Tractor Trailer Accidents, Safety, and the Law in West Virginia
West Virginia is among one of the top 10 states for the most fatal truck-related accidents. As some of the most dangerous kinds of automobile accidents, semi-truck and tractor-trailer crashes in Princeton and across the state cause catastrophic injuries or fatalities every year. If you’ve been injured in a tractor-trailer accident, the experienced lawyers at Katz Kantor Stonestreet & Buckner can help.
How Many Truck Accidents Are There in the United States?
There are 5.6 million tractor-trailers currently registered for use in the United States. These transportation trucks are behemoths on the road, vastly outweighing a regular car or even pickup truck.
Semi-trucks collectively drive over 140 billion miles each year. All these miles put them into direct contact with passenger vehicles and pedestrians. Whenever an 18-wheeler is in a car accident, the smaller vehicle almost always suffers the most damage. A recent analysis of crashes across the U.S. revealed that roughly 5,000 passenger vehicle occupants die in big rig accidents each year. Conversely, only 700 tractor-trailers drivers died in these car accidents.
Filing a Tractor Trailer Injury Claim
While we don’t usually think about tractor-trailer collisions in West Virginia, the risk that you or someone you love may be involved in a tractor-trailer accident exists. If you or your loved one was injured due to the behavior of a semi-truck driver in West Virginia, you have a right to seek legal action to ensure you are justly compensated for the injuries you sustained.
When filing a claim after a collision with a big rig, it’s in your best interest to hire an experienced semi-truck accident attorney from Katz Kantor Stonestreet & Buckner to represent your rights.
Similarities and Differences Between Tractor-Trailer And Car Accidents
Besides their tendency of semi-truck and tractor-trailer wrecks to cause more personal injuries and damages than car accidents, West Virginia truck accidents also differ from car accidents when it comes to pursuing a personal injury case against the negligent party. Multiple parties can be involved in truck accidents, complicating valid injury claims far beyond what’s seen in passenger vehicle accidents. The vast damage caused by big rig crashes can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs and lead to potentially life-altering consequences. No one wants to be blamed for these injuries, and they’ll fight against your personal injury claim with the full might of their legal team.
There are special issues that come up in motor vehicle accidents that involve tractor-trailers or a commercial motor vehicle. These can include a product defect in the actual truck, negligence of the company maintaining the truck, and negligence of the truck driver. There is also a possibility that some regulations put in place to keep trucks safe on the road have been ignored or violated in order to cut costs for the company operating the truck. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) regulates the operation of commercial trucks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations contains volumes of regulations that are designed to keep people safe and which specifically apply to many commercial motor vehicles.
Due to the numerous regulations governing commercial motor vehicles, there is a vast array of evidence that may be collected to determine what caused or contributed to the accident. Many tractor trailers are equipped with data collection systems that contain vehicle position history, messaging and other electronic recordings. The company employing the driver should also maintain a driver qualification file, daily logs, communication systems, travel documentation, vehicle maintenance reports, training materials, driver discipline reports and documentation of regulatory violations.
Truck Accident Insurance Claims
Insurance adjusters are not there to help you. Their job is to minimize the loss their company suffers and mitigate the amount of money they pay out to you. Insurance adjusters will also do their best to find a way in which the collision with the semi-truck was your fault. The extreme cost potentially associated with these accidents means the insurance adjuster will work even harder to deny your claim. Insurance companies and the commercial motor vehicle carriers they insure are backed by a team of lawyers and want to do everything in their power to ensure your claim is denied or that they can settle for the smallest amount as possible.
You may even receive a call from a trucking company’s insurer within days of the tractor-trailer accident to offer a nominal settlement. Be wary of such offers of settlement as these insurers are trying to save as much money as possible and before you may be fully aware of the full extent of your injuries and damages. The injuries suffered and the damages sustained are often thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars more expensive than typical car accidents. Insurance companies and their adjusters will do all they can to avoid having to compensate you for injuries suffered in a truck crash. You should always first speak with a lawyer and advise the representative you will not discuss the case or consider a settlement offer without first speaking with a trucking accident lawyer.
