California has many of the most scenic roadways in the United States, but it also has one of the highest volumes of commercial vehicle traffic. California is home to numerous agricultural businesses that provide various goods to people all over the world. The state also has many different types of factories. As a result, its interstates and highways are frequently traveled by trucks hauling commercial freight. This is noteworthy because commercial vehicle accidents are among the deadliest motor vehicle accidents, and with more commercial traffic comes more accidents involving commercial vehicles.
Commercial drivers are professionals. This means that they receive formal training and are held to a much higher safety standard than other drivers. Despite this, accidents involving buses, tractor-trailers, and other types of commercial vehicles account for a substantial portion of traffic fatalities throughout the state.
The truth is that our economy is driven largely by consumer demand, and these demands can only be met with the use of commercial vehicles. For example, as an increasing number of consumers do their shopping online, more delivery trucks are needed to keep up with overnight and one or two-day shipping demands. In fact, two-day shipping has become such a standard for online shopping that businesses that don’t offer it can’t even compete.
As both inter-industry competition and fast shipping demands continue to rise, the commercial vehicle industry is under a great deal of pressure when it comes to safely maintaining fleets of commercial vehicles and ensuring that they are operated by safe, experienced drivers. When freight companies resort to cutting corners in terms of commercial vehicle safety, they put everyone who travels on California roadways in danger.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a California commercial vehicle accident, you need to seek the legal guidance of a California truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. If you need assistance, the legal team at the California personal injury firm at Soliman Law Group is able to help.
2022 California Truck Accident Statistics
Statistics released by the California Highway Patrol show that 216,366 traffic accidents took place statewide in 2022. These accidents resulted in 165,978 injuries and 3,854 deaths, representing a 6.5% drop in the total number of accidents, a 7.3% reduction in the total number of injuries, and a 5.2% decline in the total number of deaths compared to 2021.
Commercial trucks are one of the main causes of traffic-related fatalities in the United States. In 2019, 11% of all deadly California traffic accidents involved commercial trucks. A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. That is 30 times more than the average passenger vehicle. Given their immense weight and size, commercial trucks have the capacity to be extremely dangerous and practically guaranteed to crush passenger vehicles in a collision.
Truck accidents are a lot more complicated than car accidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety stated that most fatalities caused by commercial truck accidents are the occupants of the smaller vehicle. 4,119 people were killed in commercial truck accidents in 2019. Roughly 16% of those involved in these collisions were commercial truck occupants, 67% were passenger vehicle occupants, and about 15% were bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists.
In 2019, nearly 52% of truck accidents occurred on major roadways, 32% took place on highways and interstates, and 15% happened on secondary roadways. 48% of these commercial truck accidents occurred between morning and late afternoon, with peak accident hours taking place between 6:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
These numbers underscore how dangerous a California commercial truck accident can truly be.
Commercial Vehicles in California
In California, a commercial vehicle is defined as any vehicle maintained or used for the transportation of profit, compensation, or persons for hire, or a vehicle that is maintained, used, or designed mainly for the transportation of property. This definition encompasses a wide variety of vehicles, such as:
- Commercial trucks
- Shipping trucks
- Delivery vans and trucks
- Utility trucks
- Company vehicles
- Taxi cabs and limousines
- Tow trucks
- Food trucks
- Cement mixers
- Water well drilling rigs
- Vehicles transporting 10 or more passengers for profit
Truck Accidents and Liability
When a commercial truck causes a traffic accident, establishing fault is usually a complex process. Although the truck driver almost certainly played a part, there are many other contributing factors that need to be taken into consideration. The trucking companies that employ commercial drivers have a considerable responsibility to hire only licensed, experienced truck drivers with good driving records and proper training. Additionally, trucking companies are responsible for keeping their fleet in good working order, including ensuring that routine inspections and necessary maintenance are performed.
As the demand for commercial trucks and truck drivers continues to grow, many businesses are willfully cutting corners and ignoring safety regulations in order to increase their profits. Trucking companies that engage in these negligent practices are liable for any truck accidents caused by their penny-pinching. If a truck driver’s negligent behavior causes your accident-related injuries, their employer could be at fault or at least share in liability for your damages. It is important to remember that trucking companies have deep pockets that can work both for and against you. In other words, while they can definitely afford to pay out a larger settlement, they can also spare no expense in an attempt to avoid doing so.
Leading Causes of California Truck Accidents
Although there are a virtually infinite number of things that could contribute to a commercial truck accident, the ones that occur most often are:
As stated earlier, truck drivers are professionals, and are, therefore, held to a greater duty of care. Unfortunately, truck drivers are prone to many of the same dangerous driving behaviors as noncommercial drivers, and therefore, prone to the same types of accidents.
