rural roadLate last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA, a division of the United States Department of Transportation) released a new document analyzing “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts” for the most recently available statistical year.

While every crash is unique, there is much to be learned in studying and understanding truck accidents from a statistical standpoint.

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construction vehicle

Just a few months ago, we told you about a truck accident in Georgia that claimed a young mother’s life. She died because a careless truck driver failed to put on the truck’s brakes while making a safety inspection. The driver was charged criminally and eventually pled guilty to vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter.

Now, a young North Carolina boy has lost his life in another “runaway truck” accident.

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risk

It is truly frightening to consider the many hazardous chemicals that are being transported over our North Carolina roadways at any given moment, especially knowing that we may be driving alongside such potentially deadly loads as we transport our children to a ballgame or take an aging relative to the doctor.

Two recent truck accidents in neighboring states illustrate the potential danger.

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trash truck

Late last month, a trash truck ran off the road and overturned in Salisbury, throwing the driver from the truck. According to news reports, the driver was “confused” at the scene and is now facing a criminal charge of driving while impaired (DWI).

Although the driver himself was reportedly injured in the crash, there was no indication that other vehicles were involved. This is very fortunate, since a collision between a large truck and a smaller vehicle holds the potential for devastating injuries to those in the smaller vehicle. Tragically, many such accidents also result in fatalities.

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bananasIn this busy time of the year, many of us spend a considerable amount of time on the road. Whether heading off to a college football game at our alma mater, getting a jump start on holiday shopping, or just running the kids to one activity after another, we spend a lot of our time driving.

Unfortunately, frequent travel has a tendency to put motorists in harm’s way, since there is little choice but to share the road with large trucks, many of which are being driven by truckers who are too tired to operate an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer safely.

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truck crashDepending upon which source you consult, there either is or will soon be a serious shortage of professional truck drivers in the United States. For example, a 2015 analysis of the issue by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) states that there have been at least intermittent shortages of drivers for the past 15 years and predicts that, “by 2024, the shortage could be as high as 174,500.”

So what does this mean for the average family in North Carolina or elsewhere across the country?

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police carOctober has been an especially bad month for those traveling along North Carolina’s roadways. First, several major highways in the eastern portion of the state were affected by Hurricane Matthew. Flooding, storm surge, and levee issues left many roads impassable, stranding motorists and local residents caught in the storm’s path.

Then, just as things seemed to be getting somewhat back to normal when Interstate I-95 finally reopened in both directions, a series of collisions forced authorities to shut down several miles of that highway once again. According to a trucking industry website, at least some of the accidents that closed the interstate involved large commercial trucks.

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parked truckThere is an expression to the effect that “justice is blind,” meaning that the same rules apply to everyone, regardless of the relative wealth, power, or identity of those involved. Thus, it would seem that there would be a predictable outcome to the various situations that result in litigation.

When you handle truck accident cases with regularity, however, you discover that each case is unique, and each presents its own set of challenges, arguments, and issues. Granted, there’s usually a trucker or trucking company who could have prevented a crash by acting with the requisite level of care, but there seems to be an endless number of ways in which truck drivers and trucking outfits can hurt innocent people by their negligence.

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yellow dump truck“Accidents happen” is an expression we often hear when a person is attempting to make an excuse for causing harm to another person. There seems to be an implication that, if the resulting harm was not intentional, the person who caused the “accident” should be off the hook, legally speaking.

This simply is not true, at least not in most cases. While accidents do sometimes happen without it being anyone’s fault, such as when a child runs out into traffic unexpectedly, accidents usually happen when someone does not behave in a reasonably prudent or careful manner. This is where the civil law of negligence comes into play, and the injured party (or the family of a deceased person) pursues a claim against the responsible party and, if successful in proving the traditional negligence elements of duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation, can receive compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.

Sometimes, a driver’s carelessness or recklessness can result in not only money damages being owed to the victim of an accident but also possible criminal prosecution. A recent incident here in North Carolina illustrates this point.

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large semi truckIn order for a court to enter a valid judgment against the defendant in a lawsuit, the court must have not only subject matter jurisdiction over the suit but also personal jurisdiction over the particular defendant.

Generally speaking, inquiries into whether or not a federal district court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant are resolved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), which provides for dismissal when the court lacks personal jurisdiction over a certain defendant.

In determining whether personal jurisdiction is present, the court must review the factual allegations of the underlying complaint.

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