Determining Liability in West Virginia Tractor Trailer Wrecks
In most cases, the 18-wheeler is often driven by an employee hired by a trucking company. This hiring further complicates the auto accident or personal injury case as the negligent and liable party could be either the truck driver himself or the company for which he works. Determining who is responsible in a tractor-trailer wreck can be exceptionally complex and depend on the actions of both the hiring company and the driver himself.
For instance, if the trucking company knowingly hired a driver with a substance abuse problem or a poor driving record, neglected to train the driver properly, or didn’t ensure the safety of the vehicle, then the company itself could be held liable for the damages.
However, if the driver is behaving in a way that put others on the road at risk or if they neglected to drive their vehicle safely and caused a crash with a passenger vehicle, the driver may be liable for the cost of the injuries and recovery. If the driver was employed by the trucking company then both the trucking company and the driver may be liable.
In addition to independent claims against the trucking company mentioned above, the trucking company may be liable for the driver’s action under a legal theory known as respondeat superior. This legal doctrine means a party such as a trucking company is responsible for (has vicarious liability for) acts of their employees or agents.
In addition to the tractor-trailer driver and the trucking company that hired the driver being liable for the accident, depending on the circumstances, there may be additional parties who may be liable. For example, if the accident with the semi-truck was due to defective equipment, maintenance or a defective product installed on the truck, there may be additional parties who could potentially be liable for the wreck.
By hiring an experienced West Virginia trucking accident lawyer, a prompt and thorough investigation may be conducted to determine if there are potentially other negligent actors who caused or contributed to the tractor-trailer crash.
Whether you’re fighting the truck company or the driver, a qualified tractor- trailer attorney in West Virginia will work every day to ensure liability is correctly attributed to the person responsible for the crash.
Can a Truck Driver Be Liable if They’re Not on the Clock?
In cases where an employee of a trucking company was driving his work vehicle on his time off, then the employee will likely be held responsible for the collision. However, each situation is different. The specifics of why and where the semi-truck driver was driving at the time of the truck accident can all affect the outcome.
Adding to the confusion, it’s often unclear where liability lies if a driver was on call but not working at the time of the accident.
Commercial truck accident cases are incredibly nuanced. If you have been injured in a flatbed-trailer accident in Princeton, West Virginia, you should call a truck accident attorney as soon as possible. The trucking company and its insurance carrier have a team of attorneys and accident investigators ready to stand by them no matter what. Don’t you deserve the same?
What is the Statute of Limitations in West Virginia?
When you’ve been injured in a catastrophic semi-truck accident, time is of the essence. Any delay in seeking medical attention may be used against your claim as a sign that your injuries were not severe enough to warrant medical care. Adding to the complication, the statute of limitations in West Virginia further limits your time frame in which to defend your rights.
The statute of limitations is a time limit set by the state that restricts the amount of time that you have to bring a lawsuit to court. West Virginia law allows two years to file a lawsuit with the West Virginia civil court system. If more than two years pass, the statute of limitations will have expired, and you will be unable to sue to collect compensation for your losses.
In addition, there exists a real chance that the defendant will attempt to wipe his hands clean of your claim. In many flatbed trailer and tractor-trailer car collisions, the defendant’s attorneys ask for and receive a case dismissal, which throws the truck accident case out of court. This includes cases involving property damage, personal injury cases, and even wrongful death suits.
If you have a truck accident case that you think is about to meet the deadline, you should contact a knowledgeable, motivated tractor-trailer accident attorney to assist you. Making sure your situation and your compensation are well-represented and do not fall through the cracks should be the primary motivation of your legal team. Remember, the other side isn’t going to remind you when the statute of limitations is approaching!
