Accidents involving commercial trucks—also known as semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, or big-rigs—can result in serious and even catastrophic injuries, leaving victims wondering how to make ends meet. If you have been injured in an accident with a semi, South Carolina law allows you to recover damages through a legal claim known as a truck accident lawsuit. The South Carolina personal injury lawyers at the Hughey Law Firm are standing by to help you. Read on for more information about how we can help you recover damages. Read on to learn more about truck accidents, what causes them, and compensation that may be available to the injured.
About the Hughey Law Firm’s South Carolina Truck Accident Law Firm
More than 4,000 fatal crashes take place each year in the United States that involve a commercial motor vehicle, and around 344,000 crashes result in injuries. Around 63% of all fatal commercial truck crashes involve two vehicles, and more than half of these crashes occur on a rural roadway or interstate. The vast majority of truck crashes take place on a weekday (Monday through Friday), and they are more likely to happen during the nighttime hours. Fatalities in accidents involving commercial trucks are more likely for the occupants of passenger cars than the truck driver.
Accidents like this take place all the time in South Carolina—and when they do, the Hughey Law Firm is here to help the victims recover compensation when someone else’s negligence caused the accident. In fact, we’ve recovered about $150 million in judgments and settlements for our clients since Nathan Hughey founded the Hughey Law Firm in 2007.
The Hughey Law Firm is proud of our results in truck accident cases. We have recovered:
- $5.425 million when our client suffered catastrophic injuries after a truck collided with his pickup.
- $2.025 million when our client was injured after a truck collided with his motorcycle.
- $750,000 when our client was injured due to highway defect.
- $264,204 when a tire on the defendant’s truck separated and crossed the center line, colliding with our client’s vehicle.
These past results don’t guarantee future successes—the results will always depend on the facts in each individual case. Each case must be evaluated on its own merits. Still, we think they demonstrate how hard we work to build successful cases and fight for every penny that our clients deserve.
How the Hughey Law Firm Helps Our South Carolina Clients
Accidents involving commercial trucks often result in catastrophic injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, and internal damage. These injuries are not only expensive to treat, but can be life-altering, sometimes resulting in permanent disability and the need for a lifetime of medical and personal care to address complications from the injury and to assist the person with tasks that they can no longer do on their own.
That’s why you need to seek the guidance of an experienced South Carolina truck accident attorney at the Hughey Law Firm when pursuing compensation for your injury-related expenses.
A truck accident attorney can provide you with services that include:
- Establishing a value to your case. Your case’s value is the amount of out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred related to your injury, as well as financial compensation for the negative impacts your injuries have on your life.
- Determining all liable parties and associated insurance resources. In truck accidents, liability is often a complicated thing. While the truck driver may be liable for causing the accident, the company that they work for may also be liable, because the driver was representing the company at the time the accident occurred, and the company is tasked with ensuring that its drivers have clean driving records and are properly trained for the job. Other drivers on the roadway, who may not have been involved but whose actions led to the crash, might also be liable for damages, as may the entity or individual who performed maintenance on the truck, or the maker or distributor of a defective auto part that led to the crash.
- Discovering and collecting evidence that will help prove liability and damages in your case. Truck accident cases involve a lot of evidence that must be obtained quickly from the trucking company to ensure that it is not lost or destroyed. Your accident attorney will know what evidence needs to be gathered and how to obtain that evidence.
- Engaging in skilled negotiation with representatives of the trucker’s insurance company. Insurance companies are out to make a profit and do not always engage in fair negotiations. An attorney has experience dealing with insurance companies, and can work to obtain a fair settlement on your behalf.
- Providing thoughtful guidance about the pros and cons of any settlement offer. Once the insurance company makes a settlement offer, your attorney can assist you in making an informed decision about whether or not to accept the offer.
- Representing you at all pre-trial hearings and conferences.
- Assisting you in collecting your settlement or award.
- Continuing to represent you if the defendant files an appeal.
