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Commercial truck accidents are among the most dangerous collisions that occur on California roads. The National Safety Council reported that 9% of all fatal car accidents in 2020 involved semi-trucks or other large commercial vehicles. In California, statistics gathered from the California Highway Patrol proved that semi-truck collisions caused 367 deaths in 2017 (the last year these statistics were available). Throughout the state, thousands of truck accident victims suffer from the actions of negligent commercial drivers.

California trucking accident laws aim to significantly reduce the number of semi-truck accidents throughout the state and prevent thousands of injuries and fatalities. Commercial drivers in the state of California must abide by all of the following laws. Failure to do so could result in fines, suspensions of a license, or serious accidents. Additionally, awareness of California trucking accident law can help victims of commercial vehicle accidents learn more about their legal options. 

Age Minimum for California Commercial Drivers

The first of California’s commercial trucking laws involves state age requirements for commercial drivers. In California, all commercial drivers must be at least 18 years old. However, commercial drivers must be 21 years old if they operate across state lines or transport dangerous cargo. Commercial trucking companies will face serious consequences if they are caught hiring underage drivers. 

Special Licensing Requirement for California Truckers

To be a working commercial driver in California, drivers must obtain a Commercial Driving License (CDL). A CDL can be obtained by attending a truck driving school and getting a permit. After this, drivers will complete an online application and visit the DMV to ensure they meet all residency, medical, and identification requirements. California requires that CDLs be renewed five years after issue. Commercial drivers cannot be employed with an expired CDL. 

California’s Definition of Commercial Vehicles

The California Department of Transportation defines a commercial vehicle as “a vehicle which is used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation, or profit or designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property.” While most people recognize semi-trucks or 18-wheelers as commercial vehicles, other vehicles such as taxis, delivery vans, garbage trucks, or construction vehicles also fit this definition. If you were hit by any commercial vehicle, it is important that you and your attorney assess whether or not the driver’s employer can also be held liable for your injuries. 

Required Rests for Commercial Drivers

Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel can be just as dangerous as those that drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. To ensure all drivers are alert on the road, California requires that drivers take mandated breaks, otherwise known as “hours-of-service” regulations. Commercial drivers in the state of California (and their employers) are required to abide by both interstate and intrastate hours-of-service laws. The FMCSA requires that interstate drivers only be on duty for 14 hours if they have been off for 10 hours. In comparison, the state of California mandates that intrastate commercial drivers can only drive 12 hours after 10 hours off-duty. Additionally, commercial drivers in California cannot drive if they have been on duty for more than 80 hours in an 8-day period.

Blood Alcohol Level Restrictions

Operating any vehicle while under the influence of alcohol can have deadly consequences. This is even more true when operating a large commercial vehicle. While most drivers in the state of California cannot exceed a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 percent, California law prohibits drivers from operating a commercial with a BAC level of 0.04 percent or higher. Commercial drivers found guilty of driving under the influence will have their CDL revoked and may face criminal or civil charges.

California Size and Weight Limits for Commercial Vehicles

Commercial vehicles in California are subject to state laws regulating the size and weight of both the cargo and the vehicle itself. For example, the gross weight limit on any axle cannot exceed 20,000 pounds (unless the vehicle is a bus; in this case, the weight cannot exceed 20,500 pounds). Additionally, there are limits on the length of commercial vehicles: a single commercial vehicle cannot exceed 40 feet, and a truck and trailer cannot exceed a combined length of 65 feet. There are some exceptions to these requirements, but it is the responsibility of the commercial trucking company to ensure they are not violating California’s size and weight limits for commercial vehicles. 

California Negligence Law

California’s Civil Code - CIV § 1714 states that “[e]veryone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.” In terms of commercial vehicle drivers, which means drivers must employ “ordinary care or skill” in the course of their employment. For example, they must abide by all of the above laws and regulations to operate their vehicles safely. If a commercial driver is proven to have acted in a negligent manner, they are considered legally and financially responsible for any resulting injuries according to California law. 

California Strict Liability Law

Commercial drivers and their employers are not the only parties who can be held accountable for victims’ injuries. In some cases, it may not be the driver’s fault that the accident occurred. Faulty engines or improperly loaded cargo can be just as hazardous as a negligent driver. 

California’s strict liability law states that victims can sue a manufacturer or distributor if a product “contained a manufacturing defect,” “was defectively designed,” or “did not include sufficient instructions or warning of potential safety hazards.” If you were injured in an accident caused by a malfunctioning or faulty commercial vehicle, you might have grounds to sue the manufacturer for compensation.

California Commercial Trucking Insurance Requirements

All commercial drivers in California must be covered by liability insurance. The amount of coverage required depends on the type and amount of cargo the driver is hauling. California's commercial trucking insurance requirements apply to all commercial vehicles traveling within the state. However, if a commercial driver crosses state lines, they must also abide by additional federal insurance requirements. 

When victims are injured in a commercial trucking accident, the commercial driver’s insurance company is obligated to offer a payout on behalf of their client. Before accepting any compensation from a commercial trucking insurance company, consult with a qualified injury lawyer to ensure you receive fair compensation for the full extent of your injuries. Additional punitive damages may apply if the commercial driver involved in your accident was uninsured or underinsured. It is important to note that the driver’s policy may not cover the full extent of damages if the cost of the victim’s damages exceeds the policy amount or if the driver was acting with wrongful intent. 

