Distracted Driving Trucking Accident Claims

Distracted driving trucking accidents occur far more frequently across the United States than many people would think.  In fact, the amount of potential distractions to a trucker in the modern day big rig far exceed those of the average motor vehicle.  Drivers tend to carry at least one or more cellphones or cellular devices in the cab with them, sometimes a business and a personal smartphone.  In addition, onboard computer messaging, navigation and tracking systems are standard equipment in many large, commercial trucks.  All these electronic devices tend to have on screen displays, calling features and other interactive functions that can cause a truck driver to take his or her eyes off the road.

Rules and Regulations that Prohibit Distracted Driving of Commercial Vehicles

                In all stated in the U.S. including California and Colorado, there are both state and federal laws which prohibit distracted driving by commercial truckers.  Some of these include the following:

(As evidence of the serious nature of a violation of either of the above-cited provisions, it is actually a 10 point commercial license penalty, which is on par with reckless driving and other very serious offenses – See CSA Violation Severity Chart).

However, there are exceptions to these rules such as the following:

  • 49 C.F.R. 390.5: Under the definitions of various mobile devices, the ban on texting and driving would not include entering or reading a telephone number or inputting or reading information on a navigation system. However, electronic devices do include cellphones, pagers, computers, or any other device used to input, write, send receive or read text messages.

Legal Theories of Liability For Distracted Driving Truck Accidents

                Going beyond whether a trucker could cost him or herself points on their license or be subject to criminal fines, distracted driving by truckers that causes a wreck which leads to bodily injury or death can be the basis for a civil claim for money damages.  The most common theory of liability is negligence.  If a statute or regulation such as the ones cited above that are meant to protect the public from dangerous driving practices is violated and this results in personal injury or death, this can be deemed negligence per se.  If the driver is also the truck owner, both he or she and their business can be sued.  If the driver is in the “course and scope” of his job duties for a trucking company, the company may be held legally responsible to pay under a theory of “agency”. U.S. law, in general allows for the employer (or “principal”) to be held responsible for the actions of their employee (“agent”) in these circumstances. In addition, if the trucking company has prior knowledge that a truck driver has repeatedly violated the prohibitions against distracted driving, the corporation may potentially be held responsible under theories of negligent hiring, supervision or retention of that driver.

As Steven Sweat, a prominent truck accident attorney in California states, “In addition to compensating victims for medical costs and other losses, holding trucking companies responsible for the negligent acts of their drivers helps make our roads safer by deterring same or similar conduct in the future.”

The Importance of Prompt Investigation and Retention of Evidence

                Trucking companies and the insurance companies that represent truck drivers clearly do not have a vested interest in maintaining evidence that may result in a huge payout to someone injured or killed by a distracted trucker.  This is why it is crucial to obtain a factual and legal consultation as soon as possible following this type of motor vehicle collision.  An attorney can send a written demand (commonly referred to as a “non-spoliation” letter).  This puts the trucker, trucking firm, and their insurance company on formal notice to retain evidence that may be later used to prove the personal injury or wrongful death claim.  Such evidence can include post-accident drug and alcohol testing results, permits and licenses covering the vehicle or load, driver daily logs, maintenance/inspection/repair records, and driving license and history of the truck driver involved in the crash, photographs of the truck or accident scene, electronic data from the control module, dispatch records and many other types of data, information and documentation. A quality truck accident lawyer can also subpoena records from third parties such as cell phone companies, government agencies, shippers and other persons or entities that may have information pertinent to the claim.

Conclusion

Motor vehicle collisions between big rigs and smaller passenger vehicles can be complicated from a legal standpoint.  If any type of serious injury such as brain trauma or spinal damage has occurred or a person is killed in such a wreck, it is crucial to consult with an attorney familiar with these types of claims.  The victims or their families may be entitled to monetary compensation for present and future medical costs, lost wages or loss of earning capacity, economic value of financial support provided by a deceased loved one as well as compensation for the emotional distress and mental toll these tragic events can cause.

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