Trucks travel millions of miles yearly, hauling freight from docks, shipyards, factories, mines, and forests to stores, distribution centers, and even your hometown. For the most part, trucks connect our ever-growing and changing world, delivering raw materials and finished products alike to consumers all over the country.
America has lived by its roads and highways, with trucking integral to the infrastructure for the last hundred years. With all of those miles covered every day by trucks, it is no small wonder that accidents happen, and more often than not, the results are catastrophic.
With 80,000 pounds of tractor-trailer impacting another vehicle at highway speeds, someone is bound to get hurt. Many times, accidents could have been prevented, and a life-changing event could have been avoided. Trucks are colossal vehicles traveling at high speeds, sharing the road with all passenger vehicles.
The most vulnerable part of the system is usually human error. That failure in the human/machine system is due to negligence, not only on the driver’s part but also on the company that employed that driver. The complexities of a semi-truck accident create a challenging situation to navigate, with the victims of the accident being left to put their life back together. Hiring a truck accident lawyer is just one of many things to consider if you have been involved in a semi-truck accident.
Truck accident statistics
We see trucks on our roads, streets, and highways every day. They keep us connected across the nation, from sources of raw materials to factories and our stores and businesses, which provide these as consumables. Despite how common trucks are in our daily lives, semi-truck accidents account for many vehicle accidents.
In just one year, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics:
- One hundred sixty thousand injuries resulted from accidents involving semi-trucks.
- Semi-truck accidents resulted in over 2,772 deaths for passenger vehicle occupants.
- 68 percent of these fatalities are occupants of other vehicles.
- 15 percent were other large truck occupants (608 deaths).
- 16 percent were truck pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Half of the truck accidents are in rural areas, and only a small portion is on interstates.
- 97 percent of fatalities in two-vehicle crashes involving trucks were occupants of passenger vehicles.
- 10 percent of all motor vehicle deaths resulted from semi-truck accidents.
Factors involving truck accidents
Due to the sheer force of a large vehicle traveling at speed, the impact of a semi-truck on another vehicle will result in severe damage, not only to the vehicles but the passengers. These are life-changing injuries that result in deaths on American roads every day.
Several factors turn a semi-truck into a danger to others on the road.
- Physics: Trucks require 20 to 40 percent more distance than cars to stop, which is why truck drivers are specially trained to know the limitations of their vehicles and the best way to react in emergencies. Tens of thousands of pounds of metal, glass, and whatever freight they haul is dangerous in lesser-trained hands.
- Fatigue: Drivers experience long hours of repetitive and monotonous activity as they drive. Sometimes they lose focus or “zone out” on the road. Though the machines they handle can drive for many hours simultaneously, the human body is vulnerable to fatigue.
- Hours of service: Because of fatigue, drivers are restricted to eleven-hour driving limits per day, only with ten consecutive hours of off-duty time. A driver cannot exceed 60 hours over seven days of driving, and the limit of driving hours for eight days is 70. Logbooks tracking their service hours, miles, load weights, and other information are checked at various Port of Entry checkpoints to ensure they comply with the law. Your attorney can gather this information in the settlement process and court.
- Breaks: Other limiting factors, such as taking 30-minute breaks after 8 hours of driving time, help to ensure that drivers don’t become too worn out as they are headed down the road. Regular physical exams and strenuous Commercial Driver’s License requirements are also supposed to ensure that drivers are physically capable of handling their jobs and protecting themselves and others on the highways.
- Substance abuse is a factor in semi-truck accidents since drivers often use stimulants to stay awake and alert on the roads. This can often lead to psychosis or even trigger the opposite effect, which would be crashing from being awake too long. Sometimes drivers use depressants such as drugs or alcohol to regulate their sleep cycles or “take the edge off” when they are on the road too long. Substance abuse can affect reaction times and cause other impairments, resulting in accidents.
- Defective vehicles: Trucks are built from several systems of components, from a powerful motor to a sturdy frame built to withstand the torque and weight of the load they are hauling. To keep the system together, braking systems, hydraulic systems, wheels and tires, and safety features such as lights and underride bars must be in working condition to keep others safe. Usually, it is up to the driver to ensure that these items are working and in place through regular inspection. An underinflated tire can explode on the highway, causing accidents, whereas burned brakes can result in a runaway truck on winding mountain roads.
- Hazardous materials: Trucks aren’t just hauling potato chips. Some semi-trucks carry caustic materials, flammable substances such as fuel, and even radioactive waste. An accident with freight like this would devastate the highway, resulting in burns, permanent injury, and even death.
- Visibility: Trucks are very large, high-profile vehicles, and other than the driver, the next limitation of a semi-truck is visibility. Trucks often get into accidents because another vehicle was driving in their blind spot, which is why drivers are supposed to be trained to account for these possibilities.
