Pennsylvania Truck Accident Attorney
Trucking companies go to great lengths to protect themselves from court costs and liability. They employ sophisticated legal defense teams and rapid accident response teams that work to limit their legal liability. It is not uncommon for a trucking company to shift the blame to their drivers or the injured parties. Insurance settlements, when they are offered, are rarely sufficient to cover the full cost of medical expenses and lost income. The Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers at the Reiff Law Firm are dedicated to fighting for the rights of those injured in accidents with large commercial trucks.
If you or a family member has been injured in an accident with a truck, or if you have lost a loved one, contact the Reiff Law Firm to review your legal options. Our attorneys and staff are committed to providing professional and vigorous representation to injured victims and their families. To schedule a free legal consultation to discuss your potential truck accident lawsuit with our national truck accident lawyers, contact our office at (215) 709-6940.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents on Pennsylvania Highways
Trucks are large and intricate machines. They are the heaviest vehicles on the road and when they collide with smaller vehicles, such as cars, motorcycles, and SUVs, the accidents are often devastating. Truck accidents occur for many of the same reasons other vehicles crash. However, because of their size and lack of maneuverability, some of the same negligent behaviors other drivers exhibited are significantly more dangerous when performed by a truck driver. Additionally, there are also business practices in the industry that contribute to accidents along Pennsylvania roadways.
Probably the most common reason truck accidents occur is because the driver is tired. It is not out of the ordinary for a truck driver to operate their rig for long hours with little rest. Trucking companies will put pressure on their drivers to deliver their cargo as quickly as possible. Additionally, drivers will also push themselves for the benefit of greater income. Trying to meet demanding deadlines results in a lack of sleep and fatigued drivers. While federal regulations govern the number of hours a truck driver is supposed to be on the road, many drivers ignore these rules. Tired drivers will make mental and physical errors that could cause accidents. In the most extreme situations, a driver will fall asleep at the wheel.
Drug and Alcohol Use
A drunk driver presents an unreasonable hazard to others on the road. Their cognitive abilities and physical reaction times are impaired. When someone is intoxicated and driving a large commercial truck, the danger presented is exponentially greater. Some truck drivers drink at a stop or carry alcohol with them. If a trucking company was aware or should have been aware that a driver had a drinking problem, it could also be held liable if an accident occurs.
Drugs are often used to combat fatigue. Some truck drivers who are on the road for long shifts and are trying to meet a delivery deadline turn to artificial stimulants to help keep them awake. While the drugs might fight off sleep, they impair the driver in other ways.
Driver Training and Truck Maintenance
Truck drivers must acquire a certain level of training before operating a huge commercial vehicle. However, some drivers do not comply with these guidelines. In many cases, a trucking company will put an inexperienced driver on the road.
Trucking companies are also required by law to ensure that their fleet of vehicles is regularly inspected and repaired. Trucks are complicated machines and when something malfunctions, an accident could happen.
Speeding and Reckless Driving
Many factors could delay a truck driver, from poor weather to backed-up traffic. To compensate for these delays and to meet their deadlines, many truck drivers will operate their large vehicles at high speeds to make up the time. Speeding is a common cause of accidents among all types of vehicles. However, when a truck is speeding, the driver will be unable to stop or turn in time to react to any unforeseen traffic changes. Speeding could also cause cargo to become unsecured, unbalancing the truck. When an accident is caused by a speeding commercial truck, the injuries are usually catastrophic or deadly.
Distracted drivers are a danger on the road. Truck drivers spend long hours in isolation on the road and often grow bored. One of the most common ways a truck driver turns to fight this boredom is their cellphone. Texting or surfing the internet requires taking their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road. Even looking down at a GPS or fiddling with a radio station in an area where the reception is poor creates an unwanted and hazardous distraction. Trucks have large blind spots and take significantly longer to slow down or shift lanes. Therefore, if a truck driver fails to pay attention, even for a split second, they could find themselves in a situation where an accident has become unavoidable.
