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How to Establish Negligence in a Truck Crash

Trucking accidents can occur suddenly and without any kind of warning in and around Hamilton, Ohio. The larger Cincinnati area is a location on frequent large truck routes. Those routes include major travel in East-West or cross country directions, as well as North-South. Butler County includes a number of major highways, as well as local roads on which big rigs travel. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), large truck accidents often result in serious and deadly injuries due to their size. In fact, as the IIHS underscores, “trucks often weigh 20-30 times as much as passenger cars.” In addition, big rigs “are taller with greater ground clearance, which can result in smaller vehicles underriding trucks in crashes.”

When truck crashes do happen, they often result from the truck driver’s negligence, or from the negligence of another party. In order to be eligible to obtain financial compensation from a truck driver or another liable party, you will need to establish negligence. What is the process for establishing negligence in a truck crash? First, it will be critical to understand what negligence means under Ohio law. Then, it is important to understand how negligence results in truck accidents and who may be liable. In order to prove liability and to win your case, you will need to establish negligence. To establish negligence, you will need to understand the elements of a claim and what evidence can support your case. Finally, it will be important to learn more about issues that may arise, such as contributory fault and the statute of limitations.

What is Negligence?

Ohio law defines negligence as “the failure to exercise the degree of care required of a reasonable and prudent person in any given circumstances resulting in injury or damage to another.” How does this definition apply to truck accident claims and establishing negligence?

Consider when a truck driver is negligent and causes an accident: the truck driver failed to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person driving a truck would have under the circumstances. What if a mechanic’s negligence causes a truck accident? You will need to prove that a reasonable person would believe that the mechanic did not exercise reasonable care. It will be important to establish negligence based on your specific circumstances. Accordingly, you will need to consider who is likely at fault and why, and how a reasonable person would have acted differently under the same or similar circumstances.

Who May be Negligent and Responsible for a Truck Crash in Ohio?

To establish negligence in your case, it will be important to understand who may be negligent. In other words, you should learn more about the parties who may be liable for a truck accident. The particular facts of a case will always matter, and negligence can change from case to case. However, the following are examples of parties who are commonly negligent and responsible for truck crash damages:

  • Truck driver;
  • Employer of the truck driver;
  • Owner of the truck;
  • Designer of a defective truck part;
  • Manufacturer of a defective truck part;
  • Retailer of a defective truck part;
  • Mechanic who serviced the truck;
  • Company that loaded the truck bed; or
  • Owner of the premises where the truck accident happened.

What are the Kinds of Acts or Omissions That May Involve Negligence?

There are many different kinds of acts or omissions associated with a trucking collision that may involve or signal negligence. Some of the most common examples include:

  • Drowsy or fatigued driving, which can include falling asleep at the wheel or being too tired to react to road conditions effectively;
  • Distracted driving, which may include texting or talking on a smartphone, or any other behavior that takes a driver’s eyes or hands or mind off the task of driving;
  • Impaired driving, which may include drunk driving, drugged driving, or even fatigued driving in some situations;
  • Aggressive driving, such as speeding, following too closely, passing on the right, and other traffic violations;
  • Improperly loading a truck bed, leading to a jack-knife accident on the road;
  • Failing to have a truck serviced on a routine schedule;
  • Avoiding a recall notice concerning a defective truck part that requires a repair or replacement;
  • Hiring a truck driver with a history of accidents, intoxicated driving, or safety violations;
  • Designing or manufacturing a dangerous truck or component;
  • Selling a truck that the retailer knows to be defective;
  • Failing to repair a serious hazard on a road way; or
  • Waiting too long to clear debris from a road after a storm.

Drowsy or fatigued driving has long been a serious issue for truck drivers and trucking crashes. Indeed, there are Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours of service regulations. Hours of service regulations are “the maximum amount of time truck drivers are permitted to be on duty including driving time.” In addition, the hours of service regulations specify the number of rest breaks a truck driver must take. Commercial truck drivers are required to abide by these regulations. The specific regulations depend on the type of truck route (short-haul versus long-haul). In addition, there are exceptions for inclement weather.

Elements of a Truck Accident Negligence Claim

Establishing negligence is one critical element of a truck accident claim. What are the elements of a truck collision lawsuit that you will need to prove? Consider the following:

  • Defendant owed you a duty of care;
  • Breach of the duty of care occurred when the defendant acted negligently;
  • Defendant’s negligence was the cause of your injuries; and
  • Damages resulted from your injuries.

As you can see, establishing negligence is essential to win a truck accident lawsuit in most cases. The duty of care is usually relatively easy to prove. If you have sued a driver, you should know that the driver owed others on the road a duty of care simply by driving. Or, for example, a property owner owes a duty of care to others and must maintain their premises in a reasonably safe manner. Establishing negligence will be the second element you need to prove. To establish negligence in a truck crash, you will often be gathering evidence to prove causation, too. For most plaintiffs, it is relatively easy to meet the last required element of damages. If you have evidence of hospital bills, lost wages, and other losses, you can usually prove the final element.

