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What Are Your Legal Rights After an Accident Involving a Commercial Truck?

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Commercial trucks are substantially larger than most vehicles. Box trucks and 18-wheelers can cause significant damage to your car and your safety. Even with a seatbelt and airbags, you could sustain head injuries, internal injuries, bone fractures, cuts, and bruising. If you’re in an accident with a commercial truck and the truck driver is at fault, what are your legal rights?

State Licensing Bureaus Set Commercial Driving License Standards

Each state is responsible for setting the standards for commercial driving licenses (CDL). A CDL is required for driving a commercial motor vehicle like an 18-wheeler or box truck. While it’s up to the state, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) does set the training standards that drivers must meet before gaining a Class A or B CDL. The programs usually entail a mix of studying from a CDL manual and behind-the-wheel training.

While the requirements for a CDL can vary from state to state, many key rules remain the same in every state.

In California, a commercial driver has to be a California resident at least 18 years of age for in-state work and 21 or older for jobs that require traveling over the state lines. Jobs involving the transportation of hazardous material or waste also require the driver to be 21 or older. The background check on a driver will go back 10 years. Drivers who are handling hazardous waste or materials must also go through a security threat assessment with the TSA. Before you can have a CDL, you must be a Class D licensed driver for at least a year, pass a health examination, and go through periodic drug tests.

Iowa’s laws are similar in terms of ages, health exams, drug tests, and residency. There are two parts to a CDL exam: written and a practical driving test.

With these different background checks, testing procedures, and limitations on what and where you can drive, the goal is for a truck driver to be a safe, knowledgable driver. That doesn’t prevent all accidents though. If a driver disobeys any of these rules, fails a drug test, or is improperly vetted before taking a job, you have every right to sue for damages to your vehicle, your medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering.

Common Accidents With Commercial Trucks

What are some of the most common ways that accidents involving a commercial truck happen?

Wide Turns

Swinging wide is something drivers do to make a wide turn. The driver will use the neighboring lane to widen the angle at which a turn is made. If there is a car or pedestrian in the lane the driver swings into during that wide turn, there’s a strong risk of collision.

Jackknifing

Jackknifing is a case where the trailer of an 18-wheeler turns too sharply and forms a 90-degree angle with the cab. It often happens when the driver brakes hard. If an 18-wheeler gets into this situation, it can block entire lanes and hit multiple cars in a matter of seconds.

Ice or Tire Blowouts

If ice slides off the roof of a commercial truck or a tire blows and sends rubber flying into the travel lane, it can easily smash windshields and damage the front end. If you’re behind a commercial truck and this happens, the farther behind the truck you are, the easier it is to avoid major damage.

Blind Spots

Blind spots are a huge issue for any truck driver. It’s hard for a driver to see cars on the side or right behind the back of the truck or trailer, but that doesn’t mean the driver can just move out without knowing if there’s another car there. If the driver moves into the other lane and a car is in the blind spot, it can be devastating. Blind spots can also be an issue if the driver is backing up and your car is in the lane or drive behind the truck. To avoid being in a blind spot, a car has to be 30 feet back from the trailer or leave an entire empty lane between the 18 wheeler and the car when passing. If an interstate only has two lanes, it’s impossible to leave one full empty lane.

When You’re in the Accident Do These Three Things

If you’re in an accident with a commercial truck, take care of yourself first. It’s possible you have serious injuries. Listen to the doctors and take as much time resting up and allowing your body to heal as is necessary. Insurance can cover lost wages.

File an accident report with the police if they haven’t already started one. Get a copy of that accident report and call your insurance company to start a claim. Give the insurance company as much information as you can. Witnesses, medical bills, dashcam footage, and photos are all helpful.

Talk to a lawyer. If the other driver didn’t have a valid CDL, had a history of DUI, or had been on the road for more hours than the state allows, you have a case against that trucking company and the driver. An attorney who specializes in crashes with commercial trucks will help you file a claim if necessary.

Trial Lawyers for Justice specializes in all types of vehicle accidents. If you’ve been injured in an accident with a commercial truck, you have rights. Talk to the attorneys at TL4J if you don’t feel that you’ve been treated fairly. Consultations are free, so there’s no risk to learn more.

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Trial by Human

Nick Rowley founded Trial by Human, a nationwide legal education course to help trial lawyers improve their skills in the courtroom by "being human".