Since these trucks are open, they often carry more cargo and heavier cargo than regular, enclosed truck trailers. The vehicles are still limited by federal regulations that restrict trucks from weighing more than 80,000 pounds. This places these trucks at over 20-times the weight of a typical passenger vehicle. It also means that they require around 20-times the stopping distance of a typical passenger vehicle.
In addition, the ability of these trucks to maneuver in emergency situations is often limited by heavy cargo. Trucks can easily tip, rollover, or jackknife during quick or sudden movements, risking serious accidents.
Emergency Lane Activity
According to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, a CMV driver who stops for any unexpected reason must activate his/her vehicle’s signal flashers immediately, and—within ten minutes—place warning devices in the appropriately designated places. The required distances for placing these devices vary in accordance with several factors: 1) the vehicle’s location on the road, 2) the number of lanes in the road, 3) the direction of traffic, 4) the time of day, 5) the lighting, 6) the existence of obstructions or curves, and 6) the type of zone in which the road is located—i.e. residential or municipal.
DOT regulations give truck drivers the choice of using bi-directional reflective devices, lighted fuses, or liquid-burning flares when their vehicles malfunction on either the “traveled portion” of the road or the shoulder. Most drivers choose to use reflectors since they are easier to put in place. If fuses or flares are used, the driver is required to extinguish and remove them before driving away.
According to section 392.22 of the DOT’s code of regulations—“Emergency signals; stopped commercial vehicles”—when a large commercial vehicle is immobilized in the road, a driver must place one warning device within ten feet of the parked vehicle in the direction of approaching traffic, another within 100 feet in the direction of approaching traffic, and yet another within 100 feet in the direction away from approaching traffic. During daylight hours when street lamps are not required, he/she must place three warning devices in these designated locations. However, in business districts or the residential areas of a municipality, warning devices are only required when street lights are on or when there is not enough light for a large vehicle to be seen from a distance of 500 feet. If a vehicle is stopped within 500 feet of a hill, curve, or obstruction, a warning must be displayed within 100 to 500 feet of the vehicle. In the case of a divided or one-way highway, three separate warning devices must be used—one at a distance of 100 feet from the vehicle and another at a distance of 200 feet in the direction of approaching traffic, plus a third within 10 feet at the traffic side of the vehicle. If gasoline or any other flammable liquid has spilled on the road, only reflectors may be used, as fuses would create a serious fire hazard.
In these days of rapidly increasing traffic and ever-present bottlenecks, it is vitally important for commercial vehicle drivers to know the rules, follow them, and exceed them—as caution dictates—in the interest of safety, good sense, and consideration. With winter approaching and the prospect of snow, freezing rain, and ice on the horizon, it is even more imperative to exercise caution.
Types of Truck Accidents in Pennsylvania
Just as there are many different reasons truck accidents occur, there are different types of accidents. The severity of injuries an accident victim suffers will often directly relate to the kind of accident that occurred. Furthermore, the type of truck accident could also present additional challenges to proving negligence or fault. Below is a list of some of the more common types of crashes our Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers have come across.
Most people are familiar with rear-end collisions. Typically, the driver who slams into the back of another vehicle is held responsible for any injuries or damages. However, trucks take much longer to stop than cars. Therefore, if a truck is following too closely behind another vehicle, an ordinary stop could result in a devastating rear-end collision. When a car is hit from behind by another car, it typically jolts forward. However, when a truck hits a car from the rear, it could drive over the much smaller vehicle, crushing anyone in the backseat.
Head-on accidents are often deadly. Usually, these types of accidents are caused by a fatigued driver or someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Similar to a rear-end crash, when a massive commercial truck collides into a smaller car coming in the opposite direction, the injuries suffered by those in the smaller vehicle are catastrophic or fatal.
