Understanding How Lockdown Neglect May Affect Truck Accident Rates
With fewer people on the road than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic, accident rates have dropped by 67% during the quarantine. However, the sad reality is that this good news will not last forever. As things return to normal, analysts fear there may be more COVID-19 truck accidents to deal with in the future.
The Importance of Trucking Maintenance in Preventing Accidents
An unfortunate truth is that many truck accidents are entirely preventable. There are all sorts of trucking maintenance regulations in place, but some do not follow all the rules. The most basic maintenance tasks are the daily inspections that are supposed to be completed by the truckers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires truck managers to check things like brakes, steering mechanisms, tires, lights, and coupling equipment on a regular basis. There are also regular maintenance activities that need to be carried out, such as changing oil or replacing certain parts that wear out quickly. Companies are supposed to keep their vehicles in good working condition, and drivers are not supposed to operate trucks that could break down or cause accidents.
Common maintenance neglect that leads to accidents includes:
- Trailer hitch failure
- Blown out tires
- Failure of the suspension system
- Problem with the steering components
- Blown out headlights, turn signals, or reflective warning signs
- Trouble with properly securing cargo
- Failure of the braking system
As you can see, maintenance plays a huge role in keeping people on the road safe. However, all of this important maintenance takes a lot of time and effort. While many professionals are now out of work, truckers are constantly busy due to the virus. As they rush to make sure people are getting the food, medical supplies, and health care items they need, mistakes can happen. There are also some concerns that companies may delay less essential maintenance to meet deadlines. In most cases, this is just a way of speeding things up during the crisis. However, if a company makes a mistake when assessing the importance of a maintenance activity, it can lead to accidents.
Other Forms of Neglected Maintenance That Lead to COVID-19 Truck Accidents
Neglecting fleet checkups is one of the largest causes of truck accidents, but it is not the only way that reduced maintenance during lockdown may end up causing problems. Another major issue is that many private and state-run construction projects are shutting down. Unless they are deemed absolutely essential, certain repairs could be delayed. This can lead to all sorts of poor road conditions, including massive potholes, erosion, poor guardrails, and missing traffic signs. Once people get back to their regular commutes again, declining road quality could make it more difficult to avoid certain types of accidents.
Will Courts View Reduced Maintenance as Negligence?
An important point to remember in any truck accident lawsuit is that you usually only get compensation if you can prove that the defendant behaved negligently. Legally speaking, negligence is defined as failing to behave with the level of care that an ordinarily reasonable person would have exercised. In most cases, a company failing to maintain their vehicles or an organization failing to maintain the roads would be a clear-cut example of negligence. However, the issue will invariably get more complicated as courts get back into session.
Quite a few judges have already expressed that they will be considering the coronavirus pandemic when they make rulings on COVID-19-related cases in the future. Since judges are expected to interpret the law based on individual circumstances, some types of reduced maintenance during the coronavirus crisis may not count as negligence. If a reasonably competent person would have chosen not to perform a certain maintenance check during a global crisis, this could escape action in a court of law. For example, something like a trucker failing to get a new mud flap because they could not find any store selling them might not be seen as negligent while a company that would not let a trucker stop for repairs because they were in a hurry may still be negligent. Since these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, it is important for an injured plaintiff to partner with an experienced truck accident lawyer.
Who Should Be Held Responsible for Neglect?
In almost all truck accidents caused by a lack of maintenance, the person directly involved is just an employee doing their job. They might have skipped maintenance themselves, or their employer may have instructed them to skip the checkup. This adds a further layer of complexity to coronavirus trucking accident lawsuits. When you are injured by an employee who is in the middle of completing tasks for their job, who would you even sue in the first place?
According to New Jersey law, an employee who is acting in the scope of their employment is not personally responsible for paying damages. Instead, the person who would be held liable is actually the employer themselves as long as the negligent party was doing something that is part of their job. Regardless of whether the maintenance was caused by an individual employee or a company-wide policy, the employer is usually viewed as the responsible party. Being able to sue an employer instead of the employee is generally more beneficial because you’ll be more likely to get the compensation you need. The transportation company is much more likely to have the funds available to pay out on a claim. Furthermore, you’ll be holding a corporation that cut corners responsible instead of attacking someone who was just trying to deliver essential supplies to people.
How Can You Prove That Maintenance Neglect Caused COVID-19 Truck Accidents
If you’ve been in a truck accident and you suspect that a lack of maintenance was involved, there are a few ways to prove the issue. Getting photos of the accident site, contact information from potential witnesses, and records from any officers at the scene can all help prove your case. All trucking companies are required to keep records on truck maintenance. This includes a schedule of when various routine maintenance is due and a record of any repairs made to the vehicle. Getting hold of these records can be an essential part of proving your case, and in some instances, the lack of these records can be a form of negligence itself. However, trucking companies are only required to keep these records for one year if they are still using the truck or six months if they are no longer using the truck. Therefore, it is important to act fast and seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
Do not let the coronavirus pandemic keep you from holding the negligent party responsible after your accident. At RAM Law, our truck accident lawyers focus on all sorts of transportation-related personal injury lawsuits including COVID-19 truck accidents. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about how these lawsuits work, and our team has years of experience advocating for our clients to get the compensation they deserve. Send us an email or call us at (732) 394-1549 to speak to a member of our team now. We have offices in Freehold, Somerville, and New Brunswick.