Semi Truck Crash Cases
Semi truck, or tractor trailer, crashes are a special type of motor vehicle accident. If you want to learn about Wyoming motor vehicle cases, I suggest you start with my guide to Wyoming Car Accidents. My guide covers the mechanics of a car accident claim and litigation. The basics of any motor vehicle accident claim or lawsuit are the same, but a truck case puts you in the big leagues. Special rules apply. With a semi truck or commercial vehicle accident, you always need an attorney. What makes a semi truck case different from a regular motor vehicle accident case?
Commercial Driver’s License
A semi truck requires a commercial driver’s license, or CDL. Depending on the configuration, a semi truck can have a gross vehicle weight of as much as 80,000 lbs (more for certain trailers) and be over 100 ft long. The engines and transmissions are different. The stopping distances are different. A proper pretrip inspection with a semi truck often takes 30 minutes.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA)
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA) regulates interstate trucking. Many states have adopted similar provisions for trucking within the state. The FMCSA imposes strict requirements on the truck driver, the trucking company, and the dispatcher.
- Hours of service requirements. Truck drivers are required to obey certain hours in service requirements. For example a truck driver cannot drive more than 60 hours in a 7-day period.
- Logbook requirements. Truck drivers are required to log their time for each day they are working. Those logs show when the truck driver is driving. They also show when the truck driver is not driving. They show if he is sleeping or getting ready to drive.
- Pretrip requirements. Truck drivers conduct pretrip inspections of both the tractor and trailer. If anything is out of order, they are required to fix it.
The truck will have an onboard black box. This is called the ECM or electronic control module. It contains data about speed, position, braking, hours in service, etc. Assuming you can recover the ECM, you should be able to determine the exact speed and position of the truck at the time of the crash.
A commercial truck driver is required to carry insurance. That insurance has higher minimums. But because of the trucking business, it’s common for there to be multiple insurance policies in play. For example, the truck driver may be an owner-operator with his own policy for the tractor. But the owner-operator may have leased the trailer. So there is a separate policy on the trailer. Then the driver got the load from a broker, who may have his own policy. In certain cases, the owner of the freight may have a policy. It depends. But you don’t know until you look or litigate. Commercial trucking insurance is a relatively specialized product. Many of the trucking insurance companies only write trucking policies. These insurance carriers employ adjusters that only handle trucking claims. They work with law firms that only defend trucking cases. The lawyers and insurance adjusters on the other side of your claim know what they’re doing.
The trucking industry is made up of a variety of players. You have trucking companies that employ drivers. You also have owner-operators, or truck drivers, that own their own rig and are a company of one. Owner-operators work with brokers to find loads. Some trucking companies work exclusively for one larger company and only move their freight. They may be dispatched by that company. Sometimes trucks are maintained in-house. Sometimes trucks are maintained by a mechanic. A lawsuit could pull in a driver, a trucking company, a broker or dispatcher, and the owner of the freight. These parties may try to shift blame among themselves, making the case even more complex.
A semi truck case is more likely to involve a serious injury or fatality. Alarmingly, Wyoming motor vehicle fatalities are up in 2019. By February 11, 2019, there were 16 fatalities statewide, compared against 8 fatalities in all of 2018. Many of those fatal car crashes involved a semi truck. In those cases, you may need to look at my wrongful death page.