In the early evening of Nov. 18, at the beginning of rush hour, a Freightliner truck tractor carrying containers full of hazmat suits overturned on Interstate 81. Because of the nature of the cargo, first responders to the scene had to take extra precautions to ensure there were no risks of contamination to themselves or the community. While some radioactivity was detected, experts agreed that the amount of possible exposure was too small to cause a serious threat and – after nearly four hours of diverting traffic – reopened the highway.
Fortunately, the incident didn’t result in any serious injuries or fatalities. However, it demonstrates just how trucking accidents can pose unique risks to other drivers and passengers that are not typically present in accidents involving noncommercial vehicles. For example, some commercial vehicles – including the one involved in the incident on Interstate 81 – carry dangerous cargo, such as flammables or toxins. Those who share the road with such vehicles risk incurring injury from potential spillage of these hazardous substances.
In this article, we review some of the basic facts about trucking accidents and the claims process, which is often more complex than the process used in accidents that do not involve commercial vehicles.
Maryland Trucking Accident Facts
Each year, commercial trucks and busses are involved in tens of thousands of traffic accidents, resulting in countless serious injuries and the loss of thousands of lives. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, large trucks and busses were involved in 4,186 fatal crashes in 2013 alone. That amounts to more than 11 fatal accidents a day.
In Maryland, truck accidents accounted for 50 fatalities in 2014, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation and the total number of people injured as a result of trucking accidents in Maryland was 2,569. That means that, on average, Maryland truck accidents injure seven people a day.
In addition to applicable federal laws, each state has its own commercial vehicle laws that regulate the operation of large trucks in an effort to promote safety for all drivers. For example, Maryland uses the Federal Motor Safety Regulations to define a commercial vehicle, which includes any vehicle with a gross weight of more than 10,001 pounds or any vehicle that carries more than eight passengers for compensation (including the driver) or transports more than 15 passengers not for compensation (including the driver) or is used to transport large quantities of hazardous materials.
In addition, Maryland has a Preventive Maintenance Program designed to ensure that commercial vehicles are in good working order in an effort to minimize roadway accidents. It requires inspections every 12 months or every 25,000 miles, whichever occurs first.
Maryland Truck Driving Risk Factors
Unlike accidents involving regular motor vehicles, trucking accidents have unique risk factors that can result in increased injury and property damage. These are some unique risk factors of commercial truck accidents that Maryland drivers should be aware of.
- Driver-related contributing factors: Truck drivers tend to traverse great distances with only periodic rest. This means that truck drivers are more likely to be fatigued, which increases the likelihood of serious accidents. In addition, driving a large commercial vehicle requires experience and training. While federal and state laws do dictate that drivers meet certain professional criteria before operating a commercial vehicle, there is always the risk of noncompliance. This means you might be sharing the road with an inexperienced or improperly trained driver, which could also increase the likelihood of an accident.
- Vehicle size: The size and mechanics of large commercial trucks can increase the likelihood and severity of accidents. First, because commercial vehicles – particularly those carrying heavy cargo – weigh more than noncommercial vehicles, drivers must begin braking earlier to adequately reduce their speed to slow or stop their vehicles. If a driver is not alert or does not compensate for the vehicle’s heft, a rear-end collision can occur. In addition, the top-heaviness of commercial vehicles increases the likelihood of rollovers, which are the second-most fatal type of traffic accident after head-on collisions.
- Dangerous cargo: Another risk factor associated with trucking accidents is cargo, particularly hazardous cargo. Some trucks, known as tanker trucks, can contain any number of flammable or toxic chemicals, such as gasoline. The presence of these volatile materials can increase the harm caused by an accident, including personal injury and damage to personal property of the individuals involved in the crash.
Maryland Truck Accident Lawsuits
If you are involved in a trucking accident and sustain damage to your personal property or injury to yourself, you will want to look into filing a legal claim to recover damages to compensate you for things such as your medical costs, repairs to or replacement of your vehicle, and pain and suffering, among other damages.
However, unlike many accidents involving noncommercial vehicles, trucking accidents can have more parties involved than just the other driver and his or her insurance company. Parties that could be held liable for your injuries and personal property damages in a truck accident include:
- The truck driver
- The trucking company
- The truck manufacturer
- The manufacturer of a specific truck part
- The shipper or loader of the cargo
There are even more potential parties to a truck accident lawsuit than this, depending on your specific circumstances. For example, if negligence of a driver of another vehicle on the road contributed to the truck accident, then that third-party driver could be liable. Furthermore, separate companies could own the cab of the truck and the trailer. In such instances, both companies could be liable for your damages. A truck accident lawyer will be able to assist you with identifying all parties who might be liable for the accident.
As in any auto accident, gathering evidence is key. The sooner you alert the police, the better odds you have of preserving evidence that could benefit your case. After an accident occurs, if you are not seriously injured, contact the police immediately. Confirm whether anyone involved in the accident requires immediate medical attention. You will also want to record contact information from any witnesses to the accident, including other drivers on the road, bystanders and any passengers in your vehicle.
The trucking company will likely deploy its own experts to assess the scene and to attempt to mitigate any liability. It is important to not talk to these hired investigators unless you have a lawyer who is representing you and is present at the time. That said, you should attempt to hire a truck accident lawyer to represent you as soon as possible. This is to ensure you file your claim before you exceed the Maryland personal injury statute of limitations. In addition, commercial truck drivers are required to keep detailed logs that track data that could be critical to your case. Your truck accident attorney will be able to help you gain access to the logbook data to help you build your case.
If you or someone you know is involved in a commercial truck accident or if you’d like more information about commercial truck personal injury lawsuits, contact one of our auto accident attorneys by filling out this online form or calling 1-877-412-7429.