Strict federal regulations have been enacted pertaining to the total number of driving hours a truck driver is allowed to work consecutively. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure the safety of everyone on the roadways. Drivers who are fatigued or sleep-deprived are extremely dangerous when they are behind the wheel of an oversized, fully loaded tractor-trailer.
With pretty much everyone owning a smartphone, the distracted driving epidemic has reached cataclysmic proportions. Although commercial truck drivers are governed by heavy restrictions when it comes to using their phones, it does not mean that those restrictions are always obeyed. Anytime a truck driver is focused on anything other than driving and the safety of those around them, they pose a very real threat to everyone.
Drivers Under the Influence
It’s 2023; no one should need to be told that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is both dangerous and against the law. When a commercial truck driver who is responsible for hauling freight or transporting people over long distances decides to get behind the wheel while they are intoxicated, the situation is dire. This is why commercial vehicle drivers have a more restrictive blood-alcohol limitation of 0.04% than noncommercial drivers at 0.08%.
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Drivers Who Lack Experience
With commercial vehicle drivers being in high demand, many unscrupulous truck companies are not doing their due diligence. Instead, they are putting drivers on the road even though they lack experience with their specific vehicles to maneuver them safely through congested California traffic. When a trucking company chooses to put its bottom line ahead of driver training and safety, it puts everyone on the road at risk.
An essential part of being a safe truck operator is adapting to the numerous hazardous driving conditions drivers see as they travel back and forth across the state or country. Weather conditions such as rain, fog, high winds, ice, and snow can all pose serious dangers for truckers. When reckless or inexperienced truckers fail to adapt their driving to these changes in the weather, they put themselves and everyone around them in danger.
Impractical Delivery Schedules
Truckers earn a living and support their families by driving. Unfortunately, the demanding schedules and strict delivery deadlines they often face combined with the bonuses they are promised for delivering ahead of time and the loss of their job if they don’t, can lead to unsafe driving choices and driver fatigue. Although there are federal Hours of Service regulations designed to restrict driving hours and enforce mandatory rest breaks, many drivers still violate these rules to ensure on-time deliveries and their continued employment.
Any trucking company that encourages its drivers to disregard federal regulations and the rules of the road could be held liable for any resulting truck accidents.
Freight Companies and Truck Accident Liability
As you may have realized, there are multiple ways that a trucking company could be found liable for an accident involving a commercial vehicle. Any company that employs commercial vehicle drivers is ultimately responsible for how that company is run. This means that freight companies are accountable for anything related to their fleet, including:
- Maintaining safe vehicles that are routinely repaired and inspected by dependable, experienced mechanics who use quality tools and parts.
- Ensuring that any freight is appropriately and safely secured before it is transported.
This means that unless a driver has gone rogue, a trucking company can be associated with just about any accident involving one of its vehicles.
After a California commercial vehicle accident, it is imperative that both the driver and the freight company be considered for liability. Depending on the circumstances of your truck accident, other potentially liable parties include:
- A parts manufacturer
- The vehicle manufacturer
- A government agency
- Another driver
If you were injured in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, contact a dedicated truck accident lawyer at needaninjuryattorneycalifornia.com. Our experienced California commercial vehicle attorneys can help you accurately determine liability and aggressively advocate for the maximum amount of financial compensation you deserve and are entitled to.
Most Common Accident Types Specific to Commercial Trucks
Just as with any other vehicle, a commercial vehicle can be involved in many different types of traffic accidents. However, there are a few kinds of accidents that are frequently associated with commercial vehicles, particularly buses and tractor-trailers.
Jackknife accidents occur when the trailer attached to a cab rotates on the coupling device causing it to fold into the cab, similar to how a jackknife is closed. The potential dangers for any vehicle in the truck’s path are fairly obvious.
An underride accident takes place on either the side or the back of a truck. These accidents occur when a smaller vehicle slides, is pushed, or drives directly into the much higher underside of a truck. Underride accidents are especially dangerous because everything above the point of impact is usually sheared off on the smaller vehicle. There has been a lot of push for mandatory side safety bars on 18-wheelers, but no laws requiring them have been enacted at the state or federal level.
Due to their enormous size, commercial trucks have a much higher center of gravity which makes them prone to rollover accidents. Factors such as high winds, speeds that are unsafe for current road conditions, sudden braking, and trying to take sharp turns can all result in injury-causing and fatal truck rollover accidents. When an 18-wheeler overturns on a busy highway, it isn’t hard to imagine the danger involved.
18-wheelers are called 18-wheelers for a reason, and every single one of those reasons is another chance for a truck to have a dangerous tire blowout. When a tire on a commercial truck blows at highway speeds, it is extremely challenging for the driver to maintain control of the vehicle while also trying to come to a complete stop without hitting another vehicle. The debris from a tire blowout is enough to cause a secondary accident caused by other drivers swerving in and out of multiple lanes trying to avoid the dangerous scraps of rubber left behind in the middle of the road.
