Coal is a proud tradition in West Virginia. It made its first appearance in state history in 1742, when explorer John Peter Salling spotted an outcropping along a tributary of the Kanawha River and aptly named this tributary the Coal River.
Over the centuries, coal became a major booster of the state economy and source of employment for residents. Today, West Virginia is the second-largest coal producing state in the U.S.
Coal trucks are therefore a common sight on our roadways as they travel from mines in the Appalachian Mountains to customers or transloaders that place the coal on rail carriers for further shipment. Most times, they share the road safely with motorists, but when there is negligence, these large commercial vehicles can cause serious injury and even death.
In 2017, 4,102 people died in large truck crashes. Of these fatalities, 68 percent occupied passenger vehicles, 17 percent were truck occupants, and 14 percent consisted of motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians. The number of people who died in these accidents was 30 percent higher in 2017 than in 2009.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association, there are several factors that commonly contribute to truck accidents. The more frequently-cited ones are reviewed below.
Driver error is a leading cause of commercial truck accidents. Factors that cause coal truck drivers to operate their vehicles in a dangerous or irresponsible manner include:
Commercial truck drivers work long hours, especially those who transport coal from West Virginia to another state. Driving while exhausted can cause someone to fall asleep at the wheel or handle their vehicle poorly in dangerous road or weather conditions.
Alcohol, illegal drugs, and even some kinds of prescription medication can all affect a driver’s ability to operate their coal truck safely. Speeding and driving too fast for road conditions are common behaviors of impaired truck drivers.
Coal truck drivers can be prone to the same distractions that affect other motorists, such as texting and driving, eating, GPS programming, and daydreaming.
Compared to automobiles, coal trucks are large and unwieldy, especially when fully loaded. Driving them safely requires the operator to take load weight and road conditions into account when calculating the following distance and selecting speed to round curves on exit ramps and highways.
Some truck carrier companies fail to do appropriate background checks on new drivers or use proper road tests to confirm eligibility for employment. As a result, inexperienced drivers or those with poor driving records are sent on the road.
Poor maintenance and dangerous or defective components can cause a coal truck’s system to fail at a critical moment and lead to a serious accident. When this happens, parties that can be held liable include:
- The trucking company that failed to perform regular inspections and routine maintenance
- The truck and/or parts manufacturer
- A mechanic or installer who made defective repairs
Improper Cargo Loading
State and federal laws specify the maximum weight a commercial truck can carry as well as methods of securing cargo for transportation. Unfortunately, some coal mining companies and truckers ignore these laws in order to transport as much coal as possible.
When a truck is improperly loaded, the coal can shift during transport, causing the truck to become unstable and tip over while making a sharp turn. Illegal loads can also fall off the vehicle onto the road, creating a hazard for other motorists and potentially leading to a catastrophic accident. If this happens, the mining company or truck driver (or both) can be held liable.
Contact a West Virginia Truck Accident Attorney
In addition to federal and state laws, the West Virginia coal industry has enacted a series of safety regulations aimed at keeping its truck drivers and other motorists safe, but these measures are not always followed, and accidents occur.
If you are injured in a coal truck mining accident, the company’s insurance carrier will investigate the incident, but its aim will be to reduce your personal injury claim or deny it altogether. When you are hurt and struggling to recover, you need and deserve an advocate who will stand up for your rights when coal companies and insurance providers try to brush them aside.
At Johnstone & Gabhart, our experienced trucking accident attorneys will fight to help you recover for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other applicable damages. We are tough negotiators and skilled trial attorneys who will work tirelessly for the outcome you deserve.