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The Dangers of Truck Accidents on Vermont Highways

Offered by Pajcic & Pajcic

Vermont motorists share the roads with heavy trucks every day, whether they’re crossing the state on major highways like I-89 and I-91 or making deliveries on local roads. While most truck drivers are safe and responsible, when you encounter a reckless trucker, the results can be catastrophic. The dangers of a crash with a much larger vehicle can be significant where motorists could sustain life-altering injuries or death.

That’s why it’s important for drivers to understand their legal rights if they’re involved in a crash with a commercial vehicle. You have recourse under Vermont law, but the path to recovery is long and difficult, and legal representation can make a significant difference.

Short-haul vs. long-haul trucking

There are many ways to categorize truckers, and one of the most important is the distance traveled. In general, truck drivers fall into three distance-based categories:

  • Short-haul trucking generally means staying within a 150-mile radius of your point of origin. For truckers based in Vermont, that generally means driving within New England and New York. Short-haul truckers usually come home at the end of each workday.
  • Intermediate-haul trucking involves routes between 150 and 250 miles. Intermediate-haul truckers based in Vermont may drive to New Jersey, Philadelphia, or western New York. They may have some overnight stays during the week but are generally home on the weekends.
  • Long-haul trucking consists of routes over 250 miles. For truckers based in Vermont, that may mean going to the Mid-Atlantic or the Midwest, or all the way to the West Coast. Long-haul truckers may be away from home for weeks or even months at a time.

Long-haul truckers in particular are often prone to fatigue or falling asleep at the wheel due to their work schedules. That’s why the law requires them to take mandatory breaks – but those laws are not always followed. Short-haul truckers have more manageable schedules, but their work often involves making many stops throughout the day, and they are also exempt from some safety regulations.

Types of trucks on Vermont highways

Because of the nature of Vermont’s economy, motorists are likely to encounter trucks carrying certain types of cargo. Quarrying is a huge industry in Vermont, and trucks carrying granite, marble and slate can become unstable when heavy stone slabs shift during transit. Some accidents involve stone slabs falling onto other vehicles or landing on the road surface and becoming a hazard.

Vermont is also nationally known for producing maple syrup, dairy products, and artisan foods, many of which need to be transported in special refrigerated trucks. Loading a refrigerated truck to allow proper air circulation inside the cargo area is tricky, and when the load is unbalanced or stacked too high, the entire truck can become unstable. Drivers of refrigerated trucks may also be under pressure to drive faster to prevent products from spoiling. When refrigerated trucks are involved in accidents, dangerous chemicals can be released via coolant leaks or toxic fumes if the insulated lining catches on fire.

Logging trucks are a common sight on Vermont roads, and they can be particularly dangerous to other vehicles. When heavy logs shift in transit and slide off the truck bed, they become deadly hazards to occupants of passenger cars and personal trucks. In addition, as technically “agricultural” vehicles, log trucks are exempt from some of the rules and regulations that apply to tractor-trailers, such as lighting requirements, which can turn deadly in darkness or inclement weather.

Vermont motorists may also encounter tractor-trailers carrying other consumer products or a wide variety of goods being transported to and from the Canadian border. Every truck driver and trucking company has a legal responsibility to share the road with other motorists. When that responsibility isn’t met, victims can seek legal recourse for their injuries and expenses.

The legal implications of a truck accident in Vermont

Heavy trucks can cause severe and often fatal injuries. A fully loaded tractor-trailer can legally weigh up to 80,000 pounds, which is many times the weight of a passenger car, pickup truck or SUV. When a truck hits a smaller vehicle, the sheer amount of force transferred into that vehicle is deadly to people inside it. Survivors may have significant long-term expenses, including medical care, lost income, pain and suffering and other losses.

Under Vermont law, truck drivers and trucking companies can be held liable (legally responsible) for the injuries they cause. However, you have to prove fault on the part of the truck driver or the trucking company, and that requires an in-depth investigation.

A truck accident attorney can obtain critical evidence such as:

  • Hours of Service (HOS) data: Truckers are required to follow federal regulations that limit the number of hours they can work in a day and mandate certain rest breaks. Their hours of service are kept in a log – either a physical logbook or electronic logging device (ELD) – and examining the log can help determine whether the trucker may have been fatigued or asleep at the wheel.
  • “Black box” data: The truck’s electronic control module (ECM) or event data recorder (EDR) stores information on the truck’s GPS location, speed, deceleration and acceleration, use of cruise control, tire pressure and brake use, among other data. This information can help an attorney understand what happened leading up to the accident.
  • Hiring and supervision records: Trucking companies are responsible for ensuring their drivers are safe, responsible, and meet the legal criteria to operate a commercial vehicle in the United States. Unfortunately, some trucking companies cut corners on background checks or even make up results entirely. Digging into hiring and supervision records can identify red flags that the trucking company should have seen but chose to ignore.
  • Maintenance records: Good maintenance is essential to make sure trucks are safe on the road, especially specialized vehicles like refrigerated trucks. Maintenance records may reveal whether the brakes were checked, the tires were maintained, and so on.
  • Witness testimony: Witnesses can be a key part of a case against a trucking company. A good lawyer will talk to people who witnessed the accident itself and others who may have been familiar with the truck driver’s behavior prior to the accident.

Taking legal action against a trucking company can be a challenging process for several reasons. First, many truck accidents involve a trucking company that is based out of state – or, given Vermont’s location on the Canadian border, out of the country. There is a specific process that must be followed to initiate legal action against an out-of-state company and an even more rigorous process for international companies. An attorney familiar with those processes can ensure that your rights are protected.

Trucking companies carry insurance policies with high limits to protect their assets. For victims, this is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It means that there is potentially more money available to pay for their losses. But it also means the insurance company has a strong financial incentive to downplay or deny a claim.

The stakes are high. An experienced truck accident lawyer can help level the playing field. That’s why many truck accident victims choose attorneys with a strong track record of success handling such legal cases.

 

Truck accident verdicts and settlements

$1 billion verdict

A $1 billion verdict for the death of a college student who was killed in an accident caused by two distracted truck drivers. Pajcic & Pajcic obtained this verdict for the victim’s family.

$13 million verdict

A $13 million verdict for a woman who was permanently injured when a log truck made a dangerous U-turn in low-light conditions. Pajcic & Pajcic obtained this verdict for the victim.

$9.65 million settlement

A $9.65 million settlement for the death of a man who was killed when a tractor-trailer crossed a highway divider and landed on top of his vehicle. Pajcic & Pajcic obtained this settlement for the victim’s family.

 

Talk to a Vermont truck accident attorney right away

It’s normal for victims to be reeling after a truck accident, but it’s in your best interest to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Critical evidence in truck accident cases can be lost or destroyed soon after the crash. A full investigation has to be launched right away before witnesses forget what they saw and physical evidence disappears. The trucking companies know this, which is why they often have rapid response teams on the scene within 24 hours. Victims need to do the same.

Truck accident lawyers offer free consultations and you only pay if a recovery is made as a result of the attorney’s representation. If you’ve been hurt in a truck accident in Vermont, make sure your legal rights are protected. Schedule a free consultation with an attorney in your area today.

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Pajcic & Pajcic is a personal injury law firm that handles tough cases all over the country. We’ve settled thousands of multi-million-dollar cases and have had verdicts reaching u...