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Trucking Cases: Does My Accident Involve a “Commercial Vehicle?”

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Collisions involving semi-trucks or other large commercial vehicles are a special breed of accident case that are notoriously complex for attorneys on both sides of the courtroom.  These are cases involving semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, or other large vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds and used in furtherance of a commercial enterprise.

Because commercial vehicles are regularly so large, catastrophic injuries or death are often the result when collisions occur, placing the potential damages in the millions of dollars.  Additionally, there is a thick set of state and federal regulations affecting large commercial vehicles, known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) which create numerous minimum standards for everything from vehicle condition and maintenance to driver-work-hours and driving histories.

Expert witnesses who know these rules like the back of their hand are often required to testify at trial. Other experts, known as “accident reconstructionists,” are often hired to study the collision to determine exactly how the accident occurred. Throw in multi-million-dollar insurance policies and large budgets to defend these actions, and you have a recipe for a very complex and expensive case requiring protracted litigation.

What is a “Commercial Vehicle?”

Any car or truck with a gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds and used in interstate or intrastate commerce is a commercial vehicle according to the FMCSR regulations, with a few exceptions. That means if the vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds, and is being used by a business for business purposes, then the FMCSR rules will probably apply. One tip off the vehicle may be considered a “commercial vehicle” is the presence of a U.S. DOT number displayed prominently somewhere on the vehicle.

So if you are involved in an accident with a vehicle meeting this definition, there are literally hundreds of regulations and rules that the driver and vehicle-owner must follow in addition to the standard “rules of the road” affecting the rest of us.

In Georgia, the Georgia Dept. of Public Safety (GDPS) enforces state regulations for commercial vehicles known as the Transportation Safety Regulations. The Georgia regulations require that every  driver be at least 18 years of age, “of temperate habits and good moral character,” possess a valid drivers license, be fully competent to operate the vehicle under his charge and not use drugs or alcohol while on duty. GDPS, 1-8.

Additionally, every commercial vehicle must be maintained in a safe condition at all times, and the lights, brakes and equipment must meet the safety requirements adopted by the Georgia Transportation Safety Regulations. The bulk of specific standards applying to the GDPS simply adopt the same standards as the federal regulations, which are enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This is a list of literally hundreds of regulations affecting most commercial vehicles, which are far too numerous to list here, but all  of them can be found on the FMCSA website.  Whether the driver, or the owner of the truck violated any of these regulations goes a long way to proving negligence and therefore liability for the accident.

What is important for the victim to know, is that a collision involving a commercial vehicle is usually far more complex than other auto accident cases. In addition to the numerous regulations which must be examined for violations, there are usually large insurance policies at play. Whether or not some or all of the available insurance policies provide coverage in the accident is a question for an experienced attorney and is often a primary focus of the litigation.

If you have been involved in an accident contact the personal injury attorneys at Jarrett & Price for a free consultation at (912) 401-8880. An attorney WILL return your call. We represent auto and trucking accident victims throughout the state of Georgia. Our Savannah offices serve Chatham County, Liberty County, Bryan County and other surrounding southeast Georgia counties. We also have offices in Clarkesville, Georgia, and Cleveland, Georgia, serving accident victims in Habersham County, White County, Rabun County and other surrounding southeast Georgia counties.

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