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Recovery of money damages for victims of Semi Truck Crashes in Michigan.

Gerlard R Stahl May 30, 2023

What happens when a driver is injured in an accident caused by the driver of a semi tractor trailer?

Semi trucks can be operated by an employee of the semi trucking company or the driver can be an independent owner and operator. In either case, the semi tractor driver and owner of the truck are subject to the Michigan No Fault Act. In order to recover money damages, the truck driver must cause the crash by reckless or negligent conduct and the car victim must have threshold injuries under the No Fault Act.  This article will explore the many rules and regulations of semi truck operators and owners. In addition, the medical proofs necessary for a victim recover money damages for their pain and suffering.

Proof of Fault after a Trucking Accident

The police investigation is best served if data on the driver, the equipment, the company information at the scene are secured on the date of the accident.  If the accident happened recently, a site inspection should be made as quickly as possible. This will help if your attorney needs to hire an accident consultant.  In some cases the semi driver’s actions will be obviously negligent. For instance, if the semi driver fails to stop within an assured clear distance and rear ends the victim’s car. Also, there may be other cases where the semi trucking company will allege the car driver was partially or mainly at fault.

The attorney will demand in spoliation letter that the owner of the truck preserve certain evidence related to this collision. If you fail to properly secure and preserve these important pieces of evidence, it can give rise to a legal presumption that the evidence would have been harmful to their side of the case if presented to a court. This destruction of evidence can be used as proof of a damaging fact.

Frequent Causes of Semi Truck Accidents

There can be many factors contributing to the cause of a Semi Tractor Crash. Listed below are some possible contributing factors.

Hours of Serve: This refers to driver fatigue which can occur when the driver fails to comply with sleep and hours of service requirements.

Swerving out of Lane: This can result in loss of control and failure to see traffic in the oncoming lane.

Improperly Loaded Trailer or Overloaded Trailer: The weight of the trailer can cause the load to shift and flip the trailer. In the case of an overloaded trailer, the tractor may have difficulty turning and stopping. This can also cause jack knifing and rollover. Improperly loaded trailer can cause load shift.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Truck drivers can go out the night before and drink alcohol and still be illegal to drive. Also, they could take drugs to stay awake and suffer from lack of sleep.

Truck Maintenance: Trucks must be serviced routinely and have proof of maintenance records. They are also required to have daily inspection reports and repair records.

Maneuverability: Trucks often have long trailers. These trailers are difficult to turn or maneuver. I have seen Semi crashes in Holland, Michigan, where the Tractor pulls out to make a left turn but becomes trapped because the maneuver was not made early enough or in a wide enough fashion. This can cause the road to be blocked.

Improper Driver Training: A driver must be qualified and have a CDL license as well have certification of prior traffic violations. The company hiring the driver should also be aware of the driver’s employment history. Has the driver completed adequate educational and training programs? Employers should also make sure the driver is medically qualified to operate a tractor trailer.

Inspection of the Semi Tractor and Trailer

It is recommended that the vehicle be inspected as soon as possible. For instance, information can be obtained about the status of the brakes or the amount and weight of the trailer load.  Additionally, truck engine manufacturers began recording potentially valuable data in the electronic control module of engines.  That data can vary with the model, year, and make of the engine.  For instance, a hard brake application, truck speed, odometer readings, cruise settings and other valuable information will be recorded. The information can be downloaded by companies from the ECM with diagnostic devices. 

Driver experience and qualifications

Semi truck drivers require commercial motor vehicle drivers to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).  The applicant for a CDL must pass knowledge and skill tests.  Other factors are whether the driver is an experienced commercial driver and has a safe driving record.  A CDL is required to operate semi tractor in most states.  Additionally companies must research the driver’s and employment record.

There are many other requirements for drivers under the Federal Motor Carrier Act. I once represented a victim of a semi crash in Holland, Michigan where the driver was not able to speak fluent English. This fact was found to be a violation of the requirements under the Federal Motor Carrier Act for semi drivers.

Semi drivers will have records in their position that may be relevant. For instance, log books, bills of lading, road expenses, personal expenses, road test certificate, commercial driver’s license, and trip records.

Trucking Company Liability

Trucking companies are required to have a basic foundation of paper work for every driver employee showing their qualifications and personnel background.  The company also will maintain and update that file during the employment of the driver. 

Companies also have to maintain updated driving records file for their drivers.  The duty status file consists of the driver’s records of hours; safety inspections, miles driven, and drivers log sheets. 

The company is also required to maintain maintenance records for their trucks.  The company must also keep truck maintenance records for both tractor and trailer. The driver must also report to the company needed repairs. This is called a driver vehicle inspection report.  The repair company will forward a copy of the report to the owner that normally pays for the repair work. If the maintenance record is not in the truck, the driver can be fined upon inspection for not having a copy. These records provide a maintenance trail in order to track needed repairs and protect the road from unmaintained semi trucks.

Threshold Injuries under the No Fault Act after being hit by a Semi Tractor Trailer in Michigan

In Michigan a victim of a motor vehicle crash is entitled to damages in the past, present, and future for pain and suffering as a consequence of injuries sustained by the semi driver’s negligence. Under the Michigan No Fault Act, a driver and owner of a motor vehicle are liable in tort for the plaintiff’s non economic damages such as pain and suffering as long as the plaintiff sustained threshold injuries of a serious impairment of a body function. The victim may also be entitled to long term economic damages if their ability to maintain future employment is affected.

There are 3 prongs necessary to establish threshold injuries of a serious impairment of a body function: “(1) an objectively manifested impairment (2) an important bodily function that (3) affects the person’s general ability to live his or her normal life. “Impairment need not be permanent to be serious under the Michigan No Fault Act.                                                                                                                    

An “Objectively Manifested Injury” is one that is evidenced by actual symptoms or conditions that someone other than the injured person would observe as impairing a body function. Further, it is only the impairment that has to be objectively manifested not the injury or its symptoms. Thus, when considering an impairment, a court should not focus on injuries themselves, but on how the injures affect the plaintiff’s particular bodily function.

An Important Body Function that affects their normal life as part of threshold injury test:  

Whether a body function is considered an important body function is important is an inherently subjective inquiry that must be decided on a case by case basis. That injury must affect person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life. For instance, common sense tells us that walking is an important bodily function. So if a victim suffers an injury to their leg and now walks with limp, it is an obvious loss of an important bodily function. Additionally, it would generally change their normal life of the victim, making them unable to run or walk as normal. This prong of test requires a subjective fact based inquiry that must be decided on a case by case basis, which necessarily requires a comparison of that person life before and after the accident.

In the case of a closed head injury, testimony of a licensed allopathic or osteopathic physician who regularly treats or diagnoses closed-head injuries creates a question of fact for the jury to decide. Thus the statute presumes that the accident has affected an important bodily function.

Experience suing Truckers and Trucking Companies Counts

Attorney Gerald R. Stahl is experienced in helping victims of trucking accidents recover money damages. If you are injured in an accident with a semi tractor, you need an attorney that has investigated, settled, and tried trucking cases. Gerald R Stahl is an experienced trucking lawyer and he will fight to achieve the best results in your case.  The client should always consider their future after suffering a serious injury that was not their fault.