Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

The trucking business is a dog-eat-dog world.

Shippers want to get their products moved as cheaply as possible.  Smaller trucking companies are often the best choice to keep cost down.  Smaller trucking companies.  They have low overhead and simpler systems. Many trucking companies — usually smaller trucking companies — have less systemic checks and balances.  And they cut corners — safety corners — like crazy to keep costs down.

As a result of all of this, truck accidents happen.  Too many plaintiffs’ truck accident lawyers leave millions on the table because they do not explore potential claims against the brokers and shippers.

Experienced truck accident lawyers know that when beginning to investigate a new matter, it is extremely important to hit the ground running. Why? Because the moment the client signs the retainer, you are already behind. Most likely, you are significantly behind.

Why? Because the trucking company and its’ defense team had a head start. The lawyers who defend trucking companies with regularity have a 24-hour crash line (ok, an associate with a cell phone) for the company to call immediately after the crash. As soon as dispatch knows there has been an accident, they call the number. Once the lawyer gets the call, they hustle to get somebody out to the scene. They call a reconstructionist who will be able to get there while the evidence is fresh and undisturbed. They get the vehicles and the scene photographed, and they get an investigator moving to obtain statements from the witnesses. This has all most likely happened before the injured person even thinks to call a lawyer.

On the other side, let’s assume the accident victim is badly injured. He’s in the hospital for two weeks. After he stabilizes, he begins the search for a personal injury lawyer. After talking with a few lawyers, he takes another week to decide which one he likes best and to sign a retainer. At that point, the lawyer has only had a client to represent for 5 minutes, and he’s already 3 weeks behind the defense in his investigation.

miller-zois_0144-200x300Lawyers who do not regularly handle injury cases from truck accidents often think it is simply another car accident case, only with bigger vehicles. This could not be more wrong. Trucking accident injury cases have different factual and legal issues than car accident cases.

Although the factual differences are many, they will be addressed in a later post. This post is about some of the legal issues that are important in a truck accident case.

When they become involved in a lawsuit over a car crash, most people think it would be very helpful to their case if the other driver had a bad driving history, such as traffic violations or prior at-fault accidents. Of course, that would only be helpful if the jury ever found out about it. Usually they won’t. That is because generally, the only issues at play in a car accident case are 1) was the drviver negligent; and 2) damages. Prior driving history is usually not relevant to either of these issues, and therefore isn’t admissible in evidence. For laymen, the jury isn’t told about prior driving history because it doesn’t have anything to do with whether the bad guy was negligent that day, or with the proper amount of damages.

We all know that distracted driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents. At this point most lawyers handling car and truck accident injury cases are asking questions in interrogatories and at depositions about possible distractions from electronic devices, cell phones in particular. Many states, including Maryland, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones. Now the feds have followed suit, imposing a similar rule for drivers of commercial vehicles (mostly tractor-trailers).

Scott Turner (since deleted so no link) has a post discussing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) ban on hand-held cell phones that went into effect in January 2012. The new rule applies to all drivers who drive routes through more than one state, and to drivers who operate only in one state if they are carrying hazardous materials.

The Regulation

One thing we all know is that we aren’t as sharp when we are tired as we are when we are well-rested.

That’s why some occupations have rules about on-duty hours, truck drivers for example. There are federal regulations governing how many hours professional drivers can work. Working in violation of these limitations could be considered evidence of negligence in many circumstances.

Even in the private sector, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Administration requires drivers to inform the MVA’s Medical Advisory Board when they are diagnosed with certain sleep-related medical disorders, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy. “The objective of the MAB is to assess medical fitness to drive of individuals who have medical conditions that can impact on their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.” I think we can all agree that sleep deprivation can be a major factor affecting the ability to drive a car or truck or operate heavy machinery.

