Reports | January 4, 2023 | Truck Accidents
Even though semi-trucks are necessary for transporting the goods Americans need and use every day, they are quite dangerous on the road, posing many risks to motorists and passengers.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in one recent year, nearly 5,000 large trucks and buses were in fatal accidents. Many other victims suffered severe or catastrophic injuries in these accidents. Over two years, large truck and bus fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by all motor vehicles jumped from 0.162 to 0.177.
Suppose you are involved in a truck accident. In that case, one of your first steps should be contacting an experienced truck accident lawyer. An attorney can help you in many ways as you seek compensation for your damages.
Types of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents are unique, mainly for the same reasons that make these large vehicles so dangerous. These accidents can happen under any other circumstances than car accidents and have many more risk factors.
An underride accident occurs when a smaller vehicle collides with a truck from the side or rear and slides right underneath the semi-truck. Since the semi-truck is so much higher than the car, these accidents can easily happen, potentially crushing the front and top of the other vehicle. In addition, underride accidents often cause serious injuries or even fatalities.
Some semi-trucks have a built-in underride guard, a metal barrier preventing smaller vehicles from sliding underneath. Even still, these guards may not be strong enough to withstand a collision’s impact.
What Causes an Underride Accident?
An underride accident can happen due to:
- Improperly maneuvered lane changes or turns
- Fast stops that lead to a rear-end collision
- Inconsistent speed outside the flow of traffic
- A car in the truck’s blind spot during a lane change
- A truck driver failing to use a turn signal
Rollover accidents happen when part or the entire semi-truck rolls over on its side or roof.
The most frequent causes of rollover semi-truck accidents are:
- Sudden lane changes
- Sudden swerving
- Improper cargo loading
- Dangerous roads or weather conditions
- Failing to perform proper maintenance
Other causes include truck driver errors related to fatigue, distraction, or improper training.
A Tripped versus Untripped Rollover Accident
A tripped rollover happens when a factor outside the truck causes it to roll over, such as when a truck hits a guardrail, another vehicle, or another object on the roadway. An untripped rollover usually occurs when the truck driver makes a fast or poorly maneuvered turn. If a semi-truck is top-heavy or the cargo is not weighted evenly, it will cause it to roll.
Tire Blowout Accidents
Most drivers have seen large chunks of rubber on the road from semi-truck tire blowouts. Tire blowouts create dangerous situations, and they can happen at any time. What’s even scarier is that they can cause both the trucker and other motorists in the vicinity to react in unpredictable ways.
If a trucker loses control of their truck during a tire blowout, the truck can:
- Swerve into another lane hitting other vehicles
Tire blowouts can result in flying debris hitting your car windshield, which may cause you to lose control of the car. Or the debris might land in the middle of the road, requiring you to swerve suddenly. Airborne tire pieces can fly faster than most people think, meaning they might not have time to get out of the way before a piece hits their vehicle and potentially shatters their windshield upon impact.
What Causes Tire Blowouts?
When there’s a cut or break in the tire, or a small puncture causing the tire to lose air gradually, the tire weakens and is susceptible to a blowout.
A tire blowout might happen due to:
- Worn-out tires from excessive use
- Defective manufacturing
- Air leaks
- High or low air pressure
- Lack of general maintenance
- Unbalanced cargo loads
- Dangerous road conditions
Semi-trucks usually have a cab and a trailer. “Jackknifing” happens if those two parts fold in on each other at the joint. When these accidents occur, something causes the back of the truck to swing forward, creating a sharp angle between the cab and its trailer. The two parts of the truck are left facing two different directions, and the driver has no control of the trailer’s movement. A car can easily be swept under the swinging trailer, causing a collision, or become wedged underneath the trailer in an underride-type situation.
Jackknife accidents can result from:
- Equipment malfunctions
- Locked wheels
- Brake failure or speeding
- Weather conditions
- Loose cargo
- Incorrect maneuvering
They frequently occur due to a combination of increased speeds and steep angles or turns. Such a combination causes shifting cargo, creating an imbalanced weight. Jackknife accidents are also more likely to happen on slippery roads. Unfortunately, even a slight skid on a wet or icy highway can cause a large truck to jackknife.
Unsecured Load Accidents
Federal rules and regulations detail several requirements for loading and securing cargo for ground transportation. Generally, any cargo must be firmly immobile and secure on or in a semi-truck with appropriate restraints dependent upon the weight, the truck, and the type of cargo. Improperly secured loads can lead to rollover accidents, jackknife accidents, and cargo spills.
Even more regulations apply if the truck is transporting hazardous cargo such as nitrogen, gasoline, or other substances. If an accident involves a truck carrying such a hazardous or toxic substance, there are even more considerations than the people who might have immediate injuries in an accident. Others in the area can suffer exposure to harmful chemicals.
Why Are Semi-Trucks so Dangerous?
People who survive semi-truck accidents often suffer catastrophic or life-threatening injuries. But why are their injuries frequently more severe than those in passenger vehicle collisions? The answer is that semi-trucks have many traits that make them even more dangerous on the roadways.
