Laws Governing Trucks and Their Operation
Both federal and state statutes and regulations govern the operation of large trucks. Federal standards are set by the aforementioned Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Florida’s regulations, largely mirroring the FMCSA’s, are found in Section 316.302 of the Florida Statutes.
FMCSA regulations cover a wide range of trucking operations from training and qualifications for operators to maintenance of the vehicles and the working-driving-resting hours of truck operators.
By federal law, operators must have 10 consecutive hours of rest during every 24-hour period. Of the remaining 14 hours, only 11 can be spent behind the wheel. In addition, in a seven-day period, work totals cannot exceed 60 hours maximum (or 70, if the truck sits idle for a day).
Florida’s laws are a bit different but apply only to intrastate operations, which must adhere to the FMCSA limits. In Florida, drivers can operate their vehicles for 12 hours in a 24-hour period after 10 consecutive hours of rest. Drivers may not drive after 70/80 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days, while 34 consecutive hours off constitutes the end of the 7/8-day period.
If you are involved in a crash with a large truck, your immediate thought is that the negligence of the big rig operator is what caused your injuries. In most cases, this is no doubt true, but other individuals and entities may also be liable.
Under the principle of vicarious liability, if the collision was caused by faulty brakes, then the maintenance company charged with keeping the truck in safe operational conditions may be liable. The same may pertain to the manufacturer of the brakes.
Personnel who load the cargo may also be liable. If they load the cargo off balance and throw the truck’s center of gravity off, it will be difficult for the driver to navigate. Alternately, the cargo itself may come loose or spill out, causing a crash.
The trucking company may be held liable if it didn’t provide proper training and rushed the driver into service too soon, or if it pushed the driver to operate the vehicle beyond legal time limits.
One important fact to remember, though, is that Florida employs the legal standard of “pure comparative negligence.” This means that insurance adjusters (or juries, if you file a personal injury claim) will assign a percentage of fault, or negligence, to each party involved in the accident.
Say you’re rear-ended by a truck, but one of your brake lights isn’t working. You may be found to have been 20% at fault for the accident. If so, your compensation will be reduced by that percentage. If you’re awarded $50,000, you’ll receive only $40,000 of it.
Factors in Determining Liability
Showing negligence on the part of the truck operator — or others involved in the safe condition and operation of the vehicle — is necessary to win in court.
While on the scene, if you’re physically able, you must document everything as thoroughly as possible. Take photos with your cell phone. If there are witnesses, try to get their statement and contact information. When you have time, make sure to write down or record everything exactly as you remember it.
If the crash resulted in injuries, then you must also call 911 and report the accident to the police. When the police come, they will conduct an investigation. If possible, get a copy of their report as soon as it is available.
By law, drivers on Florida’s roads and highways are bound to exercise a “duty of care” toward other vehicles and drivers on the road. This means that they must do everything to avoid harming others. If they do something that voids their duty of care, that equates to negligence.
The FMCSA says that the most common cause of trucking accidents is driver error. Other factors leading to accidents include driver fatigue, distracted driving, unsecured cargo, inadequate training, improper maintenance, dangerous weather, and road hazards. In other words, a truck accident can result in more than one claim or personal injury lawsuit being filed.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim
According to Florida law, claims for injuries or damages suffered in a traffic collision need first be reported to your own insurance company. You can also make a claim against the other driver’s insurance coverage. If your injuries are serious enough, you can file a personal injury lawsuit. Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney will help you choose the most appropriate course.
Insurance companies generally cover only medical expenses and income lost due to missing work while injured. A personal injury lawsuit expands the range of compensation to include noneconomic factors such as pain and suffering.
Keep in mind that you have four years from the date of your injury to file a personal injury lawsuit. Insurance companies, however, will expect to be notified immediately after the accident.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If you’ve lost a loved one, a wrongful death lawsuit can be initiated. Florida law states that the “personal representative” of the deceased must be the one to file the lawsuit.
The personal representative is the person named in the decedent’s will or trust. If there is no will or trust, the probate court will appoint an administrator for the deceased’s estate, quite often a family member. Whoever the personal representative or administrator is will be responsible for distributing the lawsuit’s award to the family members of the deceased.
Turn to a Skilled Attorney
A truck accident is not as simple as a fender-bender between two cars. Many more layers of liability exist, so claims or legal action may have to be pursued on several fronts. While you’re recovering from injuries, this is not something you’d necessarily want to face by yourself. Dealing with insurance companies and their claims adjusters is trying enough. Let an attorney answer all of the questions and handle the negotiations.