In most cases, you must file your truck accident lawsuit within three years of the date of the accident that caused your injuries. The compensation you can seek through this legal process includes damages such as:
- Medical expenses, including emergency medical treatment at the scene or at the emergency department, transport to the hospital by ambulance or air, hospitalization, diagnostic testing, physician’s services, surgical services, prescription medication, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. You can also claim your expenses for a prosthesis or mobility device such as a walker or wheelchair, and related home modifications.
- Lost wages resulting from being too injured to work or missing work to attend medical appointments.
- Loss of future earning capacity if your injury results in a permanent disability that renders you unable to work or to continue working in the same capacity as you did before the accident.
- Property damage, including the replacement or repair of your vehicle.
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional or mental distress.
- Lost enjoyment of life.
- Lost companionship or support.
- Punitive damages, in cases where the defendant’s behavior that caused the accident was particularly reckless.
Why Are South Carolina Truck Accidents so Dangerous?
Commercial trucks are extremely large vehicles, often weighing 20 to 30 times more than the average passenger car. A truck’s size creates difficulty with maneuvering and increases the danger to the occupants of other vehicles, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists, in the case of an accident.
Some of the features that make trucks so dangerous include:
- Blind spots: A blind spot is an area around the vehicle that the driver cannot see by using their rear or side view mirrors. Commercial trucks have significant blind spots on all four sides, particularly along the passenger side. Blind spots pose a danger to others as the driver can’t see smaller vehicles, pedestrians, or bicyclists and may forget that someone is alongside them when changing lanes or making a turn.
- More distance required for stopping: Stopping a vehicle is not an instantaneous thing. It takes time and distance for the braking system to slow and stop the vehicle’s forward motion. The heavier the vehicle, the more distance it needs to stop safely. This distance can be increased by wet or slick roadways. A truck is a particularly large vehicle that needs long distances to stop safely, which poses a hazard to others on the road if a truck driver chooses to tailgate. Problems can also arise when vehicles misjudge the truck’s speed and pull out in front of it.
- Wide turns: A truck’s size also impacts the truck driver’s ability to turn the vehicle. Most commercial trucks bear signage that warns other drivers that the vehicle makes wide turns. However, an unaware motorist may find themselves trapped between the truck and the curb, or stuck in the way at an intersection as the truck swings widely to complete its turn.
- Higher ground clearance: Commercial trucks have higher ground clearance, which can result in an often deadly situation known as an underride, in which a smaller vehicle slides under the rear of the truck during a rear-end accident.
- Higher center of gravity: Commercial trucks also have a higher center of gravity that makes them prone to rolling over while going around a corner, a sharp curve in the roadway, or when performing collision avoidance maneuvers. Smaller vehicles can be crushed beneath the tractor-trailer as it rolls or are at risk of colliding with a rolled truck when coming around a blind corner.
What Causes Truck Accidents?
As with all traffic accidents, human error is the leading cause of truck accidents. While the trucking industry is heavily regulated by federal and state governments, there is still room for truck driver error.
Some common truck driver errors include:
- Fatigued driving: In spite of hours of service regulations that dictate how many hours a truck driver can be on-duty before taking a break, studies conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimate that driver fatigue is a factor in about 13% of all accidents involving commercial motor vehicles. Some of the reasons for this include the fact that many drivers drive during the nighttime hours, which is when the body is biologically programmed to sleep, as well as the fact that many truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea, a breathing condition in which a person’s breathing temporarily pauses during sleep, often dozens to hundreds of times during a single six- to eight-hour period of sleep.
- Impairment: Truck drivers are subject to regular drug and alcohol screenings as a condition of their employment. Unfortunately, many drivers still choose to indulge in alcohol and illegal substances while on the job. Additionally, drivers may become impaired due to prescription or over-the-counter medications.
- Distracted driving: Truck drivers journey hundreds of miles and spend many hours on the road each day, while being subject to the same distractions as other drivers. Some common driver distractions include texting and other cell phone use, adjusting vehicle or GPS controls, eating or drinking, billboards, and work zone activity.
