Accident Cases With Bucket Trucks Are Unique
Any commercial truck can get into an accident, and since these vehicles tend to be much bigger and harder to maneuver than passenger cars, accidents involving them are far more likely to cause death or severe injury. Commercial vehicles come in several varieties, each of which carries its own unique risks. The type we're discussing today is the bucket truck, also known as a boom truck or cherry picker.
While you might not know what this type of truck is, you have likely seen them if you've ever observed someone doing work on an electrical line. Boom trucks are utility trucks with a passenger bucket on an extendable arm that can be used to lift a worker to a high place, allowing them to repair something that would otherwise be unreachable. Workers who are in the bucket are in great peril should the bucket truck get into an accident with another vehicle, and this danger is compounded by the fact that cherry pickers often obstruct roadways when working. Thus, accidents harming both the bucket-truck workers and bystanders in other vehicles are quite common.
Questions covered in this article:
- What is a Bucket Truck?
- What types of accidents can cherry pickers cause?
- What are OSHA Safety Guidelines for Bucket Trucks?
- What happened to employees in bucket truck accidents?
- Employee Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Claims
Types of Accidents with Cherry Pickers
Most commonly, electrical companies and cable companies will use bucket trucks in cases where they must fix a broken cable or wire that is suspended from electrical poles. As far as the company is concerned, most jobs requiring bucket trucks are emergency situations, meaning the driver is sent out and has to race across town to fix the problem as quickly as possible. With his mind on cable or electrical line that needs mending, the bucket truck driver doesn't always devote his full attention to the road, leading to accidents.
As a consequence, you may be hit by one of these trucks and suffer serious injuries. Different types of bucket truck accidents that injure bystanders may include:
- Collisions with Moving Bucket Trucks - As we've mentioned, the driver of the bucket truck can be distracted by the problem he's been called in to fix and is often in a great hurry to get to the job site, and so due to inattention on the road, a collision could occur on the way.
- Electrocutions - If a bucket truck is moved with the bucket raised, it can pull down electrical lines, causing someone passing beneath to be electrocuted.
- Crushings - If a boom truck operator is careless when lowering the bucket, it is possible to crush someone passing beneath the cherry picker.
- Wrecks with Stationary Boom Trucks - If there is a problem with a power line, then a boom truck will be called in to fix it. Unfortunately, this may require the boom truck to stop within a lane of moving traffic in order for the bucket to be raised, allowing someone to work on the electrical line overhead. Since outriggers are often employed to steady the boom truck, the obstruction in the roadway can be significant, leading to passenger cars colliding with the truck. To prevent crashes like this, the boom truck is blocking any lanes of the road, then all the lanes that it's obstructing - even partially - must be blocked off with cones and signs announcing the work zone to oncoming traffic.
What You Need To Know About Bucket Truck Accidents
Unlike crashes involving typical semi-trucks, where only its driver and his employer are likely to be responsible, bucket truck crashes can require a certain amount of investigation to identify all of the responsible parties. As a result, in order to proceed with your pursuit of a personal injury claim stemming from such an accident, there are two things you need to know:
- First, who owns the bucket truck and employs its driver. Just because a bucket truck says AT&T doesn't mean that's necessarily the company who employed the driver. AT&T could have sub-contracted its line work out to another company. If the driver of the bucket truck caused your accident with some form of negligence, then you can likely seek compensation from his or her employer, whoever that turns out to be.
- Second, you must also know whether or not that company was acting in lieu of another. For example, you may have been injured in an accident caused by a bucket truck that was owned by Bob's Bucket Trucks, but Southwestern Bell hired Bob's Bucket Trucks to perform repairs on its telephone lines, which may mean they're also liable for what happened. This information is critically important, as you may have to pursue damages from both companies in order to be fully compensated.
For a driver of a bucket truck, a number of factors converge to increase the likelihood of accidents. While federal regulations forbid commercial drivers to work more than 14 hours at one stretch, emergency situations in which a storm has knocked down power lines all over the city often lead to drivers pushing this hours of service limit to or beyond the maximum allowed, bringing fatigue into play as a factor and increasing the likelihood of an accident.
In addition, the bucket truck driver is usually in constant contact with his "home base" via cell phone, C.B. radio, or walkie-talkie, and may also be consulting a laptop computer for job updates while driving. The distractions created by using such devices while driving could also lead to a crash.
Even when the bucket truck is parked at the side of the road, another vehicle could easily collide with it, if required warning signs are not employed. Remember, power outages are often the reason for sending a bucket truck into the field, so there may be no lights to spot a bucket truck parked by the side of the road, increasing the importance of proper signals and markings.
If you were injured in an accident with a bucket truck, and you were not an employee of the company operating the truck (for instance, you were a pedestrian or the driver or passenger in another car), then you may have the right to seek compensation from the trucking company for the injuries you've suffered through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
However, to succeed with such a claim in Texas, you or your loved one must be found to be less than 50% responsible for the accident. And the trucking company or its employee must have done something negligent that either caused or contributed to the cause of the accident, resulting in financial, physical and emotional harm for you and/or your family. In other words, if the driver of the boom truck moves the truck with the bucket raised, pulling down electrical lines, which then electrocuted a family member of yours, then you can file a wrongful death lawsuit, seeking both wrongful death damages and survival damages.
By the same token, if the workers operating a bucket truck failed to put up warning signs, and you collided with the truck as a result, totaling your car and causing serious bodily injury, you can file a personal injury lawsuit seeking compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages while recovering (there would also be a separate claim for the property damage).
