About Semi-Truck Accidents: Causes, Liability, and Legal Help
About 15.5 million commercial trucks operate on U.S. roadways, including around 2 million tractor-trailers also known as semi-trucks. These trucks serve a vital role in the economy, accounting for nearly 70 percent of all freight transported in the U.S. each year. Unfortunately, despite the importance of the trucking industry to the national economy, these massive trucks pose several risks to other roadway users. Each year, accidents involving semi-trucks kill thousands of people and injure more.
If an accident with a semi-truck injured you or took a loved one, let an experienced legal team obtain compensation for the expenses and impact of your injury or loss.
A Risky Business
Studies indicate that driving is the riskiest occupation in the U.S., including the job of driving a semi-truck, resulting in the deaths of more than 900 drivers a year. However, while the risks are high for truck drivers themselves, they’re even higher for other roadway users. Sixty-seven percent of those killed in accidents involving commercial trucks occupied other vehicles, and another 15 percent are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.
The dangers of semi-trucks are so much more significant for other roadway users because semi-trucks are enormous vehicles, measuring around 72 feet long and 13.5 feet tall.
They weigh 20 to 30 times more than the average passenger car, which causes:
- Significant blind spots. A blind spot is an area around the vehicle where the driver cannot see in their rear or side-view mirrors. In smaller cars, this area is generally along the rear sides. However, because of the height and width of the semi-truck (and the fact that it doesn’t have rearview mirrors), the blind spots are significant on all four sides of the vehicle. There are particular issues along the passenger side, where the blind spot extends the entire length of the tractor and trailer across two adjacent travel lanes.
- An increased stopping distance. Vehicle braking is not an immediate action but rather a process that involves the driver perceiving a hazard on the roadway, responding to the danger, and depressing the brakes to slow the vehicle to a safe stop. Three crucial factors impact the distance that it takes for a vehicle to stop: 1) The condition of the brakes, tires, and road surface – poorly maintained brakes, bald tires, and wet or icy road conditions requiring extra stopping distance; 2) The speed of the vehicle – a faster-moving vehicle requiring more distance to stop; and 3) The weight of the vehicle – heavier vehicles require the brakes to work harder to achieve their purpose. Commercial trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded and require up to 40 percent more distance to come to a complete stop.
- A higher center of gravity = due to the vehicle’s increased height and relatively narrower width. This center of gravity makes the vehicle prone to rolling over when attempting to negotiate a sharp corner or curve at speed or during emergency driving maneuvers, such as swerving to avoid an obstacle. The risk of the vehicle overturning increases if the trailer has been improperly loaded or has shifted to have a weight imbalance.
- Wide turns from negotiating a 72-foot long vehicle around an urban street corner. Wide turns sometimes require the driver to swing the vehicle’s front wheels into an adjacent travel lane, which poses risks to drivers in these lanes. One hazardous type of accident involving a wide-turning semi-truck is the squeeze play. This occurs when a driver incorrectly assumes that when the turning truck swings into the adjacent lane to make a right turn, it is turning left or traveling straight. The vehicle attempts to squeeze past the truck on its right, trapped between the truck and the curb. There is a risk to a driver in the lane to the truck’s left, as it is in the blind spot, and the truck driver may not be aware of it. The truck driver’s responsibility is to ensure a clear travel lane before pulling into it, not the passenger driver’s duty to stay out of the truck’s blind spots.
The Biggest Risk of All: Human Error
Far and away, the leading cause of any motor vehicle accident is human error, also commonly known as negligence. In addition to the hazards presented by the vehicle, commercial truck drivers can create additional risks just as any driver can.
Some common examples of driver behavior that leads to semi-truck accidents include:
- Speeding: This not only refers to driving faster than the posted speed limit but driving faster than is safe for traffic and weather. Excessive speed not only makes it harder to maneuver a truck that already lacks the maneuverability of smaller cars but also increases the stopping distance and the severity of the crash.
- Distracted driving: Truck drivers are susceptible to the same types of driver distractions, including texting and other cell phone use; adjusting GPS, stereo, or vehicle controls; eating, drinking, or smoking; or external distractions such as billboards, other people, and cars, or construction zones. Texting is of particular concern to roadway authorities, as it causes a driver to look away from the road and causes them to take their hands from the wheel and their thoughts away from the task of safe driving.
