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What To Do After A Commercial Truck Accident In Pennsylvania

Offered by Marcus & Mack

How the legal process works, explained

Crashes involving tractor-trailers, delivery trucks, dump trucks, garbage trucks and other types of commercial trucks often result in serious injuries. This is especially true if a natural gas truck or coal truck crashes into a passenger vehicle on I-80, I-76 or another major highway or road in Pennsylvania.

When these collisions occur in Pennsylvania, injury victims need to act fast to protect their health and their rights. If not treated promptly, potentially-life threatening injuries such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI), organ damage or internal bleeding can become worse. So what should injury victims do immediately after a commercial truck accident? And what about a few days or weeks after their collision? What are the next steps?

You can learn more below about this complex legal process. It’s also important to talk to an experienced Pennsylvania truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. If not, you might not be aware of all the legal options available to you.

Why do commercial truck accidents happen?

Like most motor vehicle collisions, truck accidents often occur due to the reckless or negligent actions of commercial truck drivers. Examples of mistakes made by truck drivers that result in serious collisions include:

  • Speeding truck drivers going too fast, resulting in a high-speed collision on the Pennsylvania Turnpike or another busy road or highway.
  • Truck drivers who follow other vehicles too closely and don’t have time to avoid a collision.
  • Inexperienced truck drivers unfamiliar with how to safely operate a large commercial truck.
  • Poorly maintained trucks, including a truck with bald tires or defective brakes that cannot stop safely.
  • Tired truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel, which often occurs late at night on highways due to long-haul truck drivers trying to drive too far without taking a break.
  • Aggressive truck drivers who don’t respect the rules of the road, including running a red light or changing lanes without warning on a highway.

How are commercial truck accidents different?

While commercial truck accidents might seem similar to other motor vehicle collisions, they’re actually quite different for many reasons, including:

  • The size of commercial vehicles is much greater than other vehicles. A fully loaded 18-wheeler, for example, can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds compared to an average passenger vehicle, which weighs 3,000 to 4,000 pounds.
  • Different state and federal laws apply to commercial truck accidents.
  • More than one at-fault party may be to blame in some cases.
  • More than one local, state or federal agency might be investigating your accident.
  • Contents carried by the truck can be potentially hazardous materials if involved in a collision, including natural gas, petroleum oil, coal and fertilizer.
  • Large number of lawyers and insurance companies are often involved in such collisions.
  • The financial impact of commercial truck accidents is often significantly larger than other vehicle collisions.
  • You may be able to file a truck accident lawsuit in more than one legal jurisdiction depending on the circumstances of your collision.

Who is at fault for causing truck accidents?

As briefly explained, there can often be more than one at-fault party when it comes to commercial truck accidents. So who is to blame? Such at-fault parties can include:

  • Commercial truck driver who caused your collision.
  • Trucking company that employs the driver, especially if the company knowingly hired an inexperienced truck driver or a driver with a history of causing collisions.
  • Company that owns the truck, its cab or its trailer, which can often be more than one company.
  • Company that loaded the truck, especially if the truck was improperly loaded, causing the contents of the truck to shift and truck to rollover or jackknife.
  • Company that manufactured the products being transported in the truck, especially if those products were packaged incorrectly, came loose in transit and made the truck unstable.
  • Company that manufactured the truck or trailer, especially if a defective part (bad brakes, defective tires, etc.) caused the collision.

What to do after a commercial truck accident in Pennsylvania

So what should you do if you’re involved in a collision caused by a commercial truck in Pennsylvania? In general, injury victims should take the following steps as soon as possible after the collision:

  • Call the police right away and report your accident. This is required by law in Pennsylvania if your accident results in a serious injury, fatality or one of the vehicles cannot drive away from the collision, according to Pennsylvania Statute Title 75, Section C.S.A. § 3744.
  • Ask the police to send an ambulance if you or anyone else appears seriously injured.
  • If it’s safe to do so, take pictures of your truck accident before moving any vehicle.
  • If someone saw your collision, get his or her full name, address, and phone number before they leave the scene of the accident.
  • Take more photos of your crash site. The more pictures, the better. Take photos of the surrounding area, the road itself, and any nearby traffic signs or street lights. The more details, the better.
  • Get the truck driver’s information, including his or her name, driver’s license number, home address, business address and the name of the trucking company that employs the driver. It is not enough to see only the insurance card. Give your contact information to the truck driver as well.  The police can assist with this exchange of information.
  • Don’t discuss the accident with the truck driver or anyone else at the scene of the accident.
  • Get the investigating police officer’s name, badge number and contact information. That way, you can easily obtain a copy of your official Pennsylvania car accident report, known as a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Police Crash Reporting Form (AA 500).
  • Seek immediate medical attention, even if you feel fine after an accident. It is important to get checked out to ensure there are no hidden injuries, such as internal bleeding or fractures.
  • Soon after your collision, schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor, even if you have already been examined by a medical professional. Many truck accident injuries have delayed symptoms, including concussions and whiplash.
  • Call a Pennsylvania truck accident lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your legal options.

Who investigates truck accidents in Pennsylvania?

Depending on the situation, truck accidents in Pennsylvania may be investigate by:

However, it’s important to remember that these official investigations are focused on determining whether a law was violated. Their job isn’t to make sure the victims are fairly compensated for their injuries.

What laws apply to truck accidents in Pennsylvania?

Along with state laws that apply to all motor vehicle accidents in Pennsylvania, many federal laws come into play if someone is involved in a collision with a commercial truck driver. Truck drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) if the vehicle they’re operating weighs more than 26,001 pounds or meets other state and federal standards outlined in the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 (CMVSA).

