Chicago Commercial Vehicle Accident Lawyer

With a population of around 2.7 million and a location roughly in the center of the country, Chicago is an important hub for domestic and international freight. In addition to massive commercial trucks that bring products into, out of, and through Chicago, a number of smaller vehicles, such as vans and box trucks, are used to ship these products from the port, airports, warehouses, and retail stores to business and residential locations.

While the economy of the area depends partly on the presence of commercial vehicles, when the driver of one of these vehicles causes an accident, it can leave other roadway users injured and unsure of where to turn for assistance.

If an accident caused by a semi-truck driver or other commercial vehicle injures you, seek compensation for your injuries through the Illinois personal injury claims process.

An experienced Chicago commercial vehicle accident lawyer from Zayed Law Offices can evaluate your claim for free, answer the legal questions, and explain the services a legal professional can provide to help you seek the compensation you need.

Since our firm began assisting the injured in Illinois in 2009, we have successfully garnered settlements and court awards for our clients, including $1.7 million in a commercial vehicle accident case and $1.5 million for another.

Why Commercial Vehicle Accidents Occur in Chicago

According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, over 925 million tons of freight worth around $1.3 trillion move in and out of Chicago by plane, train, or motor vehicles. Chicago's freight system and central location make the area a major player in the shipping industry and contribute more than 176,000 jobs in northeastern Illinois. Seven interstate highways in the region make up an important part of the infrastructure needed for a region whose economy is dependent on freight. Here is a look at how commercial vehicle accidents occur in Chicago.

High Speed in a Heavy Truck

Commercial trucks driving through Chicago must use designated routes, including the area interstates. Other types of traffic frequent these routes and are often designated for higher speeds than other roadways in Cook County. High speeds are an issue for commercial trucks, which can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded. A vehicle's braking system is not instantaneous, and it will continue its forward motion for some time as the brakes work to pull the vehicle's weight to a safe stop. Because of the additional weight of the commercial truck, it will travel 20-40 percent farther after the driver brakes than smaller vehicles on the roadway.

The excess speed of trucks traveling on the interstate further increases the vehicle's stopping distance. The additional force caused by a faster forward motion requires the brakes to work even harder to bring the truck to a stop. Driving at a high rate of speed also increases safety risks as it deprives the driver of the time they need to perceive a hazard on the roadway and react to it by braking which could increase the damage wrought by a head-on collision or rear-end collision.

Taking the Long Road to Chicago

While Chicago's central location makes it attractive to shippers, the trip from Chicago to ports on either east or west coast or from ports in Texas is a long one for truck drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—the agency tasked with regulating the federal trucking industry—reports that driver fatigue in about 13 percent of all commercial motor vehicle accidents.

The agency has issued Hours of Service restrictions to prevent commercial truckers from driving too many hours or too many consecutive days without off-duty breaks. However, with deadlines placed on the delivery of their cargo, a well-known and extreme shortage of qualified drivers, and other time constraints, drivers are often tempted to bend these hours of service rules.

Other common causes of driver fatigue in the trucking industry include drivers with medical conditions such as sleep apnea that cause a feeling of unrest even after obtaining sufficient sleep and sleep inertia, which impairs the driver's functional skills within the first hour after waking. This issue is of particular concern for drivers who sleep in their truck sleeper during off-duty breaks and attempt to resume driving quickly after waking up.

Unfamiliar Roadways

Commercial truck drivers and operators of other commercial vehicles often transport products to unfamiliar areas. This challenge is particularly true once drivers leave the interstate to deliver items to businesses and residential neighborhoods where streets and traffic are difficult.

Without traveling these roads daily, drivers can become confused in areas like the two right-turning lanes at La Grange Road and the I-80 Westbound ramp or the intersection of Lincoln and Clark. Confusion can lead to a driver becoming flustered and making mistakes when driving.

Distractions, Distractions, Distractions

Driving distractions are a major cause of accidents in Chicago involving all vehicles, with texting being of particular concern as it combines the three types of distractions. These distractions include a manual distraction that causes the driver to take their hands from the wheel, a visual distraction that takes the driver's eyes off the road, and a cognitive distraction that takes the driver's thoughts off the road and on their message.

The FMCSA prohibits commercial truck drivers from using handheld electronic devices while driving. However, this is far from the only distraction that can result in a commercial vehicle accident. Commercial drivers also regularly communicate with dispatch and typically have a GPS to find their destination.

The devices used to communicate with a dispatcher or follow a GPS are driving distractions to commercial drivers. Other distractions that can result in a Chicago commercial vehicle accident include eating, drinking, smoking, watching other people or vehicles, or chatting with a co-driver.

Impaired Driving

Chicago issued licenses to more than 1,000 drinking establishments. Neighboring cities and villages have issued hundreds more. In 2020, the state also approved the legal sale and use of recreational marijuana.