A jackknife accident occurs when a truck driver suddenly brakes, loses control of their trailer, and the trailer swings out at a 90-degree angle. A swinging trailer is liable to collide with multiple vehicles. Accidents also happen in the wake of a jackknife crash when other drivers react to avoid the massive out-of-control trailer.
Blind Spot Accidents
Every vehicle on the road has a blind spot – or an area where the sight of another vehicle is lost due to the angles and coverage of a driver’s mirrors. Large commercial trucks have significantly greater blind spot areas than smaller cars. A vehicle could be driving alongside a truck and be completely invisible in the truck driver’s collection of rear-view mirrors. While other motorists can take precautions to avoid driving in a truck’s blind stop, a commercial driver must still thoroughly check the road to ensure they can safely change lanes or merge with traffic.
A jackknifed trailer will often flip over. This can also occur when a truck driver takes a turn too quickly or otherwise loses control of their vehicle. When a truck rolls over, it could crush nearby cars or its cargo could spill, creating a hazardous condition for other motorists.
The size of commercial trucks and large trailers present additional dangers to others on the road. An underride accident is one of the deadliest types of Pennsylvania truck accidents. When an approaching car or smaller vehicle gets stuck under a trailer, its top is often ripped off, resulting in devastating and fatal injuries.
Anyone who has driven on Pennsylvania highways has come across the torn and shredded remains of truck tires. When these tires blow, a truck driver is liable to lose control and crash into nearby traffic.
Who is Liable for a Truck Accident in Pennsylvania – The Driver or the Trucking Company?
When you are injured in a car accident, your Philadelphia car accident lawyer will usually only have a few people on the list of potential targets for a lawsuit: any other drivers involved in the crash. If there were multiple drivers or truck drivers involved in your crash, any of them could be potential targets for a truck accident injury lawsuit. However, you could also be entitled to sue the trucking company whose driver injured you.
If the driver who hit you was working for a trucking company when the crash occurred, that company could be held responsible for the accident. When truckers are employees, the trucking company they drive for can be held liable for any mistakes its driver commits during the scope of their employment. The legal theory our Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers will turn to is known as “vicarious liability.” Through vicarious liability, a trucking company could be held accountable for the conduct of its employees.
However, there are also times when a trucking company could be held liable for its policies or procedures. Below are some common types of mistakes or failures that could open a trucking company up to litigation.
- Negligent hiring or retention of dangerous drivers
- Failing to screen drivers for CDL qualifications and health conditions
- Negligent maintenance of trucks
- Negligent retreading of worn-down tires
- Negligent loading of cargo
- Negligent handling of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) cargo
- Overloading of trucks
- Pressuring drivers to exceed hours of service limitations
Many truck drivers are independent contractors or owner-operators, which means that they are not “employees” at a trucking company. If this is the case, then the company that the driver works for is not liable for any damages or injuries.
A trucking operation often includes more than the trucking company and the driver. Some facilities and companies load cargo into trucks. There are federal regulations regarding the securing of the load and the weight a truck is permitted to haul. Truck drivers have an obligation to ensure that their truck is loaded properly. However, this obligation does not necessarily free the company that loaded the truck from liability. Accidents often occur when a truck is unbalanced, the cargo shifts, or the vehicle is over or underweight. Our Pennsylvania truck accident lawyer will thoroughly examine the facts in your case to determine what party or parties should be held accountable for your injuries.
Common Injuries Suffered in Pennsylvania Truck Accidents
Commercial trucks outweigh the typical passenger vehicle by several tons. Because of this disparity in size and weight, truck accidents in Pennsylvania often result in devastating injuries or fatalities for the occupants of any smaller vehicle. Nearly seventy percent of those killed in truck accidents across the nation were in smaller passenger vehicles.
Unfortunately, head injuries are common in truck accidents because of the impact and forces that strike smaller vehicles. Passengers inside the smaller car will usually experience a vicious snap or shake of their heads. The excessive force could cause the brain to collide with the skull. Concussions occur when a blow to the head happens, sometimes rendering the injured victim unconscious. The symptoms of a concussion could last for months or result in lifelong problems.