No matter which company owns the bucket truck or employed the bucket truck driver, it is going to have a sizable insurance policy to protect itself against the cost of lawsuits from serious injuries and fatalities that result from bucket truck accidents. The more money is generally involved with an insurance policy, the greater effort will be put forth into protecting the policy from injury claims, complicating your ability to recover compensation after suffering an injury in a bucket truck accident.
OSHA Safety Guidelines for Bucket Trucks
Of course, innocent bystanders aren't the only people at risk of being injured in bucket truck accidents. The driver himself and other bucket truck workers can also suffer injuries. In order to protect both the general public and the employees of the bucket truck company, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has created a number of guidelines for the safe operation of bucket trucks. The OSHA rules regarding the safe use of cherry pickers include:
- Mandatory Training - While boom truck operators are not required to carry additional certification to operate a bucket truck other than that which accompanies a typical commercial driver's license (CDL), they are required by OSHA to be trained in the safe operation of these dangerous vehicles. Training should include education about: electrical and fall risks, load capacity, restrictions, manufacturer requirements, hazards, and precautions. Additionally, everyone taking training should be compelled to pass a final skills demonstration.
- Line Workers Must be Licensed - While the drivers of bucket trucks are not required to be certified, workers who are fixing electrical lines from the bucket must be certified both by a professional organization and OSHA in order to reduce the risk of electrocution from broken power lines.
- Personal Protective Equipment Required - Employers are responsible for making sure that all workers on bucket trucks are wearing the required protective gear. This includes hard hats, steel-toed boots, and high-visibility clothes, as well as a safety harness for the worker suspended in the bucket. This harness must securely connect the worker to the basket and must have a safety line to prevent a significant fall.
- The Truck Cannot be Moved with Bucket Up - Unless specifically permitted by the manufacturer, a bucket truck cannot be moved with a worker in an elevated basket.
- Safety Measures Must be Taken - When the situation calls for them due to the terrain, brakes, outriggers, and wheel chocks must be used in conjunction with bucket trucks. Furthermore, no safety device, whether hydraulic, mechanical or electrical is permitted to be disabled on a bucket truck.
- Adequate Clearance from Electrical Lines - When working on electrical lines, the raised bucket must maintain a clearance of at least 10 feet from overheard electrical lines.
- Use of Proper Warning Signage - Not only must the boom truck be marked with all applicable warning decals and signage, but if the truck is blocking the roadway when the boom is raised, then signs and cones must be placed to warn motorists.
- Proper Maintenance - All bucket trucks must be maintained frequently and in accordance with the manufacturer's manual. The trucks must be inspected once per year, with all mechanical, electrical, pneumatic, and hydraulic components checked.
Common Types of Bucket Truck Accidents Suffered by Employees
Despite these OSHA guidelines, employees are still hurt while working on bucket trucks. Here is a list of just a few of the most common injuries:
- Worker Falls - The reason why employers are responsible for making sure that bucket trucks are equipped with safety harnesses is because workers tragically fall out of the buckets all too often. In one case we litigated, the husband of one of our clients not only fell to his death in a bucket truck accident, but the employer attempted to cover up his gross negligence leading to the death by purchasing a safety harness after the fact, shearing the safety lanyard, and then putting the broken harness on the decedent.
- Electrocutions from Electrical Lines - There's a reason why all workers expected to work with electrical lines must be certified to do so - the danger of fatal electrocution is constant - both to workers and bystanders.
- Accidents Due to Boom Trucks Being Moved with Bucket Raised - When boom trucks are driven with the bucket raised, the worker in the bucket is certainly in grave danger of the boom colliding with an overhead obstruction like a bridge or a power line.
- Collisions with Other Vehicles - Just like the driver or passenger in another car, the worker on a bucket truck can be injured during a traffic accident.
Employee Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Claims After Bucket Truck Accidents
If you were injured - or a family member was killed - while working on a bucket truck, then your claim will most likely be a workers' compensation case. How this case is resolved depends upon whether or not the employer purchased workers' compensation insurance (making them a subscriber) or did not (a non-subscriber). If the employer had workers' compensation, then your only recourse for obtaining compensation is most likely through a workers' comp insurance claim, as Texas' workers compensation laws provide nearly complete protection for subscribers from lawsuits by injured workers or the families of those killed on the job. The only way you can file a lawsuit against a subscriber is if the employer was grossly negligent or the on-the-job injury leads to the wrongful death of a loved one. Gross negligence occurs when an employer does something that he or she knew was likely to lead to injury or death - like ordering an employee to work in the bucket of the truck without a safety harness.
Even when the employer subscribed to workers' compensation insurance and didn't commit gross negligence, it may still be possible to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit - just not against the employer. Perhaps the negligence of a third party caused the accident. For example, the bucket truck contained a design flaw that caused it to collapse, injuring you. In that event, you could pursue a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the truck.
If you or your loved one's employer didn't buy workers' compensation insurance, then in order to seek compensation for an injury or a fatality, you will be forced to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the employer. To win such a lawsuit, the burden of proof falls on you, the plaintiff, to establish that the accident occurred due to the negligence of the employer or one of its employees. Moreover, you must be able to prove the actual monetary value of the injury.
Our Legal Experience Can Help You After A Bucket Truck Accident
No matter whether you were injured or a loved one was killed while working on a bucket truck or when colliding with one, you're likely going to need the assistance of an experienced truck accident attorney to stand any chance of getting the maximum compensation your injuries warrant. Negotiating with aggressive insurance adjusters, working out a pre-trial settlement, or fighting for your rights in court all require the legal acumen of someone with years of experience handling these affairs.
At Grossman Law Offices, we've dealt with these types of cases for 25 years. If you have additional questions about bucket truck accidents or if you would like to talk about your case with one of our attorneys, call us now at Grossman Law Offices for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 (toll free).
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