Orlando, FL Truck Accident Attorney
Each day, commercial trucks go into and out of Orlando, delivering products and supplies for consumers and businesses alike. While the city’s economy depends on these goods, the addition of big-rig trucks on the roadways here pose additional hazards for other drivers. If you’ve been injured in a truck accident in Orlando that was caused by a negligent driver, here are some things you should know.
The Truck Driving Industry is Regulated by Both the Federal Government and the State
Commercial truck drivers are held to a higher standard than passenger vehicles when it comes to safety on the road. In addition to upholding the same laws that apply to other motor vehicles, the commercial trucking industry is also subject to a number of state and federal government regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the federal agency involved with regulating and providing safety oversight for commercial motor vehicles. Some of the federal regulations placed upon the trucking industry include:
- Hours of Service rules: Intended to combat fatigue among long-haul truck drivers, the hours of service regulations require that drivers take an off-duty break of at least 30 minutes every eight hours. Drivers can work no more than 60 hours every seven days or 70 hours every eight days, after which time the driver must take an off-duty break of at least 34 consecutive hours.
- Medical fitness for duty testing
- Workplace drug and alcohol testing
- Electronic logging devices to record hours of service
- Proper securement of cargo
- Hands-free cell phone usage
- Prohibitions on texting while driving
- Safe transportation of hazardous materials
Florida also imposes regulations on the trucking industry, including:
- Commercial motor vehicles must carry a valid and current tag registration
- If the vehicle weighs more than 26,000 pounds, has three or more axles and is operating on the interstate, it must carry a Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles fuel decal.
- With some exceptions, the maximum weight for trucks traveling in Florida is 80,000 pounds, and the truck and trailer cannot be taller than 13’6”. In some circumstances, if the truck is 6,000 pounds over the weight limit, the driver may be required to offload some of its cargo before it is allowed to continue on its route.
- The truck must be in safe and working order.
- The truck must display a valid Florida or Department of Transportation number.
Causes of Truck Accidents in Orlando and Beyond
In spite of all of the regulations put in place in order to keep commercial truck drivers from getting into accidents with other drivers on the road, these accidents still happen on a regular basis. Although negligent truck drivers aren’t always the cause of the accident, here are some common examples of negligence in the trucking industry:
- Fatigue: According to information from the National Safety Council, fatigue when driving causes worsening reaction time, awareness, and ability to sustain attention. Surveys indicate that many drivers violate the hours of service regulations and work longer than permitted, increasing the likelihood of fatigued driving.
- Distracted driving: Commercial truck drivers face the same temptations as any other driver when it comes to distractions, including texting or talking on their phones, eating while driving, and adjusting vehicle controls such as heating, air conditioning, or the stereo system.
- Alcohol and drug impairment: Although drivers are subject to drug testing, illicit substances aren’t always the source of driver impairment. A number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also lead to impairment when driving.
- Improperly loaded cargo that may shift and make the truck hard to control.
- Poor maintenance: Trucks used for commercial purposes see a lot of miles. With those miles come issues with the truck that must be repaired. Poorly maintained trucks cause hazards to the driver, as well as others on the road.
- Speeding: Commercial drivers have an enormous amount of pressure to meet deadlines that often require them to travel great distances in a short period of time. Speeding is a major cause of traffic accidents involving any type of vehicle, including tractor-trailers. Fully loaded trucks can weigh up to thirty times more than passengers and require a lot more distance to come to a safe stop in response to roadside hazards.
How Your Own Insurance Comes Into Play
Florida dictates that drivers carry no fault insurance. While many states require drivers to purchase bodily injury liability policy to cover the injuries of the occupants of other vehicles if the policy-holder caused the accident, Florida requires vehicle owners to carry a personal injury protection (PIP) policy with a minimum policy limit of $10,000. If you’re injured in an accident with a commercial truck, your PIP policy will be your first potential source of compensation for your injuries.
Your PIP policy coverage extends to you, your immediate family members, and individuals riding in your vehicle who don’t own a vehicle or have their own PIP policy. If you’re injured in an accident, regardless of whether you’re at fault or not, this coverage will pay for 80 percent of your medical expenses and 60 percent of your lost wages, up to the limit of your policy.
What if the Cost of My Injuries Exceeds the Limits of My PIP Policy?
Injuries caused by an accident with a tractor-trailer can be quite severe, often quickly using up the funds available through your PIP policy. Here are some of the more common injuries seen in truck accidents:
- Back and neck injuries: Back and neck can be very severe, resulting in permanent, total or partial paralysis or even death. In the past, about half of all people with spinal cord injuries died due to the injury. While the survival rate has improved over the years, a significant number of people still die from these injuries. Those who survive are typically faced with a lifetime of medical issues and the need for adaptive devices such as wheelchairs and ramps to complete daily tasks.