- Speeding: As previously stated, the massive size of a tractor-trailer means that it needs more distance than the average passenger vehicle to come to a safe stop. Likewise, the truck is prone to rolling over when going around corners or curves at high speed.
- Blind spots: Truck drivers are trained to address blind spots either through the use of mirrors, cameras, or other technology, or simply by being aware of what the traffic is doing around them. If a driver forgets that there is a vehicle in their blind spot, however, the risk of an accident is increased when that driver attempts to change lanes or turn. While other drivers must know that these blind spots exist and avoid driving in them, the truck driver needs to know when vehicles are moving into or out of their blind spots and ensure that it is safe to pass or turn.
- Unfamiliarity with the roadway: Truck drivers are often required to transport products to areas with which they are not familiar. Driving in an unfamiliar area can be confusing, and can result in a driver taking a massive vehicle the wrong way down a one-way road or on roadways where truck access is prohibited.
- Improper maintenance: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that semi-trucks be placed on a regular maintenance schedule. Due to the number of miles the average commercial truck travels daily and the weight that these trucks carry, maintenance of parts such as tires, brakes, and the steering system must be performed more frequently than for other vehicles. Truck drivers are also required to perform a visual inspection of their vehicles before each trip. Failure to regularly maintain or inspect the vehicle for hazards can result in blown tires, failed braking systems, and other issues that can lead to an accident.
- Defective auto parts: The makers and distributors of auto parts are required to produce parts that are safe for consumers when used properly. If parts have been improperly designed, they can fail and cause an accident. In such cases, the manufacturer or distributor can be found liable for the resulting damages.
- Inclement weather: Although the weather itself is not a human error, truck drivers are trained on proper vehicle handling techniques that can help them avoid accidents caused by slippery roadways or a lack of visibility. Unfortunately, this training does not always prevent truck drivers from causing accidents in these conditions.
South Carolina Truck Accident FAQ
Accidents involving semi-trucks are often among the most catastrophic accidents on the road, resulting in serious injuries that can change a person’s life forever. In South Carolina, about 4,000 accidents involve commercial tractor-trailers each year, resulting in dozens of deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, you likely have questions. Here are answers to some of the most common questions we get about South Carolina truck accidents—what causes them, who is liable, and how to recover damages.
What is the difference between a semi-truck, a tractor-trailer, an 18-wheeler, and a commercial truck?
Generally, all of these terms refer to large commercial vehicles. However, there are some distinctions between a few of the commonly-used terms:
- A semi-truck is just the tractor or truck part of the unit, where the driver sits and the engine is housed.
- A semi-trailer is the trailer that is attached to the semi-truck.
- A tractor-trailer is the combination of the semi-truck and trailer.
- An 18-wheeler also refers to the combination of the tractor and trailer.
- A commercial truck can be a tractor-trailer, but the category also includes other types of trucks used for commercial purposes, including single-unit box trucks or even dump trucks.
Why are South Carolina truck accidents so dangerous to other drivers?
Most victims in fatal accidents involving commercial trucks are the occupants of the other vehicles. The reason for this is that commercial trucks are much larger than most other vehicles on the road. When fully loaded, a tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, while an average passenger vehicle only weighs around 3,000 pounds. Trucks are taller and longer than other vehicles on the road.
Because of their size, trucks are also difficult to maneuver. Some of the difficulties that come with driving large trucks include:
- Blind spots: All vehicles have blind spots, which are areas around the outside of the vehicle that the driver cannot see in their rear or side view mirrors. Commercial trucks have significant blind spots on all four sides, the largest of which stretches along the full length of the passenger side of the vehicle.
- Braking capability: Large trucks require between 20% and 40% more distance than the average passenger vehicle to come to a safe stop. This distance is increased when the roads are wet or slippery.
- High ground clearance: Commercial trucks often have very high ground clearance. What makes this dangerous is that it can result in an underride, where a smaller car gets trapped beneath the truck during an accident.
