Drinking and driving can be deadly under any circumstances. While driving under the influence is always illegal, it can be even worse when the motorist operates an 80,000-pound truck. Under the best of circumstances, truck drivers need all of their reflexes and skills to control such a massive vehicle. Even one drink can put everyone else on the road in danger. If you or a loved one have suffered an injury due to a truck driver under the influence, their employer may owe you a lot of financial compensation. You should contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible.
Drunk Truck Drivers Are More Common than You Think
According to the National Highway Transit Safety Administration, 3 percent of truck drivers involved in fatal accidents had a blood alcohol content over 0.08 (which is double the legal limit for truck drivers. While not all of these accidents involved drunk truck drivers, there were many incidents in which operators under the influence caused severe injuries or fatalities.
It should go without saying that a truck driver should never drink before getting in their vehicle. However, some think they can handle their alcohol or that the authorities will never catch them. Unfortunately, you and your family may end up paying the price for their grave miscalculation.
The Pressures of the Job or Recklessness May Cause Truck Drivers to Drink
Truck drivers are away from home for extended periods. Many are under extreme pressure from their trucking company and customers who want and need their delivery on time. The combination of loneliness and stress may prompt the truck driver to take an occasional drink. While there is nothing to say that truck drivers cannot have a drink while away from home, they absolutely cannot have alcohol in their system when they get behind the wheel or drink while operating the vehicle.
Truck drivers must follow laws even stricter than those that apply to passenger vehicle drivers. In most states, the legal blood alcohol level is 0.08. For the average person, a 0.08 BAC translates to roughly four drinks. The more a person weighs, the more alcohol they must consume to reach this level.
For truck drivers, the law sets the legal level at 0.04. This lower threshold means that a driver cannot have two drinks before they get on the road. In reality, given the consequences that they will face, it is better that they not even take a chance with one drink.
How Alcohol Affects Truck Drivers
Consuming alcohol can:
- Slow their reflexes (a fully loaded tractor-trailer can take over 500 feet to bring to a complete stop – this is more than one-tenth of a mile)
- Interfere with their ability to read road signs
- Erode their judgment and perceptions to the point where they take unnecessary risks.
- Decrease the driver’s coordination (heavy trucks require extra effort to properly steer and keep in their lane)
Trucking Companies Must Screen and Test Drivers
While the trucker is the one who decides to drink before driving (or while driving), much of the onus to prevent drunk driving trucking accidents falls on the trucking company. Federal regulations impose many requirements on them, both in hiring and screening their drivers.
Before the trucking company even hires the driver, they must perform background screening to learn whether they had any convictions relating to drunk driving. Presumably, the trucking company should not hire a driver with a documented history of driving while intoxicated. If they did hire this driver, they can set themselves up for significant liability if that driver caused an accident while under the influence.
When Trucking Companies Must Test for Alcohol
Once the trucking company has hired the driver, they have ongoing obligations to perform drug and alcohol tests on the operator. The trucking company must have an established program to conduct periodic tests. In addition, the trucking company has a legal obligation to test a driver they suspect may be operating a vehicle while under the influence. Not only does a trucking company face enforcement action if they fail to follow these rules, but it will also make them liable in a lawsuit.
The trucking company has further obligations if its vehicle is involved in an accident that requires towing. When that happens, the trucking company has a practically immediate obligation to test the driver involved for drugs and alcohol. While a large majority of the drivers do not have drugs or alcohol in their system, some of these tests end up positive.
Trucking Companies May Find a Reason Not to Perform Required Tests
Some trucking companies may be afraid to test their drivers because they do not want to know the results. However, if the trucking company cannot test the driver at a time, they must present an explanation to the authorities for why they can not test the driver in time.
If they do not have a valid excuse, they can end up in even more trouble. The trucking company has eight hours to test for alcohol and 32 hours to test for controlled substances. If they cannot carry out the tasks within this time, they must stop all efforts to administer the tests because they can get false readings.
When you have suffered an injury in a drunk driving accident with a truck, your damages will, on average, be much more severe than the average accident. Even a “regular” truck accident will cause more severe injury because of the disparity in weight between the 80,000-pound truck and your passenger vehicle. The damages can be even worse when a drunk truck driver is reckless or does not even make any attempt to avoid the crash.
