The South Carolina Department of Public Safety reports that, in 2017 alone, tractor-trailers were involved in nearly 5,000 collisions on state roads. Those crashes resulted in 65 deaths and 1,637 injuries. In many cases, these crashes resulted from the negligence of truck drivers and their employers.
The companies that own commercial trucks are responsible for their fleet of vehicles and for the drivers which they employ. This is true even when they operate in states other than where the trucking company is located. Additionally, the nature of interstate commerce and the sizes of the loads that most commercial vehicles carry means that truck owners must carry insurance policies with much higher limits than the standard auto insurance policy.
Some people mistakenly assume that they will be unable to take action if they are hurt in a truck accident in South Carolina when the company is located elsewhere. It is important to know that this is not true. You have the right to pursue just compensation if an out-of-state trucking company and/or its driver acted negligently and caused your crash and injuries.
When Can You Hold the Out-of-State Trucking Company Liable?
Respondeat superior is the Latin phrase for “let the master answer.” It is also the legal doctrine that allows an employer to be held liable for the acts of its employees if the employee commits those acts while working. This is more commonly referred to as vicarious liability. Under this doctrine, trucking companies from other states can be liable for their drivers’ negligent actions or failures to act. Some examples are speeding, reckless driving, distracted driving, drunk driving or driving with cargo that has been improperly secured.
Out-of-state trucking companies can also be liable for their own negligence. Common reasons why companies are liable to include:
- Inadequate hiring – Trucking companies are required to perform background checks and follow specific hiring regulations. However, due to the high demand for drivers, some companies may try to circumvent these rules in order to get more employees behind the wheel, making deliveries. If a company misses or ignores red flags, the company could be liable for any injuries the driver causes.
- Inadequate training and supervision – Drivers must have specialized training and meet specific training requirements in order to be allowed to operate these massive vehicles. Drivers should also be equipped with the training and knowledge to handle the stress of operating the vehicle, remain alert and know how to remain safe on the road at all times. Much like inadequate hiring practices, some trucking companies fail to thoroughly train and supervise their drivers. To meet demand and increase their profits, they may push inexperienced drivers out on the road before they are ready.
- Violating hours of service rules – Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours of service regulations prohibit drivers from exceeding specific hours of service (a maximum of 14 consecutive hours, only after 10 consecutive hours off-duty) and days (no more than 60 hours in any seven-day period and 70 hours in any eight-day period). Many trucking companies are aware when their drivers exceed these restrictions. Still, they choose to look the other way. In other cases, they may pressure drivers to violate federal regulations in order to maximize deliveries and profits.
- Poorly inspecting and maintaining trucks – Trucking companies are responsible for the condition of their fleets. To save time and money, some companies do not perform scheduled maintenance, or they push tires or brake pads past their recommended life. If the company fails to keep its trucks in safe working condition, severe injury accidents are bound to happen. The trucking company should be held accountable.
Proving a trucking company’s liability in South Carolina is no easy task. This is why it is crucial for a truck accident victim to seek the help of a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible. Trucking companies must maintain only certain records for limited periods of time. Then, they are free to destroy the records without penalty. So, it is vital for an attorney to obtain those records before the company alters, loses or destroys those records.
How to Determine Fault in a Semi-Truck Accident?
At The Jeffcoat Firm, our lawyers can obtain the evidence necessary to hold the out-of-state trucking company accountable. For instance, we will review the truck driver’s cell phone records. This is because FMCSA rules ban truck drivers from texting and other forms of hand-held phone use while driving. The point of those rules is to prevent distracted driving accidents.
When a truck driver has been involved in an accident, police in South Carolina will perform chemical tests to determine whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. An attorney from our law firm can obtain the results to these tests to use in a potential negligence claim. (Note: Any criminal case against the driver would be separate from your own civil action, which has a much lower burden of proof than a prosecution.)
Additional forms of evidence that a lawyer from The Jeffcoat Firm might review could include:
- The truck’s GPS data and electronic data recorder information
- Onboard camera footage
- Bills of lading
- Toll booth receipts
- Background checks and hiring and training records
- The trucking company’s maintenance records.
You can count on The Jeffcoat Firm to diligently work to uncover all possible evidence that can be used in your case against an out-of-state trucking company. We know how devastating these accidents can be. We want to recover maximum compensation for you and your loved ones.
Establishing Jurisdiction for a Truck Accident Claim in South Carolina
Jurisdiction is not an issue in most car accident cases in South Carolina. This is because both parties are usually residents of the state. The situation becomes more complicated when the defendant is an out-of-state truck driver, or the trucking company that employs the driver or owns the truck is from a different state.
In some instances, a court may lack jurisdiction over an out-of-state person or company. However, a court can have jurisdiction if the person or company has “minimum contacts” with the state. Doing business in South Carolina, for instance, would be an example of a minimum contact.
In South Carolina, the Court of Common Pleas typically has jurisdiction in personal injury cases. When a victim in South Carolina has been injured in a truck accident caused by an out-of-state trucking company, the victim will usually want to file the lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas in the county in which the crash occurred.
However, in some cases, a lawsuit may be filed in federal court or the U.S. District for the District of South Carolina. Typically, in a truck accident case, a federal court would have jurisdiction if the parties resided in different states (called “diversity of citizenship”) and the case involved more than $75,000 in damages. A company may be considered to be a “resident” of a state if that is where it is incorporated or has its principal place of business.
In reality, not all truck accident cases end up making it to court. Most commercial truck crashes are resolved through settlements that are intended to provide enough compensation to cover all damages a victim has incurred or will incur because of the accident. It can take a very lengthy negotiation process between an injury attorney and insurance company before a satisfactory settlement can be reached. However, insurers will usually prefer to settle a case rather than bear the costs of going to trial and risking a possible judgment as well.
Contact Our South Carolina Tractor-Trailer Injury Law Firm Today
The Jeffcoat Firm will put your interests first and immediately conduct an independent investigation of your truck crash. We will review the accident reports, order medical records and interview eyewitnesses to establish what happened. To maximize the amount of your potential settlement or verdict, we will work hard to identify all responsible parties as well, including out-of-state defendants.
We operate on a contingency fee basis. You won’t pay anything unless we obtain a settlement or verdict on your behalf. During your initial consultation, we will discuss our fees and determine what our percentage fee will be for your case. We would then deduct that percentage from the total settlement amount and other related expenses, with the remainder being disbursed to you once all of your bills are paid.
If you suffered severe injuries, or if your loved one was killed in a commercial truck accident involving an out-of-state trucking company, do not wait to seek legal representation. You will want to be sure that you have an attorney before you speak to any trucking company’s insurer in order to make sure that your rights and interests are protected.
The South Carolina truck accident attorneys of The Jeffcoat Firm are here to provide the experienced, aggressive representation you deserve. We have extensive experience with taking on trucking companies and their insurers, and we won’t back down from a fight. We answer calls 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Contact us now for a free consultation that will come with no strings attached.