- High center of gravity: Because commercial trucks are so tall, they have a higher center of gravity than most other vehicles on the road. This makes them particularly prone to rolling over when taking sharp corners or curves at speed or when performing collision avoidance maneuvers.
- Wide turns: Commercial trucks require extra space to complete a turn, which may encroach on other traffic lanes.
What causes South Carolina truck accidents?
Just as with all other types of motor vehicles, the leading cause of truck accidents is human error. Some examples of truck driver errors that can cause an accident include:
- Distracted driving: Driver distractions include texting and other cell phone use, eating or drinking, visiting with a passenger, adjusting vehicle or GPS controls, or external distractions such as work zones, billboards, or previous accidents.
- Speeding: Because commercial trucks have limited braking capability and a high center of gravity, speeding is particularly dangerous as it can result in the driver needing even more distance than usual to come to a complete stop or can cause the truck to roll over if the driver turns the wheel too sharply.
- Alcohol or drug impairment: In spite of regular drug and alcohol screenings, truck drivers may choose to drink and drive, or to consume illicit drugs while on the job. Prescription and over-the-counter medication can also lead to impaired driving.
- Fatigued driving: While drivers are regulated as to how many hours they are permitted to drive before taking an off-duty break, many drivers bend the rules in the face of tight deadlines, and others have conditions such as sleep apnea that cause them to feel drowsy even after a full 8 hours of sleep. Additionally, drivers often work during the late-night hours, when the body is biologically wired to sleep.
- Unfamiliarity with the roadway: Truck drivers often transport goods to cities they are unfamiliar with. Being unfamiliar with the roadway can lead to accidents if the driver attempts to reroute themselves in a hurry, or if the driver unintentionally enters a one-way road driving the wrong direction.
- Improperly loaded cargo: Sometimes a driver loads their own trailer and other times the shipper does the loading. Improperly loaded cargo can shift during transport, creating a weight imbalance that can make the truck harder to control and more likely to roll over.
- Poor training: Truck drivers are required to take additional training on top of that required for a regular driver’s license to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). However, this classroom training is often not enough to prepare a driver for some of the difficult driving situations they are likely to find themselves in every day. Trucking companies are tasked with ensuring that their drivers can handle common roadway conditions before allowing them to work alone.
- Improper maintenance: Commercial trucks travel hundreds of miles a day. Between the mileage and the weight they carry, these trucks require more frequent maintenance than other vehicles. Some of the parts of the truck that must be maintained to be operated safely include the braking system, the steering system, and the tires.
Who is responsible, the truck driver or the company they work for?
If the truck driver’s actions caused the accident, they are most certainly liable. However, the trucking company can be liable too, depending on the working relationship between the driver and the company. Companies who hire drivers as independent contractors usually have less liability for accidents than those who hire the driver as an employee. If the driver is an employee, then the company is liable simply because the driver was serving as their representative on the road. Whether the driver is a contractor or an employee, however, companies are responsible for ensuring that their drivers are properly trained, and are also required to inspect the driving history of the individuals they hire and to conduct regular drug and alcohol screenings.
Besides the driver and the trucking company, who else could be liable for my injuries?
Additional liable parties in truck accidents might include:
- The shipper, who is required to ensure that the trucking company they use is properly insured and in good standing with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Failure to do so can make them liable. Additionally, if the shipper loads the trailer and the cargo shifts during transport, the shipper may be responsible for any resulting damages.
- Other drivers, who may not have been directly involved in the accident with the truck but may still have caused the accident through their careless actions.
- Medical providers, who may bear some liability if they performed a regular health check on a driver and declared that person fit to drive when they were not.
- Governmental entities, which are tasked with maintaining roadways and must correct known roadway hazards or mark them with clear signage.
- The individual or entity performing the maintenance on the truck, who may be liable if they missed a mechanical issue that led to the accident.