Many of the other federal laws that apply to commercial truck accidents can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces these laws, which include:

  • Maximum number of hours commercial truck drivers can work before they must take a mandatory rest break. Known as the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations and listed in Title 49, Part 395 of the Code of Federal Regulations, such HOS rules include requiring CDL drivers to take a break after:
    • Driving 8 hours in a row, in which case drivers must take a 30-minute rest break.
    • Driving 11 hours or reaching 14 hours on duty, after which drivers must be off duty for 10 hours.
    • Cannot drive more than 60 hours in seven consecutive days
    • Cannot drive more than 70 hours in eight consecutive days
  • Texting while driving is banned nationwide, regardless of what the laws are in a particular state, for all commercial drivers with a CDL. Applicable federal law: Title 49, Part 392.80.
  • Mandatory minimum educational, physical and exam requirements for obtaining and maintaining a valid CDL. Applicable federal law: Title 49, Part 391 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • Mandatory truck inspection and maintenance record standards for commercial trucks. Applicable federal law: Title 49, Part 396 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Many other federal and state laws apply to commercial trucks and drivers with a CDL in Pennsylvania. If you have been involved in a collision caused by a commercial truck driver in Pennsylvania, such laws could have a significant impact on the outcome of your legal case. This is why it’s important to talk to an experienced Pennsylvania truck accident lawyer as soon as possible after your collision.

How much are truck accident claims worth?

There’s often a lot of discussion about how much money injury victims should receive in the event of a collision caused by a commercial truck in Pennsylvania, especially in cases involving crashes caused by coal trucks and tanker trucks carrying natural gas or other materials.

Whatever the circumstances, if you sustained a financial loss due to a serious truck accident in Pennsylvania, you should be financially compensated for all your accident-related expenses. So if your accident resulted in thousands of dollars or more in bills, you should be paid every penny.

This might sound straightforward. But actually getting all the money you deserve for your accident can often be much more complicated than many people might realize. This is because there’s often a lot of debate about how much your injury claim is actually worth.

Who is responsible for paying truck accident injury victims?

Pennsylvania has a “no-fault” insurance system for medical bills arising from an auto accident. Regardless of who is at-fault for the collision, your own auto insurance company will pay the first portion of your medical bills.  Most people have $5,000 in medical coverage, which is the minimum amount that is required to be included with all auto insurance policies.

Recovering compensation for pain and suffering and other noneconomic, intangible losses can depend on the type of insurance you have selected.  If you chose Full Tort, you are entitled to recover noneconomic damages.  If you chose Limited Tort, you paid slightly less in your annual auto insurance premiums, but the tradeoff is that you may be barred from recovering money for pain and suffering – unless one of certain exceptions applies.  You may be able to pursue compensation from the at-fault party, which in the case of a truck accident can include:

  • Truck driver who caused your collision.
  • Trucking company that employs the truck driver.
  • Company that owns or maintains the truck.
  • Company that loaded the truck.
  • Another negligent party who contributed to the accident, such as the driver of a third vehicle.

Dealing with trucking companies after an accident

It’s important that injury victims understand what a significant role trucking companies often play after a commercial truck accident. This is because trucking companies often have access to important evidence and electronic data that can strengthen your truck accident claim or lawsuit. Such evidence and data stored and collected by trucking companies can include:

  • The truck driver’s Hours of Service (HOS) logs, which show in detail how many hours the truck driver was driving immediately before the collision, along with when the driver last took a break.
  • The truck’s event data recorder (EDR), which is similar to a black box in an airplane. A truck’s EDR records where the truck was at the time of a collision, the speed the truck was traveling at the time of the crash, if the truck driver applied the brakes before the collision and if the truck driver was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
  • The truck driver’s driving history, including whether the driver’s CDL had ever been revoked, if the driver had ever failed a drug or alcohol test or been cited for speeding, drunk driving or another infraction.
  • Inspection records for the truck involved in your collision.
  • Repair records for the truck in question.
  • Maintenance records for the truck and other trucks maintained by the trucking company.

How much time do truck accident injury victims have to take action?

The deadline many people focus on is the statute of limitations to file a truck accident lawsuit in Pennsylvania. This deadline is two years from the date of the accident to take legal action, according to Title 42, Section 5524 of the Consolidated Statutes of Pennsylvania.

However, if you wait two years to take legal action in Pennsylvania, the evidence you need to build a strong legal case might no longer exist. One reason why is trucking companies only have to keep certain records for much less time, including:

  • Hours of Service (HOS) logs, which trucking companies can destroy after 6 months.
  • Truck inspection, maintenance and repair records, which can be destroyed after 1 year.

In addition, electronic devices, such as the truck’s EDR, may automatically erase data after a short period of time, which can vary from one truck or trucking company to another. For example, some EDR devices are programmed to erase all data after 250 ignition cycles, which often works out to just three or four weeks.

And if video footage of your truck accident exists, it’s often up to the person who owns or maintains the camera how long such video footage is saved. So if there’s a video recording of your truck accident on a traffic camera, security camera or a dashboard camera (dash cam), you need to act fast to demand that such evidence be saved and preserved.

It is also important to identify witnesses so that their statement can be obtained while the incident is still fresh in their minds, and while the witnesses can still be located.

How can a Pennsylvania truck accident attorney help?

As you have read, commercial truck accidents in Pennsylvania can easily turn into complicated legal situations. And what you might not realize is you only have one opportunity to obtain the money you deserve for a lifetime’s worth of accident-related expenses.

This is why it’s critical that you consult with an experienced Pennsylvania truck accident lawyer who can explain your options and guide you through the legal process, whether it’s negotiating the best possible settlement offer or filing a truck accident lawsuit seeking damages (financial compensation).

Time is of the essence in truck accident cases. If you were hurt in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, contact an experienced attorney in your area today.

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