According to the latest accessible data compiled by the Delaware State Police, 28,473 traffic accidents occurred in the state in 2021. Of these crashes, 2,325 involved truck tractors, semi-trailers, and other commercial vehicles and truck combinations. There were 632 injuries and 12 fatalities, with the latter number matching the total recorded truck-related deaths in 2020. Additionally, 82% of the recorded truck crashes involved property damage.
Overall, as indicated in the same report, driver inattention, distraction, and fatigue were major contributors to the total number of traffic accidents in 2021. Other common factors include tailgating, reckless driving, and the failure of a motorist to yield the right-of-way. Additionally, 1,096 accidents involved drivers who were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, with seven crashes and 45 truck drivers arrested for DUI.
Given that truck accidents can happen at any time, Delaware strictly implements various traffic laws and regulations to mitigate driver errors and preserve the safety of motorists on the road. These laws include regulations concerning a truck’s size and weight and a driver’s working hours, along with directives that require truck drivers to operate their vehicles safely and responsibly. If an accident happens, the state also has laws that guide victims as they file claims and lawsuits to recover their losses.
Delaware Truck Weight Limits
Delaware law imposes limits on the weight of trucks and their loads depending on the number of axles on the truck in question. Authorities put such limitations in place to prevent the potential hazards that overloaded trucks on state roads can cause.
The summary of truck weight limits is as follows:
20,000 pounds on interstates and numbered routes within the country
22,400 pounds on all other roadways
34,000 pounds on interstates and numbered routes within the country
36,000 pounds on all other roadways
60,000 pounds for single-unit vehicles on all other roadways
In terms of gross vehicle weight (GVW), which denotes the maximum operating weight of a truck, these are the limits within the state:
54,000 pounds on interstates and numbered routes within the country
65,000 pounds on all other roadways
74,000 pounds on interstates and numbered routes within the country
73,280 pounds on all other roadways
Three-axle trucks transporting agricultural products may exceed their 70,000-pound weight limit if their operator pays a $100 fee for each vehicle that does so. Furthermore, any vehicle driven by a farmer or registered as a farm truck has a 40,000-pound limit for any coupled axle space larger than 48 inches.
Operators can obtain permits from the Delaware Secretary of Transportation to allow the single- and multi-trip operation of vehicles that exceed any of the weight limits. However, any vehicle weighing more than 25,000 pounds per axle must first be reviewed by the Department of Transportation's Bridge Management Section.
Those who violate the state's weight-limit laws will be fined based on the excess weight of their vehicle. They may also be sentenced to prison for 30 to 60 days, depending on the number of offenses committed.
Hours of Service for Delaware Truck Drivers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the number of working hours for all truck drivers, including those in Delaware. These regulations are designed to help drivers recuperate following their hours of service and prevent instances of fatigue due to overwork, which can lead to motor vehicle accidents.
In most cases, truck drivers can work for up to 14 hours after remaining off-duty for 10 straight hours. They cannot work past their 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, and their off-duty time does not allow them to increase their period of service beyond 14 hours.
A driver can work for up to two hours beyond these limits if there are adverse circumstances or factors present. These can include unanticipated road closures or traffic conditions, and inclement weather.
A driver’s 10-hour break is referred to as a sleeper berth period. Drivers can choose to split up their sleeper berth into two separate break periods, provided that one period lasts for at least two hours while the other lasts for a minimum of seven consecutive hours within the sleeper berth. Both periods must add up to the required 10-hour total.
Drivers are also required to take a break of 30 consecutive minutes if they have been driving for a cumulative period of eight hours without any interruption lasting for at least 30 minutes. Their half-hour break requirement can be satisfied using non-driving periods, including their sleeper berth.
Service Hour Exceptions
Under the short-haul exception, drivers are exempt from the FMCSA’s regulations on hours of service if their work time does not exceed 14 hours and if they are driving within 150 air-miles of their work reporting location.
Additionally, exceptions apply for commercial vehicles that are driven for personal use or those involved in specific agricultural, federal government, and retail store operations. The FMCSA’s regulations also exclude vehicles that are utilized for emergency relief and rescue initiatives, as well as movie and television production.