In more serious cases, a truck accident victim will suffer a traumatic brain injury. Depending on the severity of the damage, a person could endure lifelong health and mental problems.
Damage to Internal Organs
The impact of a truck accident could cause internal bleeding or damage to other vital organs. In some situations, a victim could be unaware of the extent of harm they suffered. Some common organs that are injured in truck accidents include the liver, bladder, kidneys, spleen, and lung. These injuries could be life-threatening if medical attention is ignored. One significant problem is that internal injuries are not always apparent or easy to detect. If you are involved in an accident with a commercial truck, you should always seek immediate medical treatment.
Large commercial trucks carry more fuel than smaller vehicles. Furthermore, trucks are often carrying flammable or volatile cargo. These factors all lead to an increased chance that a truck accident will result in an explosion or fire. When this happens, the likelihood of burn injuries rises. Minor burns could result in long-term discomfort, while major burns could be fatal.
Neck and Back Injuries
When a smaller car is struck by a large truck, anyone in the smaller vehicle is liable to have their neck and head violently snapped around. These extreme motions result in a wide range of neck and back injuries, such as whiplash or total paralysis. Depending on the injury, neck damage could also affect other parts of a victim’s body, including their muscles, joints, and ligaments.
A truck accident victim is likely to suffer a back or spinal injury in a crash. For example, a herniated disc occurs when an accident’s force tears the tissues that cushion the vertebrae. A herniated disc will often cause severe pain, weakness, and numbness.
A severe spinal cord injury could result in everything from numbness to a complete loss of function in one or more limbs. In the worst cases, an accident victim could lose the use of the majority of their body, requiring a lifetime of medical care and treatment.
Investigating Truck Accidents in Pennsylvania
Truck accidents present confusing puzzles when determining what actually occurred and who is to blame. The key in any personal injury case is the quality of available and compelling evidence. Our experienced Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers have the staff and resources to investigate an accident.
Accident Investigations and Reconstruction
Critical evidence often lays buried in driver’s logs, police reports, cell phone records, maintenance records, onboard video and navigation systems, and the truck’s event data recorders – devices similar to an airplane’s “black box.” Our office will also hire experts that examine crash scenes and reconstruct the accident based on scientific and engineering tools. By gathering this evidence, our office will work to build a case that establishes liability.
Reviewing Driver Records
One common cause of truck accidents is a trucking company’s failure to regulate working hours for their drivers. This practice is usually done to increase the profits that a truck driver may earn. As a result, a truck driver might operate their vehicle while severely fatigued. A drowsy driver is prone to veer from their lane or may fall asleep at the wheel, which can cause a severe truck accident.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) writes regulations for truck drivers and trucking companies that dictate how many hours the drivers can stay on the road before taking breaks. These limitations put caps on how much they can drive in one run, how much they can drive per day, and how much they can drive per week. Violations of these rules can cause accidents, and these regulatory violations can help prove that the truck driver or the trucking company was at fault.
In some cases, these violations have been intentional, with trucking companies facing accusations that they had systems in place to falsify logs and pressure drivers to drive beyond their limitations to make extra money.
Examining the Truck and Its Cargo
Another common cause of truck accidents is the overloading of the trailer of a truck. As trucks already weigh a substantial number of pounds, it is essential to avoid overloading a trailer. However, a trucking company may overload a trailer in an attempt to ship more items. The excess weight could cause additional stress on the tires resulting in a blowout. Tire blowouts are especially dangerous because they can cause a truck driver to lose control and may result in the truck being flipped over.
Improperly loaded trucks also increase the risk that the trailer will sway or fishtail, potentially resulting in a jackknife accident. Other loading issues could also result in improperly loaded hazardous materials leaking and causing injury, or they could increase the risk that the truck will roll over during a crash.
