Truck Accident Lawyers in Georgia

Truck Accident Injury Lawyers Georgia

On the road, tractor trailers can drive like bullies.  In the courtroom, we turn the tables.

Each day, for-profit trucking companies send out 80,000-pound, 80-foot-long tractor-trailers to drive hundreds of miles on the same highways that you and I use. Whether you call them tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers, or semi-trucks, they can’t stop as fast as most vehicles, can’t turn as quickly, and are sometimes on the road for 10 hours or more per day. Our country gives truck companies the privilege of using public highways to make a profit, but that privilege comes with responsibility: truck companies must not endanger private citizens.

But sometimes these large vehicles cause serious accidents that hurt people.  Hiring a knowledgeable and dedicated truck accident lawyer who understands how to hold truck companies accountable is important.

Trucking companies often deny responsibility when they should admit it.  Through this cross-examination of the trucking company’s Safety Director, we got to the heart of the matter.

Federal and State Trucking Laws & Regulations

The truck driver’s responsibility to follow federal rules applies whether the truck is stopped or on the move.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”) carefully limit the length of time that a truck driver can be on the road, and the length of the breaks that he or she must take.  Truck drivers on the move must keep focused, paying attention to what his happening 12 to 15 seconds ahead of them.  Stopped trucks must not be parked in places that endanger other drivers or passengers.  A truck accident lawyer understands the rules, the consequences of a truck accident, and the serious injuries that can follow.

Federal and state laws confirm the responsibility of trucking companies. For instance, drivers of tractor-trailers must keep accurate logbooks confirming that the driver has not been driving too long and has had adequate rest. 49 C.F.R. § 398.6. Truck drivers must regularly inspect their trucks, must keep the trucks from rolling away out of control while they’re being inspected, and must not park their trucks in ways that put other people in danger.  See 49 C.F.R. § 396.3.  Trucking companies have a legal duty to hire honest, competent drivers and keep their trucks in good working order.  Coe v. Carroll & Carroll, Inc., 308 Ga. App. 777, 785-86 (2011); Fouts v. Builders Transport, Inc., 222 Ga. App. 568, 570 (1996).  Truck drivers should not consume alcohol or other intoxicating substances in any amount while on the job.  49 C.F.R. § 382.205.  Hiring a knowledgeable and smart truck accident lawyer who understands the rules, the justice system, and the way to present a truck accident injury to a jury is important.

As soon as a collision happens, most trucking companies move to cover their tracks.  They hire ‘investigators’ who rush to the scene of the wreck and they hire lawyers to deny that the company did anything wrong.  But when we cross-examined this truck company owner, the truth came out.

Truck Accident Settlements, Verdicts, and Compensation

When a tractor-trailer driver is negligent or reckless and causes injuries to another driver, the hurt driver is entitled to compensation.  Most truck accident cases settle before trial, so the injured person normally receives a settlement.  If the case does not settle before trial, then the jury will render a verdict that sets the compensation to which the victim of the tractor-trailer accident is entitled.

Under Georgia law, the victim of a trucking accident is entitled to compensation for various losses, usually called “damages.”  Types of damages for which a victim should be compensated include:

Past Medical Bills.  If someone is hurt and incurs medical costs, the truck company should pay for those medical bills.  Importantly, the truck company is liable for the full amount of the bills, even if the injured person had health insurance.  (The reason is that the injured person will likely have to pay the health insurance company back.)

Future Medical Bills.  Serious injuries last awhile – sometimes for the rest of a person’s life.  If future medical treatment will be required, like physical therapy, a follow-up surgery, or in-home nursing care, the trucking company should pay for those future costs.

Past Pain & Suffering.  It hurts to be hit by a tractor-trailer, and victims are entitled to be compensated for the pain that a truck has put them through.

Future Pain & Suffering.  If an injury is serious, the pain may not go away immediately.  It lasts and lasts, long after the lawsuit has come and gone.  For example, pain from neck or spinal injuries can last a lifetime, especially if arthritis sets in to the site of an injury.  Metal plates and bone screws can hurt when the weather changes.  If a victim of a truck accident is going to experience pain going into the future, Georgia law recognizes that he or she should be compensated for that.

Interference with Daily Living.  Minor injuries may heal completely, but some serious injuries never do.  In the case of the severest injuries, like paralysis or amputations, the truck accident can change a person’s life forever.  If a truck company puts a victim through that, then under Georgia law, they have to compensate him or her for it.

Trucking Companies & Insurance: Who Pays the Money?

Trucking companies and their insurers almost always pay truck accident settlements or verdicts.  The money almost never comes out of the individual truck driver’s pocket.  There are two reasons for that.

The first reason is a legal rule called vicarious liability, respondeat superior, or statutory employment.  It means that when a person is working for a company or another person, and is acting within the course and scope of his or her employment, then the company or employer is responsible for the negligent or reckless acts of the person.  You can imagine how that works in the context of a tractor-trailer accident – the truck driver is almost always driving for a trucking company when the accident occurs, because otherwise the trucker would not have been on the road in the truck in the first place.  Even if the trucking company attempts to claim that the driver was only an “independent contractor,” the trucking company is almost always responsible for injures caused by its driver under the principles of “statutory employment,” which has roots in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and Georgia common law.  We see that so-called “defense” often, and it almost always fails.

The second reason is insurance.  The rules change from time to time, but currently, any tractor-trailer that operates in “interstate commerce” (i.e., it regularly crosses state lines for business reasons, as most tractor-trailers do) must carry at least $750,000 in liability insurance.  If a truck operates only within the state of Georgia (which is rare), it must have at least $100,000 in liability insurance.  There are other categories with different requirements – for instance, trucks carrying hazardous cargo must have more insurance, and trucks working in agriculture may be able to carry less.  But most of the time, tractor-trailers carry significant insurance.

“Direct Actions” in Truck Accidents under Georgia Law

In most car accident cases, the injured person can sue only the at-fault driver, and is not allowed to tell the jury that the at-fault driver has insurance.  But the rule is different in trucking cases.

In truck cases, the injured person can sue the trucking company’s insurer directly in what lawyers call a “direct action.”  Most of the time, the injured person will sue the trucking company and the trucking company’s insurer in a single lawsuit.  But not always.  If the truck accident lawyer and the client prefer, they can file separate lawsuits against the trucking company and the insurer.  Occasionally, limitations on where cases may be filed (what the law calls “venue”) may require separate lawsuits.  But most of the time, the tractor-trailer accident lawyer sues the trucking company and the insurer in a single lawsuit, which tells the jury that the trucking company is insured.

In this tractor trailer case, Butler Law Firm obtained the monthly newsletters of the trucking company that crashed into our client. We learned that at the time of the collision, the company was under investigation by the federal government because its truck drivers were driving for too many hours consecutively, which put other vehicles at risk.  During cross-examination, the trucking company’s ‘safety director’ denied that the company was under investigation.  We were ready with the evidence.

Most trucking companies honor these responsibilities. Most hire competent drivers, maintain their trucks well, and ensure that their drivers stay rested.

But some trucking companies don’t—and when that happens, the injury can be tragic.  Whether the trucker was driving too fast, created a “runaway truck,” drove under the influence, drove too long on too little sleep, or operated a truck that wasn’t in safe condition, the truck accident lawyers at Butler Law Firm can help you with your truck accident and injury.

If you or someone you care about has been injured in a truck accident, contact our personal injury lawyers today.