The bigger they are, the harder they crash. Car accidents are dangerous enough. Add a semi- or 18-wheeler truck in the mix, and the consequences — the injuries, the damage, the impact on lives — are more severe. Over 95% of truck accident fatalities occur on the (much smaller) passenger vehicle side.
There are more than 4 million trucks in fleets across the United States. The trucking industry in California is the second largest in the United States, employing over 870,000 people. In the Bakersfield area alone, there are almost 375 listings for trucking businesses. Sadly, California is also the riskiest state for trucking operations. If you have been involved in a collision with a large truck in California and have suffered injury or the death of a loved one as a result, you will want a good Bakersfield truck accident lawyer on your side.
Do Truck Accidents Happen Often in California?
In 2021, California had the second-highest number of truck collision fatalities. Out of the nearly 4,300 traffic deaths in the state, truck accidents accounted for nearly 440 of them. While your chances of being in a collision with a truck are lower than with another passenger vehicle, they are higher in California than in every state other than Texas. Remember that most goods and products are transported on the highway by trucks, and based on their size, weight, and momentum, there is always a risk of catastrophe. Truck collisions are expected to be the fifth largest cause of death nationwide by the year 2030.
What Are Some of the Causes of These Crashes?
A recent study of large truck accidents looked at the causes of 141,000 fatal truck collisions, for which 55% were categorized as “driver error,” “vehicle failure,” or “environmental condition,” which referred to the weather and/or the road. Findings included:
- Driver error led to 87%, or 68,000, of these accidents.
- 30,000 were the result of bad decision-making on the part of the driver, such as following too closely, driving too fast, and/or misjudging the speed of the other vehicle(s).22,000 were the result of driver inattentiveness, distraction, or other failure to adequately observe/assess the situation.9,000 were the result of non-performance — for example, due to falling asleep at the wheel or physical impairment (cardiac event, seizure, or other)
- 7,000 were the result of a performance aspect — panicking, overcompensating, and/or exercising bad directional control, for example.
- Vehicle failure led to 10%, or 8,000, of these truck accidents.
- Environmental condition led to 3%, or 2,000, of these truck accidents.
The study identified hundreds of factors or conditions associated with vehicles that were present (though not necessarily causative) during their collisions — including brake problems, interruption of traffic flow, too high a speed for the conditions, road problems, unfamiliarity with the particular roadway, inadequate surveillance, driver fatigue, and prescription and over-the-counter drug use.
Who Is Liable in a Trucking Accident in California?
In most simple car crashes, there are usually only two parties: you (and your insurance company) and the other driver (and their insurance company). Liability for the collision and its aftermath would be determined between both parties. When one of the vehicles is a large commercial truck, however, there is automatically another dimension: employment. Of course, when two passenger vehicles collide, this can come up if one driver (or both) was driving in the course of employment. But because large trucks are not being driven recreationally, employment will pretty much always be in the picture.
There are three categories of truck drivers:
- Company driver — meaning that the driver is an employee of a specific trucking company and the company owns the trucks being driven
- Owner-operator — meaning that the driver is either an independent contractor who transports loads for a number of different companies or they lease to a trucking company, driving their own truck(s) for that company
- Independent owner-operator — meaning that the driver uses their own trucks and/or owns a small fleet of trucks
A Bakersfield truck accident attorney can tell you whether you also need to add the trucking company as a defendant because it is wholly or partly liable for the crash and ensuing damages. For example:
- The owner of a vehicle is responsible for maintaining it. This could be a driver or the company they work for, depending on the category of trucker. Truck accident lawyers would ask for and review the contract(s) between the trucker and the company to determine who is responsible for the maintenance of the truck.
- Even if the accident was caused by driver error on the part of the trucker, the company they work for could be partly to blame. For example, if the driver’s shifts are too long or they didn’t/couldn’t take adequate rest stops or get enough sleep, that shipping company could be at fault. Truck accident attorneys would determine if this is the case.
- There are rules and restrictions when it comes to loading and securing cargo — especially in the transport of hazardous materials such as fuel, dry ice, refrigerants, and fertilizers. If the shipper didn’t properly follow these rules — for example, if an improperly secured or overly heavy load affects the rollover risk or the truck’s ability to quickly stop, or the improperly stored/loaded hazardous substance is released and harms people — the shipper and the trucking company could be liable. An 18-wheeler accident lawyer would have knowledge of the regulations and be able to identify where the fault lies.
What Makes Truck Accident Cases More Complicated than Other Cases?
Apart from the employer issue, there are a number of factors in many truck accidents that are not found in simple passenger vehicle crashes, such as:
- Force of impact. Commercial trucks are much larger and weigh considerably more than cars, so the force of the impact will be much greater not only because of the size itself but also due to the momentum the truck may have built up.
- Higher amount of property damage. Fender benders between two cars are common, but not so when there is a large truck involved. That’s why oftentimes we see cars totaled after colliding with the much larger, heavier truck.
- Necessary stopping distance. A little car may be able to stop on a dime, but a large commercial truck needs a much greater distance to slow down before coming to a stop.
- Tipping hazard. Trucks have long bodies, and trailers can be hard to control. This means that turns require lots of room; otherwise, the truck will tip, and/or cargo can be released or come loose.
Because of the nature of trucks and truck driving, becoming a commercial driver has different requirements from a regular driver’s license:
- Must be 18 years old and have a regular California driver’s license to apply for the Commercial Learner’s Permit.
- Must be 18 to 20 years old and possess a Commercial Driver’s License to drive for a commercial company — and only if the load originates inside the state of California.
