Articles Posted in Tractor-Trailer Accidents

Tennessee is a “modified comparative fault” state. This means that, in deciding the effect that a plaintiff’s own negligence has on the outcome of a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff can only recover damages if he or she is found to be less than 50% at fault.

If the jury attributes 50% or more of the fault to the plaintiff, he or she cannot recover any compensation from the defendant. If the plaintiff is 49% or less at fault, he or she recovers the percentage of his or her damages assigned to the defendant. For instance, if the jury finds that the plaintiff suffered $100,000 in damages but was 25% at fault, the trial court will enter a net judgment of $75,000 in the plaintiff’s favor.

Facts of the Case

It is truly appalling the lengths to which some businesses and insurance companies will go in order to limit or prevent recovery by those hurt due to the negligence of truckers and trucking companies.

In the case discussed below, a professional trucker allegedly presented an accident victim with a document releasing the trucker’s employer from all liability – at the scene of the accident! When that didn’t work, the trucking company hired an investigator, who contacted the victim later that day to discuss a settlement.

Even though the investigator was aware that the accident victim was hurt in the wreck and had been to the hospital, he asked the accident victim to sign a “Release of All Claims” document just two days after the accident. Of the $10,000 settlement, just $215 was allocated for the victim’s personal injury claim. Unfortunately, the man signed the document.

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When a case goes to trial, it is up to the trial court judge to determine the specific evidence that may be introduced by the parties and considered by the jury in deciding the issues.

When one of the parties is aggrieved by an evidentiary ruling at trial, that party may opt to appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court for review.

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A semi-truck driver was unfortunately killed and three other people were hurt in a recent collision between two big rigs on Interstate 75. According to local law enforcement officials, a fire erupted after two tractor-trailers collided head-on in Campbell County near Caryville. A representative for the Tennessee Highway Patrol stated a northbound big rig that was being driven by a 49-year-old Russell Springs man allegedly crossed the median near exit 134 before striking another truck that was headed in the opposite direction. Apparently, the collision resulted in an explosion and chemical fire that forced officers to evacuate the roadway for several hours. Both trucks were reportedly engulfed in flames following the accident.

The afternoon tractor-trailer crash purportedly closed the Interstate in both directions while a hazardous materials crew engaged in what was initially believed to be a radioactive materials clean-up effort. Thankfully, no such materials were discovered by authorities. Sadly, one of the semi-truck drivers died at the scene of the collision. The other driver and two firefighters who responded to the tragic wreck were reportedly transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for treatment. At least one patient was taken to the hospital via Lifestar helicopter. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the exact cause of the fatal collision is still under investigation.

Due to the many state and federal trucking laws and regulations, a tractor-trailer wreck can involve a number of unique pieces of evidence that do not exist in other traffic accident cases, such as maintenance logs, on-board computer information, and driver logs. In addition, the victim of a Knoxville traffic accident that was caused by a semi-truck driver may be entitled to recover monetary damages for his or her lost wages and benefits, medical bills, any temporary or permanent disability that resulted from the truck crash, pain and suffering, and more. Certain relatives of someone who was killed due to a tractor-trailer driver’s negligent act may also be eligible to recover for their family member’s wrongful death.
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Last Thursday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on a story about a Tennessee man who survived being crushed between an eighteen wheeler and a concrete median.

The driver of a Toyota Camry was travelling east on I-40 near the Campbell Station Road exit when a tractor trailer suddenly started merging into his lane. The Camry driver tried to alert the big rig by honking, but the rig continued to merge pinning the Camry against a concrete median.

Rescue workers tried to free the driver from the Camry with barely two feet of space between the tractor trailer and the concrete. The man finally emerged from the mangled metal Camry. Amazingly, he did not even have a scratch.
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Most trucking and bus companies operate their business in a safe and professional manner. Despite this, every once in awhile the news reports on a tragic accident by a company that has flaunted safety laws.

When a motor carrier accident happens it involves several parties, and the state and federal laws that apply can be complicated. If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor carrier accident, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Tennessee truck accident lawyer who knows how to get you the compensation you deserve.

On January 17th, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) announced new rules giving them authority to shut down motor carriers that have shown an “egregious disregard” for federal safety regulations. The FMCSA regulates the trucking industry in the United States. The new rules were created after frustration with companies and executives using “reincarnated” or “chameleon carriers” to move their assets or to establish complicated organizational structures to evade FMCSA violations.

We are intent on shutting down bus and truck companies that willfully endanger the public. [The agency will use] the rule to take stronger action against businesses and individuals that have a history of disregarding basic safety standards.

— FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro

The new regulations were brought about after years of complaints from the U.S. Congress and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) when highly reported and extremely tragic accidents happened despite attempts by the FMCSA to remove carriers with severe safety violations from the road.
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If big rigs get any bigger, as some Congressmen are apparently hoping will happen, we can all but guarantee a spike in the number of injuries and fatalities attributed to tractor-trailer accidents in Tennessee.