- Weather conditions/equipment: Trucks, like other vehicles, are often at the mercy of the weather and road conditions. Large tires built for highway travel don’t always work the best on snow and ice, which can lead to jackknife accidents, the inability to stop, and other collisions.
A big reason trucks get into accidents is due to variables that could have been eliminated if not for the negligence of the trucking company’s owner. To save money, owners will often hire inexperienced drivers, use substandard equipment, provide poor training for their operators, and even skimp on equipment such as good tires or snow chains.
Sometimes trucks are overloaded to save on the expense of multiple trips, and cutting corners like this can subvert the safety features of the trucks themselves. Drivers desperate to meet their employers’ expectations often participate in illegal activities such as keeping multiple log books, using drugs to help them put in more driving hours with less sleep, and using excessive speed to get to the next location.
These things put other drivers at risk for death and severe injury. An attorney will help you hold a company accountable for trying to cut corners to increase its profits at your expense.
What to do after an accident
Here are some things to remember if you have been involved in a semi-truck accident.
Check for injuries and get to safety.
Administer first aid if necessary, and maintain a safe distance from the accident to avoid any further injury. Chances are injuries from a semi-truck accident will be severe. Do not leave the scene of the accident.
By alerting First Responders, you not only help get medical help to those who need it, but you are beginning a documentation process.
Get the insurance information of the truck driver as well as their operating number and company contact information. If you have a smartphone, you can take pictures of their documentation.
Admit no fault in the accident.
Even though you are in a heightened sense of fight or flight after an accident, it is important to remain calm and admit no fault in the accident. Your words can be used against you later.
- Take pictures of the accident scene from various angles, take pictures of injuries you and your passengers have sustained, and any noteworthy things about the scene such as defective traffic lights, broken safety lights on the truck, or anything else out of the ordinary.
- Get contact information of bystanders and witnesses: This information can be crucial when getting different perspectives on what happened during the accident.
- Get contact info of first responders: First responders’ names will come in handy during your lawyer’s investigation of the accident, and their statements about what happened can help you if the case goes to trial.
- Medical bills and other expenses: As part of your settlement, you are going to want to get a comprehensive total of medical bills, expenses, costs of repairs, medications, and everything else which has come out of your pocket in the aftermath of the accident. Your attorney can use this total as part of the negotiation during the settlement process with the insurer, or if the case goes to trial.
See a healthcare provider.
Regardless of how minor your injuries may seem, all sorts of serious conditions can result from a semi-truck accident. Due to adrenaline, whiplash, traumatic brain injuries, internal hemorrhaging, broken bones, and other injuries might not be evident at first. Still, they may become a serious issue later, possibly resulting in permanent damage or even death. Always seek medical attention after an automobile accident.
It could save your life.
- Treatment: From surgeries, loss of limb, broken bones, brain bruising and swelling to ruptured internal organs, cognitive damage, and loss of eyes or severe disfigurement, there is a wide range of serious injuries resulting from a semi-truck accident. And that is only if you survive the collision. Treatment may be extensive, with several days to months of medical treatment in the hospital. Some accident survivors may have to relearn how to walk or deal with a permanent disability. Others might have the trauma of the accident replay in their minds over and over, leading to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts stemming from survivor’s guilt. Recovery from a truck vs. car accident will also be expensive, and rehabilitation is often painful and arduous.
- Lost time at work: As the hospital bills rack up, you will no doubt lose time from work, even to the point of losing your job due to missed time. An attorney can help protect your rights and get you the compensation you need to recoup that loss to protect your livelihood and the welfare of your family.
- Physical and mental rehabilitation: Depending on the severity of your injuries, you might have to go through a long process of rehabilitation, physical therapy, mental therapy, and even vocational training.
Watch what you say.
Even though you might think an insurance adjuster is empathetic to what you are going through, their primary goal is to protect the insurance company’s best interests.
When speaking with an insurance adjuster, you should be mindful of what you say since you might find yourself being lowballed for a settlement amount and may even have your claim rejected outright. Speaking to your attorney first will give you an edge regarding knowing what to say and what not to say to protect your best interests.
Find a truck accident lawyer.
An attorney can help with the investigation, negotiations with a settlement, awarded damages, compensation for property damage, repairs/replacement, and healthcare expenses.
Typically a negotiation and settlement will be quicker than going to trial. However, there is no way of knowing whether the process will take a few months or even years to work through. A settlement is generally quicker than going to trial, and your attorney can use the bills and expenses you have documented to reach a total for your compensation.
Not only are medical bills, cost of repair or replacement, rehabilitation, and lost income taken into consideration, but a skilled attorney can help leverage a settlement or even argue your case in court for lost income, future wages, pain, and suffering, and permanent impact on your mental health.
A judge may even award punitive damages to you, depending on the case. Talk with your attorney to find out the expected duration of the process and the other possibilities for compensation and damages.