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The Opioid Epidemic Sitting Behind an 18-Wheeler

We hear it all over the news, we see it in our community, we know people it has affected; there is a drug epidemic in our country. Drug deaths in America are rising faster than ever. Opioids are a class of highly addictive substances and are commonly prescribed for pain relief. Aside from the addiction, over-prescription, and its ability to be a gateway to other drugs, the opioid epidemic is also silently contributing to our nation’s highway death epidemic.

Truckers Use Substances to Stay Awake

Unfortunately, it isn’t a surprise that the use of alcohol and drugs among truck drivers is common and can be linked to their working conditions. A study of truck drivers and their working conditions found that truck drivers were commonly abusing alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine and cannabis as a means to make it through grueling shifts.

Even though the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets regulations for number of hours that can be driven consecutively, many drivers still cross that line, driving over the 11 hour standard. Combined with the long hours, truck drivers have a desolate profession, spending most of their hours alone. American Addiction Centers reports that a total of 36 studies between 2000 and 3013 show that 91% of drivers interviewed admitted to using alcohol while on the job, 82.5% used amphetamines and over 8% used cocaine.

Obviously, the use of these drugs can impair the driver’s ability and can lead to serious accidents resulting in bodily injury and death. Due to this known problems, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires drug testing after a trucking accident. However, the current drug testing is limited to marijuana, amphetamines, phencyclidine, cocaine and opiates excluding common prescription opioids.

What studies have found is that the opioid epidemic has transltated to the trucking industry. The systemic failure to test for these drugs is leading to a silent opioid epidemic that is making our highways even more dangerous.

The Silent and Unregulated Problem

According to the DOT’s 2014 survey of truck driver health and injury, almost half of the nation’s truck drivers are over the age of 50. Most of these drivers have spent decades behind the wheel of a big rig. That means decades of sitting for hours on end every day. This can lead to joint disease, back pain, poor circulation and arthritis. The study found that there is a high prevalence of obesity and poor health for truck drivers. Opioids are very commonly prescribed to relieve pain from these medical conditions. The combination of prescription opioids and operation of any motor vehicle—but particularly one that weighs up to 10 tons—can be catastrophic and sometimes deadly. The use of opioids can cause slower reaction time, reduced coordination, blurred vision and drowsiness.

Federal regulations state that truck drivers are prohibited from driving while using opioids unless permitted by a doctor. However, this regulation is poorly monitored. Because the current drug test panel does not test for opioid use, drivers are expected to self-report their opioid use. As one would imagine, self-reporting is problematic. Often times drivers fail to disclose opioid use and use of other prescription drugs for fear of failing their medical exam which would affect them obtaining the required medical certificate to drive. Furthermore, there are physicians who over prescribe these drugs and fail to understand the patient’s work functions.

DOT Proposed Rule

In January of 2017, the DOT took the first step toward helping to solve the opioid epidemic in the trucking industry. They proposed to amend its drug-testing regulation to add four opioids to its drug-testing panel. Adding opioids to the panel will definitely increase the percentage of positive drug tests during random testing, but it will eliminate the failures of self-reporting. This new regulation has not yet taken effect.

Hit By a Semi? An Experienced Attorney Can Investigate Potential Opioid Use

At Keller & Keller we have decades of experience in handling semi accident cases. Through investigation and discovery, we are able to get the records and documentation that can lead to proving dangerous impairment. If you or a loved one have been involved in a semi accident, do not hesitate to reach out to us today. Getting a semi-accident attorney on your side from the start will be the best thing you ever do for your case.

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How Much Is My Semi-Truck Accident Injury Claim Worth?

Before we discuss the value related to a semi-truck claim, it's important to realize that an accident with a semi-truck is entirely different than one involving a passenger-style vehicle, e.g., a car, pickup truck, motorcycle, etc.

Because you were hit by a semi-truck, it's possible that one or more "commercial policies" exist for the defendant and the trucking company. Insurance policies that insure semi-trucks are mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and they don't follow the same rules as policies required for passenger vehicles.

It's not uncommon for our attorneys to uncover an insurance policy on a semi-truck in the amount of $1 Million dollars. The reason for this is the FMCSA requires semi-trucks to carry much larger minimum policies.

What determines the value of your semi-truck accident claim?

There are several factors we take into consideration when coming up with a total value for your semi-truck case, including some of the following:

  • Total amount of your medical bills
  • Any lost wages
  • The severity of your injuries
  • Loss of companionship
  • Pain and suffering
  • And while your accident may include more or less factors than those listed here, it's important to realize that no one can give you an actual dollar amount until we've fully investigated your claim.

Why is it best not to settle a semi-truck accident claim quickly?

Insurance companies are notorious for wanting to settle accident claims as quickly as possible, and there's no truer example of this than when a semi-truck is involved. Why? Because they risk losing a lot more money on these claims!

We never advise anyone to hurry a settlement after being hit by a semi, and the reasons are many, however, we often find that circumstances drastically change for victims in the months following these types of accidents. For instance, we've seen the following scenarios play out time and time again:

  • The accident victim wasn't fully aware of their total injuries.
  • The length and type of treatment changed as injuries began to heal or worsen.
  • The victim didn't anticipate the strain it would place on their personal life.
  • The victim didn't account for the psychological toll it exacted from them while riding in, or driving, a car again.
  • Our experience has taught us that no one is able to fully account for the entirety of their injuries or personal loss immediately following an accident with a semi-truck.