What To Do After A Tractor-Trailer Truck Accident In West Virginia
The events after a tractor-trailer accident are primarily the same as any other automobile accident. After being involved in a collision with a semi-truck or other transportation truck, West Virginia law requires you to stay at the scene and provide both information and help to the other drivers involved if you’re physically able to do so.
This requirement also applies to the driver of the semi-truck. While you’re both at the scene, you should make sure you get the truck driver’s contact information and full name as well as any employee identification and the company they work for. You shouldn’t assume they work for the company on the outside of the truck as not all companies hire their own drivers for their deliveries. If you are physically able and it is safe to do so, you should take pictures of the involved vehicles and the scene and get the name, phone number and address of any independent third-party witnesses.
Should You Contact the Police After a West Virginia Semi-Truck Accident?
While you may be hesitant to contact the police, especially if you think the damage is only minor, you should always do so regardless of the injuries sustained. When pursuing a personal injury or automobile case, you’ll want a copy of the police report about the accident. This report may also include your personal statement from the scene of the crash describing what happened. A police report is a valuable tool in a truck accident case as it will contain vital, non-personal information about the accident and can go towards proving the negligence of the tractor-trailer driver.
West Virginia’s Good Samaritan Requirement
West Virginia law also requires that people provide reasonable assistance to those who may have been injured in a semi-truck collision. This law, called the Good Samaritan Requirement, labels fleeing the scene of an accident a crime. The punishment for these actions is particularly high if the other parties were injured in the big rig wreck and left to fend for themselves.
Luckily, the state also provides those who attempt to assist the injured with civil immunity. This protection against legal chastising applies to anyone who, in good faith, tries to provide aid, life-saving or otherwise, at the scene of the accident. If you stopped and provided assistance to someone in need and are now being threatened with legal consequences because of that aid, your rights are being infringed.
Even minor variations in the law and clever legal wording could produce unintended consequences that are not meant under the Good Samaritan Law. You shouldn’t be punished for trying to help a vehicle accident victim, and a West Virginia truck accident attorney can help protect your rights.
How to Stay Safe Around Tractor-Trailers in West Virginia
For most people, driving is a necessary part of life which means that you’ll likely have to share the road with tractor-trailers. While we cannot control the behaviors or actions of other drivers, we can certainly make ourselves more aware of common mistakes that lead to accidents involving semi-trucks and take reasonable measures to prevent them from happening.
- Be Aware of Your and the Truck Driver’s Blind Spots: Tractor-trailers have huge blind spots on all sides of their vehicles. If you cannot see the truck driver’s face in his side view mirror, then he likely cannot see you. When you find yourself in this position, you should speed up or slow down as needed to make sure that you are visible to the truck driver at all times.
- Pass Carefully: Before you begin to pass, you should be able to see the truck driver’s face in the mirror. As you move forward, make sure to use your blinker and once you are in the left lane, accelerate quickly but safely. You will likely have to pass through the truck’s blind spot, but you don’t want to linger there. Passing should be handled as quickly and efficiently as possible, and you should never pass any semi-truck in the right hand lane or on the shoulder of the road. For your safety, you should also avoid passing trucks on downhill slopes because they inevitably pick up speed and maneuvering safely back into the lane could be extremely dangerous if the driver has to slam on his brakes.
- Leave a Cushion: Tractor-trailers have a much greater braking distance than other vehicles on the road, so it is crucial that you leave them plenty of space to stop safely. Whether you are changing lanes in front of a truck or one has just entered the roadway behind you, it is vital that you leave a space cushion of approximately 30 feet to make sure that you are not in a blind spot and that the truck has ample braking distance in case of a sudden stop.
- Don’t Tailgate: Following a tractor-trailer too closely also puts you in their rear blind spot and potential danger if the truck suddenly slows or stops. The suggested safe following distance is at least 20 feet behind the semi. Since these trucks are high off of the ground, it is possible in a sudden stop for the passenger vehicle to slide or be pushed underneath of the truck, causing catastrophic damage or fatalities.
