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Hell on 18 Wheels: Crashes Involving Semi-Trucks

How to build a case if you were in an accident with a commercial vehicle in West Virginia

Any kind of motor vehicle crash can result in serious injury or death. But when there is a collision between a passenger vehicle and a commercial truck, the consequences often disproportionately fall on the occupants of the smaller vehicle. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 74 percent of people injured in large-truck crashes (and 82 percent of fatalities) were “occupants of other vehicles” besides the 18-wheeler.

“When you’re running that kind of tonnage, most of the people who get injured in that type of collision are incapacitated,” says Jeffery L. Robinette, a personal injury attorney at Robinette Legal Group in Morgantown. “It’s not like you just get out of your vehicle and exchange information.”

Establishing facts in semi-truck collision case

Semi-truck accidents in West Virginia may be the result of many factors, including driver negligence, defective equipment, failure to follow proper safety procedures, improperly loaded cargo, or the acts of a third party that interfered with the truck's operation. In many cases, it is not immediately obvious what caused the accident.

“These accidents happen on four-lane interstates, when it’s foggy, wet, icy—when somebody loses control in front and the tractor-trailer doesn’t have adequate time to break or avoid,” adds Robinette.

Victims are often pressured by the trucking companies—and their insurance companies—to accept a quick payout before all the facts are known. Of course, you should always consult with a qualified West Virginia personal injury lawyer before agreeing to any settlement.

There are several things to keep in mind if you have been involved in a commercial trucking accident:

  • Preservation of evidence is key. Trucking companies are prepared for accidents. It is part of their business model. A truck owner is likely to have investigators (and even attorneys) on the scene before the police have a chance to clear the accident wreckage. It is during this critical period that evidence may be lost or destroyed before the victim even has a chance to review it.
  • Multiple parties may be liable for damages. Most big truck drivers do not own their vehicles. They are often employees or independent contractors for trucking companies. In addition, the cargo itself may belong to a different company. And if the accident was the result of mechanical failure, any number of parts manufacturers may be responsible for at least some of your injuries.
  • Driver Negligence Can Take Many Forms. As with any traffic accident, a big rig driver who fails to obey the rules of the road or operates his or her vehicle under the influence of alcohol is considered per se negligent in West Virginia. But with commercial truckers, one also needs to consider negligence arising from driving too long without adequate rest breaks. And in some cases, drivers may not have received proper training on how to safely handle their vehicles.
  • Carefully Scrutinize Trucking Company Records. All trucking companies have written policies governing maintenance and safety practices. Of course, having a policy is one thing; following it is something different. It is important to compare the letter of a company's policies with its actual behavior. It is not uncommon in West Virginia commercial truck accident cases for a company to falsify or “misplace” records, including commercial driver's licenses. This again is where having a West Virginia personal injury attorney who is skilled and knowledgeable in handling 18-wheeler accident cases can prove invaluable.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of personal injury, trucking accidents, and car accidents.

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