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truck accidents in Elkton

How Do Semi-Truck Inspection and Maintenance Rules Affect Vehicle Collision Claims?

Many people in Ohio are familiar with the butterfly effect. Seemingly minor occurrences start a chain of events that has drastic consequences later. Large truck maintenance issues are a good example. A fully loaded semi-truck weighs more than 80,000 pounds. Minor steering, brake, or other problems could cause catastrophic injuries. Truck drivers, like all other drivers, have a duty to inspect their vehicles before they drive. Truck drivers have enhanced responsibilities in this area, as outlined below.

Many truck drivers drop the ball in their hurry to deliver their loads on time, Many government inspectors drop the ball for a similar reason. Three years after COVID-19 lockdowns ended, supply chain issues continue to plague the economy. So, some inspectors overlook issues like overweight vehicles to keep large trucks running. They, like many truck drivers, place efficiency and profits above public safety.

When truck drivers and government inspectors fail to protect people, a Hamilton semi accident lawyer assumes this mantle. Personal injury settlements force truck drivers, shipping companies, and government workers to change their approach and put public safety above everything else. Furthermore, these cases compensate victims for their economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Truck Crash Injuries

The sheer size and speed of today’s semi-trucks create so much force in a wreck that no safety restraint system, no matter how advanced it is, can adequately protect vehicle occupants. Common truck crash injuries include:

  • Serious Burns: Diesel fuel and ordinary gasoline burn at different temperatures. Furthermore, due to the aforementioned force in a truck wreck, many victims are pinned underneath flaming rigs until emergency responders can free them. As a result, they often suffer catastrophic burns over most of their bodies.
  • Broken Bones: The force of a truck crash usually shatters bones, especially arm and leg bones. In many cases, such severe fractures permanently impair mobility and range of motion. A broken pelvis or broken rib is even worse. Since these bones protect such vital organs, these broken bones could be life-threatening.
  • Head Injury: An 80,000-pound vehicle is bound to cause lots of head injuries. Like broken bones, head injuries are permanent. Unlike broken bones, head injuries are degenerative. Without prompt and proper treatment, these injuries are usually fatal.

These injuries usually result in sky-high medical bills. For example, these victims usually need treatment at regional burn centers. As a rule of thumb, victims require one day of treatment for every 1% of the body burned. So, burns over 30% of the body require 30 days of treatment. Specialty burn centers are much more expensive than regular hospitals, which is saying quite a bit.

Why Partner With a Hamilton Semi-Accident Lawyer

Quite frankly, victims need money to pay these medical bills. Many group health insurance companies exclude injury-related costs since there is a possibility someone else, usually an employer, might pay that bill. More on that below.

A 30-day hospital bill at a regional burn center could be close to $100,000. This figure does not include prescription drugs, lost wages, property damage, and other economic losses.

Victims need every dime they can get to pay these bills. Attorney-negotiated settlements are over three times higher than non-attorney-negotiated settlements.

The tortfeasor (negligent driver), not a public or private insurance company, should pay these costs. If an insurance company pays, we all pay, in the form of higher taxes and/or premiums. The law stresses personal responsibility. You break it, you buy it.

Speaking of personal responsibility, this concept is at the core of most personal injury claims. Ohio would be an even better place to live if we all readily admitted our mistakes and made things right. In a perfect world, tortfeasors would voluntarily take these steps. But we do not live in a perfect world. So, a Hamilton personal injury lawyer must get involved.

This responsibility includes paying economic losses, as mentioned above, as well as noneconomic losses. We used the “you break it, you buy it” analogy above. Inanimate objects do not suffer emotional distress. But people do. So, compensation for noneconomic losses is part of the compensation in a personal injury case.

Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme cases. Courts award these damages if the victim presents clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded a known risk.

Driver Liability

The duty of care is the foundation of a truck accident case. In Ohio, most truck drivers have a duty of utmost care.

The following distance illustrates the difference between the duty of reasonable care, which applies to most noncommercial motorists, and the duty of utmost care.

Most noncommercial car and truck drivers must stay about two seconds behind the vehicle in front of them. For truckers, the recommended following distance is seven seconds.