On December 22, 2023, United States Congressman Jesus Garcia from Illinois and Congressman Hank Johnson from Georgia, introduced the Fair Compensation for Truck Crash Victims Act. This act would increase the federal trucking insurance minimum from $750,000 to $5,000,000. It should be noted that there has not been an adjustment in over 40 years by law. This is not law yet but there is a trend to increase limits to protect those hurt in accidents by truck drivers.

How Much Can Someone Sue For a Truck Accident in California?

Victims of trucking accidents suffer a range of physical and financial losses. Big truck accidents can be incredibly dangerous, often resulting in totaled vehicles, broken bones, spinal trauma, internal bleeding, and even death. Victims have a right to sue negligent parties (including commercial truckers or their employers) to reclaim fair compensation for both their economic and non-economic losses.

In many states, local laws limit the amount of total compensation victims can claim in a personal injury lawsuit. These laws are known as “damage caps." The state of California does not cap the total damages commercial trucking accident victims can claim in a lawsuit. Therefore, your compensation for your injuries will be decided in settlement negotiations or by a judge and jury. Speak with your attorney to assess the total worth of the physical, financial, and emotional losses you have suffered due to a commercial truck accident.  

In many cases, experts will be needed to evaluate any short term or long term injury or damage.  Many lawyers have a team of experts ready to evaluate the needs of the client quickly since time is of the essence to get the best result of recovery. Some instances there is minimal physical harm yet with extensive emotional or psychological harm. These are compensable damages that were caused by the accident. This is why it is highly important to speak to a legal professional about any injury caused by an accident to help with the best route forward, not only financially but mentally and physically as well. 

The Statute of Limitations in California

In legal terms, a “statute of limitations” refers to the time limit in which accident victims can pursue legal action against those responsible for their injuries. Victims injured in a commercial vehicle accident may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit, but every state’s statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits differs.

In California, victims of commercial truck accidents must file a claim within two years of the date of their accident. If the accident has exceeded California’s two-year statute of limitations, victims may be ineligible to seek compensation for their economic and non-economic losses. It is important to contact a reliable attorney as soon as possible after your accident to ensure you meet the deadline to file a trucking injury lawsuit and reclaim your damages.

Have you lost a loved one in a commercial trucking accident that occurred over two years ago? In some cases, trucking accident victims’ injuries may prove fatal weeks or even months after their accident. Some commercial truck accident injuries are progressive and can worsen over time. Those injured in the initial accident aren’t the only victims of commercial truck accidents; the grief suffered by spouses, children, parents, and siblings of those lost in big truck accidents will alter the rest of their lives.

If your loved one passed within the past two years, you might be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit even if more than two years have passed since the accident. In this case, it is important that you and your attorney gather definitive evidence that the injuries sustained in your loved one’s accident were the cause of their passing. 

Is California a no-fault state?

In some states, each party’s insurance company must cover the cost of any injuries suffered in a commercial truck accident. However, California is not a “no-fault state,” meaning negligent commercial drivers’ insurers are financially responsible for the injured party’s injuries and economic losses.

This means that you must prove that the truck driver was negligent in causing the accident. A tip is if you do a lot of driving, or even minimal, a dash cam can make the difference in determining negligence. Many insurance companies have changed positions from not being at fault to being at fault after viewing a dash cam. 

Legal Resources for California Trucking Accident Victims

If you have suffered a traumatic trucking accident, you may be unsure where to turn. Fortunately, many resources are available to help California accident victims and their families. The following resources can help victims file the appropriate reports and explore their legal options. However, none of the following resources will replace individualized legal counsel from a qualified commercial truck injury attorney. Your attorney will become your primary resource during the lawsuit process and may be able to point you toward additional resources specific to your situation. 

Contact Local Police

In the immediate aftermath of a commercial trucking accident, police and emergency services should be called immediately to provide immediate medical assistance, assess the scene of the accident, and make an official report. In the days or months after the accident, victims can also contact local police to obtain official documentation of the initial police report for their insurance company or attorney.   Police reports are pivotal in assisting your case to determine negligence. 

Call California Highway Patrol

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has primary jurisdiction over California highways (where most commercial vehicle accidents are likely to occur) and most roads outside city limits. If there are hazardous conditions caused by negligent commercial truckers, CHP can help. By dialing 911, you can alert CHP of an actively dangerous situation regarding a commercial driver. However, if you are making a report in the aftermath of a commercial trucking accident, you can call 1-800-TELL-CHP to reach CHP’s non-emergency line. Additionally, victims of commercial truck accidents have the option to notify CHP using their online notification system

Report to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration

The Federal Motor Carrier Administration exists to regulate the nation’s commercial trucking industry. Any violations of federal safety standards (for example, accidents caused by overworked or undertrained commercial drivers) can be reported at FMCA’s National Consumer Complaint Database. If you prefer not to use the FMCA’s online portal, call their safety hotline at 888-DOT-SAFT.

California Legislative Information

If you are unsure if you are eligible to file a trucking jury lawsuit, it may be helpful to review California’s personal injury laws for yourself. If you would like to learn more about the rights of California accident victims and their families, you can access the Civil Codes of the State of California online. On the California Legislative Information website, you can find all Civil Codes relevant to personal injury liability (including injuries caused by commercial drivers). 

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