Delaware Truck Maintenance Regulations
Part of the FMCSA’s other regulations for commercial trucking companies is the routine repair and maintenance of trucks, particularly those that travel between states. Under these mandates, companies in Delaware are required to regularly inspect, repair, and maintain their vehicles. If one of their drivers causes a crash due to a defect that they failed to address, they can be held liable as a third party in an accident victim’s claim.
In addition, the FMCSA dictates that trucking companies and drivers must keep daily maintenance and inspection records within a truck for up to 18 months. Trucks must also undergo annual inspections, during which any records must be on hand.
During maintenance operations, a company must ensure that the following parts of a truck are in optimal working condition:
Brake systems, including those for a truck’s trailer
Lights and reflectors
Steering and transmission mechanisms
Any emergency equipment such as early warning device
DUI Law in Delaware
Delaware prohibits all motorists from operating a vehicle while being impaired by alcohol intoxication or drugs. Drivers who have a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more will be charged with DUI. For commercial truck drivers and motorists under the age of 21, their BAC must not reach or exceed 0.04% and 0.02%, respectively.
In addition to its DUI law, Delaware imposes implied consent regulations. This means that drivers who are suspected of DUI automatically consent to a chemical test once they choose to operate a vehicle.
The penalties for DUI offenses in Delaware are as follows:
A fine of $500-$1,500 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months
License revocation lasting 12 months (may increase depending on the offender’s BAC)
Second offense (within 10 years from a previous conviction)
A fine of $750-$2,500 and/or imprisonment for up to 18 months
License revocation lasting 18 months (may increase depending on the offender’s BAC)
Third offense (within 5 years from a previous conviction)
A fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment for 18 months to 2 years
License revocation lasting 2 years (may increase depending on the offender’s BAC)
Subsequent offenses after a third violation can result in fines ranging from $7,000 to $15,000 and imprisonment for two to 15 years, depending on how many violations a driver commits. Repeat offenders must also complete an alcohol consultation and a rehabilitation or education program, including in-patient treatment lasting 15 months.
Commercial drivers will also be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for at least 12 months for their first DUI conviction. This would last three years if the driver were transporting hazardous materials. If a driver incurs a second DUI violation while driving any vehicle, they will be permanently disqualified from operating commercial vehicles. However, this penalty can be reduced to a 10-year commercial license suspension in certain cases.
Delaware Commercial Trucking Insurance Requirements
All commercial trucks and trucking companies in the country require primary liability insurance coverage, and Delaware is no exception. The FMCSA requires all trucks to have a minimum coverage of $750,000 to cover injuries and property damage if a truck driver causes an accident. Companies that do not have primary liability insurance are barred from operating.
Company owners and operators can also supplement their primary liability insurance with general liability coverage. This pays for any damages that primary liability insurance does not cover, particularly in accidents that occur while a truck is present on company premises or another person’s property.
In terms of state-specific insurance requirements, Delaware trucks and companies that haul specific types of freight must have the following minimum liability insurance:
$300,000 for household goods
$750,000 for general cargo
$1,000,000 for oil transport
$5,000,000 for hazardous materials
Freight forwarders and motor carriers that transport household goods must also have cargo insurance equal to $5,000 per vehicle and $10,000 per occurrence. Freight forwarders and brokers must also obtain surety bonds and trust fund agreements worth $75,000.
Delaware law also requires all registered vehicles within the state to have liability insurance coverage. This is also used to pay for any damages from injuries, fatalities, and property damage in a crash or collision. The minimum coverage required by state law is:
$25,000 for bodily injuries and deaths for a single person
$50,000 for bodily injuries and deaths for multiple people
$10,000 for property damage
The Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles routinely audits vehicles throughout the state for insurance compliance. Those without the required liability coverage will be fined at least $1,500 on their first offense and $3,000 for any subsequent offenses within three years. They may also face a six-month suspension of their driving license and privileges.
How Much Someone Can Sue for a Truck Accident in Delaware
Under Delaware law, there are no maximum limits on the damages that a truck accident victim can potentially recover. This makes it possible for a plaintiff to obtain a maximized settlement for medical costs, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering.
