Truck accidents are different from crashes involving two passenger cars because of the severe destruction that can be caused by the force of a large truck. Making these cases more complicated is the fact that there are typically multiple businesses involved in the operation of a tractor-trailer, and they will all fight fiercely against claims for compensation.
Just as there are many parties that can be held responsible for a truck accident, there are also many causes of these types of crashes. In most cases, driver negligence is to blame. However, a negligent trucker may share responsibility for an accident, including with the trucking company (or “motor carrier”) and others.
If you have been hurt in a commercial truck accident in Rhode Island, our Providence personal injury attorneys are here to help. Our team can investigate your crash to determine who should be held responsible, then demand full and fair compensation for your losses.
Why Do Truck Accidents Happen in Rhode Island?
A three-year study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the U.S. trucking industry, found that drivers of large trucks and other commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) involved in crashes are 10 times more likely to have caused the wreck than other factors.
However, truck accident investigations often show that the trucker’s negligence is not the only cause of an accident. Negligence on the part of a motor carrier may have contributed to or be the primary cause of a truck accident. In other cases, third parties that provide services, equipment, or personnel to the trucking company may be at fault.
Here are some of the most common causes of Rhode Island truck accidents we have investigated and/or encountered during our work on personal injury and wrongful death cases:
The FMCSA says speeding is the most common cause of crashes involving truck driver negligence. In addition to making the impact of a collision worse, moving at high speed makes it more difficult to avoid a collision by slowing down or stopping a large, heavy truck. Truckers who drive within the speed limit but too fast for adverse conditions, such as in inclement weather or congested traffic, also get into accidents they might have avoided if they were driving at a safe speed.
Drowsy Driving / Fatigue
It is not uncommon for truck drivers to suffer sleep deprivation and disruption of normal sleep/rest cycles due to lengthy hours required to transport goods across the country. However, fatigued or drowsy driving is a known safety hazard.
Under the FMCSA’s hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, drivers of large trucks are allowed behind the wheel for as long as 11 hours at a stretch but must take defined rest and sleep breaks before driving again. Unfortunately, many truckers violate regulations and work longer than permitted or do not get adequate rest during mandatory breaks. Being drowsy or fatigued slows reaction time and impairs judgment.
In addition, some motor carriers condone if not cause drowsy driving (as well as speeding), by pushing their drivers to stay on the road to meet delivery deadlines despite exceeding HOS limitations.
With the growth of personal electronics over the past several years, distracted driving has been a common cause of truck accidents. Though the FMCSA prohibits texting and the use of hand-held cellphones while operating any CMV, the problem persists among reckless truck drivers and leads to many wrecks that could have been avoided.
Impaired Driving / Drugged Driving
Drunk driving accidents occur in the trucking industry, but they are rare because commercial truck drivers are subjected to a strict testing regime. However, truckers involved in crashes have been found with stimulants in their blood, like amphetamines, and cocaine. Other recreational drug use, primarily marijuana, also occurs among truckers bored by long-distance travel.
Truckers turn to drugs primarily to stay awake and alert as they drive for long periods, often in violation of HOS regulations. Many truckers get into wrecks caused by impaired driving due to certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs that cause drowsiness or other impairment.
Benzodiazepines (prescribed for anxiety or sleep disorders) and opiates (prescribed for pain relief) are the two prescription drugs most commonly found in fatally and seriously injured drivers. Diphenhydramine, commonly found in OTC cold and allergy medications, has also been shown to severely impair the ability of drivers to follow at a safe and constant distance, maintain speed, and maintain lane position.
Overweight Trucks, Cargo Shifts, and Spills
The cargo that commercial trucks carry represents a safety hazard if there is too much of it and/or if it is improperly loaded and secured. The additional weight of an overloaded truck makes it run with more momentum once it reaches high speed, which makes it harder to stop or slow down. This can lead to collisions or moving too fast on a hill or in a curve or turn, which can cause loss of control and/or an accident.
When cargo is not secured properly, either because it exceeds capacity or due to negligence in loading, it can shift and/or break free during a quick turn, a sudden stop, or on a hill. A cargo shift changes the truck’s center of gravity and can cause loss of control and a crash. Rollover accidents are often caused by overweight trucks experiencing a cargo shift.
When cargo spills, debris can hit vehicles, people, or other property, and cause oncoming vehicles to crash. Hazardous material (HazMat) spills can damage property, particularly waterways, in addition to causing personal injury.
Many motor carriers hire outside vendors to pack and load cargo onto their trucks. These “third parties” may be held responsible for a truck accident caused by improperly loaded or secured cargo. However, the motor carrier and truck driver remain responsible for FMCSA regulations that require them to inspect cargo before taking a loaded truck onto the road.
Defective or Dangerous Truck Parts or Systems
Vehicle-related factors, such as the failure of brake systems, tires, power trains, wheels, coupling systems, lighting, and/or other parts and components, also cause and contribute to truck accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) cites multiple studies that found mechanical failures in truck accidents. In one study, post-crash inspections of trucks found that almost 55 percent had at least one mechanical violation of FMCSA standards, and almost 30 percent had at least one condition serious enough to have required the vehicle to be taken immediately out of service.
Motor carriers may skip or delay maintenance on trucks to save money and time. Even if a third-party vendor is responsible for maintaining a company’s trucks, owners and operators remain obligated to ensure the safety of these massive machines once they are on the road.
It is not unusual to seek compensation from multiple parties in a truck accident case. Even if it looks like a trucker is solely responsible for a crash, the driver’s employer — the motor carrier — still has responsibility for training, proper licensing, and adherence to regulations.
However, the existence of multiple liable parties in an accident also increases the finger-pointing. For instance, there is a growing trend for motor carriers to claim their truck drivers are independent contractors, not employees, and many truckers do drive big-rigs that are independently owned. The carrier may argue that, therefore, it is not responsible for the crash.
Our experienced personal injury attorneys will move fast to ask courts to order the preservation of company records and other evidence after a truck accident. We will work quickly to establish motor carrier responsibility and counter false claims aimed at evading accountability for an accident.
You should also know that trucking company representatives often approach vulnerable accident victims in the immediate aftermath of catastrophic crashes. They will try to get the victims to make statements that can be used later to deny legal claims. Do not talk to a trucking company representative or give a statement to an insurance company without discussing your case with a knowledgeable lawyer first.
Contact Our Truck Accident Attorneys in Rhode Island Now
The dedicated truck accident attorneys at Gemma Law Associates are here to advise you and protect your right to compensation after a serious crash. Our attorneys have successfully pursued many cases against truck drivers, motor carriers, and trucking industry parties.
We are familiar with the tactics they and their insurance carriers use to avoid paying damages. We also know the quick actions that must be taken to investigate and ensure no evidence is lost or destroyed.
Contact our Rhode Island personal injury attorneys now to schedule a free consultation.