Trucking companies and independent drivers are required to inspect and maintain their vehicles, ensuring that they are roadworthy. Our Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers will review the maintenance logs and inspection reports to determine if a truck was in a state of unreasonable disrepair. In some cases, the malfunction or system failure stems from a manufacturing defect or design flaw. By employing mechanical and technical engineers, our office will look to determine if the truck manufacturer shares liability.
Other evidence could also prove invaluable, whether taking your case to court or negotiating with an insurance company. Witness testimony provides other narratives of what occurred. Often a local business will have a security camera that took footage of the accident. Dashcams are also becoming more prevalent. By collecting as much evidence as possible, our office will build a liability case against the party or parties responsible for the accident.
Damages and Compensation for Injured Truck Accident Victims in Pennsylvania
If you are injured in a truck accident, you are entitled to seek monetary compensation through the civil court system. Our Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers are committed to fighting for the compensation our clients deserve. Injured victims are permitted to seek compensatory damages that include both economic and non-economic damages. Typically, economic damages are your actual financial losses, while non-economic damages refer to more intangible harm
The most common type of economic damages truck accident victims suffer are medical expenses. Medical bills are common after truck accidents, as victims often face severe injuries such as back and spine injuries, head injuries, broken bones, and more. Medical treatment is expensive. Furthermore, many accident victims face months or years of physical therapy, additional surgeries, and long-term home healthcare. These damages could be claimed at their full value in a lawsuit against the negligent driver and trucking company.
If you suffered a severe injury, you will also likely miss significant time at work. Depending on the injury, this could be a temporary situation or you could have suffered a permanent disability. You are entitled to recover lost wages in a personal injury lawsuit. Lost wages are not limited to those hours you missed leading up to the trial or settlement date. If your injury permanently impacts your ability to make a living, you should be fully compensated for the income you would have earned.
If you are experiencing physical pain or suffering mentally and emotionally from your injuries, you are also entitled to compensation. Non-economic damages are sometimes the hardest to understand and calculate. Our Pennsylvania truck accident injury lawyers will thoroughly evaluate the intangible harm you suffered. By turning to medical professionals, counselors, as well as you and your family, our office will gather evidence to substantiate your claim for non-economic damages.
Wrongful Death Damages
Unfortunately, some truck accidents result in fatal injuries. If you lost a loved one in a truck accident, you are entitled to recover damages through a wrongful death claim. A surviving family member should be compensated for funeral costs and burial expenses. Furthermore, you would also be permitted to seek non-economic damages associated with your loss, including grief counseling, lost inheritances, lost benefits (such as healthcare), and the loss of companionship. Money can never fill the hole that a lost family member leaves in your life, but it can help take care of your family after their loss.
Calculating Compensation in a Pennsylvania Truck Accident Lawsuit
To determine what your case is worth, it is crucial to speak to a Pennsylvania I-83 truck accident lawyer. Our attorneys can evaluate all of the damages you incurred and calculate what expenses you will likely have moving forward. Often, injury victims miss out on future damages that they can claim for medical care and lost wages, leaving them short of the full compensation they deserve – especially when opting to accept an insurance settlement. Before accepting an insurance settlement, you need to speak with an experienced attorney. It is impossible to evaluate a settlement offer without knowing what your claim is worth.
Remember that your recovery award from a lawsuit is often more significant than what an insurance company will offer. Insurance companies are working diligently to limit their liability – they are not working for you or your family. An artificially low settlement could be offered because the insurance provider believes the accident victim requires immediate compensation. Once you accept an offer, you are prohibited from seeking additional damages through a lawsuit. Sometimes, just filing a lawsuit will force an insurance company to offer a fair settlement amount.
Statute of Limitations for Truck Accident Lawsuits in Pennsylvania
No matter what state you reside in, you should be aware that civil lawsuits are subject to the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations governs the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit with a court of law. This means that your truck accident lawsuit must be filed within a certain amount of time if you wish to pursue compensation for your injuries.
