Truck Accident Multimillion-Dollar Settlement.

"M.A.," a 30-year-old man, was driving to work in New Mexico. Suddenly a commercial truck veered across the center line and struck his vehicle head on. M.A. died at the scene. The McNeely Stephenson firm was hired shortly after the crash to represent the family of the deceased.

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Truck Crashes and Driver Fatigue in Indianapolis

Truck drivers shoulder a lot of responsibility for safety on the road. Most do an admirable job. But even a good operator can become fatigued and yet not stop driving to rest. The reasons can vary, but some of the most common are economic reasons and pressure from an employer. While there are federal laws called hours-of-service requirements, sometimes these regulations are not heeded.

Fatigue has been cited as a contributing factor in 13 percent of large-truck crashes. While we don’t know how many of the crashes were fatal, we can tell you that, in 2015, there were 3,598 fatal crashes and 83,000 injury crashes involving large trucks. Also in 2015, the numbers tell us that in 33 percent of crashes, some form of driver error contributed to the accident. Large trucks can weigh as much as 40 tons, meaning that possibilities loom for a lot of carnage if an operator continues to drive when they are too tired to do so and falls asleep behind the wheel.

What Causes Driver Fatigue?

Commercial truck drivers are among the groups of people most likely to be in a fatigue-related crash, along with shift workers, business travelers, and the young and inexperienced. A driver who has been awake for 17 hours, whether or not they drive the entire time, has an impairment level equal to 0.05 on the blood alcohol content scale. After being awake for 24 hours, the impairment level rises to an equivalence of 0.10 on the blood alcohol content scale. For comparison, 0.08 BAC is legally drunk.

Large-truck drivers do receive training in recognizing fatigue. But knowing the facts and doing something about them can be two different things. For example, a driver can feel pressured to keep driving to meet a deadline, especially if they have encountered traffic jams, bad weather, or have been too tightly scheduled by their employer. Also, a driver may not be able to obtain good-quality rest while on a multi-day trip, meaning that their driving abilities can deteriorate quickly. The main reasons that drivers can become fatigued are:

  • They’ve been awake for too many consecutive hours.
  • They are driving at a time when they would normally be sleeping, especially in the early hours of the morning.
  • They are not getting good sleep while on the road. Fatigue can accumulate if the driver is on a multi-day trip.
  • The roads they are driving are boring, providing little mental stimulation.
  • They have an untreated sleep disorder.

Hours-of-Service Regulations

The federal regulations known as hours-of-service, enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and summarized in the Interstate Trucker’s Guide to Hours of Service, control the amount of time that interstate drivers can remain on the road. The federal regulations do not apply to those operators who drive intrastate (only within one state); however, many states have their own version of the federal law.

The hours-of-service regulations must be followed by interstate truck drivers whose tractor-trailer or truck weighs at least 10,001 pounds or carries hazardous materials requiring placards. The regulations can be summarized as follows:

  • Drivers have a daily driving window of 14 hours. The 14-hour period includes time spent driving and time spent not driving—resting, napping, eating, and so on. Within that 14-hour timespan, an operator can drive only 11 hours. After the 14 hours, a driver must stay off the road for at least 10 hours.

Here’s an example of how it works: If a driver spends eight hours behind the wheel, takes two hours for a meal and nap, drives another two hours, then takes a two-hour break, they cannot drive again for at least 10 hours, because their on-duty hours add up to 14 (8 + 2 + 2+ 2 = 14). Even though their driving hours don’t reach the 11-hour limit, they must wait 10 hours before they drive again.

  • In addition to the 14 hours/11 hours driving requirement, drivers can be on-duty in a seven-day work cycle for a maximum of 60 hours or for a maximum of 70 hours in an eight-day work cycle. After the on-duty period of time, a driver must take at least 34 consecutive hours of off-duty time. This is often referred to as the “34-hour restart.” One exception is made for oil-transporting drivers; they are allowed to drive again after 24 consecutive hours of off-duty time.
  • Drivers must take at least a 30-minute break after driving eight hours.
  • In certain unforeseen conditions, such as fog, snow, or an unexpected traffic stoppage, drivers are allowed to drive up to an extra two hours per day. However, conditions cannot be ones that are normally expected (such as a rush-hour traffic jam).
  • Drivers must keep detailed logs showing that they adhered to regulations. These days, logs are often kept electronically.

These regulations are current as of October, 2017. However, trucking companies and other organizations periodically pressure Congress for changes that would enable drivers to stay on the road longer hours, even though the hours-of-service regulations undoubtedly prevent crashes and save lives.

The Hazards of Truck Driver Fatigue

A report released in May, 2011, by FMCSA provides some correlations between the odds of a crash and the number of hours spent behind the wheel. Some of the report’s findings:

  • An increase in the probability of a crash starts with the fifth hour and continues through the 11th hour of driving.
  • The 11th hour has the highest odds of a crash.
  • Drivers who take a break reduce their odds of a crash by 32 percent if they are carrying a full truckload and by 51 percent if they have less than a full truckload.

Truck drivers are responsible for what they do while they are on the job. Violating the hours-of-service requirements can mean that the driver is considered negligent under the law. Even if hours-of-service regulations are obeyed, a driver can be found negligent if it is shown that they were driving when they were too tired to do so safely. In a large-truck crash, both the owner of the truck and the driver’s employer can also be held liable if negligence is found to be a factor on their part. If an hours-of-service regulations violation occurred, and the employer either failed to enforce the regulations or encouraged the driver to violate the regulations, the employer can be found responsible for their negligence.

real-life cases

“B.K.” was driving on a two-lane road one Sunday afternoon with his mother in the front seat and his brother and sister-in-law in the back seat when his life was forever changed. B.K. was struck head on by D.C.

D.C. had spent the day drinking with a friend and had stopped at a restaurant less than five miles from the point of the accident where D.C. had been served several drinks. D.C.’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

As a result of the terrible wreck, B.K. received devastating injuries, which included multiple broken bones, facial fractures, and loss of vision. B.K.’s mother, brother, and sister-in-law were all killed in the accident.

As one would anticipate, D.C. had virtually no insurance. Stephenson, through his thorough and detailed investigation, was able to prepare claims against the restaurant and those that provided the alcohol.

Stephenson pursued dram shop claims against those responsible CASE SUMMARY

D.H. was a competitive bicyclist who was riding in preparation for a cross-country fundraising ride. In the spring of 2010, D.H. was riding across an old steel-grated deck bridge in Shelby County when he hit a hole in the bridge and flipped over the handlebars of his bike. The impact to the bridge decking caused severe injuries to his face, teeth, tongue, and elbow.

Through the investigation, they were able to learn as early as 1998, the bridge inspection reports showed the bridge in question needed to be replaced. The county never authorized additional inspections. The county obtained $844,000 in funding for the replacement of the bridge in 2000, but the Historical Society and adjacent property owners wanted the bridge repaired rather than replaced.

This crash could have been avoided if the inspectors and county had done their jobs. CASE SUMMARY

Our client (“D.W.”) was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle that was struck by a UDF truck making deliveries. D.W. received broken arms and legs, as well as internal injuries. Stephenson was retained by D.W.’s personal counsel to prepare and try the case. Discovery determined that the UDF driver had multiple driving violations. Stephenson retained numerous experts to show the jury the devastating effects of the injuries. Before trial, the defendant’s company stated that a jury in a small southern county in Indiana would never return a verdict for $1 million in this case.

The defendant was correct; the verdict was twice that amount. CASE SUMMARY

When Something Goes Wrong, We Are Left to Wonder

Indiana truck accident cases can be complex legal claims that require thorough investigation and demand aggressive litigation to secure the best possible outcome for the plaintiff. While monetary compensation can never undo the damage done as the result of a truck accident, a financial recovery can ease the financial burdens caused by overwhelming medical bills, loss of income, and disability.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer or other commercial truck, we suggest you talk with Indianapolis truck accident lawyer Mike Stephenson. With more than three decades of experience, substantial financial resources to commit to your case, and a commitment to the highest standards of client care, you can count on Mike. Contact him today by calling 1-317-825-5200 for a free accident consultation, or use our online contact form. At McNeely Stephenson, when others breach their duty, we keep ours.

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