Even though trucking companies are supposed to screen prospective commercial truck drivers closely, there are far too many drunk driving accidents caused by large trucks.
Given the sheer size of these vehicles, those injured in these accidents will suffer serious injuries and possibly death. Not only will the drunk driver be held criminally responsible, but you can also pursue legal action against the trucking company.
Call Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers for a free consultation if you or a loved one have been injured when a truck driver was drinking and driving. Our truck accident attorneys have experience prosecuting cases involving accidents caused by drunk truck drivers.
Statistics on Accidents Caused by Drunk Truck Drivers
Overall, roughly one out of every three motor vehicle accident fatalities involve drunk driving. The statistics about drunk truck driving are frightening.
In 2018, the NHTSA reported that almost 5,000 large trucks were involved in fatal drunk driving accidents. 2% of fatal truck crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
To be clear, in some of these cases, it was the drunk truck driver themselves who died in the accident. Nonetheless, the rate of truck driver DUI is proof that even tougher laws do not always work.
How Alcohol Impacts Commercial Drivers
Research shows the impact that an elevated blood alcohol content will have on a driver. The effects of alcohol can include:
- Impaired judgment– alcohol impacts a driver’s ability to think clearly and in a timely manner. They are not able to think their actions through and make proper decisions. Drivers under the influence of alcohol are far more likely to take risks than other motorists.
- Impaired vision– drivers under the influence of alcohol may also have difficulty seeing as alcohol affects the muscles in the area of the eyes. Even if drivers can see what is directly in front of them, they may struggle with peripheral vision. This is exceptionally dangerous for a truck driver who must see a large area surrounding the truck, where there are plenty of blind spots.
- Slower reflexes and decrease in muscle coordination– alcohol affects the part of the brain that controls the muscles, resulting and slower reflexes and lowered ability to control muscles. At 65 miles per hour, a truck takes almost twice as long as a car to bring to a complete stop, so slower reflexes are a particular hazard when driving a truck
In general, impaired drivers may be too relaxed because of the alcohol and can struggle to concentrate. Under any circumstances, truck drivers need to be able to fully concentrate because they are driving a large and dangerous vehicle.
There Are Stricter Laws Regarding Intoxicated Driving of Trucks
In most states throughout the country, the legal limit for a driver of a passenger vehicle is .08. Given how dangerous large trucks are, there are much tougher laws for truck drunk driving. The maximum blood alcohol content for truck drivers is .04.
To place that into context, the average American can reach a .04 blood alcohol content with a little more than one drink. Therefore, truck drivers have to be incredibly careful when consuming any alcohol before driving.
If truck drivers are charged with drunk driving, the consequences for them will be severe. A DUI conviction will lead to a one-year suspension of their commercial driver’s license (CDL).
In addition, future employers will see their driving record and may hesitate to hire them in light of their potential liability for the truck driver’s actions. It is not a stretch to say that a drunk driving arrest and conviction could end a truck driver’s career.
Testing for Alcohol and Illegal Drugs
Federal regulations require that a trucking company test its drivers for drugs and alcohol at certain times. First, new CDL drivers must be tested for drugs when their employment begins. The trucking company can test drivers for alcohol if their policy is to test everyone.
In addition, the company must also test employees when they are suspected of breaking federal rules about drugs and alcohol. Further, the company must have a random testing program when they select a group of drivers to test. They must conduct random tests once each year. If drivers are caught breaking a federal rule, they must undergo a rigorous testing process before they can return to work.
Finally, trucking companies must test a truck driver if they have been involved in a crash with fatalities or have received a traffic citation in a crash that involves injuries. They must test for alcohol within eight hours of the accident and administer a drug test within 32 hours.
The Dangers of Drunk Truck Drivers
Commercial trucks are massive vehicles. It takes training, skill, and concentration to operate these large trucks. Even one momentary lapse can cause the driver to lose control of the truck and crash into other vehicles in the vicinity.
Many of these accidents will have deadly consequences. In any truck crash, the occupant of the passenger vehicle involved runs a high risk of serious injury. The risks are magnified when the truck driver is drunk because the operator is more likely to be speeding or driving recklessly. There is less of a chance that they will take any action to minimize the severity of an imminent action before it happens.
