A Virginia truck accident attorney provides legal assistance to individuals who have suffered injuries in truck accidents. These types of accidents can be particularly severe and often result in fatalities, leaving the family members who have survived may file a claim for wrongful death to safeguard their financial future.
If you or someone you know has been in a collision with a large truck, or tractor-trailer, it is imperative to seek legal representation from a qualified Virginia truck accident lawyer to pursue compensation for the damages incurred. Call the Law Offices of Clinton O. Middleton at 703-777-9630 for a free consultation.
Truck Accident Factors and the Importance of Legal Assistance
Truck accidents can happen due to various factors such as driver distraction, fatigue, improperly secured load, speeding, careless or reckless driving, and driver intoxication. When truckers fail to observe safe driving practices or if companies implement policies that compromise road safety, they may be held accountable for any damages that arise from their negligence or recklessness.
Understanding Different Types of Trucking Accidents in Virginia
The type of trucking accident one can experience in Virginia is usually determined by the specific type of driver error or mechanical issue that led to the accident. For instance, truck accidents can result from driver fatigue, inadequate training, or drug use. Additionally, there are other types of accidents, including jackknife accidents, squeeze play accidents, rollover accidents, tire blowout accidents, and more.
Violations of Trucking Laws
One of the most common reasons for civil litigation following a truck accident in Virginia is the violation of federal or state-level trucking regulations. Several regulations are specific to truck drivers and companies operating in Virginia, and failure to comply with any of them may result in civil liability for the truck driver or their employer in the event of an accident. During a private consultation, an experienced Virginia truck accident attorney can provide a detailed explanation of the relevant regulations that apply to a particular case.
Federal Trucking Laws in Civil Claims
The majority of federal trucking laws, which are outlined in Title 49, Parts 350-399 of the Code of Federal Regulations, pertain to recordkeeping requirements and procedural matters related to obtaining operating authority in various states. Generally, these regulations do not directly impact civil truck accident claims. However, some federal regulations can be crucial to civil claims as their violation may significantly increase the likelihood of an accident occurring.
Federal Regulations in Preventing Overloaded Trucks in Virginia
According to 23 Code of Federal Regulations §658.17, it is a violation of federal law for any vehicle to exceed a gross weight of 80,000 pounds, for an individual axle to bear more than 20,000 pounds, or for tandem axles to exceed 34,000 pounds of gross weight. Overloaded trucks are challenging to control, even for experienced drivers. An imbalanced or shifting load during transit can lead to disaster if the trucker loses control of their vehicle. Adhering to these regulations can help prevent overloaded trucks and minimize the risk of accidents on Virginia roads.
49 CFR §395 imposes several limitations on the time commercial truckers can spend on the road. According to federal law, truckers cannot drive for more than 11 hours or remain on duty for more than 14 hours following a period of 10 off-duty hours, except under specific adverse driving conditions. They must also take a break of at least 30 minutes before or during eight consecutive hours of driving. Additionally, truckers cannot drive for more than 60 hours within a seven-day period or 70 hours within an eight-day period, and they must take at least 34 consecutive hours off before restarting the period.
Moreover, commercial truck drivers are subject to strict standards regarding driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Trucking companies are legally obligated to conduct drug and alcohol screenings, as well as background checks, before hiring any driver. They must also perform random screenings without prior notice throughout the driver's employment period.
Virginia's Regulation of Commercial Trucking
The Virginia Department of Public Safety has adopted several parts of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations without any modifications to the rules prescribed under federal law. For instance, Virginia has fully adopted 49 CFR §§395 and 396, which pertain to maximum hours of service for truck drivers and inspection/maintenance requirements, respectively. However, there is one small exception related to the intrastate transportation of farming supplies. Additionally, Virginia has slightly modified several federal regulations and established some rules that are specific to commercial drivers operating within the state.
Virginia's Regulations on Truck Size
Code of Virginia §46.2-1122-1138.2 establishes the same weight limits for trucks as federal law, along with a few more specific regulations for trucks with varying numbers of axles. Furthermore, Code of Virginia §46.2-1105 sets a maximum width limit of 102 inches for all vehicles traveling on the interstate and designated highways, while Code of Virginia §46.2-1110 establishes a maximum height limit of 13.5 feet. Additionally, the Code of Virginia §46.2-1112 outlines the following vehicle length limits:
• 40 feet for an individual motor vehicle, such as a truck cab without a trailer
• 48 feet for an individual loaded trailer under most circumstances
• 53 feet for an individual loaded trailer, provided that the distance between the semitrailer's kingpin and either the rearmost axle or the midpoint of the rear tandem axles is 41 feet or less
• 5 feet for each individual loaded trailer in a twin-trailer configuration.
Trucks that transport automobiles, boats, and manufactured homes are subject to slightly different width, height, and length limitations. Furthermore, trucks operating on non-interstate and non-designated highways must adhere to distinct regulations. Trucking companies that violate these regulations may face various civil penalties and processing fees. Moreover, they may be held liable for civil damages in the event of an accident.