- Broken bones: It is not unusual for one to regard a broken bone as a less serious injury than others that might be faced by the victims of truck accidents. However, Henry Ford Health System notes that broken bones carry the risk of future complications such as blood poisoning, bone deterioration, chronic pain, permanent limp, and life-threatening infections in the bones themselves or the soft tissues that surround them.
- Traumatic brain injuries: As with back and neck injuries, brain injuries can cause life-long effects. Some of the more severe and long-range effects of a TBI include paralysis, uncontrolled movements, problems walking, talking, or swallowing, vision problems, loss of fine motor skills needed for simple tasks such as buttoning a shirt, difficulty thinking and remembering, difficulty with social relationships.
- Internal bleeding or hemorrhaging, often as a result of the truck rolling over or falling onto a passenger car.
- Cuts or impalement from pieces of broken glass or metal acting as shrapnel due to the force of the collision.
If the costs of your injuries exceed the limits of your PIP policy, you may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to pursue the recovery of damages from the at-fault driver and other liable parties. Florida prevents the filing of a personal injury lawsuit in motor vehicle accident cases unless the injury is determined to be permanent. The law defines a permanent injury as:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important body function.
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.
- Significant scarring or disfigurement.
If your injuries are determined to be permanent, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit to recover both economic and non-economic damages, including the following expenses:
- Current and future medical expenses beyond the limit of your PIP policy.
- Lost wages and the loss of future earning capacity.
- The cost of household services that you are no longer able to perform due to the extent of your injuries.
- Permanent disfigurement or disability.
- Pain and suffering.
- Loss of consortium.
- Emotional distress.
To achieve a successful outcome from a truck accident personal injury or wrongful death claim, the victim must be able to prove negligence. Negligence is established by demonstrating the following elements:
- The at-fault party owed other drivers on the road a duty of care.
- The at-fault party’s duty of care was breached by his or her negligent actions.
- These negligent actions resulted in specific damages to the victim.
What if the Truck Accident Caused the Death of My Loved One?
Information provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveals that most of the fatalities caused in accidents involving big rigs are the occupants of passenger vehicles. If you’ve lost a loved one due to an accident involving a commercial truck, you may be entitled to compensation through a wrongful death claim. Some of the damages that you can seek compensation for a wrongful death claim include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- The cost of pre-death medical care
- Emotional distress
- Loss of financial contribution
- Loss of services and support
- Loss of companionship and consortium
Survivors who are eligible to receive compensation from a wrongful death claim include the decedent’s spouse, parents, children, and any other blood relative or adoptive sibling who is wholly or partially dependent on the decedent for support and services. If a child was born of unmarried parents, he or she may recover damages if his or her mother dies. However, if the child’s father dies, the child can only recover damages if the father formally recognized the child as his or her own and contributed to the support of the child.
There May Be More Than One Party Liable for Your Injuries
Truck accidents are rarely simple. In addition to the severity of your injuries, this type of accident often features multiple liable parties. In addition to the driver, those who may be liable for the accident that caused your injuries include:
- The company that employs the truck driver: If the truck driver was an employee of a trucking company rather than an independent contractor, then they may also face liability for your accident if the accident occurred during the regular course of the employee’s job.
- The broker and the shipper: Each of these parties have a responsibility to perform a check of the safety record for the company or the driver, as well as checking licenses, registration, and insurance coverage. Some items that are included in the driver or company’s safety record are past violations such as speeding, reckless driving, or fatigued driving, failure to accurately maintain an hours of service log, improper CDL endorsement, driver fitness, and maintenance records. The shipper may also face liability if they improperly loaded the cargo into the truck, if a weight imbalance was caused and was a factor in the crash
- The individual or entity in charge of maintaining the truck
- The manufacturer or distributor of potentially defective parts which contributed to the accident
- The drivers of other vehicles that were involved in the accident or who did something to create a hazardous condition that led to the accident.
- Governmental entities responsible for maintaining the roadways and keeping them safe from hazards.
If someone is found to have contributed at least 10 percent of the blame in causing your accident, you may seek damages from them. Florida practices a “pure comparative fault” standard with personal injury lawsuits. What this means is that you may recover damages from other liable parties even if you are partially to blame for the accident. However, your award will be reduced by the percentage of blame you bear. For example, if you are found to be 10 percent responsible for causing the accident, then your award would be reduced by 10 percent.
Orlando Truck Accident FAQ
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) estimates more than 31,000 truck accidents occurred on Florida’s roadways during 2017. The figure represents an increase in the occurrence of accidents from previous years. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) is the agency that regulates the nation’s trucking industry. The FMSCA suggests that there is a national 10-year trend showing an increase in the numbers of truck accidents.