It’s simple physics, really.

We know that the bigger a vehicle is, the more damage it is liable to cause. This is especially true when vehicles are only designed to hold a certain threshold of weight and are then overloaded. This poses a danger not only to the driver, but to everyone else who shares the road.

As it stands now, the maximum weight limit threshold is 80,000 pounds. A bill currently moving through the U.S. House of Representatives would up that to 97,000 pounds.

Increasing this weight limit will not serve to reduce overloading vehicles. That will still happen. It’s just that with a measure like this, these massive trucks will have the power to inflict even more damage in collisions with motor vehicles.

The only ones who benefit from this are large shipping and trucking firms, which will be able to fatten their pockets by increasing the amount they can deliver at a time.

However, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, a group of about 150,000 smaller trucking operations, is staunchly opposed to HR612, mostly for safety reasons but also because the vast majority of trucking firms won’t be able to afford to upgrade their fleet – usually consisting of 20 or fewer vehicles – to compete with the newer, larger models in states that choose to adopt the new federal standards, should they get approval.

It wasn’t long ago that Congress grappled with this same issue. Last year, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which revamped federal highway safety standards, rejected a proposal to increase tractor-trailer truck weight and size limits. Instead, it ordered a comprehensive study on the impacts of larger trucks on the integrity of highway infrastructure, motor vehicle safety and the economy. We are still awaiting the results of this research, though the Federal Highway Administration conducted its mandated listening session as part of that study at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington D.C. in late May.

In addition to opposition from OOIDA, the Automobile Association of America has come out against efforts to increase size and weight limits on commercial trucks. With a membership some 50 million strong, this could be a powerful voice in talking down these efforts.

As it currently stands, there are some 28,000 motor carrier companies across the country that are actively violating federal safety standards, having a direct impact on safety for all those who travel the highways. Increasing truck size limits won’t help to reduce that number. It will however give these companies more room to push the limits, which in turn puts us all at even greater risk.

And as the OOIDA underscores, the change is in no way necessary to help improve the greater good.
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Two Bonnaroo music festival goers were killed in a Tennessee tractor-trailer crash before ever reaching the concert.

The crash happened just two weeks ahead of implementation of federal rules designed to reduce the number of fatal tractor-trailer accidents here and across the country.

According to investigators’ accounts from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the accident occurred shortly after midnight on a Thursday, as cars were slowing due to heavy traffic from an earlier accident near I-24 near Murfreesboro.

The driver of the truck was reportedly unable to halt in time. Eight other vehicles were struck. Two of those vehicles burst into flames. One of those vehicles became fully engulfed, causing the deaths of two people from Indiana, a 25-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man. Five other people suffered serious injuries. Seven others, including the trucker, were not injured.

The truck driver, from Kentucky, was cited for failure to exercise due care, and additional charges are pending.

Our Knoxville injury lawyers can’t say for certain that driver fatigue played a role in this crash, but it does seem to fit the mold: The crash occurred after midnight and involved the trucker’s delayed reaction time. By many accounts, drowsy driving affects reflex times just as much as alcohol consumption.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association reports that nearly 15 percent of all fatal trucking crashes are the result of drivers who were overworked and fatigued. It’s for this reason that over the past five years, the agency has been battling to enact a series of hours of service rules that would limit the amount of time a trucker could remain behind the wheel at any given stretch.

Now, those rules will be formalized July 1, 2013.

It should come as no surprise that the industry has put up a fierce fight on this issue, arguing that the changes will deliver a devastating blow not only to the trucking industry but to small businesses nationwide that depend on timely delivery of goods to provide their services. There is no question that the new rules will have some impact on the industry, but we believe the problems stated have been overblown.

What’s more, industry advocates’ assertions that current rules are doing more than enough to tamp down the number of fatal crashes simply doesn’t hold water when you consider crashes like the recent one that happened in Murfreesboro. In no other industry would it be acceptable to allow thousands of innocent people to die and become seriously injured every year, and then chalk it up to merely being a cost of doing business.

That’s why the FMCSA has pressed forward on these rules. They include limiting drivers to a maximum of 11 hours on the road at any given stretch. Drivers are also expected to take at least a 30-minute rest break every eight hours (so at least once a shift) and they have to be off-duty at least 10 hours before getting back on the road after a full shift. Drivers will go from being allowed to work a maximum of 82 hours in a seven-day week to being allowed to work only 70 in a work week. This will ensure that drivers have more time to rest and recharge so that when they do get back to the road, they will be refreshed – and less likely to fatal mistakes, like the one that senselessly claimed those two young lives in Tennessee.
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Trucks, due to their large size and their unique characteristics, are especially dangerous vehicles when involved in collisions with passenger vehicles. A passenger car is significantly outweighed by a truck, and when a truck and a passenger car get into a crash, a lot can go wrong. One of the biggest dangers, however, is something called an underride accident.