These accidents, which are not uncommon among large commercial trucks, are not only exceptionally dangerous but also extremely frightening.
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How to Drive Defensively Around Commercial Trucks
When sharing California’s roadways with commercial trucks, it is a good idea to follow the very first rule you learned in Driver’s Education class; drive defensively. Some helpful tips on how you can do exactly that are:
Don’t Drive in a Truck’s Blind Spot
Trucks have gigantic blind spots on all four sides of their rigs. If you have to drive through one of these blind spots, only do so when your path is entirely unobstructed. Don’t remain in a blind spot for any longer than absolutely necessary. Keep in mind that if you can’t see the truck driver in their wing mirror, the truck driver can’t see you either.
Be Careful When Overtaking a Truck
When you overtake a bus or tractor-trailer on the interstate, you are going to be in its blind spots. Always exercise extreme caution when passing an oversized commercial vehicle. Never try to pass unless the way forward is completely clear. Once you have overtaken them, do not pull back into the lane until you can see the entire cab in your rearview mirror. Lastly, don’t ever, ever pass a truck on the right-hand side
Don’t Follow Too Closely
Riding a truck’s bumper, also known as tailgating, is never a good idea no matter what vehicles are involved. When you tailgate a significantly bigger vehicle, you at at risk of a back underride accident. Always give buses and trucks as much space as possible on the roadway. This applies to trucks and buses making turns as well.
Potential Damages in a California Truck Accident Case
While each case is different and every compensation package is unique, California truck accident victims are usually eligible for a variety of damages. Most damages can be classified as either economic or non-economic.
Economic damages are any tangible financial losses that were or will be incurred due to death or injury such as:
After a truck accident, your health is the number one priority. Make sure you seek immediate medical attention. If you put off seeing a doctor, it gives the truck company’s lawyers and insurance agents a golden opportunity to claim that your injuries are not as bad as you are making them seem. If they were you would have seen a doctor much sooner.
Common medical damages include:
- Hospital bills
- Physical therapy
- Emergency medical support
- Prescription medications
- Current and future medical care
Given the massive size of commercial trucks, damage to your motor vehicle is unavoidable. Following an accident, you could be entitled to financial compensation for vehicle replacement or repairs. If the vehicle involved in the truck accident was your only method of transportation for getting to doctor’s appointments and other medical appointments, then travel expenses, such as cab fare, may be included in your damages. You can also be compensated for personal property like cellphones, laptops, watches, and jewelry damaged in the crash.
If physical or psychological damages sustained during the truck accident prevent you from returning to work, you could be eligible to receive financial compensation for your lost income. This is especially important for truck accident victims who are financially responsible for their entire family because lost income combined with mounting medical bills can easily lead to financial ruin.
Additionally, if your injuries make it impossible for you to perform at the same capacity as you did before the accident, you might be able to claim compensation for diminished or lost earning capacity.
General damages, also referred to as non-economic damages, such as mental trauma or decreased quality of life, are intangible, emotional damages. This makes them hard to properly calculate without the assistance of an experienced California truck accident attorney. Although these damages do not have a specific dollar amount affixed to them the way economic damages do, they can be just as damaging to a truck accident victim’s life. Some examples of non-economic damages are:
- Depression, anxiety, phobias
- Disfigurement or permanent scarring
- Inability to care for family members the way you did before the accident (cook dinner, take care of a baby, etc.)
- Emotional trauma
- Post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulty sleeping
Wrongful Death Damages
If you lost a loved one in a trucking accident, certain surviving family members might be entitled to file a wrongful death claim which would include damages such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Medical bills
- Loss of care and fellowship
- Funeral and burial or cremation expenses
- Loss of income and work-related benefits, like health insurance
A skilled California commercial vehicle accident attorney can ensure that you receive fair compensation for all the damages the law entitles you to.
In very rare circumstances, punitive damages could also be available. Punitive damages are awarded in situations where the truck driver or the freight company committed gross negligence, fraud, maliciousness, or willful misconduct. These damages are non-compensatory. Instead, they are meant to punish the offender and deter similar misconduct in the future.
Talk to a California Truck Accident Lawyer Today
California drivers share the roadways with a variety of commercial vehicles. Most of these vehicles are giant 18-wheelers but you can also encounter delivery trucks, buses, vans, garbage trucks, tanker trucks, and more. While most drivers try to be as cautious as possible around these vehicles, accidents still happen and negligent parties should be held accountable.
If you were injured or lost a loved one in a California truck accident, you are entitled to seek financial compensation for your damages. Unfortunately, the first settlement offer you receive will be far less than you deserve, even though freight companies and their drivers are heavily insured.
The California commercial vehicle accident lawyers at Soliman Law Group have helped hundreds of clients and their families recover just financial compensation for their injuries or the wrongful death of a family member. To schedule your free consultation with a qualified member of our legal team, call our law offices today at (213) 296-1802.