While residents can legally purchase marijuana, and adults over 21 can have a blood alcohol content of up to 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter and still legally drive, truck drivers are subject to a blood alcohol limit of 0.04 (the equivalent of about two drinks in an hour for most people). They are also subject to random drug and alcohol screenings to obtain and maintain their commercial driver's license (CDL).

However, while some people will violate a rule, many impaired driving accidents involving commercial drivers occur because the driver took a substance they didn't realize was intoxicating, such as cold and allergy medication.

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What Is the Claims Process Involved in Obtaining Compensation After a Commercial Vehicle Accident?

The Illinois personal injury claims process generally involves seeking compensation from the at-fault party's insurance provider by filing a claim against their liability policy. If the insurance provider fails to compensate the claim, your attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit within the two-year limit (statute of limitations) for personal injury claims.

While claims can settle after a lawsuit is filed, if compensation hasn't been received by the time the trial date arrives, a judge or jury will hear the case and evidence, consider witness testimony, and determine liability and compensation. Here is a look at various parts of the personal injury claims process.

Hiring an Experienced Chicago Commercial Vehicle Accident Attorney

Personal injury claimants in Illinois are not required to obtain the services of an attorney to seek compensation through the civil personal injury claims process. However, an attorney brings legal understanding and experience to your claim, which is vital to obtaining the compensation you need.

Attorneys who work on claims involving commercial vehicle accidents provide their services on a contingent fee basis. This arrangement means that you will not pay for your attorney's services unless your attorney secures compensation for your claim, either through a negotiated settlement or a court decision.

Determining Liability

Determining liability in an accident caused by a commercial vehicle driver is a bit more complex than other claims due to the use of the commercial vehicle for employment purposes. In nearly every type of industry, an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employees while they are on the clock. Additionally, the employer of a commercial driver is often the one who carries the insurance on the vehicle.

However, many drivers in the trucking industry are owners/operators, meaning they own their truck and transport as an independent contractor to a trucking or logistics company. If the commercial driver who caused the accident works independently and maintains their own insurance policy on the vehicle, they are often the liable party.

Some commercial vehicle accident cases have additional sources of liability, such as:

  • The manufacturer of defective products used on any of the vehicles involved,
  • Other drivers whose negligence contributed to the accident, or
  • The shipper of the transported products, if they loaded the trailer incorrectly.

Valuing the Claim

The amount of insurance the liable party has is one of the biggest factors influencing the claim's amount, as liability insurance policies are subject to limits.

Other factors include:

  • The out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the claimant as a result of their injury.
  • The severity of the injury.
  • The level of recklessness or carelessness exhibited by the driver.
  • The presence of permanent injuries that impair the claimant's ability to earn a future income.

Filing a Lawsuit

Truck accident claimants in Illinois must file a lawsuit within two years of the accident's date. Failure to do so will usually result in losing the right to use the court process when seeking compensation. Without the legal consequence of suing the at-fault driver and their insurance provider, the claimant will likely not succeed in obtaining a settlement offer either.

Gathering Evidence and Witness Testimony

When the attorney files the claimant's lawsuit, it will begin a new phase of the process known as discovery. Discovery is the point in the case when the claimant's attorney can seek evidence and witness testimony from the defendant (and vice-versa).

Some of the evidence used in a commercial vehicle accident case include:

  • The truck's event data recorder, which can show the speed the driver was traveling and whether they braked before the accident.
  • The driver's electronic log, which will show how long they were on duty before the accident occurred.
  • The driver's personnel file, which includes the results of their physical exam, drug and alcohol screening, and information about licensing and training completed to qualify as a commercial driver.
  • Information about the vehicle's maintenance performed to ensure it was safe to drive, as well as the pre-trip inspection of the vehicle conducted by the driver before every trip.

What Steps Should You Take After You Sustain Injuries in a Commercial Vehicle Accident?

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Immediately after an accident, dial 911 for a law enforcement officer and an emergency medical team.

While you are waiting for assistance, protect your legal rights and preserve the evidence at the scene.

  • Never admit fault or apologize to anyone for what happened. Insurance companies and courts often use simple post-accident statements against you.
  • Use your smartphone camera to document the scene.
  • Take photos of the other driver's license and insurance information.
  • Photograph both vehicles: impact points, stopping locations, license plates, etc.
  • Capture a photo of the overall accident scene: street, traffic control devices, pavement, accident debris, etc.
  • Talk to witnesses and get their contact information. Witnesses do not always wait for the police to arrive.
  • If your injuries prevent you from performing these activities, ask a bystander for help.

Injured in a Chicago Commercial Vehicle Accident? We Can Help

The experienced legal team at Zayed Law Offices is ready to provide you with information about the commercial vehicle accident claims process and the types of services we can offer to assist you in obtaining the compensation you need. Contact us online for a free case evaluation or call (312) 726-1616.