Melyssa Ford & Commercial Trucking Accidents
Actress, vocalist, and TV & radio host, Melyssa Ford was recently in a significant motor vehicle accidents – on Thursday, June 28, 2018 – involving a commercial vehicle. Specifically, the commercial vehicle which collided with Ms. Ford’s 2017 Jeep Wrangler, was a 18-wheeler truck, the driver of which has yet to be identified.
The former BET Style host was on her way to celebrate her close pal Zena Foster’s bridal shower; however, as she was traveling on the Ventura Freeway in Los Angeles, “an 18-wheeler merged into her lane, clipping her back right tire as she exited Brand/Central Avenue,” her personal representative is quoted as telling Us Weekly in an article dated July 1, 2018.
The impact of the crash was significant. “The violent impact sent her 2017 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited into a tailspin and the vehicle flipped three times before landing upside down,” the spokesperson went on. “She was surrounded by EMT personnel, lying at the side of the freeway beside the crushed Jeep, covered in blood, when she regained consciousness.”
The physical effects of the crash were also significant, as Ford, 41, sustained serious head injuries including a skull fracture, concussion and bleeding in her brain amongst other severe cuts and bruises, including a 10-inch open wound that had to be surgically closed using stitches and staples in addition to several large gashes on her arms and legs.
As of the July 1, 2018, Us Weekly article, Ford was still recovering in an L.A. area hospital under, “constant observation”.
Being involved in a motor vehicle accident with a commercial vehicle such as a truck or tractor trailer has legal implications which are different than those resulting from an accident involving two personal passenger vehicles. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a crash that – like Melyssa Ford’s – involved a commercial vehicle or truck, it is imperative that you work with a law firm that understands these differences and how they can impact your case.
Here are five of the primary ways in which accidents involving commercial vehicles like trucks, “big-rigs”, and tractor trailers, are different from motor vehicle accidents involving standard-sized passenger vehicles:
1. Severity of Injuries
A commercial truck, such as the 18-wheeler which struck Ms. Ford’s Jeep, is typically much larger and heavier than a standard passenger vehicle – even when it is not loaded down with cargo. As a result, trucks can cause devastating injuries to passenger vehicle occupants in a crash. It is basic physics.
The scientific formula for calculating the force of a moving object is:
Force = Mass x Acceleration
Hypothetical #1 - Standard-Size Passenger Vehicle
The standard passenger vehicle weighs roughly 2,000lbs. On Earth, there are about 2.2 pounds for every kilogram (kg) of mass, so:
Mass of car = 2,000 pounds ÷ 2.2 kg/pound = 909.1 kg
Now we must determine the acceleration, or deceleration, involved in the crash. Imagine that the car was traveling at 27 meters per second (m/s)--roughly 60 miles per hour--when it hit a wall, coming to a complete stop in 0.05 seconds--5 hundredths of a second. To calculate the acceleration, you divide the change in speed by the time it took to change.
Acceleration of the car = (0 m/s - 27 m/s) ÷ 0.05 s = -540 m/s2
(Note that the negative sign on the acceleration indicates that it was deceleration that occurred, and is not important when calculating the net force involved.)
Now, we use Newton's Second Law to calculate the net force involved in the crash.
Force = mass x acceleration = 909.1 kg x 540 m/s2 = 490,914 Newtons (N)
To put this into perspective, a bullet that weighs 15 grams moving at 285 m/s generates only 1218 Newtons of force.
Hypothetical #2 - 18-Wheeler
Now let’s calculate how many Newtons of force an 18-wheeler would generate in similar circumstances.
The standard 18-wheeler weighs approximately 80,000lbs.
Mass of the 18-wheeler = 80,000 pounds ÷ 2.2 kg/pound = 36,363.4 kg
Again, we must determine the acceleration, or deceleration, involved in the crash. Imagine that the 18-wheeler (like the car) was traveling at 27 meters per second (m/s)--roughly 60 miles per hour--when it hit a wall, coming to a complete stop in 0.05 seconds--5 hundredths of a second. In reality, it a vehicle of that size and weight would likely take longer to come to a complete stop, but to make for a clean comparison, we will use the same numbers in both hypotheticals. To calculate the acceleration, you divide the change in speed by the time it took to change.
Acceleration of the 18-wheeler = (0 m/s - 27 m/s) ÷ 0.05 s = -540 m/s2
Again, we use Newton's Second Law to calculate the net force involved in the crash.
Force = mass x acceleration = 36,363.4 kg x 540 m/s2 = 19,636,236 Newtons (N)
Recall, the force generated by the bullet in our earlier hypothetical only generated a force of 1218 Newtons. Therefore, the impact of the 18-wheeler in this hypo generated a force of impact which was over 16,121 times greater than the impact of the bullet! It’s no surprise that injuries involving tractor trailers can be devastating! (Bear in mind, our hypos involved vehicles hitting a stationary wall; they didn’t even take into account the force generated by the other vehicle traveling in the opposing direction!)
