Our firm’s founding partner addresses a few burning questions
Some things are obvious. Other things are not. Like the fact that commercial truck drivers are bound by stricter laws and regulations. And in the case of impending litigation, it’s best left to an attorney to sort those things out. Because no matter what you may believe, a truck and car crash are two very different things. Ken answers some common questions and concerns we hear on a regular basis.
From a legal perspective, what’s the biggest difference between a truck and car crash?
For starters, federal regulations apply to professional truck drivers and not the average driver. That means truck drivers are required to be extra careful because the consequences of a crash can be severe. That also means the guidelines to obtain a commercial license are much stricter. For instance, there are safety rules that prohibit truck drivers from driving too many hours, which means they’re required to take breaks to ensure safety. Drivers are also required to keep detailed records and logs related to their driving history. Ultimately, a truck crash involves much more paperwork and documentation than a typical crash between two motorists, which can be advantageous but also detrimental if the records aren’t handled or requested properly and timely.
What are some misconceptions about trucks more generally?
It probably goes without saying that the injuries involving a commercial truck are often much more severe than a car, but I’m amazed by how many people overestimate trucks and their ability to make quick, spontaneous adjustments. Fact is, they can’t. Trucks can’t stop on a dime, they can’t make sudden turns, and they certainly can’t maintain high speeds with any semblance of control. On the flip side, a lot of people underestimate the weight and size of a commercial vehicle, which by definition weighs over 10,000 pounds, failing to keep a proper distance to allow for unexpected maneuvers. The running theme is that many people take for granted that trucks can be very dangerous, and they need to be treated and respected much differently than average cars and drivers. The reverse is also true, meaning inexperienced and improperly trained commercial drivers also don’t appreciate that trucks are not as easy to operate as a normal car.
If you’re involved in a truck crash what should you do?
The first thing you should do is make sure you get away from oncoming traffic or other hazards. Find a safe area, that’s number one. If a someone is trapped, put your hazards on, light road flares, lay out cones—any kind of warning sign for other drivers. After you’ve made sure that everyone is safe, you should call the police and medical personnel immediately. Next, take down the information of the driver and their company: name, license plate number, phone number, insurance provider. You’ll want to report the crash to your insurance company and take pictures of the scene, damage to the vehicles, and anything that might seem relevant to record. If there were any witnesses, make sure you get their name, phone number, and as much identifying information as possible. Another thing I would say: You’ll likely be upset and distraught; keep your cool. You don’t want to make a bad situation worse.
Are trucking cases more difficult to litigate than car crashes, and if so, why?
Emphatically, the answer is yes. Insurance policies for auto crashes are relatively straight-forward for attorneys like us, but for trucking accidents, it can get very complicated. The truck could be leased by an independent contractor, for example, or other companies may be involved with hauling the freight. We investigate those details and make sure that everything is accounted for, including available insurance limits to cover damages, such as lost income, medical bills, and other expenses. The bottom line is that truck crashes are much more complex to litigate because there are lot more moving parts. Our job is to make sure that no detail goes unnoticed.
What are some things a lawyer can do for you?
As I mentioned earlier, a lawyer will look at who is responsible for the crash given there might be several entities and a truck driver involved. The other thing we do is look at what caused the crash more specifically, as in whether the driver may have had a medical condition or something that initiated the crash. Sleep apnea is a big issue that we deal with constantly. We work with experts—accident reconstructionists, mechanical experts, human factors experts, conspicuity experts—to find out what happened. We also look at the driver’s record, whether they have points docked on their commercial driver’s license, whether they’ve show previous instances of negligence and safety violations, and whether their employer ignored warning signs that may have prevented the crash from happening at all.
Ken Levinson is the Founding Partner of Levinson and Stefani. He has successfully handled dozens of cases involving commercial truck crashes and is a leader of the American Association for Justice’s Interstate Trucking Litigation Group.