Furthermore, noncommercial drivers must avoid accidents. Commercial operators must anticipate them. If Ben sees a car about to make a left turn across traffic, and Ben is a truck driver, he must assume the car will pull out in front of him and act accordingly by reducing his speed or honking.

Common breaches of duty include impaired driving and aggressive driving. Truck drivers often have issues in both areas.

Truck driver fatigue has always been a serious problem. Furthermore, in the name of the aforementioned supply chain issues, government bureaucrats have waived or amended many HOS (hours of service) rules. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level, That’s above the legal limit for commercial drivers in Ohio.

Moreover, to combat the effects of fatigue, many truckers use amphetamines. These drugs work too well. They not only make drivers feel more alert. They also make them feel edgy and suspicious, so their judgment is impaired. Furthermore, when these drugs wear off, these users typically crash hard and fast.

As for aggressive driving, truckers have very slim profit margins. So, they often speed or otherwise drive aggressively, to claim on-time delivery bonuses.

The duty of care for all motorists begins before they get behind the wheel. Noncommercial drivers must be sober, well-rested, and otherwise at their best. Furthermore, before they pull out of their garages, they must briefly inspect their vehicles. When warning lights come on, they must immediately address the problem.

Because of the higher duty of care, truck drivers have additional inspection responsibilities. The pre-departure checklist includes:

  • Walk-around inspections (windows, side mirrors, steps, lights, doors, reflectors, and license plate),
  • Engine compartment (engine components, oil levels, heating and cooling systems),
  • Lights and signals (headlights, high beams, brake lights, hazard and turn signals),
  • Brakes (parking brake, brake pads, fluid and hose),
  • Cab interior (seatbelts, horn, windshield and wipers, airbags, defroster, controls and gauges),
  • Coupling system (electric and airlines, locking jaws, platform, release arm, skid plate, pins and bolts),
  • Trailer (frame, shock absorber, brake chamber and lining, mud flap, slack adjuster and push rod),
  • Tires and tire pressure (axle seals, rims and lug nuts, tire inflation, and air pressure), and
  • Driver documentation (valid commercial license, cargo manifest, daily logs, and medical examination card).

Government safety inspectors have additional responsibilities, such as weighing the vehicle. Furthermore, if a truck or trucker flunks inspection, the officer must act appropriately.

Inspector Liability

It is difficult, but not impossible, to sue city hall. The sovereign immunity doctrine, or official immunity doctrine, often applies in these cases. This same rule usually shields police officers from liability in reckless shooting cases.

However, this doctrine only applies if the inspector was within the law at the time. If inspectors overlook violations, for whatever reason, they’re acting illegally and the sovereign immunity law does not protect them.

Inspectors typically examine the same areas mentioned above in the walk-around inspection. However, state inspectors use mechanical devices to check the truck’s systems. So, the inspection is much more detailed. Inspectors violate the law if they do not properly use the proper diagnostic equipment.

So, the sovereign immunity law has limited applicability. It does not apply at all to ministerial tasks, such as maintaining diagnostic equipment. Inspectors also have a ministerial duty to carry out punishment in accordance with the law.

State inspectors also weigh vehicles. Weight inspection is just as important as systems inspection. Large trucks are hard enough to control as it is. Overweight vehicles are almost impossible to control, especially if the operator is inexperienced.

Vicarious Liability

A third party, usually a shipping company or the State of Ohio, is responsible for damages in both invalid inspection and inadequate maintenance cases, at least in most situations. The respondeat superior rule holds employers financially responsible for damages if their employees are negligent during the course and scope of employment.

Ohio law recently changed on this point, making respondeat superior broader than ever before. Until recently, the law narrowly defined the scope of employment. A regular delivery driver on their regular delivery route was acting within the scope of employment. Respondeat superior did not apply if the driver was a substitute or the driver was on break.

Now, any act that benefits the employer in any way is within the course and scope of employment.

Respondeat superior also complicates an already complex case. Shipping and transportation companies are usually out-of-state conglomerates. Special rules apply to government defendants, as mentioned above.

Rely on a Diligent Butler County Lawyer

Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Hamilton, contact Kruger & Hodges, Attorneys at Law by going online or calling 513-894-3333. Virtual, home, and hospital visits are available.

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