But the size and weight of a tractor-trailer are not the only factors that make these crashes particularly deadly – the reality is that commercial truck accidents often occur on highways and interstates where the vehicles are traveling at speeds higher than that used in calculations. Other factors include the type of impact and the type of cargo being hauled, for instance, hazardous or biohazardous material.
2. Complexity of Investigation
As with any accident, gathering evidence immediately afterwards is very important; however in the case of a commercial trucking accident, the need for gathering evidence is even more critical. These accidents must be investigated quickly, or else evidence may become lost or destroyed. Evidence that needs to be preserved after a truck accident includes:
Photos – Ideally, photos should be taken before any vehicles are moved, revealing details about how the crash occurred, and showing the vehicles’ final place of rest. Of course, the scene should also be inspected by first responders like the police, and the photos will also be critical if an accident reconstruction is necessary.
Trucking company files – Business records, pay stubs, driver logs, dispatch records, bills of lading, daily driver inspection reports and other pertinent documentation.
Truck maintenance and inspection records – Training certificates for inspectors, brake mechanics and others who may have performed work on the truck should also be obtained.
Insurance information – Copies of insurance policies, names of the insured and any excess insurance coverage must be identified.
Device records – This includes records pertaining to satellite-tracking systems, on-board recorders and GPS devices.
Accident records – The police report, black box data, statements from potential witnesses, “out-of-service” reports and documentation from state or federal inspections.
Records relating to the truck driver – These records include job application documents, hiring files, background records, training documentation, testing information, employee records, incident reports involving property damage or injury, commercial driver’s license (CDL) records, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations compliance records and any results from substance- or alcohol-testing.
All of this evidence will help to reveal how a crash occurred and who should be held responsible for the harm that has resulted.
3. Multiple Responsible Parties
In the case of a commercial trucking accident, unlike most circumstances involving standard passenger-vehicles, the truck driver may not be the only party who can be held liable for victims’ injuries and losses. Multiple parties could have played a role in causing the accident to occur, including:
The truck’s owner or trailer’s owner
The trucking company who employs the driver
The individuals and/or companies who loaded and secured the cargo
The manufacturer of the truck or its parts
Some truck accident cases can involve large, out-of-state trucking companies or foreign companies. This can present further complications and difficulties in litigating a case.
4. State and Federal Regulations
In many cases, liability in truck accident cases is often based on either a truck driver’s or trucking company’s violation of state and federal regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has certain commercial motor vehicle activities it regulates such as “hours of service” to help keep roads safe. According to the FMCSA hours of service regulations:
Truck drivers transporting property can drive a maximum of 11 hours, providing they have had at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.
Commercial truck drivers are not allowed to drive “beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.”
Truck drivers are not allowed to drive after having been on duty for 60 to 70 hours in seven to eight consecutive days. Drivers who take more than 34 consecutive days off can restart the seven-to-eight consecutive day period.
In cases where a truck driver uses the sleeper berth provision, he or she must rest no less than eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, then another two consecutive hours either off duty, in the berth or a combination of the two.
Truckers are required to log their hours of service as a way of monitoring and preventing exhaustion or fatigue. Driving while drowsy can significantly affect a trucker’s driving abilities and reaction time. It will often lead to a serious or fatal collision. Violations of state and federal trucking regulations may serve as grounds for liability in a truck accident.
5. Insurance Issues
While the state of New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state (if you are unfamiliar with what “No-Fault” means, see our earlier blog post, here), making it easier for accident victims to recover medical expenses from their own insurance provider, it can also limit a victim’s rights to file a lawsuit following an accident. You may (or may not) be familiar with the “Limitation on Lawsuit” option, or “Tort Option” which may be found on your auto insurance policy. This option – which insurance companies are quick to apply to your policy under the guise of saving you money – places constraints on the type of injury you must suffer for said injuries to be compensable in a personal injury action. While it is true that the “limitation on lawsuit” option will likely save you a modest amount on your monthly auto insurance bill, it can also severely limit, or preclude completely, your ability to secure a financial recovery if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident with less-than-devastating injuries.
Fortunately, the “limitation on lawsuit” and “tort option” limitations do not apply to commercial trucking accident victims. If you sustain injuries in an accident caused by a commercial truck, you may have the right to file a lawsuit seeking damages for the pain and suffering you have been forced to endure. Likewise, where, under the tort option, you must establish, for example, evidence of a permanent injury with a reasonable degree of medical probability, in a commercial accident, even an exacerbation of a previously asymptomatic pre-existing injury could potentially be compensable in the action involving the commercial truck.
All in all, motor vehicle accidents – regardless of the type – are scary and potentially life-changing (or even, life-ending). Drinkwater & Goldstein, LLP has handled numerous commercial trucking accidents, and knows what it takes to effectively investigate and litigate these types of cases. With this knowledge and experience, we are armed to take on even the largest of trucking companies and are confident that we can help get you the financial recovery you deserve. Give our office a call today at (856) 753-5131, send us an email, or message us on our online chat function for a free case evaluation. Drinkwater & Goldstein, LLP has your back.