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Driver Negligence in Massachusetts Truck Accidents

Heavy commercial vehicles and large trucks are routinely involved in some of the most serious and deadly crashes on Massachusetts roads. Most other automobiles don’t stand a chance against an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Weighing up to 80,000 pounds, these highway behemoths are 25-to-30 times heavier than the average passenger car – plus they’re taller and cover more ground width. Driver negligence is a cause of these accidents.

The bigger the truck, the deadlier. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) noted large truck involvement in 11 percent of total motor vehicle deaths – despite accounting for just 4 percent of the total registered vehicles – with tractor-trailers cited in three times as many fatal collisions as single-unit trucks.

Thanks to the explosive rise of same-day-demand in e-commerce, there are more big trucks on the road today than ever. That means the number of accidents involving commercial vehicles has spiked too.

While the size differential between trucks and passenger cars may be a significant determinant in who suffers the worst injuries, that alone won’t dictate legal liability to pay for the devastating damages of a truck accident. To answer that question, we need to determine: Who was negligent?

Massachusetts policymakers have been driven to probe truck accident root causes in the hopes of addressing the most pressing problems and to enact measures that might reduce truck accidents.

The trucking industry too is interested in reducing crashes – but more so in slashing their legal responsibility to pay for such crashes.

At the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our truck accident lawyers are committed to finding answers and securing compensation for those injured in these serious collisions.

Explaining Truck Accident Negligence

Negligence is the legal duty – and failure in violation of that duty – to use reasonable care. (See the 1935 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Royal Indemnity Co. v. Pittsfield Electric Co).

Those employed in the commercial trucking industry (drivers, motor carriers, logistics companies, manufacturers) and ancillary companies (i.e., maintenance) owe the public a duty of enhanced care when it comes to ensuring drivers, vehicle and cargo are all road-worthy – because we know the destruction that results if they aren’t.

Each of these parties can be named a defendant in a case if their actions caused or contributed to a truck accident or exacerbated the resulting injuries.

Determining Who Was Negligent in a Boston Truck Accident

Just as in car accidents, the prime causal factor in most Massachusetts truck accidents is driver negligence. The key difference is that regardless of fault, it’s almost always the occupant of the other vehicle – not the trucker – who is most seriously injured or killed. Per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), of the more than 4,100 people killed in U.S. truck accidents in a single year, 68 percent are other vehicle occupants while 14 percent are non-vehicle occupants (i.e., bicyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, etc.).

Industry insiders might have you believe it is most frequently other drivers – not their “professionals” – who are mostly to blame for these crashes. That’s not been our experience, and we trust the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which opines up to 40 percent of all crashes involving large trucks are the result of driver fatigue and one-third involve rigs that exceed lawful weight limits.

Extensive studies of crash reports and driver behavior have determined the most common acts of driver negligence (either by the trucker or passenger vehicle operator) resulting in commercial truck crashes are:

  • Unsafe and careless driving
  • Speeding
  • Driver inattention or distraction due to texting, using GPS or talking
  • Driver fatigue
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Road rage or aggressive driving
  • Failure to check for blind spots before turning or changing lanes
  • Frequent lane changes
  • Failure to use turn signals and improper turning
  • Tailgating
  • Not obeying road rules
But how do we Determine who did What and who’s Responsible?

A crash report generated by law enforcement will be instructive in ascertaining trucking accident causes, but even that’s not the final say. Insurers often use these records AND conduct their own independent investigation to reach relevant conclusions.

Our dedicated truck accident attorneys will work on YOUR behalf to cull evidence most favorable to your claim and gather information and expert witness insight to help challenge whatever information may adversely affect your case.

In the event of a dispute over causation, liability, extent of injuries and/or damages, it will be the courts that have the final say.

In any motor vehicle crash, there is often more than one causal factor – and frequently numerous parties at-fault. Sometimes there are multiple other drivers whose lack of reasonable care leads to a crash.