How Can I Gather Evidence to Prove Negligence?

Many ways exist to gather evidence to prove the defendant’s negligence. Some potential options include but are not limited to the following:

  • Document the scene of the truck accident with photographs on your phone;
  • Obtain witness contact information at the scene and rely on witness testimony;
  • Get copies of your medical records;
  • Seek a copy of the police report; and/or
  • Hire an accident reconstruction expert.

How Can I Handle Claims of Contributory Fault and Concerning My Own Negligence?

What should you do if you file a truck accident claim and the defendant suggests you were also negligent? This question raises the issue of contributory fault. Ohio follows what is known as a modified comparative fault rule or contributory fault rule. According to Ohio contributory fault law, even if a plaintiff is negligent in part, that plaintiff may be able to recover damages. Ohio law says that a plaintiff can recover if they are 50% or less at fault. Once a plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, the plaintiff is barred from recovery. When a plaintiff is 50% or less at fault, the plaintiff’s damages award will get reduced by their portion of negligence or fault.

How does this work? Consider, for example, a truck accident lawsuit in which a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and caused a serious accident involving a smaller passenger vehicle. The driver of that smaller passenger vehicle was injured and filed a truck accident lawsuit. However, the truck driver alleges that the passenger vehicle driver (the plaintiff) was following too closely. In fact, the truck driver argues, the plaintiff’s injuries would have been less severe if the plaintiff had left a safe following distance behind the truck. The court hears the case and determines that the plaintiff is 20% at fault.

You should know that a defendant merely raising the issue of contributory fault does not establish your negligence in a truck crash. Rather, the defendant must prove that you are also negligent for this defense to work. As such, you can always provide counter evidence to prove that you were not negligent. Never assume that your damages award will automatically be reduced due to contributory fault.

Does Establishing Truck Accident Negligence Change for a Wrongful Death Case?

Much too often, truck accidents result in fatal injuries. If you lost a loved one in a truck accident, you may be considering a wrongful death claim. At the same time, you may be wondering: is establishing negligence similar in a wrongful death case?

Generally speaking, any evidence that you would gather to prove negligence in a personal injury lawsuit will apply to a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death lawsuits are closely related to personal injury lawsuits. In a personal injury case, the injured party files the claim. When an accident is fatal, however, the injured person cannot file a lawsuit. In those circumstances, Ohio wrongful death law allows the personal representative of the deceased to sue. Indeed, a personal representative (or executor of the deceased’s estate) may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. While the type of claim may differ, establishing negligence will not change.

Can Establishing Negligence Impact the Statute of Limitations in an Ohio Truck Accident Case?

Sometimes it can take a long time to gather the evidence you need to establish negligence in a truck crash. In addition, many truck accident cases begin with an insurance claim. The insurance claims process can drag, and many months or even more than a year can pass. If you are spending a significant amount of time gathering evidence to prove negligence, you should pay attention to the statute of limitations. Ultimately, if establishing negligence takes too long before you file your lawsuit, your claim could become time-barred.

What is the statute of limitations? In a civil lawsuit, the statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a claim. Personal injury lawsuits, including truck accident lawsuits, are types of civil claims. Under Ohio law, most truck accident lawsuits have a two-year statute of limitations. This two-year clock will start to tick on the date of the truck accident. From that point, you will have two years to file your truck accident lawsuit. To be clear, you do not need to gather all evidence to establish negligence before you file. Rather, it will be critical to get your lawsuit filed before the statute of limitations runs out. Once you file your lawsuit, you can continue gathering evidence to establish liability.

As we noted above, there are important ways of gathering evidence to establish liability after you have filed your lawsuit. In particular, the discovery phase of litigation allows you to seek information from the defense. You can use information from depositions, or request documents, in order to establish negligence in a truck crash.

Contact a Trucking Accident Attorney in Butler County, Ohio

Have you been seriously injured in a truck accident in Ohio? Did you recently lose a loved one in a trucking collision caused by negligence? Truck accidents in Ohio and throughout the country can be devastating. Given the large size and weight of big rigs, they often cause debilitating and fatal injuries in collisions with passenger vehicles. Even vehicle occupants in SUVs and other trucks can be seriously harmed in a truck crash. If you or someone you love got hurt, you should seek advice from a Hamilton trucking accident attorney.

An advocate at our firm can evaluate your case today. When we assess your case, we can provide you with more information about the claims process. Contact the law firm of Kruger & Hodges to learn more about the personal injury services we provide. We routinely represent clients in Hamilton and throughout Butler County, Ohio.

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