Every day, trucks cover millions of miles of roads, highways, and interstates to deliver goods from place to place. A semi-truck can haul hundreds of thousands of pounds of freight—anything from crates of potato chips to fresh-cut timber.
Trucks travel at highway speeds with incredible weight, hauled in trailers capable of moving anything loaded onto them. Many trucks haul toxic substances, chemicals, or even fuel, which requires care and training to transport safely.
Not only are drivers at risk for damages caused by the impact, but the freight the truck is hauling may further injuries from fires, chemical spills, and even explosions. With these risks, trucking is a highly regulated industry in the United States.
But laws can only go so far to protect citizens, and when truck accidents happen, you need a truck accident lawyer to sort out and obtain compensation for the dire consequences.
The dangers of truck travel
Despite enormous loads in all sorts of weather conditions, trucks are generally a safe method of transportation. One of the reasons for this is the arduous care and quality control trucking companies perform when servicing, loading, and rolling out their fleet vehicles.
Mechanics regularly service powertrain components, hydraulics, tires, axles, and brakes and keep the mechanical aspect of the truck in top condition. Regulations require that trucking companies load trucks to precise weights and that drivers observe speed limits and road condition advisories.
With thousands of tons of steel traveling at high speeds down the interstate, the weakest link in the chain is perhaps the driver. If you are involved in a semi-truck collision, your vehicle will suffer tremendous damage. It is rare for a car not to be considered a total loss when involved in a truck accident. What happens to the passengers inside the vehicle can be especially grievous. Fatalities are common, as are long-term—if not permanent—injuries.
What are some different kinds of accidents involving tractor-trailers?
These accidents are specific to trucking.
- Underride collision: Since tractor-trailers are high-profile and high-clearance vehicles, it is common for smaller vehicles such as cars, SUVs, and even motorcycles to become wedged between the trailer and the road. Underride guards on the rear of trailers are federally sanctioned and have prevented deaths, but side guards are not yet mandatory.
- Low-clearance collisions: Truck drivers who do not observe clearance levels at bridges, tunnels, and signage risk colliding with these objects. Surrounding motorists are at risk of falling debris and colliding with a suddenly stopped truck.
- Blowouts: Those shreds of tires you might see on the roadside are very common in trucking, but they don’t have to be. Routine maintenance and inspections will limit these sorts of accidents. Blowouts can cause a vehicle to lose control temporarily and swerve into other motorists.
- Brake failures: One of the most dangerous sources of collisions with trucks, a brake failure could mean that motorists are at risk of being rammed and crushed by a runaway truck.
- Head-on collisions: These often result from a semi-truck jumping the median and ramming into oncoming traffic. Often, a driver is asleep at the wheel or under the influence of substances.
- Fires and spills: Trucks haul flammable and caustic substances every day, and sometimes engine fires, brake fires, or other preventable events lead to the truck and its freight burning or exploding on the highway. Impacts can also cause spills and fires, but bystanders and other motorists are especially at risk if stuck in traffic with a burning big rig. Driver error or equipment failure is often to blame for these accidents.
Truck drivers need certifications and licenses for their trucks. A semi-truck, though similar to a mini-van in that it has wheels, a motor, and a windshield, is a very different vehicle, and without proper training, it can be deadly. Truck drivers train to drive through many different weather and traffic situations. Trucks are high-profile vehicles that occupy large pieces of the road. Visibility, weight, and braking are the biggest concerns of a truck driver.
The most difficult of these truck challenges is how to stop an out-of-control vehicle traveling at high speeds that outweighs just about anything else on wheels? In this type of situation, there isn’t much that can stop a truck, and this is where injuries occur. Injuries resulting from truck vs. car accidents are often severe, life-changing, or deadly.
Operator error and other issues
Since the truck driver is essentially the brains of the operation, they must have situational awareness, constant monitoring of the traffic around them, information about road conditions/hazards and how to navigate these, and the ability to respond to the unexpected while not jeopardizing other people sharing the road.
Some truckers resort to using substances to cope with the stress of long hauls, with stimulants to keep them alert or depressants such as alcohol or barbiturates to help manage stress on the road. These substances are prohibited by law since they can turn a good driver into a danger. Truck drivers take randomized tests for substances, and in the event of an accident, they generally take a test administered by law enforcement.
What do I do if I’ve been in a truck accident?
From the moment of screeching tires on the pavement to that horrible crunch and sound of shattered glass, many things might be going through your mind. The world might seem to slow down as your adrenaline causes you to hyper-focus during times of danger.
Here is a list of things you should do after an accident:
- Remain calm: If you have physical injuries or not, remaining calm will allow you to assess the situation. Panic can often result in shock, not only for yourself but for your passengers.
- Get to safety: If possible, exit the vehicle and stay a safe distance from the accident scene. Secondary accidents may result in other drivers becoming fixated on the accident scene, and they might cause additional collisions. If you cannot get out of the vehicle (being trapped inside due to crumple zones limiting your ability to open doors or roll down windows is common after impact with a truck), remain inside your vehicle until help arrives.
- Call 911: Use your cell phone or if you aren’t carrying one, ask for any bystanders to call for emergency medical services. A police officer will also be dispatched.
