According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fact sheets for 2010, Illinois had the 8th highest number of fatal large truck accidents of all states in the United States. With the variable weather and road conditions in Chicago and around the state, this may not come as a surprise, but it may be surprising to know that truck companies may be responsible in a number of these cases. Although truck drivers are presumed to be in control of their vehicles when operating them on public highways, the law often recognizes that their employers may bear some of the liability or responsibility for injuries or loss of property in truck accidents. Trucking company negligence is a crucial factor when courts consider damages in personal injury cases. Because of the great weight and size of semi trucks compared to regular automobiles, truck accidents typically result in greater property damage, and more often result in severe injuries or death.
Types of Negligence by Truck Companies
Trucking company negligence can take many forms. The freight business is extremely competitive and profit margins are quite slim. The temptation is great to cut corners on safety precautions in order to reduce costs, which is one reason trucking companies and truck drivers are heavily regulated by state and federal governments.
Strict Limits and Qualifications for Drivers
Some of the most recent federal legislation regulates how many hours a driver can be behind the wheel in a 24 hour period. This legislation was passed after highway safety data revealed that driver fatigue increases the likelihood of collisions involving semi trucks. The requirement to limit how many hours a driver can stay behind the wheel of a truck often means that trucking companies must hire more drivers in order to fulfill freight contracts. Many trucking companies face severe driver shortages and might be tempted to hire unqualified drivers or drivers with flawed driving records.
Trucking companies may also be tempted to skimp on driver training or be lax about disciplining drivers who violate traffic laws or other safety regulations. A trucking company may be found negligent (or worse) if a driver tests positive for drugs or alcohol after an accident, and records reveal that the trucking company failed to conduct required screenings or disregarded a driver’s poor history.
Truck and Equipment Safety
Freight companies may be tempted to coerce drivers into disobeying speed limits in order to meet deadlines or haul loads that are above legal weight limits in order to maximize available driver time and trailer space.
Other ways in which trucking companies can be negligent include:
- Not ensuring that loads are secured properly or distributed evenly.
- Not performing required safety inspections before sending a truck out on the road.
- Not maintaining a vehicle properly or delaying necessary repairs.
- Failing to install rear underride bumpers on trailers.
Truck Accident Injuries and the Law
As discussed above, there are numerous potential causes for a truck accident, ranging from the purely accidental to the negligent. Regardless of the cause, however, truck accidents differ greatly when compared to car versus car accidents because of the dangers and complexity of the cases.
As noted above, the trucking industry is heavily regulated at the federal and state level, and Illinois is no exception. The state regulates speed limits for trucks by county, imposes weight restrictions, and more. For anyone involved in a truck accident, it is important to have a full investigation of the scene, and if necessary, contact an attorney specializing in truck accident cases who will be experienced in getting to the root cause of an accident, and determining which of many potential parties, including truck companies, may be responsible if negligence is involved.