Why Hire a Trucking Attorney?
Wrecks involving tractor trailers, semis, big rigs, 18 wheelers, and other commercial vehicles often cause severe injury or death. A fully loaded tractor trailer is massive, weighing up to 80,000 pounds. The energy contained in these huge vehicles travelling at 70+ mph is enormous. They are slow to accelerate, slow to decelerate, and they require extra time and space to change lanes, to complete turns, to clear intersections, and to maneuver. Trucking cases are different and require a higher level of expertise, commitment and resources to handle. Very few lawyers have the necessary experience, ability and resources to properly handle these cases.
In addition to the obvious differences between a tractor trailer and a passenger car, here are some of the other factors that make truck wreck cases very different from the typical car wreck case:
- Commercial drivers are supposed to be screened, qualified and professionally trained;
- Different laws apply, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations;
- The cases are aggressively investigated and defended by trucking companies and their lawyers;
- Insurance coverage requirements are different and there may be complicated multiple layers of coverage;
- Much more is at stake than in the typical car wreck case.
Trucking companies often have rapid response teams already enroute to the scene of a wreck while the injury victims are being evaluated in the emergency room at the nearest trauma center. Those teams often include defense lawyers, as well as investigators who are collecting evidence, taking photos, interviewing witnesses and downloading data from the truck’s black box.
Lawyers for the victim and/or his/her family have to respond quickly, as well, acting swiftly to prevent spoliation or loss of critical evidence, including securing and inspecting the victim’s vehicle, downloading data from the ECM, demanding the data downloads from the tractor trailer, arranging for inspection of the tractor trailer, photographing the scene, and obtaining 911 calls, post-accident vehicle inspections and other official records, as well as interviewing witnesses and securing cooperation of law enforcement personnel. In many cases, an accident reconstruction expert needs to be retained early in the process to inspect vehicles and interpret the data.
Working knowledge of and experience with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) are critical. Was the truck driver properly trained to deal with speed, space management and hazardous conditions? Was the truck driver fatigued, distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Was the cargo properly secured? Did the trailer meet the minimum standards of FMCSR?
A commercial truck driver can and should be held to a higher standard of care than the driver of an ordinary passenger car or pickup truck. For instance, FMCSR § 392.14, requires a commercial driver to exercise extreme caution and to reduce speed when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. And, FMCSR § 392.3 prohibits the operation of a commercial motor vehicle while the driver’s ability or alertness is impaired, or so likely to become impaired, due to fatigue, illness, or any other cause, so as to make it unsafe for him/her to operate the tractor trailer.
What is a Trucking Attorney?
In the United States, any licensed attorney is authorized to represent a person in a case arising in the state where the attorney practices. However, you would not ask your family doctor to perform brain surgery on yourself or a family member, and you should not expect your “family” lawyer, or the lawyer who prepared your will or handled your divorce, to have the level of expertise and experience required for a complex trucking lawsuit. A trucking attorney is an experienced trial lawyer who focuses on serious and complex cases involving tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles, and has the credentials and track record to back it up.
Check out any attorney you are considering, and ask questions. How many such cases has the law firm handled? What is their track record? Are they prepared to advance the money necessary to hire an accident reconstruction expert early in the case? Do they know who to call to get the ECM data from the car? Do they know how to obtain post-accident inspection reports from state authorities? Are they prepared to travel all over the country take necessary depositions of the driver, the safety director, or the company CEO? Do they know how to find and retain such other experts as the case may require, such as conspicuity experts, biomechanical experts and safety experts?
The Hamilton Firm LLC focuses exclusively on the representation of injured and disabled persons, and the spouses and families those who have died in serious accidents. Hubert E. Hamilton is a member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation Group, and serves on the National Advisory Board of the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America. Patrick A. Cruise is also an AAJ member and a member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys. Both have extensive experience with trucking cases. Annette T. Kelley joined the firm in 2012 after years of experience defending insurance companies and has brought her knowledge and expertise to our trucking practice, achieving outstanding results in cases involving tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles.
Bisected by the Tennessee River, bordering Georgia and Alabama, at the junction of three interstate highways, including the heavily traveled I-75 corridor, Chattanooga, Tennessee is both a historic railroad town and a modern transportation hub. I-24 begins in Chattanooga running northwest toward Nashville, TN. I-59 also begins just outside Chattanooga and runs south toward Birmingham, AL. To the south, toward Atlanta along I-75, lies Dalton, GA a world center for the carpet and flooring industry. Chattanooga’s diversified economy includes the Volkswagen North American assembly plant, as well as insurance giants Blue Cross Blue Shield and Unum. Chattanooga is also a major tourist destination attracting millions of visitors each year. As a result, The Hamilton Firm LLC focus much of its work on representation of persons injured in trucking and transportation related cases as well as serious workplace injury cases.
Chattanooga is the headquarters for two of the nation’s major trucking companies, U.S. Xpress and Covenant Transport. And as crossroads city, Chattanooga ranks first in the nation among all metropolitan cities for the volume of freight moving through the city by truck (according to a recent freight study by Cambridge Systematics and reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press). Problem areas include the interchanges as well as the entire section of I-24 from I-59 to I-75, and I-75 north to Cleveland, TN. Tractor trailers, while essential to a thriving economy, also present great risks to the traveling public if not operated safely by well trained professional drivers with well maintained equipment.
Chattanooga is also a rail hub for Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads. Travel, transport and commerce by water, rail and road are essential to our lives and economy, but all the economic activity also brings traffic and congestion, which can lead to more wrecks, accidents and injuries. This can be a volatile mix when combined with the high freight volume on tractor trailers traveling through or originating in the area.