- Administer first aid: If necessary, administer emergency first aid. Do not move injured people with head or neck injuries, as this may cause additional injuries and possibly result in paralysis or death.
- Admit no fault in the accident!: This is crucial. Admitting to wrongdoing in an accident could make you liable for damages and medical costs or severely cut the amount awarded to you by the courts if it goes to trial. You have just had an accident, and remaining calm will help prevent you from apologizing or admitting fault.
- Gather information: This is important for the next step of the process. From a safe distance, use your camera phone to take pictures of the accident and take pictures of insurance card information (this will be easier than looking for a pen and paper—and more reliable). Get the contact information of any witnesses to the accident, responding officers, or EMS first responders on the scene.
- Observe and report: Take note of how the truck driver was behaving. Were their actions accelerated or manic? Was there the presence of any drug paraphernalia on the scene? Were they behaving sleepy or intoxicated? What about the truck itself? Was it missing any safety equipment such as underride guards? Were the turn signals intact or working before the accident? In some ways, you have to be a private investigator, as all of these details can contribute to Discovery in a lawsuit.
- Take note of the surrounding area: Photograph or record any problems with the road, such as obstacles, malfunctioning traffic lights, or debris in the road which may have contributed to the accident.
- Contact a truck accident attorney: This may be something you want to consider even before contacting your insurance company. A skilled attorney can negotiate with the insurance company to ensure they don’t lowball your damages or compensation.
What injuries can I expect from a truck accident?
As truck accidents have the potential of being especially grievous, your injuries may be extensive. The velocity and mass of a truck and your vehicle colliding demonstrate extreme physics at work. Particularly the result of two objects in motion suddenly coming to a stop. The energy transfers through your body and anyone else in the car. Inertia can damage bones, organs, and especially the brain.
Traumatic brain injuries, spinal damage, and other neurological damage from concussion to subarachnoid hemorrhaging are likely. A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, results when the brain bounces within the skull or an impaled object strikes it. There are varying degrees of damage resulting from a TBI, with the most common and least deadly being epidural hematoma. This injury is when the brain is damaged, and blood clots form on the layer of tissue surrounding the brain called the dura. With severity, the blood clots may form beneath the dura and even within the brain ventricles.
TBIs are serious injuries because the secondary injuries resulting from sheared blood vessels, traveling blood clots, and aneurysms cause intense pressure within the skull and cause tissue damage within the brain. The result is permanent cognitive damage, which will likely affect the survivors of TBIs for the rest of their lives.
These impacts can include reduction in mental acuity, paralysis, or even loss of sensory ability such as taste, vision, hearing, etc. Reduced motor skills, cognition, and memory may also be affected. TBIs can also result in death, even long after the injury. It is important after a truck accident to seek medical attention to find any injuries, particularly internal.
Truck accidents also result in severe bruising, bleeding, cuts, contusions, amputations, and all too commonly, death. The human body cannot withstand the forces or trauma an impact with a truck can deliver. Broken bones, burns from the airbags deploying, cuts and scrapes from twisted metal and broken glass, and even ruptured organs from the force of the impact itself are common and very serious.
The mental anguish you might feel afterward is also something that will continue to affect you. Some survivors of truck accidents are reluctant to return to driving in a car, which can affect your ability to go about your daily life or even work.
It will take a long time to put the pieces back together in your life. If you have survived a truck accident, the next step is recovery.
What does recovery look like?
Recovery can be a long and arduous process. If you have survived the accident and sustained injuries, you may require surgeries, rehabilitation, pain management, and mental health treatment. You will have lost time at work, and the injury may have left you with permanent disabilities.
All injuries you suffer are painful, time-consuming, and may impact you for the rest of your life. The treatment for physical and mental injuries will be a part of your life for a long time, even if you make a full recovery, and they will also be expensive.
The court process will require expertise to navigate properly, with court deadlines, hearings, and negotiations with insurance companies and the other parties involved. This process is a lot to take on as you try to recover, giving you another reason to hire an attorney. If the accident resulted in the death of a passenger, there is the matter of funeral expenses, medical bills, and compensation for family members. Just a few short seconds can have a ripple effect on the rest of many other lives.
Trucking companies have a responsibility to hire competent, drug-free employees capable of driving their vehicles without being a danger to other motorists. If a truck driver caused an accident that injured you, there is a good chance the driver and the trucking company are liable for damages.
Pain and suffering, rehabilitation, death and dismemberment liability, and many other factors determine payment to truck accident victims. A skilled attorney can help you get the maximum amount allowed by law to compensate for your losses.
Consult a truck accident attorney
Contacting a personal injury attorney is important if you need to navigate the litigation process and protect your rights. Experienced attorneys can help you settle your claim or pursue litigation in a court of law if necessary.
The legal system can be confusing, frustrating, and leave you feeling hopeless after a truck accident. But by hiring a skilled truck accident attorney, you can protect your rights, optimize your settlement, and rest assured, knowing that you have found a lawyer who will fight fiercely for you. Contact a trusted attorney today for a free consultation and begin the path to recovery.