- Mind the Turning Radius: Trucks have a turning radius of 55 feet which means that they swing very wide. You should never try to squeeze by a turning truck by getting between it and the curb. Due to the wider than normal turn radius, it’s easy to misread if you’re within the arch of the flatbed trucks reach.
- Be Patient: Due to their excessive weight and size, tractor-trailers require more time than most other vehicles to get up to speed and over hills. You can help to prevent accidents with tractor-trailers by being patient and giving the truck the time it needs to get up to speed safely. Dangerous driving behaviors such as erratically changing lanes can easily cause tragic car accidents that could have been prevented with a little patience.
- Buckle Up: This rule applies to anyone in any vehicle on the road. Seat belts save lives. It’s just that simple. This is often the easiest and most important step people can take to minimize physical injury in a semi-truck accident.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a tractor-trailer collision in West Virginia, contact the Princeton and Charleston truck accident attorneys at Katz Kantor Stonestreet & Buckner. Our attorneys can help ensure that you receive all the damages that you are entitled to under the law. Don’t put yourself in financial ruin because of someone else’s mistake.
Local Truck Accident Lawyer
The Princeton and Charleston, West Virginia law firm of Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet, and Buckner, PLLC has over eight decades of collective experience in truck and auto accidents. Truck accident cases can be complicated, often involving negligence, property damage, and personal injury. You may be entitled to receive monetary compensation for medical bills, prescription bills, lost wages due to missed work, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, amongst others, but you need an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure that happens.
Due to the complexities involving accidents involving tractor-trailers and commercial motor vehicles, it is important to hire attorneys who are knowledgeable and who have the resources to promptly hire the necessary experts to investigate and prosecute claims against commercial motor carriers. The attorneys at Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner, PLLC have represented victims who have been severely injured and unfortunately killed due to the negligence of tractor-trailer drivers and the companies in which they worked.
Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner, PLLC is familiar and knowledgeable of tractor-trailer wrecks on interstate highways throughout West Virginia, including accidents on I-77, I-64, I-79 and other interstate highways and roads in West Virginia. The team at Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner, PLLC represents victims involved in wrecks with tractor-trailers and commercial motor vehicles in Camp Creek, Beckley, Welch, Princeton, Bluefield, Beckley, Charleston, Clarksburg, Parkersburg, Huntington, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Wheeling, West Virginia and all points in between.
If you or a loved one was in an accident that involves a commercial vehicle or tractor-trailer, you need an attorney who has experience in dealing with the commercial vehicle industry. We have many years of experience helping people who have been involved in truck-related accidents, and we understand the rules and regulations that may have been ignored or violated. Upon hiring us, we are able to quickly deploy a team of experts in the commercial motor vehicle field to perform accident reconstruction analysis and vehicle analysis.
Our hired experts are generally able to download “black box” data from the commercial vehicle to determine the potential causes of the crash, how fast the vehicle was going and determine if there were other defects in the vehicle. Our hired experts can also determine if there may be other defendants who may have contributed to the tractor-trailer crash.
Upon hiring Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner, PLLC we send detailed preservation of evidence letters to the company and driver to ensure vital evidence is preserved in the case. By promptly contacting and hiring the truck accident attorneys at Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner, PLLC we can obtain eyewitness statements, video or audio recordings and analyze police reports, phone call logs and text messages, secure mobile recording devices, obtain driver criminal records, collect driving logs, maintenance records, weigh-in information and other critical evidence for your case. This is why quickly hiring an experienced attorney in your West Virginia tractor-trailer or commercial motor vehicle case is so important.
Let our attorney’s handle the investigations and the paperwork while you focus on your recovery. We will be with you every step of the way to make sure that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you in which you are entitled.
If you would like to discuss your case in a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our Princeton or Charleston tractor-trailer accident attorneys, contact us at 304-431-4050 today.