanctions was prejudiced as a result of destruction of evidence.

The trucking company may argue that the destruction of evidence was inadvertent and not deemed relevant to the plaintiff’s case.

Because of this possible claim, plaintiff’s lawyers are advised to send the defendant(s) a “letter of spoliation” as early as possible. It will detail certain items that are to be “maintained and preserved” and not “destroyed, discarded, changed, repaired or altered in any way.”

The letter should state that the items are relevant to the plaintiff’s cause of action and that all sanctions under the law will be pursued if evidence is destroyed.

Insurance Companies

When a commercial driver has an accident, especially a serious one, the insurance carrier for the driver and/or the owner company begins their involvement almost immediately. Even outside of regular business hours, drivers and owners contact their insurer, and an adjuster is assigned to the claim. Many insurance carriers have special hot lines or after hours workers whose main purpose is to deal with large scale and/or catastrophic losses for their insureds.

These insurance companies and adjusters begin their internal investigation: requesting records, contacting supervisors, or even traveling to the scene. If the accident is serious enough, adjusters will contact local defense counsel to go to the scene as well, in an effort to protect the driver and create attorney-client privilege. Remember, the insurance company is there to protect the driver and owner, NOT the parties injured by the negligent acts of those they insure.

Theories of Liability for an Accident

To establish liability and recover compensation, the plaintiff must first identify every individual, business entity, government official or insurance company who may have some responsibility in the truck accident or may be obligated to compensate the injured party.

Basic Negligence

With the exception of strict liability defective product cases, the plaintiff’s theory in a truck accident will be based on negligence. Plaintiff must show defendant had a duty to drive safely, and breached that duty causing injury to the plaintiff. This is a simple concept that only requires the plaintiff to show that a reasonably prudent driver in the defendant’s position would have acted with greater care.

Respondeat Superior

This is also referred to as “vicarious liability” and means that the trucking company is indirectly responsible for the accident based on its status as employer of the person responsible for the crash.

The motor carrier is only responsible for the driver’s actions while the driver is acting within his scope of employment. A “respondeat superior” or “vicarious liability” claim is possible even if the company did nothing wrong.

A driver is acting within the scope of his employment if his activities further the carrier’s business in any manner. If the driver departs on a personal mission, a carrier cannot be held vicariously liable for his actions in most situations.

Negligent Hiring

If the company knowingly hired a driver with substance abuse problems or a record of accidents, or failed to properly train the driver, the company may be liable for its own negligence in not researching the driver’s background. Sometimes the negligent hiring action is taken against the insurance company.

Negligent entrustment is a similar charge and means that the trucking company should not have entrusted a vehicle to the driver because of his inexperience or inability to safely operate it. Negligent retention occurs when a trucking company discovers during the driver’s employment that he is incompetent, or should be disqualified, but they retain him and allow him to drive a commercial vehicle.

Aggravated Circumstances

The shipper may be held liable if he participated in the loading process and the accident was related to improper loading of the vehicle. If the trailer is sealed before it is picked up by the carrier, it is presumed the shipper participated in the loading. Liability regarding the load can also extend to the driver, the owner of the vehicle, and the trucking company.

Federal regulations prohibit a trucking company from allowing a driver to operate a commercial vehicle while the driver’s ability or alertness is impaired by fatigue, illness, or any other cause that would make driving unsafe.

A carrier has a duty to monitor its drivers’ logs through a log verification procedure to ensure proper control of driving time in compliance with maximum hours of service regulations. These rules are established to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue or inattentiveness. Any violation of these rules is admissible to prove negligence if an accident occurs.

Carriers should also monitor the speeds at which their drivers travel and if they are exceeding the speed limits. Many companies can easily do this by enabling a feature of the on-board “C-Link” which will automatically track the truck’s speed.

Broker Liability

A broker is often “the middle man” between the shipper and motor carrier. He does not transport the load but deals with the shipper and motor carrier in arranging transportation.

The broker is not usually held liable on a theory of agency or vicarious liability, but may be liable under a negligent hiring theory if he did not properly screen the motor carrier and failed to investigate the carrier’s safety record.

Negligent Inspection, Maintenance and Repair

Federal regulations require motor carriers to inspect, maintain and repair all motor vehicles subject to their control and to keep all parts and accessories in safe and proper operating conditions at all times.

A trucking company must maintain the following records for each vehicle under its control:

• Identification of the owner and style of the vehicle
• A list of the nature and due date of various inspection and maintenance operations performed on the vehicle
• A record of inspections, repairs and maintenance performed

The records must be maintained for one year while the vehicle is housed or maintained by the carrier and for six months after the vehicle leaves the carrier’s control. A carrier can be held responsible for any injury caused by its failure to inspect, maintain or repair any equipment under its control. Even a prior owner of a tractor-trailer can be held responsible for negligent maintenance of the vehicle in violation of federal safety regulations if an accident occurs.

Per Se Violations of Federal and State Regulations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) are a comprehensive list of guidelines and specifications governing the operation and maintenance of commercial vehicles.

Every interstate carrier is required to be knowledgeable about them and comply with all the provisions of the FMCSR applicable to that motor carrier’s operations.

Every driver and employee must comply with the FMCSR. Equipment and accessories required by the regulations must be maintained in compliance with them. No one may aid, abet, encourage or require a motor carrier or its drivers to violate any safety regulation. A trucking company can be held liable for an injury resulting from its violation of the FMCSR.

As with other federal regulations, agencies in most states have adopted the FMCSR as applicable to any commercial vehicle operated within the state.

Texting and Cell Phone Use

Texting while driving is banned for all drivers in all 50 states, but federal law prohibits cell phone use and texting for all drivers of commercial vehicles in the U. S. The ban on texting includes GPS devices because the rules for commercial drivers prohibit unsafely reaching for a device, holding a mobile phone, or pressing multiple buttons to use or communicate on a device.

While driving, a commercial driver cannot dial a phone, e-mail, instant message, manually enter text into an electronic device or read from such a device.

According to the DOT, nearly 16,000 truckers were ticketed in 2013 for using their cell phones while driving. Truckers face civil penalties up to $2,750 for violating commercial rules on cell phone use while driving. Some also face immediate firing by their carriers who can be levied with substantial civil fines.

FMCSA researchers have found the odds of being involved in a safety critical event are 23.2 times greater for commercial drivers who text behind the wheel. At 55 mph, these drivers are taking their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. Drivers who dial a cell phone while operating a vehicle are six times more likely to be involved in an accident, the researchers concluded.

Contact Our Experienced Attorneys

For more information about trucking accidents, please contact us for a free and private consultation with one of our experienced trucking accident attorneys. We can be reached by calling 1-888-235-4929, chatting with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or sending us a website message.

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