Truck accident claims tend to be especially complex compared to the average crash case for a few reasons:

  • Operation of commercial trucks is overseen by federal regulators – namely the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), which sets standards and holds owners/operators to higher road safety standards.
  • Truck accident injuries are typically more severe and therefore the personal and financial stakes are higher;
  • The corporate structure of trucking companies/contracts can be a tangled web, meaning we often end up with numerous named defendants. Even insurers can sometimes be brought into these cases. Consider that even though Massachusetts doesn’t have a direct-action statute against commercial auto insurance companies, an insurer may (especially with smaller trucking companies) play a substantial role in hiring new drivers. If that happens and the insured/trucking company relied on the insurance company’s practices when assessing new driver qualifications, it’s possible the insurer too could be named as a defendant for negligent hiring.

Gaining an advantage in these cases often requires an entire legal team working together, as well as connections with top expert witnesses who can help prove the most critical elements of your case. Personal injury lawyers in Massachusetts are required to accept cases solely on a contingency fee basis, meaning attorney’s fees aren’t paid unless you win. That tends to make lawyers more choosey about the cases they accept. But not all meritorious cases are slam-dunks – which is why having a skilled injury lawyer with experience and access to resources is so critical.

Complications in Massachusetts Truck Accident Litigation

A common defense tactic is to assert the injured person played a causal role in the crash, or at least was significantly responsible. MGL 231 § 85 is clear on the fact that negligence on the part of the plaintiff (or decedent in wrongful death case) will not halt a personal injury claim – up to a point. If the court finds plaintiff is 51 percent or more responsible for the collision, the case is lost. However, anything below that – even up to 50 percent – will allow a plaintiff to still have a case.

Truck accident lawyers will often fight vigorously against a contributory negligence argument, though, as damages (the amount of compensation owed as a result of another’s negligence) can be proportionately reduced.

There are certain claims in truck accident cases for which plaintiffs don’t have to prove negligence, primarily:

  • Respondeat Superior/Vicarious Liability: In general, when the negligent driver is the trucking company’s “employee,” the trucking company’s liability is dictated by common law legal theories of agency (i.e., master-servant, respondeat superior and vicarious liability). Owners of the truck are responsible for the negligence of the driver in most cases if the driver was the owner’s employer/agent AND if the driver was acting in the course and scope of employment, as noted in the 2002 case of Dias v. Brigham Med. Assocs., Inc. The trouble is proving the truck driver was in fact an employee and not an independent contractor. This often requires a full assessment of the employer/employee relationship.
  • Truck Owner Lessor/Carrier-Lessee. As is well-established in common law and then later in the 1945 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Garfield v. Smith, tractor-trailer owners involved can be liable for injuries caused by a driver – even if that driver was performing services for a third-party. Most tractor-trailer accidents involve large trucks, drivers or cargo subject to some type of lease arrangement, often where an owner-operator is paid a percentage of the amount received by carrier-lessee from the shipper for movement of that cargo. Vehicle lease arrangements often cover trailers too, and the terms of these leases are overseen by interstate commerce laws. The U.S. Department of Transportation has held that leasing regulations put full responsibility for control of leased vehicles, equipment and drivers on carrier-lessees – and this isn’t a responsibility they can delegate or contract away. The effect is that owner-lessors of these trucks and their drivers may be considered statutory employees of the carrier-lessee during the term of the lease – and thus the latter becomes vicariously liable for the truck operator’s negligence. In some cases, that even means a carrier-lessee can be held liable for the lessor-driver’s negligence – even if the crash didn’t occur in the course and scope of driver’s employment.
  • Strict liability: Truck accident claimants who can show a design or manufacturing flaw with the truck which amounts to an unreasonable danger that resulted in injury do not need to prove negligence, but instead may proceed on a theory of strict liability.

Bottom line: If you are seriously injured in a Boston truck accident, our experienced legal team can help.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL

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