Common Drunk Driving Truck Accident Injuries
Here are some common injuries that you may suffer in a truck accident:
- Broken bones and fractures
- Soft tissue injuries
- Internal injuries
- Organ damage
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Head injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Cuts and lacerations
How to Win a Drunk Driving Truck Accident Case
To win a truck accident case, you must prove that the truck driver was negligent. If the truck driver pleads guilty to drunk driving, it will be automatic proof of their responsibility for your accident. However, knowing that they can be liable in a civil accident, the truck driver may do everything they can to avoid pleading guilty. Even if the truck driver is convicted when they have pleaded innocent, it is not enough to prove your civil case.
Civil Cases Are Not the Same as Criminal Cases
Your civil case against the truck driver and the trucking company is separate and distinct from any criminal case against them. Even if a court does not convict the truck driver of DUI, you may still be eligible for financial compensation from the trucking company.
There are two different standards of proof in these cases:
- In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the truck driver’s guilt beyond A reasonable doubt. This is roughly equivalent to one hundred percent proof of their guilt.
- In a civil case, your lawyer must prove that the truck driver was negligent by a preponderance of the evidence. This is roughly equivalent to 51 percent proof that your facts are more likely than not to have happened.
The Trucking Company Must Pay Accident Injury Damages
When you have suffered an injury in a drunk-driving truck accident, you can sue the trucking company, so long as the driver was on the job when the accident happened. If they were using the truck for personal transportation, the law does not consider them on the job. Naming a trucking company as a defendant in a suit can increase the size of your settlement.
The trucking company, in a desire to stay in business, likely has a significant insurance policy to protect itself from situations like this. In addition, the trucking company will be responsible for paying you any damages that you have suffered that are above and beyond their insurance coverage. In some cases, these damages can be so high that it may even put the trucking company out of business permanently.
Your damages in a truck accident case can include the following:
- All medical expenses connected with treating your injury
- Property damage to your vehicle
- Lost wages for all of the earnings that you missed out on receiving from your job
- Pain and suffering for both the physical and emotional discomfort that you have dealt with since your accident
- Loss of enjoyment of the life that you had before the accident
- Permanent scarring and disfigurement
Wrongful Death Lawsuits for Drunk Driving Truck Accidents
In addition, a family can file a wrongful death lawsuit if the drunk driving accident kills their loved one. In this case, your personal injury is the death of your loved one.
You can then be paid for all of the damages that you suffered because you lost your family member, including:
- The wages that they will have earned from their job
- The loss of your clothes and love and relationship with your family member
- The loss of the support and guidance that they will have provided
- Your emotional distress and Trauma from the sudden and tragic loss of your family member
When you have suffered an injury from an intoxicated truck driver, you can even get punitive damages from the trucking company. A jury may assess punitive damages when they want to send a message to the defendant that their behavior was well beyond the Norms of society. Punitive damages are what can take a large jury verdict and make it massive.
Punitive damages are one reason why the insurance company may be eager to settle your civil case. If you reach a settlement agreement, the insurance company will not need to pay punitive damages. Only a jury can award you these damages. When a jury sees a severely injured plaintiff who an intoxicated truck driver harmed, they may have a visceral reaction.
Insurance Companies Will Make Your Life More Difficult
Nonetheless, you must go through the insurance company under most circumstances to get the money that you are entitled to for your injuries. If you file an insurance claim, you will need to negotiate the settlement directly with the insurance company. The same holds true if you file a lawsuit because the insurance company has a duty to defend its insured policyholder.
Even when liability for the accident is plainly apparent, the insurance company may still resist paying you what you legally deserve. They are looking at their own balance sheet and profits, and you represent a significant expense that they want to minimize. You will need an experienced attorney to handle your case. A lawyer knows the tactics that the insurance company will use to try to cost you money. Your attorney can counter the insurance company with hardball tactics of your own to maximize your financial compensation. An aggressive truck accident lawyer can take the defendant to task and keep the insurance company from taking advantage of anyone.
There May Be a Lot of Money on the Line
There are high stakes when you have suffered an injury in a drunk-driving trucking accident. The trucking company may potentially owe you a lot of money. Additionally, these companies are often large and have vast resources at their disposal. They often have teams of lawyers working to protect their interests.
You have too much on the line to take any chances. The most considerable risk you may take is trying to handle your truck accident case by yourself. You may end up with pennies on the dollar for serious injuries, allowing the trucking company to essentially get away with it. There is no risk to you and hiring a knowledgeable personal injury attorney, as you will not need to pay anything unless you win your case. Our team of Florida personal injury attorneys at Lucas, Macyszyn & Dyer is here to help in your time of need.