Punitive damages are also uncapped, but they are only awarded if a court determines that a defendant acted with a required degree of recklessness, which differs from ordinary negligence. Such recklessness can be found in cases involving drunk driving and excessive speeding or where a motorist uses a cell phone while driving.
Delaware Statute of Limitations for Truck Accidents
Truck accident victims in Delaware have up to two years to file a claim or lawsuit against an offending driver and trucking company, starting from the date of the accident. This is to give all involved parties a sufficient amount of time to gather evidence, obtain eyewitness accounts, and prepare their respective arguments in a case.
However, there are certain exceptions to the state’s statute of limitations. One example involves the discovery rule, where the statute only begins running when a victim becomes aware or should have been reasonably aware of an injury from an accident. This may take place on a date that is different from the time that the accident occurred.
The same two-year deadline applies for claims and lawsuits involving wrongful death, starting from the date of a victim’s passing. Additionally, plaintiffs have up to two years to file a claim against their insurance company if the accident involves an uninsured motorist.
Delaware Is an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims
Delaware adheres to “at-fault” mandates for insurance claims, meaning that truck accident victims can sue those liable for a truck accident and, therefore, will shoulder the costs of a victim’s losses. These can include expenses for medical treatments, property repairs, and wage replacement if a victim cannot work or find work due to injury and disability.
A truck accident victim in the state can recover losses by filing a claim against their insurer or the offending driver’s insurance company. For the former approach, the victim’s insurer will file a subrogation claim against the defendant’s insurer. If both parties cannot reach a potential settlement, a claim can be brought in civil court as a lawsuit.
Delaware Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State for Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Delaware law follows the basis of modified comparative negligence for truck accident lawsuits. Under this basis, victims will have their recoverable losses reduced if they are partially liable for the accident, with the deducted amount based on the percentage of their fault as assigned in court.
For example, if a truck accident victim is awarded $100,000 in damages but the court finds them to be 30% liable for the accident for a moving violation that contributed to the crash, 30% will be deducted from their award, and they will only receive $70,000.
Delaware’s modified comparative negligence law also follows a 51% threshold, meaning that if a plaintiff’s apportioned fault in an accident reaches or exceeds 51%, they will be barred from recovering any damages in the case.
Average Settlement for Delaware Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Because there are different factors that can affect a victim’s actual losses, it is difficult to determine a fixed average settlement for truck accident cases in Delaware. Certain cases result in settlements ranging from $100,000 to over $300,000, while some involving 18-wheeler accidents that result in neck and back injuries are settled for up to $1,000,000.
In most scenarios, total losses depend on the severity of the injuries that a victim has suffered, the income they have lost due to such injuries and disabilities, and the damage their property has sustained.
In addition to these damages, victims may also recover settlements based on their pain and suffering. This is determined based on the negative impact that their injuries have on their personal lives. Pain and suffering can include factors such as emotional trauma, loss of companionship, and mental distress.
Courts commonly determine damages stemming from pain and suffering by multiplying the sum total of a victim’s economic losses by a given number. The court also considers factors such as a victim’s age and pre-existing conditions.
Legal Resources for Delaware Trucking Accident Victims
The Delaware State Police’s Traffic Unit issues copies of motor vehicle accident reports, including those that involve truck crashes and collisions, to those who seek to use them for legal proceedings. Citizens can visit the unit’s section on the Delaware State Police’s website for instructions on submitting requests for specific crash reports. They can also dial 302-378-5230 to report any overweight or unsafe trucks within the state. For additional inquiries, the Traffic Unit can also be reached at 302-739-5931.
InjuryLawRights is a personal injury organization that offers informative legal assistance to people throughout the country. It helps truck accident victims in Delaware seek pro bono aid for their respective cases by connecting them to lawyers from specific locations throughout the state. The organization’s staff is also available for free consultations regarding personal injury scenarios, case requirements, and state-specific limitations. Delaware citizens can contact InjuryLawRights at 855-633-0888.
The Delaware State Bar Association’s website is open to citizens who seek information concerning the state’s circuit and district courts, as well as the Supreme Court. It also has links to nonprofit organizations that work alongside the association to provide pro bono aid to citizens under the Access to Justice Program. Additionally, it offers access to the Online Lawyer Referral Service and the Legal Help Link, which allow people to look for potential attorneys who can handle their cases.
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