Commercial truck accidents are often more complex than other types of traffic accidents. Questions of liability and responsibility arise concerning the truck driver, his/her employer, the owner of the truck, and the trucking company. Understanding who may be liable for your truck accident requires some industry expertise.
The attorneys at Ragain & Cook, PC, have more than four decades of litigation experience in Montana, including handling many complicated truck accident cases. Contact our Billings truck accident attorneys to learn how we may be able to help you secure compensation for your injuries.
Truck Driver Negligence in Montana
Truck accidents generally lead to more catastrophic injuries and fatalities than ordinary traffic collisions due to the size and weight of the tractor-trailers. In 2014, 3,978 fatal accidents were reported that involved buses and large trucks. Despite the inherent dangers of these massive vehicles, not all truck drivers take their roadway responsibilities seriously. Some truck drivers text, talk, eat, and drink on the road. Others consume alcohol or drugs before driving to help them stay awake or cope with long hours on the highway.
A common cause of trucking accidents is drowsy driving, due to drivers being overworked and pressured to meet deadlines. If driver negligence is to blame for a trucking accident, the driver may be liable for injuries. This may be the case if the truck driver is an independent contractor and not an employee of the trucking company.
Truck Accident Statistics in Montana
The State of Montana collects annual data on trucking and commercial vehicle accidents in order to gain a better understanding of when, where, and why these crashes occur. Looking at the facts about truck accidents can help officials take steps to help prevent them in the future. For example, data showing a high number of crashes due to drowsy truck drivers resulted in the passing of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hours of service regulations. Here are a few of the most telling statistics on truck accidents in Montana, according to the latest reports:
- In 2016, 23 people in Montana died in large truck accidents.
- Large truck crashes seriously injured 69 people in the state in 2015.
- Thirteen large vehicle accidents in 2015 involved impaired drivers.
- In 2015, 44 large truck crash victims were not using safety restraint systems.
- National statistics show that 87,000 large trucks were involved in accidents that caused injuries in 2015.
- The number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes was 4,050 in 2015.
Every year, thousands of people die and suffer life-changing injuries in collisions with commercial trucks. Truck accidents are almost always preventable. Most come from truck driver negligence. As the victim of a truck accident, don’t stand by and let the truck driver and/or company get away with negligence. Taking legal action can result in the compensation you deserve, as well as changes in the company or industry that could prevent others from experiencing the same harms you have.
Why Montana Is a Dangerous Place for Truck Drivers
The conditions in Montana make it a particularly dangerous region for drivers. Winter brings lots of snow and ice – hazards that can be deadly in a large truck with limited stopping, turning, and maneuvering capabilities. Large trucks cannot stop as quickly as other vehicles, especially on icy roads. Negligence, incompetence, and speeding can easily result in tragedy during a Montana winter. Truck drivers should always maintain ample distance behind other vehicles, and expect to encounter ice on bridges. Truckers shouldn’t pass others on the road unless such actions are absolutely necessary, and always obey safe driving best practices.
Montana truck drivers should always check roadway conditions before hitting the road. They should also be in constant communication with motor carrier traffic controllers and others responsible for directing truckers on the best routes to take for transport. Icy roads, construction sites, heavy traffic, potholes, and other hazards may exist that make roads dangerous to use. It is a truck driver’s responsibility to do everything reasonably possible to ensure the safety of others on the roadway.
Truck drivers aren’t the only parties responsible for safe transport. The trucking company plays an integral role in preventing condition-related accidents. Montana trucking companies should be aware of the most common hazards according to the region, such as slippery roads in winter. They must take steps to prevent common accidents, such as equipping trucks with winter tires and training drivers to drive on snow and ice. Truck maintenance is vital in winter, when bad brakes or worn tires can cause major crashes.
Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents in Billings
An abundance of factors can be responsible for truck accidents. One of the most common causes is speeding. Excessive speeds are an issue for drivers of all vehicles. Speeding makes it harder to control a vehicle. It is especially dangerous with trucks because of the weight of the vehicle. If a driver loses control, the truck’s impact could damage numerous other vehicles in the area. If the road conditions are poor, faster speeds increase the hazardous nature of the conditions.
Along with speeding, other driver errors cause many accidents. Professional drivers must uphold a higher standard of driving. However, many factors contribute to driver error. For example, exhaustion can cause serious problems. Many drivers spend long hours on the road every day and find it impossible to maintain their schedules and get enough hours of sleep. Trying to focus on the road becomes increasingly difficult when a driver is drowsy, increasing the chances of a critical error in judgment.