Ultimately, having experienced legal representation oversee your claim while you undergo treatment is a way to ensure you are compensated for your total losses.

No Two Semi-Accident Claims Have the Same Value

If a friend or family member tells you what they think your case is worth based on a personal experience they had with a semi-accident, they're likely trying to help, but we'd strongly encourage you to not take their advice.

Our attorneys work on these case types every day, and it's evident that no matter how similar two semi-truck accident claims appear to be, their values are always going to be different. Let's look at an example:

  • The driver of car A is a young pregnant female with no pre-existing medical conditions. She has been involved in a rear-end style collision with a semi. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital for examination of severe shoulder pain. The doctors diagnose her with a torn rotator cuff and prescribe her a course of treatment that is consistent with the needs of her pregnancy. She completes treatment and is released soon after.
  • The driver of car B is a middle-aged male with prior back surgery. He has also been involved in a rear-end style collision with a semi and is experiencing severe shoulder pain. He was not able to visit a doctor until two weeks after the crash due to fear of missing work and losing his job. When he is able to visit the doctor, he is diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff and is prescribed a course of physical therapy and is released soon after.

After investigating the cases, we also learn that Driver A and Driver B's rear-end accidents occurred at the same spot on the same stretch of interstate on the same day.

Additionally, the adverse semi-truck drivers who struck A & B were traveling at the same speed at the time of impact. Weather conditions were also the same for both accidents, and both semi-truck drivers have the same insurance companies.

How do these facts affect the value of the victims' claims?

Despite everything we know about drivers A & B, their claims will have different values!

Even with all these similarities, it is highly unlikely that driver A & B will undergo the same type of medical treatment for their injuries, respond to treatment in the same manner, or experience the same types of aggravation and frustration in the days and months after their accident.

Always have an experienced semi-truck accident lawyer evaluate your specific claim to help determine what your losses may be worth.

Someone told me I should ask for three times my medical bills. Is this a good idea?

We've received a number of calls from semi-accident victims who have been told that three times their medical bills is a fair or good settlement.

While it's true you might receive three times your medical bills, it's also possible that you'll receive more or less, and the amount will ultimately depend on your attorney's ability to effectively build your case based on your total injuries, wage loss, medical bills, and pain and suffering.

Ultimately, a semi-accident victim should never base the value of their claim on any type of formula.

What Can I recover For In My Semi-Accident Claim?

The semi-accident injury attorney assigned to your case will typically look at the following three factors when attempting to make a recovery for your claim:

  1. Past and future medical expenses
  2. Past and future lost wages or loss of earning capacity
  3. Past and future pain, suffering, disfigurement, and disability

What is a "semi-truck policy limits demand" accident?

Accidents that are extremely severe may leave a client with broken bones, the need for surgery, permanent hardware, an extended hospital stay, or cause death. In these instances our attorney may demand the entire amount of the insurance policy carried by the trucking company.

To help ensure we know the total amount of coverage available, we will immediately notify the insurance company for the semi-truck of our representation. Next, we'll demand that they send our firm a certified declarations (DEC) sheet that outlines the specific coverage for their insured.

Once we receive a copy of the DEC sheet we will be able to tell you how much money is available, but it will still be difficult to determine the total amount of your recovery, as other factors will undoubtedly be present.

For instance, we may be able to reduce certain medical bills so that you are not required to pay back the full amounts, thus increasing your settlement. We may also be able to secure Underinsured Motorists Coverage (UIM) from your policy in the event that the trucking company's policy limits are inadequate.

With regard to insurance policies, we strongly suggest you always have an experienced accident attorney research, obtain, and review all the applicable policies for the company that owns the semi-truck.

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Drowsy Truck Driver Statistics

  • Studies have shown that being awake for a long period of time (18 hours) will leave a driver with the motor reflexes of someone who has a BAC level of 0.08%, putting them at equal risk of crashing.
  • Commercial trucks account for a small percentage of registered vehicles on our roadways, yet account for an alarming number of passenger vehicle accidents that involve death. (According to a 1999 report by the NHTSA, large trucks accounted for 3% of the registered vehicles on our highways, however, they were responsible for 13% of passenger vehicle deaths.)
  • Fatigue and drowsy driving is said to be a contributing factor in as many as 30-40% of all commercial truck accidents.
  • A 1995 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study found that of 107 heavy truck crashes, fatigue was a prominent factor in 75% of the run-off-the-road crashes, with 68% of long-haul drivers and 49% of short haul drivers suffering fatigue-related crashes.
  • A commerical truck driver who skips mandated rest breaks and sleep, greatly increases the likelihood of their being involved in an accident due to drowsiness. Additionally, a truck driver's ability to gain proper restorative sleep is affected even if they try to "catch up" on sleep when they have a day off.
  • Australian research and on-site investigations over the last several years have determined that, overall, one crash in every five among truck drivers is due to falling asleep at the wheel and that up to 30% of truck crash fatalities on rural roads are due to sleep deprivation.
  • The risk of a crash effectively doubles from the eighth to the tenth hour of driving, and doubles again from the tenth to the eleventh hour of driving alone. (FMCSA, 2000).
Why are semi-trucks so dangerous?

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