- Must be at least 21 years old and possess a Commercial Driver’s License to drive a commercial vehicle that transports hazardous materials or waste or conducts interstate commerce.
Commercial truckers are also required by regulation to get medical exams every two years and learn specific vehicle inspections.
Why Evidence Is Crucial and How an Attorney Can Help
For any vehicular accident claim, not just a truck collision claim, supporting evidence is crucial. The stakes are high, so no one is going to take any party at their word. Evidence can and will often include:
- Police reports. Attending officers are trained to document evidence and include important information in their reports. They may express an informed opinion about the cause of the collision and include a diagram or pictures of the scene/damage.
- Photos/videos taken at the accident scene. These are helpful to show the damage done to the vehicle(s), as well as weather/road conditions, and other pertinent details.
- Surveillance or dashcam footage. If the collision was captured as it happened, this evidence can provide extremely helpful information about what exactly took place.
- Accident reconstruction. Experts may weigh in on how the collision occurred and what led to it based on all the physical evidence they are presented. An accident reconstructionist may be hired to provide a professional assessment report by the police or any or all of the truck injury lawyers involved in the case.
- Witness testimony. When the parties disagree on what occurred, bystanders can provide crucial information to fill in gaps with unbiased observations. Additionally, experts may be called on either side to provide professional opinions with regard to what/who actually caused the accident.
Here are other evidence that will often be sought by experienced semi-truck accident lawyers:
- Hours-of-service logs. These are required by law and may show whether or not the truck driver had been on duty too long and may have been drowsy or fatigued.
- Pre-trip inspection reports — These may showwhether there was an unresolved safety problem with the cargo, truck, or trailer.
- Maintenance records — These may showwhether the truck and/or trailer had received adequate repair or maintenance.
- Cargo/freight manifest — These may showwhether the weight or size of the load was over capacity or what means of securement should have been used.
- Event data recorder logs. These are like a plane’s black box, recording information about things like GPS position, speed, engine, and driver inputs.
- Post-accident inspection/repair reports. These may show whether there had been a mechanical malfunction and whether it had been caused by a manufacturing defect or a failure to maintain the truck or trailer.
- Driving history and employment records of the driver — These may showwhether the trucker had previous safety issues or accidents and whether the company knew about potential reckless driving and should have hired them or kept them on.
- Impairment/intoxication tests. These will show whether the driver could have been impaired by the consumption of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.
How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help
Whether you have been in a collision with a large truck in Kern County or were exposed to hazardous material from a large hazmat truck that had tipped over, a semi-truck accident lawyer can provide vital assistance at any and every stage of the claim process.
- Assessing your case. An experienced truck injury lawyer can tell you what your legal rights and entitlements are based on the circumstances of your accident.
- Truth/fact-finding. You may need further investigation or more evidence gathering to support your claim. A truck accident attorney will know what needs to be done.
- Negotiations. Whether it’s one of the insurance companies or the other side’s lawyer(s), you can be sure that they are looking out for their best interests, not yours. A truck accident attorney’s role is to make sure you don’t get strongarmed, lowballed, or manipulated into going against your entitlement.
- Court processes. Whether it’s the discovery process, court hearings, or trial, the legal system has its rules and requirements that may not be known by the general public. A trained lawyer will help you navigate it.
Understanding Damages in California Truck Accident Claims
When you have been in a collision with a large truck, there are a number of things you should do. One of these things is to seek medical attention as soon as practicable. This is because the nature and extent of your injuries — and how they affect your economic, physical, and mental well-being — are huge determining factors in calculating the compensation to which you are entitled. Your injuries could be any of the following:
- Minor injuries such as bruises, cuts, tingling, numbness, nausea, and/or simple punctures for which you need to take time off work to get medical treatment
- Broken bones, sprains, dislocation, chest/abdominal/neck/back pain that prevent you from returning to work
- Physical trauma (head, face, dental, organ, or more) that requires surgery, rehab, and/or other procedures
- Confusion, vision/hearing/speech problems, shock/PTSD, and/or psychological trauma that prevent you from living your normal life
If you have medical expenses or have lost wages or economic opportunities because of your injuries, the party at fault should compensate for these. The court will look at how severe the injuries were/are and how they have affected your livelihood and enjoyment of life — as well as how heinous or reckless the other party’s actions were — to come up with the appropriate award of damages.
What Is the Average Truck Accident Settlement Amount?
The amount you are offered or receive as a settlement will depend on the particular circumstances. For example, there are cases in which a minor side swipe by a semi-truck with resulting spinal injuries that fully healed was worth $295,000, and one in which $3 million was ultimately obtained as compensation for multiple injuries that included traumatic injuries to the head and brain. Your truck accident attorney, assessing factors such as the severity/nature of the injuries and the amount of insurance coverage on both sides, may be able to give you a ballpark figure in terms of what you may reasonably obtain based on your situation.
Bakersfield has a bit of everything for everyone — and a substantial trucking industry presence. If you have been in a truck accident and would like more information, here are some helpful resources:
- City of Bakersfield Resources. Whether you need to contact the police or want to know car accident statistics, this hub is a good start.
- CHP Traffic Incident Information Page. Check in with this page to stay up-to-date with occurring traffic problems and better plan your trip.
- Accident Data Center. This resource provides information about recent accidents as well as some safety and legal resources.
If you have been in a truck collision and need help, you could search for a “truck accident lawyer near me” — or you can contact a long-standing personal injury firm that was established in 1971, has an impressive 30-person team, and has helped clients receive more than $900 million for their injuries. With four decades of experience and a strong commitment to helping those who come to us, we are ready to support you in your truck accident claims. Call us today for a free consultation and get us fighting for you right away.