Injuries in a Drunk Driving Accident Victims
Given the size disparity between large trucks and a car, and the passenger vehicle’s inability to evade a drunk truck driver, motorists will likely suffer serious injuries in a drunk driving accident.
These injuries can include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Broken bones
- Internal injuries and organ damage
- Neck and back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
Many of these injuries will remain with the accident victim for the rest of their life. Many people will never be the same again after they have been injured in a truck accident.
Suing a Trucking Company for Damages
When a commercial vehicle causes an accident, the trucking company that employs the driver is legally responsible for what the driver has done. In personal injury law, an employee is the agent of the company.
If the employee is negligent, the company is also considered to be negligent. An employee and the company for which they work are the same legal entity for purposes of liability. The failure of the employee to exercise proper care and follow the law becomes the legal obligation of their employer.
Trucking companies have large insurance policies to pay for the damages that their drivers cause. If the insurance policy is not enough to cover the damages, then the accident victim can go after the trucking company’s assets.
Damages in a Drunk Driving Truck Accident
If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident with a drunk truck driver, you may be entitled to payment for the following:
- Medical expenses (proven by using your medical records)
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
Wrongful Death Damages for Fatal Accidents
Many large truck accidents will cause fatalities. In a fatal crash, the family of the deceased accident victim has a legal right to compensation for their own losses.
The wrongful death laws in their state will dictate who can file a wrongful death lawsuit and how the proceeds of the lawsuit are divided.
Families can recover the following damages:
- Lost wages that their loved one would have earned had they lived and been able to work
- Emotional trauma and grief that they have suffered from losing a loved one
- The loss of a close and loving relationship with their family member
Punitive Damages for Reckless Actions
In most accidents involving commercial trucks, punitive damages are rare. When a jury hits the defendant with a verdict that includes punitive damages, it does so to send a message to the defendant.
They want to punish them for conduct that grossly departs from the norm. These damages are not awarded often in personal injury cases.
However, when there is a drunk truck driver involved, there is a higher possibility that a jury would be angered to the point that they would award punitive damages. The anger level could be even higher when the trucking company did nothing to test or screen the driver.
Here is where you need an experienced truck accident lawyer who knows how to obtain the corporate records necessary to show that the trucking company did not do what it was supposed to with regard to alcohol screening and testing.
Note that an insurance company will not pay punitive damages in a drunk truck accident case. Punitive damages can only be awarded by a jury. The prospect of a large punitive damages award can force the insurance company’s hand.
The Insurance Company May Still Be Difficult
The insurance company and their trucking company policyholder have quite a bit on the line when a truck driver has caused an accident under the influence of alcohol.
The employer is potentially looking at a so-called “nuclear verdict” that could endanger their very existence. The insurance company is looking at a settlement that could reach the policy maximum.
Nonetheless, you should not expect the insurance company to be cooperative, even when the trucker’s liability is very apparent. They may still try to save money by settling your claim for less than it is worth. Therefore, you need a truck accident lawyer to negotiate compensation on your behalf.
How a Criminal Conviction Impacts Your Civil Lawsuit
Police will show up at the accident scene and arrest the driver. They will face criminal charges for driving drunk, and the penalties will be even greater when their actions have caused either severe bodily injury or death.
Truck drivers must be very careful when they are facing drunk driving charges. On one hand, they may want to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor to obtain a lighter sentence. On the other hand, if they plead guilty, they will be civilly responsible for the damages as well.
If the driver is convicted of the charges without pleading guilty, the conviction is not admissible as evidence. However, if they were acquitted of drunk driving charges, it does not mean that you will lose your civil case because there is a lower burden of proof in a civil case than in a criminal one.
Call a Truck Accident Lawyer to Recover Compensation
If you or a loved one have been injured by a commercial truck driver who was driving over the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation.
The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers will handle your individual case with diligence and dedication as we work to ensure that the trucking company is held liable for what their driver did.
As a new client, call us today at (888) 424-5757 or contact us online to schedule a free case review that could lead to an attorney-client relationship.