I have written in the past that a trucking accident case is much more than an auto accident case with a bigger vehicle involved. Lawyers representing people injured in trucking accidents need to consider the different agency relationships that may be involved between the driver, owner/lessor/lessee of the vehicle, as well as the causes of action and/or insurance issues that arise out of those relationships.

Another difference is that trucks are perceived to be more dangerous on the road than standard automobiles. They are bigger and heavier, have more and bigger “blind spots”, and are operated by drivers who may have fatigue issues from spending hours and hours in the driver’s seat. Most drivers/jurors have had at least one terrifying personal experience out on the road as a result of an encounter with a big rig.

In fact, I nearly had one take me out on my way to work this morning. In rush hour traffic on I-695, the truck was weaving in and out of traffic (always a great idea) and came into my lane without checking to see if it was safe. Because I was on the driver’s side, this can only mean that the driver never checked his mirror before coming over. We’ve all seen those signs on trucks that say “if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” Well, I could see this guy’s mirrors, which makes me think he would have seen me if he had looked. Thankfully, I was able to avoid a collision, but I am confident the driver had no idea I was there until he heard my horn.

In Part I, I talked about how useful a set of portable office supplies can be for staying organized at trial. But that is just a small part of the required level of organization. In this installment, I discuss another vital part of my overall organizational system- the trial box. Keep in mind that I am describing how I organize the typical 2-3 day jury trial. Longer, more complex trials travel in a larger set of boxes that are organized following the same basic outline.

I have a portable file box with wheels that all of my paper materials go in. This is a collapsible plastic box the size of a milk crate with wheels and a handle- the kind you see sales reps and business “road warriors” use. I organize it from front to back using file folders and large Redweld-style folders. Less important or less frequently used items go in the back, more important or often-used items are toward the front.

Starting at the back and moving forward, this is what it contains:

Hello, everybody! In case you noticed my absence over the last few weeks, I was away getting married and honeymooning. Now I am back at the blog, albeit a little tired from watching late election results last night.

But as they say, all politics is local. In Maryland, some jurisdictions charge for ambulance service, while others do not. For example, Baltimore City charges a $410 fee for ambulance service, while Baltimore County charges nothing.

In May, the Montgomery County Council approved a $400 fee for ambulance service to assist with a 13 million dollar budget gap. After a trip to the Court of Appeals of Maryland and back, opponents of the fee were able to get the issue on the general election ballot for a referendum. Yesterday, Montgomery County residents voted against allowing the county to continue to charge fees for ambulance service.

I am involved in a court case in Prince George’s County where I am representing a lady who alleges she was injured when a tractor-trailer struck her car.

We live in an increasingly technological age. One consequence of this is that trucking companies often equip their vehicles with a “black box” that records vehicle data, such as speed, location, movement, etc. They do this to promote efficiency in terms of scheduling, cargo tracking, route determinations, etc. To some extent it is also probably done to make sure the drivers are where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing, while they are out on the road.

Many lawyers think a trucking accident case is just a plain ol’ car accident case on steroids. Wrong. This an example. Experienced truck accident lawyers, like me, know to ask for things like vehicle data recorder information in discovery requests. I do this in all of my truck accident cases, like the one in P.G. County I have going on now.

I am working on a few cases involving corporate defendants of various sizes. One of the most effective discovery devices around for these kinds of cases is the corporate representative deposition.

Md. Rule 2-412 allows a corporation or other organization to be deposed through a designated representative. The way it works, is that the party seeking the deposition sends a notice, where they “describe with reasonable particularity the matters on which examination is requested.” Then the corporation must designate one or more people who will be prepared to testify regarding those matters “known or reasonably available” to the corporation.

This is a powerful discovery tool because the answers given by the corporation’s deignated representative are binding. The entity is under an obligation to have the designee review the areas upon which the examination is requested, and be prepared to give answers that will be binding. There is law saying that once a designee testifies, the corporation may not later present affidavits or other evidence in contradiction to the answers given by the designee. Under some circumstances, even an “I don’t know” can be binding on the corporation when said by its designee.