Our Knoxville truck accident attorneys know that an underride crash happens when a car actually slides right underneath a truck. This can cause devastating injuries due to the extensive damage done to the car.

Semitrailers are typically designed with the aim of preventing these types of crashes as a primary concern. But unfortunately there are some design flaws and areas where the design is lacking. A recent report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) highlights the potential problems that may occur in certain types of crashes involving large trucks.

Crash Test Reveals an Underside Accident Risk

According to the IIHS news release, a new type of crash test was conducted, which involved a car crashing into the back of a very large truck. The test was unique, however, because the car crashed only into a small portion of the rear of the truck.

When the car hit only a small portion of the side rear of the truck, there was a greater chance of the car getting trapped under the truck in an underride accident. As the IIHS points out, this means that the majority of trailers failed in preventing a potentially fatal underride accident.

When an underride accident occurs and the front of the passenger vehicle ends up underneath the bottom of the truck, the top of the occupant compartment is usually crushed or sheared away. Air bags, seatbelts and other safety devices in cars are virtually ineffective in this situation, and head and neck injuries are very common among those in the accident.

Crash Test Shows Underride Crashes a Serious Risk

Because underride crashes are so dangerous, trucks are designed to prevent this scenario from occurring. In fact, trucks are generally required to have steel bars called underride guards that hang from the rear of the trailer, with the aim of preventing a car from slipping underneath the truck.

Unfortunately, these underride guards may not be providing adequate protection. As IIHS points out, earlier studies indicated that the requirements for underride guards in the U.S. were inadequate both in terms of the dimensions and in terms of the minimum strength of the bars.

IIHS petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute (NHTSA) to make changes to the standards in 2011 to address these serious issues. IISH also asked NHTSA to apply standards regarding underride bars to certain other types of trucks that were not currently required to have them, such as dump trucks.

NHTSA has not responded to these requests or made any changes. However, Canada has tougher standards on underride bars and has since 2007, so many truck manufacturers have bars that exceed NHTSA standards even when the trucks are sold in the U.S.

The new crash tests, however, indicate that even trucks with better underride bars have vulnerabilities when a passenger car hits a truck from the side rear. Drivers of passenger cars need to be aware of the very serious risk of underride accidents that can exist when an accident of this type occurs.
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It’s been almost a year since a trucker from Florida fell asleep at the wheel of his rig in West Knoxville, slamming into a police cruiser that then burst into flames, critically injuring the sergeant inside.

Now, our Knoxville truck accident lawyers understand that truck driver has been indicted by a grand jury on criminal charges of aggravated assault, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and failure to drive within a single lane of traffic.

The 57-year-old truck driver admitted to emergency responders that he had been so tired just before the wreck, he had been splashing his face with cold water to stay awake. He had been hired by the Orlando-based trucking agency just two weeks before.

Alcohol is not believed to have been a factor in the crash.

Immediately after the wreck, the truck driver ran to the aid of the officer, helping to pull him from the cruiser, with the help of paramedics who happened upon the scene on their way back from transporting a different patient to the hospital. Paramedics also suffered burns as a result.

The trooper inside the burning vehicle, meanwhile, nearly died. He had his emergency lights flashing and was parked on the shoulder of the highway when the crash happened. Although it was touch-and-go for some time, he was later transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he underwent months and months of intensive physical therapy. He has since returned home, but he has not been able to go back to work.

The truck driver is reportedly working to negotiate some sort of plea deal, though the details of what that might look like aren’t yet clear. The driver is said to be devastated by the crash and wracked with guilt over the injuries suffered by the trooper.

No doubt, most people who are involved in fatal or near-fatal accidents don’t set out that day to do so. But truckers who fail to adhere to hours of service restrictions or continue to drive when it’s obvious even to them that they are too tired to do so must be held accountable. In cases where the company’s scheduling prohibits adherence to federal hours of service operations, they too need to be held accountable.

According to the the AAA Foundation, it’s not just truck drivers, either. While nearly all drivers surveyed in 2012 reported that driving drowsy was a risk to their safety and was unacceptable, almost a third admitted to being so tired behind the wheel within the last month that they could barely keep their eyes open.

It’s estimated that about 17 percent of all fatal crashes involve drivers who were sleepy.

Every single driver has a responsibility to ensure he or she is alert and oriented to the road ahead. If you need to pull over and take a nap, do so. Here are some key warning signs that you need to stop driving:

  • Your eyelids are getting heavy or you have difficulty keeping your eyes open and focused;
  • You are having trouble keeping your head up;
  • You find yourself rubbing your eyes or yawning;
  • You are missing traffic signs or signals or driving past your exit;
  • You can’t remember the last few miles you drove;
  • You have drifted from your lane or hit the rumble strips.

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