These traits include:
- Their size: When fully loaded, semi trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, or between 20 and 30 times more than the average passenger vehicle on the road. Typically, big rigs are taller and longer than passenger cars as well.
- Lack of braking capability: Semi-trucks need more distance and time to slow down or stop than smaller motor vehicles due to their weight.
- Slow acceleration: Its weight also impacts a semi truck’s acceleration. For example, if a trucker is attempting to merge onto a highway or into a traffic lane and underestimates other vehicle speeds, and other drivers either can’t or don’t adjust their speed to let the truck merge safely, the risk of an accident increases.
- Blind spots: Semi-trucks have much larger blind spots than other vehicles due to their length. The areas directly in front and behind, and along both sides, particularly to the right side of a large truck, are known as a “no zone.” However, truck drivers are still responsible for using their mirrors and driving as safely as possible.
- Hazardous loads: Cargo in semi-trucks can become hazardous in many ways. When it isn’t adequately secured, it can shift during transport, making the truck unbalanced and harder to control. If an accident happens, the truck’s cargo might spill out and put obstacles in the way of other motorists. Lastly, sometimes semi-trucks carry hazardous materials, including chemicals and fuel. If an accident occurs, these dangerous substances make it more likely that a fire will result. Toxic spills can also happen with chemicals on the roadway that require special clean-up procedures.
- High center of gravity: Semi-trucks are built to be much taller than other motor vehicles on the road and have higher ground clearance. As such, they have a high center of gravity, which makes them more likely to tip over under certain conditions, such as high speeds, high winds, or going around corners. In addition, the high ground clearance makes a dangerous space for a small vehicle to slide beneath if an accident happens.
Who is Liable for Semi-Truck Accidents?
Semi-truck accidents are almost always more complex than accidents involving other vehicles because you can hold multiple parties liable, including:
- The truck driver: Truckers must obey federal, state, and local rules and regulations when it comes to the safety and maintenance of their vehicles, the hours they drive, and the rest periods they must take. When they deviate away from these strict safety standards, the risk of an accident increases, and they can be solely liable for one that happens.
- The trucking company: Some truck drivers work as independent contractors. They will carry most, if not all, liability for an accident. However, suppose the driver is employed by a trucking company when the crash happens. In that case, their employer will likely be at least partially responsible. To determine this, your truck accident attorney can review the maintenance and safety records of the truck, the driver’s training documents, and other relevant documents and records.
- Government agencies: State and local governments are responsible for maintaining safe road conditions in their jurisdiction. For example, if your truck accident was caused in whole or in part by an abrupt or poorly made shoulder drop-off, a large pothole, other road maintenance issues, or even occurred in places that frequently have accidents, the government can be liable for the accident.
- Private companies: If the semi-truck was incorrectly loaded, which played a role in the accident, the employer, employees, or contractors who loaded the vehicle should be held liable.
- Other drivers: In some truck accidents, other drivers on the road contribute to the cause of the accident. They may be the sole person liable or share their liability with any of the other mentioned parties.
Causes Large Truck Accidents
Smaller vehicles often don’t stand a chance against a large truck’s size and speed. With semi-trucks weighing as much as 80,000 pounds, compared to the 4,000 pounds of an average mid-sized passenger vehicle, severe property damage and bodily harm can result, even if the accident occurs at low speeds.
Unfortunately, not all truckers get the training they should. Even the ones that have training don’t always obey the federal rules and restrictions put in place to keep them and other drivers safe. Many accidents occur due to their carelessness or negligence.
Common causes of truck accidents for which the driver is likely responsible include:
- Driver distraction
- Driver fatigue
- Substance abuse
- Improper maintenance and inspection
- Improper loading
An experienced truck accident lawyer can hold a negligent or careless truck driver liable for their actions. They can also work with industry experts to investigate what caused the accident and who should be responsible for the resulting damages.
Seasoned Truck Accident Attorneys Can Investigate Your Accident
It’s not always readily evident who caused a truck accident or how it happened. Often, a complete and thorough investigation is necessary to determine the answers. When you hire a seasoned truck accident lawyer, they can look at evidence specific to truck accidents to help determine a cause and liability.
This evidence includes:
- The black box or engine control module data, which reveals the truck driver’s actions right before the crash
- The inspection reports and regulatory compliance records of the trucking company
- The driver’s logbooks
- GPS data from the truck
Skilled truck accident attorneys can also analyze forensic evidence that can provide clues as to what caused the crash, such as skid marks on the road, points of impact, and the road’s curvature.
Insurance companies frequently send their representatives directly to the accident scene to make their own reports and determinations about the cause of the crash. But, insurance companies are typically only interested in reducing their insured’s negligence or arguing that they weren’t negligent at all for the accident.
When you hire a skilled truck accident attorney, you’ll not only have legal representation on your side but also investigators who will conduct a comprehensive and fair review of the collision.
Call an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer Today
If you recently suffered injuries in a truck accident, discuss your potential claim with an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible. Waiting can decrease the value of your claim or bar you from any financial recovery.