As Chicago personal injury lawyers with substantial experience handling trucking accident cases, we are familiar with the devastation caused by crashes involving tractor-trailer trucks. Yesterday was a brutal example of such devastation. A trucking accident in Kentucky claimed the lives of at least eleven people and injured many more. The accident, which happened just before 5:30 this morning, reportedly occurred when a tractor-trailer crossed over the interstate’s median and hit an eighteen-passenger church van carrying Mennonite passengers, including children. The truck then struck a rock wall and burst into flames. The casualties included the driver of the truck, as well as others. One of those killed was an infant, but two children, four and five years old, survived the crash without serious injury.
We do not yet know the extent or type of injury to the other passengers, but it is probably that they sustained traumatic brain injuries, among other internal injuries. Some studies have found that up to 28% of all traumatic brain injuries are caused by motor vehicle accidents. This month, our top Chicago brain injury lawyers have been exploring the types and causes of brain injury in connection with Brain Injury Awareness Month. For more information about our top-rated brain injury and wrongful death practice, feel free to read this month’s articles or contact us directly at (312) 527-4500.
Yesterday”s accident occurred on Kentucky’s section of Interstate 65, North of Bowling Green. The tractor-trailer truck involved was heading South, but struck the van after crossing over to the northbound freeway. The section of highway where the crash occurred is problematic, as the southbound traffic narrows from three lanes to two. Traffic at times becomes congested or forms a bottleneck at that point, and a county official speculated that the truck may not have seen the situation, or slowed down to address it. A deputy coroner also stated that the truck driver likely fell asleep at the wheel, leading to the accident.
While there is no definitive word yet on what caused the accident, there are a number of possibilities, unfortunately common in these types of accidents. As was suggested, and especially in light of the hour at which the accident occurred, the truck driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel. Many such accidents are caused by an overtired driver who has been behind the wheel for too many hours, in violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations (as a general rule, federal regulations do not allow more than eleven hours of consecutive driving, although there are other rules that also affect the number of hours an individual may drive). In yesterday’s crash, this is made more likely by the fact that the driver’s truck had reportedly been broken down in Michigan for three days, and was fixed before he departed on this trip. He may thus have been pushing the envelope to make up for lost time – a tactic that endangers drivers and others on the road.
If this or any truck accident was the result of negligence, the innocent victims may have a cause of action against the truck driver, the trucking company employer and others. This is true as to both the survivors, who may have a cause of action for their injuries, and as to those who were killed, whose estates may have a cause of action for wrongful death. Our Chicago wrongful death lawyers, sadly, have seen many cases arising from such accidents.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the crash, the victims may have a cause of action not only against the truck driver’s estate, but also against the trucking company that employed him. The trucking company can be held responsible for the negligent actions of its employees through respondeat superior, a legal concept often called the “master-servant rule,” through which employers are made liable for the actions of their employees. Additionally, if a trucking company had reason to know that a driver could be dangerous at the time they hired him, the company can be liable for its own negligence in the hiring process (or for continuing to employ the driver after warning signs emerged). If the truck driver was, indeed, in violation of FMCSA’s hours of service requirements, there is the potential for punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages (medical expenses, wage loss, loss o normal life, pain and suffering, etc.). One other possible wrinkle in today’s crash is that the truck was repaired just before this trip. Often, negligently performed repairs or maintenance can lead to trucking accidents, and the victims in those cases may also have a cause of action against those who performed the repairs.
Exactly who is responsible to the victims is a question that can only be answered by a thorough investigation of the facts by a knowledgeable professional. Our Chicago truck accident lawyers understand the need to fully explore the circumstances surrounding a trucking accident, to ensure that victims receive full compensation for their injuries from those who caused them. We have decades of experience handling truck accident cases, and have obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of those injured.
To speak with an experienced Chicago truck accident attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500 for a Free Case Evaluation.