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A Lack of Background Checks and Drug Tests on Indiana Truck Drivers May Implicate Trucking Companies in Lawsuits

Most of us assume that the men and women driving the 18-wheelers we see speeding down Indiana highways are qualified to be there. We believe they must hold special drivers’ licenses and have received expert training to handle these big rigs. According to federal law, we would be correct in these assumptions.

However, in practice, we may find that many of these drivers are not qualified operate these trucks and shouldn't have been hired by their employers in the first place. If one of these drivers caused an accident that leaves victims seriously injured, not only should he be held accountable, but his employer should be as well.

Federal Law Governing Truck Driver Qualificationtruck driver's hands on the wheel

The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) outlines requirements for drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) that all drivers and employers of drivers must follow.

According to federal law, a CMV driver must meet the following requirements:

  1. Is at least 21 years old.
  2. Can read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public; understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language; respond to official inquiries, and make entries on reports and records.
  3. Can, by reason of experience, training, or both, safely operate the type of commercial motor vehicle he drives.
  4. Is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle in accordance with the physical qualifications and examinations required by law.
  5. Has a currently valid commercial motor vehicle operator's license issued only by one state or jurisdiction.
  6. Has prepared and furnished the motor carrier that employs him with a certified list of all motor vehicle traffic violations of which he has been convicted in the preceding 12 months.
  7. Is not disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle due to a criminal conviction, DUI, drug possession, or commission of a felony using a motor vehicle.
  8. Has successfully completed a driver's road test and has been issued a certificate of driver's road test; or has presented an operator's license or a certificate of road test which the motor carrier that employs him has accepted as equivalent to a road test.

While these requirements are in place to make sure every CMV driver is trained, physically fit, and not likely to drive while impaired, enforcement of the requirements ultimately falls on the driver’s employer.

The Role of the Employer in Ensuring Fitness of Driver

When hiring drivers, Indiana employers must confirm the applicant meets FMCSA’s requirements through complete background checks and a physical exam. According to the American Trucking Associations, the current shortfall of qualified truck drivers is expected to grow to over 50,000 full-time positions over the next few years. This shortage leads many transportation companies to cut corners when it comes to hiring new drivers.

To hire a qualified candidate, employers should go through the following stages:

  • Pre-screening. Before moving forward with an applicant, an employer should conduct an employment history search, a search for current and former commercial driver’s licenses held by the applicant, and a confirmation that his or her Social Security number is valid.
  • Core screening. Applicants who pass the initial screening should then be subject to employment verifications, driving history report checks, drug or alcohol violations search, criminal records search, and a sex offender registry search.
  • Conditional screening. The next level of screening is mandated by FMCA’s rules. Applicants must pass a pre-employment drug test and a physical exam.
  • Ongoing screening. Once a driver is hired, he or she is still subject to ongoing screenings for violations of the law and continued good health. Random drug and alcohol testing, motor vehicle record checks, and physical exams must be conducted periodically on all drivers.

Employers who do not follow through on these hiring and employment requirements face stiff penalties from FMCA, including fines of up to $10,000. When an accident occurs, not only will the driver’s condition be investigated, but also the hiring and monitoring practices of his employer.

What This Could Mean to You

If you are injured in a crash involving a commercial truck, you need an attorney in Indiana who understands not only the truck driver’s liability but that of his or her employer. Keller & Keller will thoroughly investigate the cause of the crash and hold all liable parties responsible. We proudly serve Indiana residents at offices conveniently located in Indianapolis and Granger. Call (505) 938-2300 today to discuss your semi-truck accident 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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Why are semi-trucks so dangerous?

Liability Factors Can Affect The Value of Your Case

Don't let the insurance company blame you!

Blue Semi-Truck 80% Fault
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In some states, if the semi-truck driver is 80% at fault and you are 20% at fault, your settlement amount would be reduced by 20%. (Always consult with an attorney about your state's negligence laws).
Red Semi-Truck 100% Fault
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Our goal is to place 100% fault on the truck driver to ensure you receive the maximum amount of compensation for your case.

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).
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