- Driver fatigue: While any driver can grow exhausted, fatigue is common in those who work night shifts and long-haul truck drivers who often drive at night. Fatigue is such a problem for nighttime drivers because of the Circadian rhythm, which is the body’s instinctive urge to sleep at certain times, such as mid-afternoon and late-night hours. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) the federal agency that regulates the U.S. commercial trucking industry another common cause of fatigue among commercial truck drivers is an increased prevalence of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing condition in which an individual temporarily stops breathing during sleep, sometimes dozens of times during an eight-hour sleep cycle. Additionally, truck drivers who sleep in the sleeper berths of their vehicles are more likely to have an accident shortly after resuming driving due to sleep inertia shortly after waking from sleep. Approximately 13 percent of truck drivers involved in accidents are considered tired at the time of the accident.
- Impairment: Commercial truck drivers are required to obtain a special license to operate a semi-truck, known as a commercial driver’s license (CDL). One of the tasks they must perform to get and maintain their CDL is regular drug and alcohol screenings. Some truck drivers indulge in drugs and alcohol while driving despite this requirement. Others, however, can be unaware of the intoxicating effects of specific prescription and over-the-counter medications that can impair their driving skills.
- Poor maintenance: Truck drivers are also required to perform a pre-trip inspection of their vehicle to ensure no obvious defects that would result in an accident. Additionally, trucking companies or truck owners must commit to a regular maintenance and service schedule. The weight of the vehicle, combined with the many miles it travels, causes vehicle parts to wear more quickly on commercial trucks. Poorly maintained vehicles can create risks such as the loss of maneuverability after a tire blowout or accidents resulting from poorly functioning brakes.
Semi-Truck Accidents Can Change Your Life
Semi-truck accidents tend to create catastrophic injuries for other roadway users due to the truck’s size and the difficulty that drivers have controlling it. Because of the inherent risks posed by this type of truck, truck owners are required to carry an additional amount of insurance. Additionally, truck drivers face a lower alcohol impairment limit than other drivers and have several other requirements to transport cargo on public roadways.
Catastrophic injuries leave permanent disabilities that impair the sufferer’s ability to earn an income. The two most commonly considered catastrophic injuries are traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Brain injuries can result in memory loss, difficulty with spoken communication, balanced and coordinated movements, and an inability to control one’s emotions or impulses.
Spinal cord injuries can result in paralysis below the site of the injury. A spinal cord injury in the cervical (neck) area often means permanent paralysis below the neck, a condition called quadriplegia or tetraplegia.
Other serious injuries commonly associated with semi-truck accidents include:
- Broken bones can impair the limb’s range of motion and use and result in chronic pain.
- Facial trauma, including eye trauma that can cause permanent disfigurement or even loss of vision
- Internal bleeding is a hemorrhage that can lead to organ damage or even death.
- Burns resulting from contact with the caustic fluids used to make vehicles run, hazardous materials transported in the truck, hot surfaces, and flames.
- Soft tissue damage, including whiplash, can result in chronic pain.
Seeking Compensation For Injuries or Losses Sustained in a Semi-Truck Accident
Individuals who have been injured or have lost a loved one due to a semi-truck accident caused by the truck driver’s reckless or careless actions can seek compensation through the personal injury or wrongful death claims process.
Each of these processes involves first seeking the value of your claim from the at-fault party’s insurance adjuster. If the adjuster fails to pay the claim’s value or offer a reasonable settlement, you can file a civil suit in court.
The foundation of a successful truck accident claim is the ability to prove that someone else was liable for causing the accident that resulted in your injury.
There can be more than one source of liability in a semi-truck accident, including:
- The truck driver
- The trucking company is vicariously responsible for the actions of its employees during work time. The trucking company must ensure the truck is adequately insured and maintained and that the driver has the training to handle the rigors of the job.
- The shipper must ensure that the driver and trucking company are appropriately insured and in good standing with the FMCSA. The shipper is also responsible for making sure the truck is loaded correctly.
- Other drivers on the roadway whose reckless or careless actions contributed to the accident
To prove liability, you must show that the at-fault party had a duty to avoid your injury, then breached the duty. The breach resulted in the accident that caused your damage.
Semi-Truck Accident? We Can Help
Semi-truck accidents are among the most severe accidents on the roadway, and being injured in one can change your entire life. Let an experienced semi-truck accident lawyer help you understand your legal options for compensation and the services they can provide you.
I represent individuals in Missouri and Illinois in all types of personal injury cases. In my short time here I have obtained a judgment for $2.5 million and settled a large class action lawsuit for a confidential amount.
I love the city of St. Louis and support it and give back whenever I can. Recently I was appointed by Mayor Francis Slay to serve on the Advisory Board for the Gateway Mall.
I am married to my lovely wife Lauren and we have two beautiful daughters, Mia and Bridget.