If you have recently been involved in a truck accident, you likely have many questions involving your next steps. Truck accidents are among the most dangerous traffic collisions because of the sheer size and weight of commercial trucks. More weight means more property damage, more serious injuries, and more fatalities. After a truck accident, your next move should almost always be to consult with a reputable truck accident lawyer.
Below you can learn the answers to some frequently asked questions about Orlando truck accidents. Of course, each case is unique. Schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys to discuss the details of your case today.
When Do I Have to Report a Truck Accident to the Police?
After a truck accident, first and foremost, you should file an accident report with the police. In most cases, law enforcement and emergency response vehicles will come to the scene of the accident. In other cases, if the accident is less serious, you may have to initiate filing an accident report on your own. If you weren’t seriously hurt, you might consider not reporting. However, Florida law is clear about reporting requirements and exchanging information after a car accident.
Specific requirements for drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents include:
- An accident causing more than $500 worth of property damage or resulting in injury or death must be promptly reported. Those involved must immediately report the accident to the nearest police department, county sheriff, or Florida Highway Patrol officer. Florida law requires victims to report “by the quickest means of communication.” Injured drivers can rely on a passenger to report the accident or the owner of the vehicle, if someone other than the driver.
- When a crash leads to death, injury, or damage, Florida law requires drivers to exchange certain information. You must provide the other driver with your contact information, vehicle registration, and insurance information. If the police request your driver’s license, drivers are required to comply.
- When a truck accident only leads to property damage, both drivers must stop immediately. Then they must exchange contact information, insurance information, and vehicle information. Leaving the scene of the accident without exchanging information can result in a second degree misdemeanor charge.
- Florida law also requires physically able drivers to help others get medical treatment as soon as possible. This might include calling 911 or giving someone a ride to the nearest emergency department.
If your truck accident was a minor fender-bender, you might assume you can report it online or by mail. Although true for consumer vehicles, this rule DOES NOT APPLY to commercial vehicles. If you are involved in a cargo truck accident, the truck is likely a commercial vehicle. You must call law enforcement and wait for them to come to the scene and take your statement. The police will then file a report.
How Can I Get a Copy of the Crash Report After a Truck Accident?
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) administers the state’s accident records. The officer who filed the report might take some time to complete the report and input it into the FLHSMV system. However, once it’s there, you can request a copy of your traffic crash report online. Each copy of the report costs $10, plus a $2 convenience fee per order.
Once you complete your order and make your payment, FLHSMV sends you a link to download your report. You have 48 hours to complete the download or the link will expire. To obtain a copy of your traffic crash report in person, you can head to your nearest Florida High Patrol troop station. You are required to submit a sworn statement and pay the fees.
Your car accident lawyer can help you file this request.
The Truck Driver Caused the Accident. Do I Need to File an Insurance Claim?
Florida is a no-fault insurance state. In Florida, those who register a motor vehicle are required to purchase $10,000 of property damage liability (PDL) coverage. In addition, registered vehicle owners must purchase $10,000 of personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. When you are involved in a traffic collision, including a truck accident, you will first recover losses by filing a claim with your PIP policy provider. All accident victims must first file a claim under their PIP policy regardless of who caused the accident. Teens operating their parents’ vehicle at the time of an accident can file a claim under their parents’ PIP policy.
Truck accidents are costly and often result in severe injuries. The costs of medical care can quickly meet or exceed the policy limits. If the costs of your injuries exceed your policy coverage, the driver’s or trucking company’s liability insurance will cover additional costs. Depending on the policy limit and the extent of your injuries, your lawyer might seek damages beyond the policy limits. Injured victims may be entitled to damages for their pain and suffering and other losses caused by the accident.
I Only Feel a Little Sore. Do I Need to Go to the Doctor?
Even if you are fortunate enough to walk away from a truck accident, you should always seek a medical evaluation. Many serious injuries may not show immediate symptoms. Some common accident injuries manifest symptoms days or weeks after the accident. For example, whiplash, soft tissue damage in the neck, caused by the impact of a collision, doesn’t always immediately cause neck and shoulder pain.
A doctor might discover the damage, especially with the help of diagnostic imaging. After suffering whiplash, if you don’t stabilize your neck as soon as possible, you risk causing more damage. Additionally, even minor soreness in the abdomen or other places throughout the body could indicate internal bleeding or organ damage. Internal injuries may be fatal if left untreated.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are another example of injuries that don’t immediately present symptoms. Headaches that appear hours or days after a head trauma from a truck accident might indicate a brain bleed. Your health and well-being need to be your top priority. In addition, seeking medical treatment after an accident can be valuable evidence for an insurance claim and lawsuit.