You should be aware that deadlines set by statutes of limitations laws may vary depending on the circumstances of the plaintiff’s case. Our firm can help you determine when your truck accident injury accrued and when you must file your lawsuit.
The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is set in terms of years. If you wish to file a personal injury lawsuit in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the law gives you two years from the injury to pursue your claim in court. In comparison to many other states, Pennsylvania has a relatively short statute of limitations deadline, giving injury victims a short window to file their claims.
You need to be aware of the status of the statute of limitations for your case. If you miss the deadline, your lawsuit will be quickly dismissed if filed. Often, an insurance company will continue settlement negotiations until the deadline has passed.
When to Contact a Lawyer After a Truck Accident in Pennsylvania
There are various reasons to pursue a claim well before the statute of limitations has expired. For example, if you wait years to pursue your case, this could make an attorney hesitant to accept your claim as the filing deadline quickly approaches. Additionally, valuable evidence you may need to prove your case could become lost or misplaced if you wait too long to file your suit. If you are concerned about the statute of limitations for your truck accident case, you should waste no time speaking with an experienced national truck accident attorney.
When you start working with a Pennsylvania truck accident lawyer early on in your case, our lawyers can begin professional investigations into your case immediately. This can often help us find evidence that would have been destroyed or discarded if you waited even weeks or months after the crash to call a lawyer. For instance, the truck’s logs can help provide evidence of the vehicle’s speed and other information to help prove your case. Additionally, dashcam footage from drivers who witnessed the crash or from the truck involved in the crash can be seized as evidence, as can security footage from nearby stores, ATMs, or homes that might have caught the accident on camera.
It is also important to get statements from witnesses, the at-fault driver, and any trucking company representatives as soon as you can. Peoples’ memories fade quickly, and they may be unable to recount facts months later. Having statements and depositions from shortly after the crash can give strong evidence to help with your case and to bolster later testimony at trial.
Steps to Take After a Truck Accident in Pennsylvania
If you were injured in a trucking accident, there are some steps you should take to protect yourself and start gathering evidence after a crash. First, you should call emergency services. You should accept treatment by EMTs if you suffered injuries in the crash, and you should go with them to the hospital if they recommend it. Additionally, you should report the accident to the police, who can respond to the scene, fill out an accident report, and gather information about who was involved.
If you can stay at the scene, collect additional information about the accident. If you have a cell phone, you should take pictures of the crash scene. Be sure to include numerous photos of the vehicles involved from several different angles. Also, take pictures of the surrounding scene, including debris and street signs.
Gather contact information from any witnesses and speak with law enforcement at the scene. You should ask how to receive a copy of the police report.
Whether you received emergency medical treatment or not, you should follow up with a doctor soon after the crash. The emergency care could have treated obvious injuries like cuts, scrapes, and broken bones, but many truck accident injuries appear in the days after a crash. Whiplash and back injuries are both very common in auto accidents, but these injuries might not be apparent until you have had a good night’s rest and given your body a chance to come down off the adrenaline and let your muscles and tendons relax in those areas. Other injuries might also become apparent as you try to return to your everyday activities. A vital part of any personal injury case is tying an injury to the accident. Without medical documentation, an insurance company will argue that your injuries were not a direct result of the crash.
As mentioned, you should talk to a lawyer as soon as possible after a crash to get the case moving.
Contact Our Experienced Pennsylvania Truck Accident Lawyers Today About Your Case
Truck accidents are often devastating, leaving their victims facing long-term medical treatment and financial distress. If you or a loved one was hurt in a truck crash, contact our Pennsylvania truck accident lawyers immediately. The attorneys and staff at the Reiff Law Firm are committed to fighting for those injured in truck accidents. To schedule a free consultation, call our office at (215) 709-6940.