- The manufacturers or distributors of defective truck parts, which can sometimes be liable if a product defect led to the accident.
Isn’t the South Carolina trucking industry heavily regulated?
Yes, the trucking industry is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and is also subject to state laws and inspections.
Some of the regulations that drivers and trucking companies must follow are:
- Hours of service requirements, which mandate how often a driver must take an off-duty break.
- Regularly scheduled maintenance on the truck.
- Physical examinations of the driver to determine if they are medically fit for the job.
- Regular drug and alcohol screenings.
- State and federal restrictions regarding the maximum allowable weight of vehicles on U.S. roadways.
- CDL licensing for all drivers.
What evidence will my attorney want to obtain in my case?
In addition to photos of the damaged vehicle and repair bills, receipts for other out-of-pocket expenses, and details of the medical treatments you have received and your prognosis, other evidence your attorney will collect for a truck accident case includes:
- Information from the truck’s data recorder and in-cab camera.
- Logbooks and inspection records that can show the driver’s hours of service and the scheduled maintenance that was performed on the vehicle.
- Copies of the driver’s previous driving history to look for patterns of careless or reckless behavior.
- Proof of the driver’s prior training.
- The testimony of industry experts or eyewitnesses.
Are South Carolina truck drivers held to a higher standard than other drivers?
Yes. Truck drivers are required to obtain additional training to learn how to safely operate their vehicle. If they are hauling hazardous chemicals, they are also required to undergo additional training and certification. In many states, drivers can be cited for alcohol impairment with a lower blood alcohol content than other drivers. In South Carolina, the legal impairment limit for those operating a commercial truck with a CDL is 0.04%. Commercial vehicle drivers found to be above that limit risk being arrested and having their CDL suspended.
Why would an insurance company settle a South Carolina truck accident claim?
Insurance companies are in business to make money, not pay out claims to individuals who were injured in accidents caused by their insured. They will do a lot to avoid these payouts. However, litigation is also expensive, particularly when the outcome of the trial is uncertain. Insurance companies will often offer a settlement in cases that are otherwise bound for court, and where they think they are likely to lose the case and have to pay the claim anyway.
Is my settlement from my South Carolina truck accident case taxable?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, economic and non-economic damages recovered through a settlement or award are not considered income and are not subject to tax. However, if there were punitive damages awarded in your case, those may be subject to tax. Additionally, if you take your settlement and invest it in stocks, the gains your stocks experience can be taxed. Check with an accountant before you spend or invest your settlement or judgment to make sure you withhold enough to pay any taxes you owe—but don’t allow any concerns about income tax dissuade you from seeking compensation.
Do I need an attorney to pursue compensation in my South Carolina truck accident case?
Yes, you absolutely do. Because of the catastrophic nature of an accident with a commercial truck, you are likely dealing with injuries that are life-altering, long-lasting, and may even result in permanent disability. Your attorney will properly value your case and will fight for you to get compensation to cover the expenses you face not only now, but also in the future.
Additional important services provided by your attorney can include:
- Determining all sources of liability and insurance resources that may be available to compensate you.
- Collecting evidence and testimony that can prove liability and build your case.
- Negotiating with the at-fault party’s insurance company to obtain a fair settlement on your behalf.
- Filing required court paperwork in the proper jurisdiction and within the legally-required timeframes.
- Attending all pre-trial conferences and hearings.
- Providing guidance that can help you to make an informed decision about whether to accept a settlement offer.
- Representing you in litigation, including making opening and closing statements, presenting your case, and questioning witnesses.
- Providing assistance in collecting your settlement or award.
- Continuing to represent you if the defendant in your case files an appeal.
Let the experienced truck accident attorneys at Hughey Law Firm help you understand the legal process of obtaining compensation and explore your options with you. For a free case evaluation, contact us online.
Call Our South Carolina Truck Accident Attorneys Today
Let our experienced truck accident attorneys help you to make sense of the legal options available to you. Contact us online or by calling (843) 881-8644 to schedule your free case evaluation.