Due to the increased size and weight of trucks as compared to automobiles, the fact that a truck is involved in a collision with an automobile greatly increases the likelihood of serious injury and death to the occupants of the automobile. In fact, in many cases, everyone in the automobile is killed while the driver of the truck is not even slightly injured.
This factor (injury severity) alone is more than ample reason for the injured auto occupants (or their surviving family members) to be extremely careful in selecting an attorney to represent them in a personal-injury or wrongful-death action; a mistake by an attorney in such cases could mean the entry of judgment in favor of the trucking company, and the consequent loss of the opportunity to recover hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars in damages resulting from the accident.
However, there are many other factors which differentiate accidents involving trucks from other accidents. Because trucks have many more parts and systems than automobiles, there are simply more items which can malfunction. For example, trucks and semi-trailers are equipped with air brakes which operate on the rear wheels of the truck as well as the wheels of the trailer. Because of the number of wheels which have to be braked, there are simply more brakes which can malfunction.
Of course, a trucking company may not be liable for a defective braking system if the trucking company neither knew nor should have known of the defect, but the law imposes an obligation on trucking companies to maintain their fleets in a reasonably safe condition, and this includes performing equipment inspections and checking brakes to make sure that they are adjusted properly (or that self-adjusting brakes are adjusting properly). If a trucking company fails to reasonably maintain its equipment, it will be held liable for the injuries that result.
Because of the complicated nature of trucks and trailers, it is imperative that an attorney handling a trucking case be experienced in and somewhat knowledgeable about the mechanics and physics involved. While it is not necessary that the attorney have a Ph.D in physics, the attorney should have the ability to recognize possible accident causes and to access experts (such as accident reconstructionists) who can investigate the cause and testify as to his conclusions.
Furthermore, most trucking companies are governed by numerous laws and regulations which do not apply to ordinary automobiles. Commercial motor vehicles (generally vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds) are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which govern almost all aspects of truck operation and maintenance. Therefore, when a commercial motor vehicle is involved in an accident, the attorney must be familiar with these regulations in order to determine whether there has been a violation which caused or contributed to the accident.
These regulations govern not only the maintenance and operation of the truck, but also driver qualifications, driving limitations, emergency procedures, parking procedures, and drug usage. Violations of any of these regulations are extremely important to a case in which the violations caused or contributed to the accident.
For example, truckers are required to keep their taillights and reflectors clean, and truckers who make emergency stops on the highway are required to turn on their flashers and place warning triangles at certain distances behind the trailer to warn approaching traffic. In one recent case, a motorist who ran into the back of a stopped truck recovered damages from the trucking company since the trucker failed to keep his taillights and reflectors clean and failed to put out warning triangles (although the motorist was also found to be partly at fault, and his recovery was reduced by his percentage of negligence).
Even an attorney who is experienced in ordinary auto-accident cases may not have the qualifications to effectively handle a trucking-accident case. Anyone who is injured in a trucking accident should immediately consult an attorney experienced in trucking-accident cases. In order to determine whether the attorney has the proper experience and expertise, ask the attorney about previous trucking-cases he has handled, ask for references, and talk to previous trucking-accident clients to determine the success of their cases and their satisfaction with the attorney.