What to do after a truck accident:
Montana law sets limits on the amount of time you have to file a personal injury claim. Consult an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible so your claim is filed within crucial statutory deadlines. Investigating your claim immediately helps ensure that valuable evidence remains available and witnesses’ memories remain fresh.
If you were in an accident with a commercial truck, you should immediately:
- Seek medical attention. Injuries in any auto or truck accident are often not immediately apparent. After a stressful incident like a truck accident, your body’s “fight-or-flight” response kicks in, triggering a cascade of stress hormones—including adrenaline—that prevent you from immediately recognizing your injuries. It can often take days before you feel the onset of the injuries you sustained. Medical providers can use their training and technology to monitor and begin treating your injuries immediately.
- Report the crash to police. Police will investigate the crash and write a crash report that will help document the causes of the crash and document the names and contact information for any witnesses. Police can also recommend charges against a truck driver who, for example, was driving carelessly or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Take photos. If you are able to, take photographs of the scene of the crash from multiple angles. If, because of your injuries, you are not able to take photographs, ask a friend to do it for you. These photos can help your attorney prove your case.
- Call your own insurance company and a truck accident lawyer immediately. Your own insurance company can assist with the claims process and can provide notice to the other driver’s insurance company that you will be pursuing a claim. Then call a truck accident lawyer immediately. You have no obligation to speak to the truck driver’s insurance company; an attorney can help protect your rights at this crucial time.
Why you Need an Experienced Semi Truck Accident Attorney: A commercial truck accident can be an especially frightening experience and, depending upon your injuries, recovery can take weeks, months, or even years. If you’ve suffered a personal injury as a result of a trucking accident, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.
An attorney can gather and preserve the evidence necessary to put together a truck accident lawsuit on your behalf before that evidence disappears or is lost. An attorney can collect accident reports, driver’s logs, truck maintenance records, event data recorders (a.k.a accident black boxes) from the truck and the passenger car, all of which can help build a strong case on your behalf. While your attorney does the work necessary to put together your legal claim, you can focus on your recovery.
Insurance companies will often try to settle a claim as quickly as possible for as little as possible. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: insurance companies are businesses that make money by paying out less than they take in. Often, insurance companies won’t do the right thing unless you make them—by filing a lawsuit and, if necessary, taking the case to trial. Doubek, Pyfer & Storrar understands both insurance companies and trucking accident law and we will fight to obtain maximum compensation for your injuries.
Causes of Truck Accidents: Many factors can contribute to a truck accident. Unlike ordinary passenger car drivers, truck drivers are subject to numerous federal safety regulations. When truck drivers fail to follow these regulations, accidents can happen. Common causes of truck accidents include:
- Defective equipment
- Improperly secured loads
- Fatigued drivers
- Unsafe passing
- Failure to adjust driving to adverse road conditions
Commercial Truck Liability: Like drivers of passenger cars, truck drivers are responsible for accidents they cause under state negligence law. However, depending on the circumstances, other parties—including the driver’s employer, the company that loaded the truck, or the company receiving the shipment—may be liable for an accident involving a commercial truck.
Employer Liability: State agency law applies to a driver who is an employee of a trucking company. Under state agency law, trucking companies are legally responsible for a driver’s acts when the driver is acting within the scope of employment. A driver acts within the scope of employment if the driver’s actions further the employer’s business interests in any manner, even if such actions incidentally benefit the employee driver. If a driver is acting within the scope of employment, the employer trucking company is liable for the driver’s negligent acts even when the driver is violating company policies or regulations.
Negligent Hiring, Entrustment, or Retention: Negligent hiring and negligent entrustment are tort claims against a trucking company who hired a driver or entrusted a truck to a driver who the company should have known not was not capable of safely operating a commercial truck. Negligent retention happens when a truck company learns during the course of employment that a driver is not capable of safely operating a commercial truck, but nevertheless allows the driver to continuing driving for the company.
A commercial truck company owes a legal duty to investigate an applicant’s driving history before hiring a driver. Federal regulations require a trucking company to obtain information about an applicant’s accident history and prior traffic violations before hiring that driver. If a company fails to do so, it can be held liable under a negligent hiring theory when that driver injures others in an accident.
Note that negligent hiring, entrustment, and retention actions are direct actions against a trucking company—not a driver—for the company’s negligence. For these causes of action, it matters not whether a company driver who causes an accident was driving in the course of employment.
Negligent Inspection, Maintenance, or Repair: Trucking accidents can result from the failure of mechanical or electrical parts on the commercial truck. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) require motor carriers to inspect, maintain, and repair their trucks and to make sure all parts are working properly.
A trucking company must maintain the following records for each vehicle under its control: (1) the owner’s name and the vehicle type, (2) a schedule for vehicle inspections and maintenance, and (3) a record of inspections and maintenance performed on the vehicle. A trucking company must retain these records for one year while the company owns and operates a vehicle or for six months after the company sells a vehicle. A trucking company can be held liable for any injury or accident caused by its failure to properly inspect, maintain, or repair its trucks.
Shipper Liability: A shipper may be held liable if an accident results from improper loading of the truck’s cargo. The basis for recovery is state common law negligence. However, attorneys for the injured victim should look to the FMCSR for evidence of the applicable standard of care. If the trailer is sealed before it is picked up by the truck carrier, the law presumes that the shipper participated in the loading process.
Truck Driver Fatigue: Perhaps the most common cause of commercial trucking accidents is driver fatigue and inattentiveness. Because driver fatigue is so common and so deadly, the federal government has adopted regulations that prohibit a trucking company from allowing a driver to operate a commercial truck while fatigued or ill. These regulations also specify a maximum number of hours that a driver can be on duty during any day or week and require a driver to maintain a daily log of his work status.
A trucking company has a duty to monitor and verify its driver’s logs to establish procedures to ensure compliance with federal maximum hour regulations. Evidence of violation these federal requirements can be used by attorneys for an accident victim to prove negligence, assuming there is some other evidence that the accident was caused by driver inattentiveness or fatigue.
Commercial Driver’s License (“CDL”) Manual: The Montana Department of Justice, Motor Vehicle Division, publishes a CDL manual that sets out the proper manner in which to drive a commercial vehicle. A commercial truck driver must learn the requirements contained in the CDL Manual as part of the licensing process. These manuals establish industry standards for the truck driver and company and, therefore, attorneys for an injured victim can use evidence that these standards were violated to prove negligence.
What Compensation can be Recovered in a Truck Accident Injury Lawsuit?: After being injured in a truck accident, the last thing you want to do is deal with an insurance company or a trucking company. The most important thing to focus on is your health and recovery.
Accident-related expenses—especially medical bills—can quickly add up, causing even more stress. Hiring a truck accident attorney can help you get the compensation you need from an insurance company to cover expenses such as:
- Medical bills
- Rehabilitation costs
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Any other costs or damages resulting from the accident
If you do not have an attorney, an insurance company will try to get you to settle quickly and cheaply, before you know the full extent and cost of your injuries. Hiring an attorney is better than going it alone, but not all attorneys are the same and the insurance companies know this. The insurance companies know which lawyers are willing to file lawsuits and take cases to trial if they don’t pay full compensation for your injuries. Let Doubek, Pyfer & Storrar use its 98 years of combined experience to obtain maximum compensation for you.
Holding negligent commercial truck drivers accountable isn’t just the right thing to do for you—it makes Montana a safer place and helps ensure that what happened to you won’t happen to anyone else. If you or a family member was injured in a big rig or tractor trailer accident, you can fill out a contact form on our website and we can contact you, or you can call us now at 406-442-7830 and get your immediate questions answered.