Accidents involving semi-trucks often result in very serious injuries, due to the increased weight of the commercial motor vehicle creating added collision force. Although truck drivers receive extensive training, weather-related accidents are fairly common. If you've been involved in a weather-related collision with a commercial motor vehicle, understanding your legal right to compensation is the best way to ensure you have the resources necessary to move forward with your life.
Weather-Related Safety Hazards
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, weather-related crashes account for 22 percent of all accidents, 19 percent of all injuries, and 16 percent of all vehicle accident fatalities. Wet pavement creates the most dangerous road conditions, but each type of adverse weather condition has unique challenges. For example:
- Rain affects visibility and creates the risk of hydroplaning. Truck drivers can reduce the risk of hydroplaning by making sure their tires are properly inflated, avoiding cruise control, driving in a lower gear, and minimizing hard braking.
- Fog impacts a driver's ability to see long distances, requiring a reduction in speed and extra attentiveness to traffic conditions. Truck drivers are trained to use the lines on the road as a guide for traveling straight in fog,
- Ice causes slick roads, which makes it difficult for a truck driver to brake and steer properly. Black ice, often found on bridges and overpasses, creates additional dangers.
- Wind can cause trailers to blow and became unsteady on the road. The sail area—the exposed trailer sides that catch wind—is so much larger with a semi-truck, that conditions which would have minimal impact on a passenger car can be extremely dangerous for the commercial driver.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) encourage commercial drivers to use extreme caution in adverse weather conditions. If a driver does not feel it's safe to continue, he is encouraged to pull over and wait for the weather to clear. Drivers are expected to use their judgement and training as professionals to make safe decisions.
Liability for Weather-Related Accidents
Snow, rain, fog, and other adverse weather conditions do not necessarily absolve a driver of responsibility for an accident. If a truck driver is not following safe driving procedures, he can be found at fault for the accident. Evidence of negligent behavior might include:
- Not using headlights in low visibility conditions
- Driving too fast for the weather
- Following other vehicles too closely
- Not properly planning for stops and turns
- Ignoring road signs
- Being distracted by cell phones or using paper maps in the vehicle
- Failing to perform a pre-trip inspection of the truck's safety equipment
When a truck driver is found at fault for an accident, the company that owns the vehicle is usually held financially responsible for the damages that result. This includes medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Comparative Fault and Liability
If it is determined that you are partially at fault for the accident, you can still receive compensation for damages. Louisiana uses what is known as a “comparative fault” doctrine for negligence cases. This means that your eligibility for damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, a driver who is found 40 percent at fault for the accident will only collect 60 percent of the damages he would otherwise be entitled to receive.
Protecting Your Rights
The rules regarding personal injury settlements can be very complex and trucking companies are typically in no hurry to resolve a claim. To protect your rights, it's best to hire an experienced personal injury attorney to advocate on your behalf. Your attorney can handle all accident-related communication, leaving you free to focus on your recovery. If applicable, he can also negotiate a lower percentage of fault to increase your eligibility for compensation.
Schedule a free, no-obligation case review with the experienced attorneys at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault to learn more. We have six convenient office locations: Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lake Charles, Lafayette, and Monroe.