Going through a trucking injury lawsuit is a challenging, emotionally draining experience for most accident victims. During the lawsuit the victim is often forced to relive the experience. Further adding to this already difficult experience is the fact that the victim will often encounter an abundance of unfamiliar, confusing terms. Both the trucking industry and the legal industry each have their own special lexicon that the average person may never have experienced.
COMMON LEGAL TERMS
During your case you will probably hear many legal terms. Some may be familiar to you or be terms whose meaning you can readily deduce, while others may be completely unfamiliar and incomprehensible. Your attorney will be able to further explain these and other legal terms and their relevance to you.
Admissible – The term “admissible” is usually applied to whether or not a particular piece of evidence will be allowed to be considered in the case. Not all information is automatically admissible because it may not be pertinent to the case, may not have been obtained legally from a reputable source, or may unfairly create a bias.
Alleged – Until something is proven it is considered “alleged.”
Contract – A “contract” is a legal agreement between two or more parties that is legally enforceable. Types of contracts vary and may be signed and in writing, or they may be verbal.
Damages – The term “damages” refers to the compensation awarded by the court to the wronged party.
Defendant – The “defendant” is the party being sued. In a trucking injury case the trucker and/or trucking company is the defendant.
Discovery – “Discovery” refers to the pretrial phase during which evidence that will be used during the trial is made known to each party.
Doctrine of Respondeat Superior – The Doctrine of Respondeat Superior is commonly used during trucking accident cases. This doctrine applies when truckers are acting within the course and scope of their employment and the trucking company is held liable for the actions of its truck driver. In this way a trucking company can be sued for the actions of a trucker.
Jurisdiction – “Jurisdiction” refers to the authority of the court to hear a particular case.
Liable – A party is held “liable” when they are determined to be legally responsible for something in a civil case.
Negligence – “Negligence” means failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances or doing that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.
Plaintiff – The “plaintiff” is the person who brings the charges or sues in a civil case. In a trucking accident case, if you are the injured party, you are the plaintiff.
Proximate Cause – The “proximate cause” is an event that is sufficiently related to the accident or injury such that it can be determined the cause of that accident or injury.
DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
During your trucking accident case a number of different governmental departments and agencies might be referenced. This is often done to refer to specific regulations or guidelines that these agencies have established. Some of the most commonly referred to departments and agencies for trucking cases include:
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, is an administration within the Department of Transportation (DOT). It was created on January 1, 2000 and is tasked with improving safety within the commercial trucking industry by enacting and enforcing safety regulations
Department of Transportation (DOT) – The Department of Transportation (DOT) is the parent organization of the FMCSA. It is responsible for overseeing transportation as a whole.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency which oversees job health and safety.
TRUCKING INDUSTRY TERMS
During the course of your trucking accident trial you will likely hear some specific terms that relate to the trucking industry. These may be used to describe the type of operation or job the trucker was involved in during the accident. Many of these terms directly relate to the type of regulations and restrictions placed on the trucker and/or trucking company.
Black Box – The “black box,” also known as the electronic on-board recorder, or EOBR, refers to a device on the truck that tracks the vehicle’s speed, braking, location, etc. Similar to the black boxes found on aircrafts, the black box on big rig trucks is a valuable tool used in reconstructing what happened during an accident.
Broker – A “broker” is someone in the trucking industry who arranges for the goods of the shipper to be shipped by the trucker or trucking company. The broker is a go-between who is not personally transporting the goods or having their own goods shipped.
CDL – The acronym “CDL refers to “Commercial Drivers License.” It is the type of driver’s license required for commercial truckers and comes with more stringent standards and requirements than a basic driver’s license.
Class I Carrier – A “Class I Carrier” is the classification used to refer to a commercial carrier who has a an adjusted annual operating revenue of more than $10 million. In simple terms, it is a trucking company that does $10 million or more in business per year.
Class II Carrier – A “Class II Carrier” is the classification used to refer to a commercial carrier who has an adjusted annual operating revenue of more than $3 million, but less than $10 million. In simple terms, it is a trucking company that does $3 million to $9.9 million in business per year.
Class III Carrier – A “Class III Carrier” is the classification used to refer to a commercial carrier who has an adjusted annual operating revenue of less than $3 million. In simple terms, it is a trucking company that does $3 million or less in business per year.
Common Carrier – A “common carrier” is a commercial carrier that is available for hire by the general public. This is in contrast to a contract carrier.
Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMV) – Commercial motor vehicles, or CMVs, refer to commercial trucks. These are also often called big rigs, 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers, and semi-trucks.
Consignee – The “consignee” is the party that is buying or receiving the freight.
Consignment – The “consignment” refers to the freight itself or the agreement made between the consignee and the consignor.
Consignor – The “consignor” is the party that is selling or sending the freight.
Contract Carrier – A “contract carrier” is a commercial carrier that provides transport to a limited number of shippers under a contract. This is in contrast to a common carrier that is available to the general public.
Dedicated Route – “Dedicated route” refers to a trucker or carrier who transports cargo according to a regular, set route.
Gross Combination Weight (GCW) – “Gross combination weight,” or GCW, is a term used to refer to the combined weight of the 18-wheeler tractor, trailer and the freight it is carrying.
Hours-of-Service – “Hours-of-Service” is a term used to refer to the number of hours a trucker works. The FMCSA has regulations in place that limit the number of hours-of-service a trucker can work per week in an effort to prevent driver fatigue.
Independent Contractor – An independent contractor, also known as an owner-operator, or O/O, is a trucker who owns and operates his or her own truck.
Long Haul Trucker – A long haul trucker is a trucker who does not operate according to a dedicated route and instead takes freight anywhere across the country as needed. They typically drive their trucks much longer distances.
Maximum Gross Combination Weight – The “maximum gross combination weight” refers to the maximum legally allowable gross combination weight.
Motor Carrier – The “motor carrier,” or simply “carrier,” is a generic term for the trucker or trucking company.
Payload – The “payload” refers to the total freight weight that is being carried by the truck. It includes things such as the goods themselves, as well as packaging, banding, pallets, etc.
Receiver – this is another term used for the party receiving the freight—i.e., the consignee.
Shipper – this is another common term for the party shipping the freight—i.e., the consignor.
Terminal – The term “terminal” refers to a hub where the freight is either shipped from, shipped to, or is handled along the way. This may also refer to a location where a trucking company operates a facility.
ADDITIONAL TERMS FOR TRUCKS, TRUCK PARTS, AND OPERATIONS
In addition to the trucking industry terms, there are also many industry-specific terms that refer to the 18-wheeler itself, various parts of it, or other aspects of operations.
18-wheeler, Big Rig, or Semi-truck – These terms are all used commonly and interchangeably to refer to the large freight truck itself.
Bobtailing – The term “bobtailing” refers to a truck traveling without its trailer.
Cab – The “cab,” or cabin, of the truck is the part where the trucker sits to drive.
Combination Vehicle – A “combination vehicle,” also commonly called a tractor-trailer, refers to the truck and its trailer. It is in contrast to a bobtail, which does not have the trailer.
Day Truck – A “day truck” is a truck without a sleeper berth.
Fifth Wheel and Kingpin – The “fifth wheel and kingpin” are the parts which join the tractor to its trailer. The fifth wheel is a pivoting platform with locking teeth that closes around the kingpin.
Flatbed – A “flatbed” trailer is a trailer without any walls or doors; instead it features an open flatbed where cargo can be placed and secured.
Hazmat – The term “hazmat” is short form for the words “hazardous material.” It refers to cargo that is dangerous to people, life, or the environment in general. It commonly includes substances that are flammable, explosive, radioactive, corrosive, or toxic.
Intermodal – The term “intermodal” refers to a container that is shipped by multiple modes of transportation, such as by truck, railroad, and ship.
Interstate – The term “interstate” refers to trucking involving two or more states.
Intrastate – The term “intrastate” refers to trucking that is done within a single state.
Jackknife – A “jackknife” is a type of big rig accident in which the trailer bends at an angle to the tractor instead of remaining safely behind it.
Logbook – The “logbook” is a record of the trucker’s hours and other information. FMCSA regulations require truckers to keep detailed logbooks.
Manifest – The “manifest” is a document that describes the freight being shipped.
Sleeper Berth – A “sleeper berth” is a compartment built into the rear of the cab where the trucker can sleeper. “Day trucks” do not have sleeper berths.
Tank or Tanker – A “tank” or “tanker” is an enclosure designed to transport large quantities of a liquid.
Tractor – The “tractor” refers to the front end or engine part of a tractor-trailer truck.
These legal and trucking terms by no mean form a comprehensive list. Instead, they are designed to serve as a starting point for some of the most common terms you may hear during a trucking accident trial. It is important that you understand the language that is being used before you sign anything or testify. If you do not understand something, or find yourself confused in general, you should consult your attorney for an explanation.