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Why truck accidents are different than car crashes

April 7, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Experienced Michigan truck accident attorney says stakes are higher with crashes involving trucks

Personal injury lawyers in Michigan who handle a variety of injury cases often make a huge mistake. The tendency of most lawyers is to treat truck accident cases the same as they would a car accident case, just with higher insurance policy limits. These personal injury lawyers make this mistake because the underlying Michigan No-Fault laws for collecting PIP benefits and filing deadlines are the same (one year to file for No-Fault insurance benefits and three years to file for a pain and suffering lawsuit).

But there are critical differences that separate truck accident lawsuits from car accidents. Take a look at the differences below:

Truck accidents have different laws

There are specific federal and state laws that apply to truck accident lawsuits that do not apply to car accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations govern all trucks engaged in interstate traffic. The Michigan Department of Public Safety has adopted the federal regulations, so the national laws apply to all intra-state trucks driving on Michigan roads.

These regulations have special requirements of trucking companies and truck drivers that do not apply to people who drive ordinary passenger cars. Many general practice attorneys and even personal injury lawyers don’t know this, and they miss critical evidence that can prove liability or increase damages compensation when trucking companies knowingly violate mandatory safety laws and important rules of the road.

Truck accidents are more likely to cause serious injury and death

A large truck weighs 80,000 pounds. So crashes involving large commercial trucks are more likely to result in catastrophic injury and death than car accidents, simply because of a truck’s mass and larger size. It comes down to basic physics, but this is physics that kill almost 5,000 Americans every year.

There can be more liable parties in truck accidents

A truck driver who causes a serious crash when driving a tractor trailer isn’t the only liable party in a truck accident lawsuit. In fact, as a lawyer who may have tried more of these truck accident crashes to verdict than any other lawyer in Michigan, I can say that most of these cases don’t center around the truck driver at all. These cases usually center around the trucking company, and how that company usually forces the truck driver to break important safety rules, or skip maintenance, or knowingly put defective trucks on the road, or threaten drivers to speed when carrying a “hot load” or drive way over the hours of service.

Most personal injury lawyers never focus past the simple basics of the crash itself, and never look beyond the driver or engage in legal discovery to see what role the company played. A smart lawyer who has a responsibility to protect his client or the estate if a spouse or child was killed has to consider other sources of insurance, such as load brokers and shippers.

Too often, inexperienced general attorneys and even many injury lawyers look past these additional parties. When there are catastrophic injuries or a tragic death from a truck accident, the failure of lawyers who are unfamiliar with the laws or MCS-90 requirements can result in losing additional insurance that could have compensated a seriously injured accident victim or the surviving family of the estate in a wrongful death action.

Trucking companies have deep(er) pockets

Many large trucking companies have extensive resources dedicated to defending negligent trucking companies and drivers who cause terrible accidents. Often in my bigger and more tragic cases, I see rapid response teams that insurance companies deploy to the scene of a serious truck accident. These teams of lawyers, investigators, and claims adjusters arrive within hours.

But why?

The answer is that the stakes are higher. The insurance that these interstate trucks have to carry is far higher than what most ordinary drivers carry.

By law, interstate trucks are required to have at least $750,000 in insurance. Many trucking companies have multiple layers of insurance that can add up to many millions.

Trucking companies are also required to keep records that ordinary drivers do not, but be careful because after a short period of time, these important records can be legally destroyed. Inexperienced personal injury attorneys often fail to inspect, let alone request these critical records during legal discovery. Millions of dollars can be lost this way.

Large truck companies have deep resources to defend these cases in court and have experienced defense lawyer teams. It’s important that your own accident have the same resources and experience to protect you when the stakes are high.

Steven Gursten is head of Michigan Auto Law and one of the top truck attorneys in the U.S. He is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group, and has received the top-reported jury verdict in Michigan for a truck accident case, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his work to promote national truck safety.

Related information to protect yourself:

Support for injured truck drivers

Things to know after a Michigan truck accident

Help for attorneys handling truck cases

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (248) 353-7575 or to speak with one of our Michigan truck attorneys today.

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