Washington, DC Truck Accident Lawyers Answer Frequently Asked Questions
What Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia drivers need to know after an accident with a large truck or commercial vehicle
At the law firm of Karp, Wigodsky, Norwind, Kudel & Gold, P.A., we have more than 150 years of combined experience pursuing personal injury and wrongful death claims on behalf of clients involved in tractor trailer or commercial truck accidents. These accidents can range from simple collisions to damage and injuries caused by truck tire blowouts, leakage of hazardous materials, or falling debris. The trucks in question can range from garbage trucks to delivery vehicles to tractor trailers, or eighteen-wheelers.
Many clients who come to us after a truck accident want to know why they should hire an attorney with specialized knowledge of trucking accidents. They often presume that all drivers—automobile and commercial truck drivers alike—are subject to the same set of driving laws and share the same duty of care.
In fact, truck drivers must operate their trucks in accordance with an entirely separate set of driving laws than car drivers, and trucking companies have a significant and mandatory duty to comply with multiple state and federal safety guidelines. Below are some of the questions that our clients ask us in order to better understand the legal considerations specific to trucking accidents.
How are truck accidents different from other accidents?
There are often two fundamental differences between accidents involving large trucks or commercial vehicles and accidents involving only passenger automobiles. First, accidents involving trucks tend to have far more catastrophic results, due simply to the increased force of impact created when a 70,000-80,000 pound truck, as opposed to a 3,000 pound car, collides with another vehicle.
Second, truck drivers and trucking companies are subject to a completely separate set of state and local safety regulations. In addition, liability for the accident can lie with multiple parties, depending upon such factors as whether the driver was working for a trucking company or as an independent contractor; and whether additional parties such as the manufacturer of a defective part, or the company or individual that improperly loaded or repaired the truck. Because of all of these variables, an experienced truck accident attorney navigates a far more complicated path of litigation when pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
What causes truck accidents?
Large trucks with heavy payloads are inherently more difficult to safely operate; commercial truck drivers are not only held to a more stringent set of safety standards, but must also earn specialized driving permits to in order to operate these vehicles.
Truck drivers, as well as trucking companies, are often found negligent for the following reasons:
- Reckless, aggressive driving, including speeding and unsafe lane changes;
- Driving while fatigued, distracted, or under the influence of drugs and alcohol;
- Failing to conduct ongoing vehicle inspections
- Failing to properly maintain a vehicle
- Improperly loading cargo onto a truck, including overloading or failing to fully secure the payload;
- Insufficient hiring procedures or inadequate driver training by a trucking company
What should I do after a truck accident?
First of all, if you have been injured or even if you only suspect an injury, seek immediate medical attention. Sometimes a serious injury is not yet apparent immediately after an accident.
Second, the commercial trucking industry and their insurers have investigative teams in place, prepared to quickly arrive at accident scenes and collect evidence and witness statements. Understand that these investigators are not seeking to objectively determine the cause of the accident, but to minimize any possible cost and potential liability for the trucking company. These investigators are going to approach you, seeking a statement from you about the accident, advising you that you don’t need an attorney, and possibly even offering you a settlement. Do not sign anything or provide any type of statement at all about the accident to these investigators without first consulting with a skilled Maryland truck accident attorney. Remember—these individuals work for the other side, and are seeking to get you to sign an agreement intended only to limit your potential recovery long before an accurate calculation of damages can be ascertained.
Who can I sue after a trucking accident?
As some truck drivers own their own rig, working as independent contractors, while others are employees of trucking companies, sometimes driving vehicles that the employer has leased from still another company, determining the exact nature of an employment relationship between a truck driver and a trucking company is often just the first step in identifying all of the parties that can be held liable for negligently causing an accident. For example, if a tire blowout causes a truck accident, does liability rest with the company that manufactured a defective tire, the mechanic that improperly mounted the tire, the trucking company that installed the wrong tire, or the driver who failed to inspect the tire? A knowledgeable Virginia truck accident attorney can examine the facts of a particular accident, identify each of the relevant parties, and assess their potential liability
What kind of damages can I recover?
Drivers, passengers, and pedestrians injured in a truck accident as the result of another party’s negligence may recover damages for:
- Medical expenses, past and future;
- Lost wages and loss of future earnings
- Compensation for disfigurement, physical impairment, and pain and suffering
In addition family members of individuals killed in truck accidents are entitled to pursue wrongful death actions seeking all of the above, as well as damages for the loss of care, companionship, and services of the deceased family member, and funeral expenses.
When should I contact attorney?
As soon as possible following the accident. First of all, it is important to bear in mind the statute of limitation for filing a personal injury claim. In Washington DC and Maryland, it is three years; in Virginia, two years. However, one critical element of successfully pursuing any claim after a trucking accident is for an attorney to quickly dispatch a spoliation letter to all defendants in order to preserve much of the evidence necessary to prove negligence. Among the other duties of those response teams hired by trucking companies and their insurers is the seizure of all relevant physical evidence and documentation of the accident, including the driver’s log, the “black box” used to record key engine data, additional data such as GPS records, and other potentially relevant company documents relating to the trucking company, the driver, and the truck. Because trucking companies are permitted to destroy some of this evidence after six months, a letter of spoliation from an attorney is the only way to ensure the preservation of all evidence potentially relevant to your claim.
Once this evidence is collected, an experienced Maryland truck accident attorney then consults with a personal network of scientists and engineers who use that evidence to reconstruct the accident, and provide essential expert opinion and testimony to help effectively present your case in court.
If you have any further questions about truck accidents, contact the law offices of Karp, Wigodsky, Norwind, Kudel & Gold, P.A. at (800) 229-7026, or online for a free initial consultation. We have five offices for your convenience, including Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland.