North Carolina Trucking Accident Act

Semi-trailers and other large commercial vehicles ply the highways and our local roads daily to deliver consumer goods across the country.

With so many trucks, including 18-wheelers, semi-trailers, flatbeds, dump trucks and box trucks, accidents happen on the roads. Hundreds of thousands of large truck accidents occur each year in the United States, with around 510,000 reported in 2019 alone. These accidents resulted in 114,000 injuries and nearly 4,500 deaths in the same year. Tragically, the frequency of fatal heavy vehicle crashes has only increased over time nationwide, jumping 29% from 2010 to 2019.

It only takes a moment for an 18-wheeled vehicle to collide with another vehicle. A truck driver may experience a moment of distraction or fatigue after a long journey. The tractor-trailer may have defective brakes, improper safety equipment, or a defective tire. The driver of the truck can drive at high speed in bad weather and dangerous driving conditions.

The physical, mental and emotional impact of these catastrophic accidents can last a lifetime for survivors and their families. This is why it is important to be aware of the types of legal issues involved if you or a loved one find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being involved in a truck accident.

Liability and damages

As with other bodily injury cases, an injured person is only entitled to recover damages from a truck driver or a trucking company if the driver or the trucking company were “liable. Of the accident. The driver or the trucking company must have been “negligent” in causing the accident, and such negligence must have “proximately caused” the injury to the person.

Of course, sometimes an accident is the fault of more than one party. North Carolina is one of the few states to still recognize the common law rule of “contributory negligence”. This rule provides that if the injured party negligently contributes to the collision, even up to only 1%, the injured party cannot recover from the other party at all. This is a tough rule that most other states have done away with. However, North Carolina also recognizes exceptions to the rule, such as the “obvious last chance” doctrine (showing that the other driver had the last chance to avoid the accident) and possibly when the other driver is “seriously negligent.”

If the contributory negligence rule does not apply, or if one of the exceptions to the rule does apply, the injured party is able to recover all damages “proximately caused” by the negligence of the truck driver ( or the trucking company). Such damages may include the cost of repairing or replacing damaged physical property, medical bills, future medical bills, lost wages, decreased future income, pain and suffering, scarring or disfigurement, loss of use of a body part or the permanence associated with any persistent injury.

The purpose of bodily harm is to make the injured party “whole”. This is obviously impossible after a serious or catastrophic loss, but the law does its best to award pecuniary damages to compensate, as closely as possible, the loss of an injured person. Thus, the responsible truck driver, the driver’s employer, his insurance company or other responsible party may be required to pay damages for all such losses.

Subjects involved in trucking cases

The trucking business can be particularly complicated given both the particular factual issues and the legal issues that may apply.

First, there may be more parties involved in a truck accident than in a typical auto accident. The driver of the truck, of course, may be at fault. Truck drivers can be self-employed, independent contractors working for a particular company, or employees of a company.

If the driver of the truck is an employee, the driver’s employer may also be liable for the driver’s actions based on the concept of vicarious liability, which in legal terms is referred to as the senior respondent doctrine. Vicarious liability may also apply in certain non-employee situations.

The trucking company may also have independent legal liability if it hired an unfit driver or allowed that driver to continue working for the company after the company knew the driver was unfit. If the facts are sufficiently flagrant, the injured party can claim punitive damages (additional damages intended to punish the driver and / or the employer).

It is also important to determine the owner (s) of the truck, trailer and cargo. (These may be different from each other and different from the driver or the trucking company.) In addition, it is important to analyze whether other parties can be held responsible, including other drivers on the roadway at the time of the accident or even the state and locality. governments that may have allowed the existence of dangerous road conditions which also led to the accident.

There may be laws that apply to trucking cases that do not apply to automobile accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) regulates the trucking industry and sets specific rules for the condition of trucks, their cargo, inspections, driver qualifications, the number of hours a driver can pass on the road and other matters. There may also be state or local laws applicable to commercial trucks (as long as federal law does not override those laws).

If a lawsuit stems from a trucking accident, the litigation process can be complicated. There is a large amount of electronic documents and information that must often be requested and analyzed during the “discovery” process. This may include property information, tracking systems / data (including GPS), daily logs, alcohol and drug test results, inspection reports, maintenance and repair records. repair, federal returns, freight and freight records, employment documents and records, internal policies and more. Documentation. It may also be necessary to retain the services of experts, such as accident reconstruction specialists.

Moreover, time is really of the essence in these cases. Once a truck is back on the road after a crash, electronic crash data can be compromised. As such, it is important to hire a lawyer as soon as possible, so that the lawyer can involve the rest of the experts necessary to find and preserve key electronic evidence.

As with other personal injury cases, liability insurance plays an important role. Federal law requires trucking companies to obtain certain levels of insurance that are generally much higher than the levels required for drivers and automobile owners. However, if the insurance available is insufficient to cover the losses of the injured party or does not cover some type of damage (such as punitive damages), the offending party will be individually liable. In addition to liability insurance, there may be short-term med pay coverage available, regardless of the fault, to help with medical bills.


If you are involved in an accident involving a commercial truck, including, but not limited to, an “18 wheeler,” you may have a viable legal claim, depending on who was “at fault” for the accident. If you have a claim, the dollar value of your claim will depend on the injuries involved and the damages that may be legally recoverable.

An experienced lawyer who knows how to handle these matters can help resolve these issues and navigate such a difficult situation, especially if time is of the essence. This can help you or a family member recover the full available damages when the trucking accident is someone else’s fault.

© 2021 Ward and Smith, PA For more information on the issues described above, please contact Taylor B. Rodney Where Jeremy M. Wilson.

This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact. No action should be taken on the basis of the information in this article without obtaining the advice of a lawyer.

We are your established legal network with offices in Asheville, Greenville, New Bern, Raleigh and Wilmington, NC.

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