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What To Do if You’ve Been in an Accident with a Semi-Truck in Colorado

April 17, 2023

The trucking industry plays a vital role in the United States, transporting goods across the nation and contributing significantly to the economy. Colorado, with its strategic location and important interstate highways, sees a significant amount of trucking activity.

However, accidents involving commercial trucks, particularly tractor-trailers, can result in severe injuries or fatalities.

All too often in Colorado, we read a headline about a tragic tractor-trailer accident. These crashes are typically very disruptive to our roads and can cause devastating injuries, as well as deaths.

There are a lot of laws in our country to protect both semi-truck drivers and the people who share the road with them. Given the fact that I-70 was recently shut down by another one of these scary crashes, I thought I’d outline some of these laws and explain why semi-truck crash cases can be so complicated.

First, a little background on those big trucks.

Semi-Trucks and Tractor-Trailers: Definition and Significance

Semi-truck in Colorado

Photo by photo-denver / Shutterstock

A tractor-trailer, also known as a semi-truck, semi-trailer, or eighteen-wheeler, is a large trucking vehicle consisting of two main components: the tractor (or power unit) and the trailer. The tractor is the front part, which contains the engine and driver’s cabin, while the trailer is the detachable part used to transport cargo. Tractor-trailers are widely used in the transportation industry due to their ability to carry large quantities of goods over long distances efficiently.

Why a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is Necessary

Operating a semi-truck requires specialized skills and knowledge beyond what is needed to drive a standard passenger vehicle. Due to their size, weight, and complexity, semis pose unique challenges and risks on the road. To ensure that truck drivers are adequately trained and qualified to operate these vehicles safely, a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is necessary.

A CDL is a specialized driver’s license that allows individuals to operate the following:

  • Any commercial motor vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or heavier
  • Any commercial vehicle that is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver
  • Any vehicle transporting hazardous material and is required to be placarded in accordance with 49 CFR Part 172, Subpart F

Obtaining a CDL involves passing a series of tests, including a written knowledge test and a skills test, which assesses a driver’s ability to maneuver and control the vehicle, perform pre-trip inspections, and handle various on-road situations.

In Colorado specifically, these are the requirements to obtain a CDL:

  • Valid driver license from Colorado or another state or a commercial learner’s permit
  • Current Department of Transportation medical card
  • Your Social Security number and proof of lawful presence in the US
  • Successful commercial drive skills test showing completed in Commercial Skills Test Information Management System (CSTIMS)
  • Must complete Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) at an approved school
  • If you want to add a HAZMAT endorsement on your CDL, you will need to take an Entry-Level Driver Training course (if adding the endorsement for the first time), successfully pass the HAZMAT written exam and provide a current TSA background check every time you purchase a CDL.
  • Fee

Federal Laws Governing Commercial Truck Drivers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) establishes and enforces regulations that apply to commercial truck drivers, including those operating tractor-trailers, in the United States. These regulations cover various aspects, such as driver qualifications, hours of service, vehicle maintenance, and cargo securement. Some of the critical regulations include:

  1. Hours of Service Regulations: These rules limit the number of hours a truck driver can be on duty and drive, aiming to prevent fatigue-related accidents. Drivers must take mandatory rest breaks and follow specific guidelines for daily and weekly driving limits.
  2. Driver Qualifications: Commercial truck drivers, including tractor-trailer operators, must meet specific qualifications, such as obtaining a CDL, passing a physical examination, and completing required training. (See section above.)
  3. Vehicle Maintenance and Inspection: Carriers must maintain their vehicles, including semi-trucks, in a safe operating condition and regularly inspect them to minimize the risk of accidents caused by mechanical failures.
  4. Drug and Alcohol Testing: Commercial drivers are subject to drug and alcohol testing to ensure they do not operate their vehicles while impaired.

Personal Injury Cases Involving Tractor-Trailer Accidents in Colorado

Tractor-trailer crashes typically result in extremely complicated legal cases. If you are injured in a tractor-trailer accident in Colorado, you should hire a personal injury attorney who not only understands Colorado’s personal injury laws, but also all of the Federal regulations around semi-truck drivers and their rigs. Additionally, you will be dealing with the trucking company’s insurance, which is likely to play hardball.

Only with an experienced personal injury attorney can you be sure to file a claim that seeks full compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. In tractor-trailer accidents, establishing negligence is crucial.

Federal regulations play a significant role in determining negligence, as violating these rules may lead to a presumption of negligence on the part of the semi driver or trucking company.

For instance, if a tractor-trailer driver violates the hours-of-service regulations and causes an accident due to fatigue, the injured party can use this violation to establish negligence.

Similarly, if the trucking company fails to conduct proper vehicle inspections, leading to an accident caused by a mechanical failure, the injured party can argue that the company’s negligence contributed to the crash.

After a Tractor-Trailer Crash in Colorado Talk to an Attorney ASAP

Because these cases are so complicated, involving so many different parties, it is essential that victims of tractor-trailer crashes get legal help quickly. The truck driver and trucking company will be looking for ways to blame victims for the driver’s errors. If they find a way to do this, the victim may shoulder some of the blame.

Colorado follows a modified comparative negligence rule, which means that if the injured party is found to be partially at fault for the accident, their compensation will be reduced in proportion to their share of fault. However, if the injured party is found to be 50% or more at fault, they will not be eligible for any compensation.

For example, imagine that you and a trucker are in a crash headed west on I-70. If you are speeding, and a tractor-trailer driver violates the hours-of-service regulations, the court may determine that you are both negligent. The compensation awarded to the injured party (most likely you) will be reduced according to their share of fault.

Tractor-Trailer Crashes in Colorado are Complicated. Get an Attorney.

Accidents in Colorado involving tractor-trailers require a thorough understanding of federal regulations governing commercial truck drivers, as well as the specific challenges and risks associated with operating these large vehicles. Knowledge of the role of a Commercial Driver’s License in ensuring driver competence is also essential.

By identifying and proving negligence based on violations of these regulations, injured parties can seek the compensation they deserve for their injuries and losses. You need the expert help of a personal injury attorney who is well-versed in both federal and state laws to effectively represent you and navigate the complexities of tractor-trailer accidents.

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