Poor Vehicle Maintenance
Poor vehicle maintenance is another serious problem for trucks. Commercial trucks often drive thousands of miles a week – a load that takes a serious toll on many of the truck’s components. Trucking companies employ professionals to do continual maintenance and checks to be sure that the trucks are in good condition to drive. However, sometimes a part malfunctions. If a truck is going at high speeds, a malfunctioning part could cause a serious accident.
It is nearly impossible for truck drivers to thoroughly know each area where they drive. They often deliver or pick up cargo several states away. Drivers’ unfamiliarity with an area can cause accidents. They may veer into the wrong lane, need to make sudden turns, or make other mistakes that are understandable in that they are operating huge vehicles on unfamiliar roads.
Bad Weather Conditions
As often occurs in Montana, poor weather is another one of the most common causes of truck accidents. Depending on the area and the time of year, snow, ice, or storms could impact the road conditions. Poor conditions are especially dangerous for truck drivers, because trucks are more difficult to control so even a brief loss of traction on a slippery road could result in a serious accident.
Trucks often carry large amounts of cargo. It is almost a science to pack lumber, food, or other products securely in the trailer. The trucking industry has created very specific rules about how to load cargo and how much a single truck can carry. The rules regulate factors such as weight, size, and special methods for securing cargo for transportation. If someone makes a mistake loading the cargo, it could shift to one side or even spill while on the road. If a truck’s load shifts significantly, the driver could lose control and be responsible for a serious accident involving the truck and any nearby vehicles.
Potential Compensation for Billings Truck Accidents
If you win your truck accident claim, the court may award you certain types of damages, depending on the severity of your injuries and the impact that the accident has had on your life. The court can award damages to cover all medical costs incurred because of the accident, including ambulance transportation, emergency room fees, prescriptions, and ongoing expenses for rehabilitation.
The court could also award you damages for lost wages, encompassing all the money you lost because you took days off to recover. Lost wages also include the difference in salaries if your injury made it impossible to return to your old job.
The defendant may also need to compensate you for pain and suffering, which focuses on physical and emotional trauma that you are dealing with because of the accident. The court will often judge pain and suffering by hearing expert testimony regarding the severity of your injuries and the difference in quality of life that you have after the accident.
Trucking Company Negligence
If the driver is an employee, accident victims may be able to sue the company as well as the individual driver. A trucking company may be responsible for an accident if it is guilty of negligent hiring, retention, or training practices. For example, if a company hires a driver with a history of distracted driving accidents, the company may be responsible for a subsequent crash since it knew or reasonably should have known of the driver’s behaviors.
A company may also be liable for an accident if its own negligent practices caused the accident, such as poor vehicle maintenance or improper loading. In some cases, a company may be responsible for drowsy driving accidents. This may be the case if the employer pressured or coerced drivers into exceeding their hours of service regulations to meet a deadline.
In the past, trucking companies often escaped liability by contracting employees and leasing vehicles. Therefore, it would not be responsible for employee actions or vehicle malfunctions. Today, however, federal regulations make any company that owns a trucking permit responsible for accidents involving fleet vehicles with the company’s name. This often makes it easier for injured parties to obtain compensation from negligent trucking companies.
Other Potential Defendants in a Truck Accident Case
A third-party manufacturer may also be responsible for an accident if a defective or dangerous vehicle part caused the accident. For instance, if defective brakes caused the truck to skid and flip over, the brake manufacturer or distributor may be responsible for producing a product that was defective or inherently dangerous. Other parties involved may be drivers in the accident, a roadway maintenance crew, or even the city of Billings for improper road maintenance. Speak to an attorney to learn the probable defendant(s) in your particular truck accident.
If you think you were partially at fault for a truck accident, you may still receive compensation. Montana is a modified comparative negligence state, meaning the courts will divide fault between multiple parties if necessary. The courts will then subtract each party’s percentage of fault from his or her compensation award. Contact Ragain & Cook, PC, after a truck accident for experienced legal advice. We understand trucking industry rules and regulations, and we can help you defend your rights in the face of truck driver or company negligence.
“I first met Jim Ragain in July of 2010. I was stuck in a hospital bed after a bilateral BK amputation. Jim and Lynette are two people I consider a second family. They were thorough and kept me informed every step of the way. I was able to put my life back together with the help I received from Jim Ragain. I would suggest Ragain & Cook, P.C. to anyone that needs help after being injured and wants knowledgeable lawyers. Thank you Jim and Lynette I will forever be in your debt for all the help and support you gave my family.” – F.M.