To prevail in a personal injury claim, you must prove the truck accident caused your injuries. Without medical documentation of your injuries, you risk claim denial or a judgment in favor of the defendant. Any formally documented injuries from the truck accident also provide your attorney with leverage when negotiating with insurance companies.
How Long Do I Have to Sue After an Orlando Truck Accident?
Under Florida law, after suffering injuries in a traffic accident, you must file a lawsuit within four years of the date of injury. This time limit, referred to as a statute of limitations is strict. Despite the strength of your case, it’s highly likely a court will dismiss your case if the statute of limitations has expired. In some rare circumstances, the law provides for exceptions to the statute of limitations. If you are beyond the statute of limitations for your truck accident, you should still consult with an attorney. An attorney can help you determine whether you might qualify for one of the rare exceptions.
The law may entitle you to file a wrongful death suit on behalf of a family member who lost a life in a truck accident. However, the statute of limitations is even shorter. In the case of a wrongful death claim, you must file within two years of the date of the accident.
If I Sue for Damages, Do I Have to Go to Court?
The exact numbers vary depending on the source of the report, but around 95 percent of all personal injury cases settle before going to trial. Once you file an insurance claim and contact a reputable lawyer, formal and informal negotiations begin and occur throughout the process. In fact, some cases might even settle hours before going in front of a judge. While it is unlikely you will have to go to trial, each case is different.
To limit their financial exposure, insurance companies often deny liability or attempt to drastically devalue claims. In the event you cannot come to a fair settlement agreement, your lawyer will litigate your case. If you are physically able, it is likely you may be required to give testimony in court.
Who Will the Defendant Be in My Case?
After a truck accident, you might assume the truck driver who caused the accident will be responsible for your damages. Truck drivers may be responsible, but there are often multiple responsible parties in commercial truck accidents. Truck accident cases typically have at least two responsible parties. If you bring a lawsuit for injuries and losses related to a truck accident, responsible parties may include:
- The driver. You may name the truck driver in the suit. The extent to which a court finds him liable will depend on the circumstances of the accident. Truckers who violate traffic laws, drive inattentively, aggressively, or under the influence may be found negligent.
- The trucking company. Some truckers independently own their trucks, but most truckers are employed by a trucking company. Trucking companies, and their insurance carriers, are often named in lawsuits and can be partially or fully liable for damages. Trucking companies have an obligation to hire qualified truck drivers, train them well, and maintain their trucks to ensure safe operation. Unfortunately, trucking companies often fail to meet these legal obligations or encourage their drivers to break traffic laws to get the job done. When trucking companies cut corners for financial gain, they risk financial liability for an accident, even if the driver directly caused the accident.
- The driver of another vehicle. Drivers in other trucks or passenger vehicles can intentionally or inadvertently cut off a truck. Besides violating a host of traffic laws, other’s improper driving may cause a truck driver to lose control of his vehicle. If a driver loses control of his truck due to a third party’s carelessness, the third party driver may be responsible for accident damages.
- The truck manufacturer. Defective trucks or truck parts can cause mechanical failures that may lead to a truck accident. When truck or parts manufacturers distribute unsafe products, anyone involved in the chain of distribution might be liable for damages. Defective tires and braking systems are commonly distributed and can be extremely dangerous when they fail.
The Insurance Carrier Offered Me a Settlement. Should I Take It?
Insurance policies for commercial trucks and trucking companies are typically exponentially larger than the average policy for a passenger vehicle. Trucks are expensive and owner/operators and trucking companies must protect their assets. Yet, a large policy does not mean the trucking company or their insurance carrier wants to pay every claim. Insurance companies calculate a bottom line and will go the extra mile to avoid paying out large claims and verdicts. One tactic for mitigating financial liability is to entice injured parties with a quick settlement soon after the truck accident.
Early settlement offers are intended to attract accident victims. Severely injured victims often cannot work and have piles of medical bills, leaving them vulnerable. Insurance companies will offer an inadequate settlement in exchange for a waiver of your right to seek additional compensation. Offers are typically high enough to tempt you, but not even close to the amount of compensation you deserve.
You should never accept an offer without first consulting with an attorney. An attorney can help you understand the true value of your claim. It’s best to think of an early settlement offer as a jumping-off point for negotiations. Attorneys are trained negotiators, who can often elicit a higher offer from the insurance company.
If you have more questions about Orlando truck accidents, contact our experienced personal injury attorneys. We can advise you about the best course of action for your circumstances.
Let Us Help With Your Truck Crash Case
If you were injured or lost a loved one due to a truck accident in Orlando, you need the guidance of an experienced truck accident attorney. Let us help you understand your legal options. Contact the law office of Orlando attorney Jerry Jenkins online or by calling (407) 287-6757.
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