Breaker, Breaker

I've had some clients in western Massachusetts and am all too familiar with the ride on the Massachusetts Turnpike from Newton to the Berkshires. I have done that drive at all hours of the day into the night, in fair weather and foul. Given that the turnpike is straight and fast most of the time, the ride would be an easy one ñ except for the giant rigs screaming down the highway at 75+ mph. To be fair, some of the truckers are great drivers. Others, though, seem oblivious to the immense weight and power they control from behind their steering wheels.

Make no mistake, big trucks are dangerous to mortal men driving puny cars ñ and next to an 18-wheeler, a Cadillac Escalade still counts as a puny car. To make matters worse, several years ago, the federal government forced Massachusetts to comply with federal law and allow double-rigs on its highways. They were banned from our roads until the feds, fueled by the trucking industry lobby, intervened. That double-rigged truck you see in your rear-view mirror may weigh up to 80,000 pounds. That's more than the weight of 5 African elephants, and the trucks move much faster. In an average year, between 4,000 & 5,000 people are killed in collisions between large (in excess of 10,000 pounds) trucks and passenger cars. Not surprisingly, the victims are usually the car drivers. Leading causes of accidents involving big-rigs include driver fatigue, speed, alcohol or drug abuse, faulty tires and other equipment, tailgating, and inadequate driver training.

It would be a serious mistake for a lawyer representing the victim of a truck crash to treat it the same as an automobile accident case. Truck crash cases are a breed of case unto themselves. A comprehensive set of federal regulations govern interstate trucking. They must be carefully considered, as violation of a federal safety regulation may be strong evidence of negligence by the truck driver or his company. The physics of large trucks is very different than the physics of automobiles. Most obviously, the trucks require a much longer braking distance. It is analogous to the difference between steering a motor boat to avoid a maritime collision, and steering an ocean liner. Any time a large truck is involved in a rear-end collision ñ an all too common occurrence ñ tailgating by the truck driver should be a suspected cause.

Sometimes the cause of driver fatigue is improper delivery pressures applied by the driver's employer. Potential negligence by the company that owns the truck, in addition to the driver's negligence, should always be considered. Interstate truck drivers need to keep a log of their "duty status." That log must be obtained by the plaintiff's lawyer. Some large trucks have airline-like "black boxes" which might contain critical information about how the crash occurred. If someone is severely injured by a big truck, it is essential that they retain counsel promptly and that counsel know to get into court promptly and seek protection against the trucking company deleting the black box information.

In any litigation arising out of a big truck accident, the injured plaintiff's lawyer will want to hire a top-notch trucking industry expert at the outset of the litigation. Such an expert will help counsel ask all the right questions and obtain every stitch of relevant documentation and other information. A good expert will be able to recreate with confidence how and why the accident likely occurred. Large truck accident cases are more complex than most automobile collision cases. If well-handled, however, the right knowledge of trucks, the trucking industry, and the government agencies and regulations that control big-rigs, can result in a winning verdict or settlement for the injured car driver.