A tractor-trailer driver was arrested recently in connection with a West Virginia truck accident that resulted in the death of a 33-year-old man. The 61-year-old trucker was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal crash. It's not clear from news reports what caused the crash on I-77, but we do know the semi reportedly dragged the pickup truck for more than a mile before it became detached. Afterward, the trucker allegedly kept driving for another two miles before he stopped. Authorities say he was caught discarding evidence of the crash, and there was no indication he planned to return to the scene.
If the allegations prove true, the trucker faces prison time, and family members of the decedent could have grounds to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. The viability of such a claim may depend on what actually caused the crash and whether decedent was killed as a result of the collision or as a result of his vehicle being dragged.
The case underscores a tragedy we see too often on West Virginia roads. Trucking accidents claim dozens of lives and cause hundreds of injuries every year in West Virginia. A new report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) indicates the number of large truck accidents and bus accidents rose by 8 percent nationally between 2014 and 2015.
Of the estimated 415,000 trucking accidents reported to police in 2014, about 1 percent (3,600) were deadly. Another 20 percent (83,000) resulted in serious injury — mostly to occupants of other vehicles aside from the truck.
Most truck crashes resulting in death occur on rural roads, though 1 in 4 — like the one on I-77 — occur on highways.
Some have pointed to the fact that population levels have increased leading to more people on the roads. However, the FMCSA considered this, and determined that for every 1 million people in the U.S. in 2015, there were 11.2 fatal large truck accidents. That's still a 6 percent increase as compared to the number in 2010.
About 90 percent of truck accidents that end in death result in a single fatality, and it's almost always the occupant of another vehicle. Most of these incidents happened between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. In three-fourths of all crashes involving large trucks reported to police, the most dangerous scenario was a truck colliding with another vehicle.
In West Virginia, officials reported there was a slight reduction in the number of truck accidents and the percentage of these fatalities as part of the total for all vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2014, there were 25 large trucks involved in fatal crashes, which represented 7.2 percent of the total. Then in 2015, there were 22 crashes, representing 6.2 percent of the total. While hopes are this signals a trend, it's too early to tell, especially given the fact that the rest of the country is seeing more fatal truck crashes.
Truck accident lawsuits in Weirton can quickly become complex matters because in many cases, trucking companies have structured their businesses in a way that aims to limit liability. They know that these cases can result in multi-million dollar verdicts because truck accidents so often result in catastrophic injuries or death. So they will hire drivers who work as independent contractors, rather than employees, to avoid plaintiffs' ability to assert vicarious liability. The carrier may not own the vehicle or the cargo being shipped, another means of limiting liability.
Victims in these cases may have to work harder to identify all possible defendants and to file viable claims in the proper jurisdiction. Contacting a qualified attorney can make a huge difference.