Fully-loaded large trucks weigh at least 80,000 pounds. Moreover, these vehicles routinely carry hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel. This liquid burns at a different temperature than gasoline. That fact, combined with the massive weight, often causes catastrophic injuries, such as serious burns and wrongful death.
The serious injuries are just one reason these wrecks are so complex. There are a number of legal issues to deal with as well. Most truck drivers are commercial operators who work for out-of-state trucking companies. That’s especially true for crashes which occur in and around transportation hubs like Atlanta.
Because of all these things, only a highly experienced Marietta personal injury attorney should handle these claims. An inexperienced lawyer may not be able to obtain maximum compensation in these cases. Generally, that compensation includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.
Legal Responsibility in Truck Crash Claims
Most noncommercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. This duty is based on the holding in 1932’s Donoghue v. Stevenson. In determining that a beer bottler had a duty to provide a safe product to the public, the court used the neighbor principle. This idea is based on the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) which schoolchildren once had to memorize.
The duty of reasonable care, as it later became known, requires motorists to obey the rules of the road and drive defensively.
Commercial operators, however, have a higher duty of care. These drivers are common carriers in Georgia. The duty of care is higher. For example, noncommercial drivers have a duty to slow down in the rain and adjust to the adverse environmental conditions. Common carriers, however, arguably have a duty to pullover and wait for the rain to stop, or at least slack off, before they continue driving.
The higher duty of care makes it easier to establish negligence, as outlined below. Furthermore, many Cobb County jurors award damages in relation to the duty. In other words, the more responsibility drivers have, the higher price they must pay when they violate that duty.
On a related note, these claims often involve venue questions. Most long-haul truck drivers have out-of-state addresses. However, under Georgia rules, victim/plaintiffs may file suit in the county where they reside or in the county where the injury occurred.
Evidence in Truck Crash Claims
Legal responsibility is not enough. Victim/plaintiffs must also prove that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated that duty.
In many vehicle collision cases, the police accident report is the cornerstone of the evidence in the case. But because of the catastrophic injuries mentioned above, the police report is often incomplete or inaccurate in truck wreck claims. If the victim is unavailable to give a statement, the narrative obviously contains only one side of the story. Furthermore, there may be little physical evidence other than wreckage. And, even the most experienced emergency responder is not an accident reconstruction professional.
Therefore, attorneys must look to other sources of evidence. Fortunately, there are several possible sources, such as:
- Event Data Recorder: EDRs are much like the black box flight recorders in commercial jets. These gadgets measure and store information like vehicle speed, steering angle, and brake application. All of these numbers could be very important in crash claims.
- SMS Report: Recently, the federal government began compiling Safety Measurement System reports on truck drivers. SMS reports are like multistate driving records which include things like crash history, prior traffic violations, and substance abuse issues.
- Electronic Logging Device: ELDs are like EDRs, but with more limited capability. ELDs keep track of driving hours. So, they are often critical in drowsy driver claims.
Privacy laws apply to much of this evidence. Georgia has some of the strictest vehicle data privacy laws in the country. Moreover, the federal government withholds much of the information in SMS reports. An attorney can penetrate this red tape, by getting a court order if necessary.
In civil court, a little evidence goes a long way. The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Picture the statute of that woman holding the scales of justice in her hand. If the scales tip even slightly on the direction of the victim/plaintiff, the point is conclusively established.
Financial Responsibility for Damages
In a serious injury case, like a spine injury, the medical bills alone could total millions of dollars. Individual tortfeasors usually do not have enough insurance coverage to make good on all these losses.
Fortunately, the respondeat superior doctrine usually applies in these situations. Vicarious liability rules like this one give victims an additional source of recovery. Employers are legally responsible for the negligent acts their employees commit during the scope of their employment. Georgia law defines both these elements in broad, victim-friendly terms.
For example, the scope of employment is not limited to regular delivery drivers making their regular deliveries. Instead, anything which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That includes driving an empty truck which bears the company’s logo. The free advertising benefits the employer.
Contact an Assertive Lawyer
Truck crash victims may be entitled to substantial compensation, but these claims are rather complex. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.