Despite the many regulations in place to help reduce accidents, thousands of people are injured or killed in truck accidents each year. Often, truck drivers face financial incentives for delivering their freight on time or ahead of schedule, which may result in speeding, lack of sleep, driving in bad weather, and failure to check equipment properly, the most common reasons for truck driver-caused accidents. Passenger vehicles can also be the cause of accidents if they drive in a truck’s blind spots, called the No-Zone, change lanes abruptly, or misjudge a merge. If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident with a truck, it is important to know how fault will be determined under Louisiana law.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the government body in charge of regulating commercial motor vehicles (CMV). While there are thousands of regulations imposed on CMV, the hours-of-service regulations (HOS), which place limits on when and how long drivers of CMV are allowed to drive, is well studied and applied. The FMCSA bases the HOS regulations on scientific data that determines the amount of rest a truck driver should have in order to safely operate his/her vehicle. The FMCSA works in conjunction with the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies and the National Institute for Occupational Safety. The goal is to protect drivers and motorists from truck accidents that result from fatigue. Regulations like the HOS regulation discussed above can become an integral part of assessing fault in your case, and because there are so many regulations for CMV, consulting an experienced attorney is highly recommended.
In Louisiana, the police will be the first government entity to investigate the accident, but they do not make the ultimate determination of legal fault. A police report will be required for an insurance claim and the police will pursue any criminal activity or traffic violations they find while making the accident report. However, even if the police issue traffic citations, that is not a legal determination of fault for the purposes of recovering damages.
An initial fault determination will be made by the insurance companies involved, if any. After reviewing the police report, gathering witness statements, and conducting their own investigations, the insurance companies will take a position regarding the fault of the vehicles and drivers involved. Again, though, this determination of fault is not legally binding. Although the insurance companies’ initial determination of fault will often be correct and unchallenged, there are also times when it is necessary to challenge the insurance companies’ position.
The only binding determination of fault will be made by a judge or jury. If the injured party is unable to obtain reasonable compensation for his/her damages, it is necessary to file a lawsuit against the persons who caused the accident and the relevant insurers. If the case does not settle, a trial will be held, and at the conclusion of the trial, the judge or the jury will consider the evidence and make the determination of who is at fault.
Truck and auto accidents are typically governed by basic negligence laws. Louisiana is a pure comparative fault state, which means that a percentage of fault is assigned to every person who contributed in any way to damages. For example, if there were three vehicles involved in an accident, fault could be assigned 75% to one driver, 25% to another, and 0% to the third. Practically, this means that any monetary award may be reduced if a judge or jury finds that the injured party was in any way responsible for the accident or injuries. In the example above, that means that if the injured party were found to be 25% at fault for the accident, any damages or recovery for injuries would be reduced by 25%.
Comparative negligence can require an extensive evidentiary showing to prove the percentage of each party’s fault, and an experienced Louisiana personal injury law attorney, like the attorneys at Smiley Law, can guide you through this process and help defend your rights.