Virginia's Commercial Driver's License Requirements
Individuals who intend to operate commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers and truck and trailer combinations, with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) exceeding 26,000 pounds must obtain a Class A commercial driver's license. In addition, any violation of state-level traffic laws, such as driving while intoxicated or running a red light, can lead to a suspension of the CDL for a week to several months or permanent revocation for repeated or severe violations.
Virginia has mostly adopted 49 CFR §391, with a few exceptions, for the minimum qualifications to obtain a CDL. Notably, the federal minimum age for holding an interstate CDL is 21, while the minimum age to obtain an intrastate CDL in Virginia is 18.
DUI Standards for Commercial Truck Drivers
Virginia law imposes stricter DUI standards on commercial truck drivers than on other drivers. While the normal impaired driving standard in Virginia is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, commercial truck drivers may face DUI charges if they operate a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04 or higher or if they test positive for drugs while driving such a vehicle, or refuse to submit to a blood test.
Even a first offense can lead to a minimum one-year suspension of a convicted trucker's CDL under federal law, in addition to a maximum $2,500 fine and a one-year jail sentence.
Speed Limits for Commercial Trucks
On Virginia interstate highways, limited access highways, and non-limited access highways with four or more lanes, the maximum speed limit for commercial trucks is 55 miles per hour, except for designated highways with commercial speed limits of 65 miles per hour. Non-limited access highways with less than four lanes have an effective speed limit of 45 miles per hour for commercial truck drivers.
Additionally, truck drivers cannot exceed 35 miles per hour on highways designated as rural rustic roads or 25 miles per hour in school, business, or residential zones. Violating any of these speed limits can serve as solid grounds for a personal injury claim in the event of a truck accident.
The Impact of Contributory Negligence on Trucking Accident Claims
Assuming a civil plaintiff can prove that a truck driver, trucking company, or other party is responsible for their injuries, they may seek compensation for various damages through a comprehensive settlement demand or civil claim, including medical expenses, wage loss, property damage, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life due to a permanent disability or disfigurement.
However, Virginia's truck accident claims are subject to a severe legal obstacle. Virginia is one of only five states and territories that follow a pure contributory negligence system. This means that any percentage of fault attributed to a plaintiff completely disqualifies them from civil recovery. In other words, even if a truck driver or trucking company is 99 percent at fault for a truck crash in Virginia, a finding of one percent liability for the plaintiff would likely result in no civil recovery.
Consequently, it is vital to have a skilled lawyer when litigating truck accident claims in Virginia, as refuting allegations of contributory fault is a crucial aspect of nearly every case.
Wrongful Death Claims in Truck Accidents
If a truck accident caused by another party's negligence results in the premature death of a non-negligent individual, it is considered a "wrongful death" under the Code of Virginia §8.01-50 and can be grounds for civil litigation. However, wrongful death claims in truck accidents work differently than other civil cases due to the loss of the party who would typically file suit.
Only the personal representative of the deceased accident victim's estate can bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent, as per the same statute. This representative is usually named as the estate executor or administrator in the decedent's will. Still, a civil court can appoint someone if the decedent did not name a party in their will.
Under Code of Virginia §8.01-52, plaintiffs in wrongful death claims can seek compensation for economic damages like medical expenses, funeral and burial/cremation expenses, and loss of income and/or financial support from the decedent. They can also seek non-economic damages such as loss of companionship, loss of consortium, and mental anguish for surviving family members. In addition, punitive damages may be available in cases involving wanton negligence or willful malice by the defendant.
Deadline for Filing Truck Accident Claims
In Virginia, the deadline for filing a truck accident claim is two years from the date of the accident or from the date the plaintiff became aware of their injuries, as per Code of Virginia §8.01-243(A). However, the deadline is extended to five years for claims concerning property damage, according to Code of Virginia §8.01-243(B). If a wrongful death occurs due to a truck accident, the deadline for taking action is two years from the date of the decedent's death, as per Code of Virginia §8.01-244.
It is essential to meet the statutory filing deadline to recover compensation, as failure to do so can lead to being time-barred, regardless of who was at fault for the injuries. Working with an experienced Virginia truck accident lawyer is crucial in ensuring compliance with this deadline and achieving a favorable case outcome.
Contact a Virginia Truck Accident Lawyer
The Law Offices of Clinton O. Middleton are prepared to assist you in bringing your case against the trucking company responsible for your injuries or loss. Skilled lawyers have the expertise and assets to fight against insurance firms and commercial trucking companies who may be holding back on the compensation you require and deserve.
When you hire a Virginia truck accident attorney, you can rely on them to vigorously battle for your essential financial compensation. Call the Law Offices of Clinton O. Middleton at 703-777-9630 for a free consultation!