big rig T-boned the other vehicle

How is a tractor-trailer accident different than a car accident?

What should you know if you or a loved one were involved in a wreck with a commercial vehicle?

Any wreck can cause horrible injuries and be emotionally and financially damaging. However, accidents involving heavy commercial vehicles are complex, and more likely to cause catastrophic and life-long damages or fatalities. Tractor-trailer cases are more complex and require an experienced attorney because not only are the damages frequently more severe but the laws for commercial vehicles are much different. Experience handling trucking litigation is important.

At Hatfield Temple, our truck accident attorneys have extensive experience handling these complex cases. Our attorneys understand the complex state and federal regulations governing commercial vehicles and are dedicated to helping victims maximize their recovery. Our attorneys are also equipped to handle cases involving catastrophic injuries, like brain and spinal cord injuries. Here are a few examples of why it is important to hire a personal injury lawyer who understands the difference between a wreck between two private vehicles vs. a wreck involving a commercial truck.

Is it a tractor-trailer, semi, 18-wheeler, or a commercial motor vehicle? What’s with all the different names and does that matter?

Any car wreck involving a commercial motor vehicle is commonly referred to as trucking litigation. When attorneys use the word “truck” to define a vehicle they are generally not talking about an F-150, Ranger, Canyon, or Honda Ridgeline. Trucking Litigation concerns commercial motor vehicles and the distinction is important.

A Commercial Motor Vehicle is defined in a separate blog entry. (Click here to read more about the specific definition and classifications of this type of vehicle). The general definition is that a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is a vehicle used by a business rather than a private citizen. A CMV can be an 18-wheeler, it can be a tractor with one, two or three trailers, it can be a vehicle where the tractor and the trailer are all part of the same vehicle (think, delivery truck or moving truck). The important distinction is that these types of large, heavy trucks are used by businesses and require the drivers to have special licenses and training. There are separate laws and regulations, on both the state and federal level, that place strict obligations and duties on the business and the driver that the average driver does not have to follow.

Injuries and Damages are typically more severe

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2020, 132 people were killed on the roadways in South Carolina when involved in a wreck with a tractor-trailer. Even more troubling is the fact that this number has steadily risen despite the improved safety features in vehicles and trucks.

One explanation for the severity of wrecks involving tractor-trailers is their weight and size. The average personal vehicle weighs around 4,000 lbs but a commercial truck can weigh up to 80,000 lbs. In other words, a tractor-trailer can weigh 20X more than a car. Obviously, the heavier the vehicle, the larger in size. A larger vehicle, like a semi truck, is harder to maneuver and stop, and is more susceptible to weather conditions and brake failure.

The forces involved in any collision are based on weight and speed. Because these tractor-trailers are heavier and harder to stop, means they often collide with cars with much more force than the average car. The more force, the more likely it is that a person is severely injured or killed.

Common damages in a tractor-trailer wreck:

  • Traumatic Brain Injuries
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Internal Organ damage
  • Broken Bones
  • Amputations
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Lost wages
  • Life-long medical needs
  • Reduced earning capacity

Catastrophic injuries can significantly impact the rest of your life. Experience handling trucking litigation is important. The experienced attorneys at Hatfield Temple not only know how to properly handle catastrophic injuries and damages.

More people are typically liable in trucking litigation

When you are t-boned or rear-ended in a wreck with another car, typically only the other driver is liable for your injuries and damages. However, when a tractor-trailer driver causes a wreck, the driver isn’t the only one responsible. Other potentially liable parties in a commercial truck accident are:

  • The motor carrier or trucking company that employed the driver
  • The manufacturer of the tractor or trailer
  • The company responsible for loading the trailer’s cargo
  • The company responsible for the maintenance on the tractor or trailer
  • The broker who hired the trucking company to transport the cargo

The benefit to hiring an attorney experienced with handling trucking litigation is that they understand that more than one person or company may be liable for your injuries or damages. This understanding can be the difference between a little compensation and fair compensation.

Investigations in trucking cases are more complex

In addition the number of people or companies liable for a tractor-trailer wreck being higher than the average car wreck, the investigation into the accident and evidence to support a claim is entirely different.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has hundreds of regulations or laws that govern the operation of tractor-trailers that aren’t required of your average driver. There are regulations not only on who can drive a commercial vehicle, but what a company should investigate before hiring a driver. There are regulations that apply to how often the tractor and trailer are inspected, how many hours a driver can be on the road or on-duty, the amount of rest a driver needs, and even what a company and the driver must do after a wreck.

Experience handling trucking litigation is important. When you are in a car wreck, the insurance company may call you to investigate the wreck a few days later. When you are in a wreck with a tractor-trailer, the insurance company often has investigators – and even lawyers – on the scene of the wreck or building a case against you within a matter of hours. It is important that you contact an experience trucking lawyer as soon as possible to help preserve evidence and begin working on your claim. Trucking litigation requires an inspection of the following types of evidence:

  • A physical inspection of the tractor and trailer
  • Bills of Lading
  • Weight tickets
  • Dispatch instructions
  • Maintenance records
  • Hours of Service records
  • A driver’s training and qualification file maintained by his/her employer
  • An electronic inspection of the technology on-board the tractor, trailer, and in the cab
  • Drug and Alcohol testing and screening

Not only can there be a lot at stake for a victim, but the stakes are higher for a trucking company and its insurance company, as well. For example, the minimum level of insurance a private citizen in South Carolina is required to purchase provides for $25,000 in bodily injury per person or $50,000 in bodily injury coverage per occurrence. On the other hand, a motor carrier is required to have, at least, $750,000 in bodily injury coverage. If you include the insurance limits on all liable parties, that total coverage can be upwards for several million dollars. These differences in insurance coverages emphasizes why it is important to have an knowledgeable and experienced attorney assisting you on these claims. An insurance company and their team of lawyers are going to fight you tooth-and-nail to limit your claim.

The experienced attorneys at Hatfield Temple understand the complexities involved in trucking litigation and are committed to making sure that the victims are fairly compensated and all of the liable parties are held accountable. Our country is dependent upon the use of large commercial trucks. While there are plenty of safe drivers and motor carriers, we must hold the unsafe drivers and motor carriers accountable when their negligence causes catastrophic or fatal injuries – not only to help compensate the victims but to hopefully reduce the number of victims in the future.

Contact an experience truck accident lawyer today

Experience handling trucking litigation is important. The attorneys at Hatfield Temple have experience handling complex injury cases and trucking litigation. We are committed to helping victims pursue the compensation they deserve, not just for past damages but with an eye to the future impact a wreck may have on a victim.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a wreck with a tractor-trailer, call (843) 662-5000 or schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal options. Our attorneys will meet you at on of our office locations, at your home, or in the hospital, wherever it is more convenient. We represent clients throughout South Carolina in trucking litigation claims on a contingency basis, which means we won’t charge you any up front costs or fees unless we help your recover.