As drivers, we have been taught to share the road and be thoughtful and courteous of our fellow travelers. This includes tractor trailers, also known as “big rigs,” which are many times larger and heavier. Being near one has caused more than one driver to become white knuckled, and often with good reason — a typical tractor trailer fully loaded can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. A car driver who gets in an accident with a tractor trailer is far more likely to suffer an injury than if the accident were with another car. That is why tractor trailer companies and their drivers must follow safety regulations that do not apply to car drivers. Drivers must maintain a log, and they are not allowed to operate a tractor trailer if they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 or greater. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires drivers to work limited hours to avoid fatigue.
Yet far too many accidents happen anyway as the result of driver fatigue or carelessness. Recently on Interstate 77, near Rockport, West Virginia, a tractor trailer driver struck a bridge guardrail at 2:30 am. As a result, diesel fuel was spilled and traffic lanes were closed down. Fortunately no one was injured, but officials said that the lanes would be shut down for three days while clean-up efforts were underway. Unfortunately, the story of another recent tractor trailer accident ends on a darker note. On Interstate 81 in Martinsburg, a tractor trailer hit a black Toyota SUV, causing the Toyota driver to lose control of the car, hit a guardrail, and overturn. While one of the passengers remained trapped inside the SUV, the tractor trailer fled the scene, whereabouts currently unknown.
If you or your loved one is injured by a tractor trailer driver, what are your options? The most obvious would be to hire a West Virginia car accident attorney and sue the tractor trailer driver for negligence, if you can find him. You would argue that the tractor trailer driver had a duty of care to other drivers on the road to operate the vehicle according to applicable regulations. The driver breached this duty through carelessness, or possibly by not resting enough hours or by drinking too much alcohol. The breach caused you or your loved one injury (the car accident), and you suffered damage as a result, such as broken bones, a spinal injury, or even an injury to your brain.
Besides suing the driver directly, you could also sue the company through vicarious liability theory. With vicarious liability, you would argue that the company is also responsible for the driver’s actions because the accident occurred during normal work hours, while the driver was performing the usual tasks of employment. If you succeed in finding the employer vicariously liable, you can collect a money award from the employer as well as (or possibly instead of) the driver.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm have represented several clients who were in tractor trailer accidents. It is always important to find an experienced attorney as soon as possible who can do a thorough investigation of the accident scene, before key evidence is removed or disappears. In West Virginia, there is a two-year statute of limitations for filing a claim. So if you or your loved one were injured by a tractor trailer driver, don’t wait — find someone willing to defend your interests right away.