Collectively, U.S. truck drivers travel more than 450 billion miles a year, delivering 8 billion tons of merchandise, including food, supplies, electronics, and more. Unfortunately, as important as semi-trucks are to the nation’s economy, these are massive vehicles, easily capable of causing severe injury or even death if involved in an accident.
If you have been injured or have lost a loved one in a semi-truck accident that resulted from someone else’s carelessness or recklessness, you can seek compensation. You may file a wrongful death or personal injury claim for the financial and emotional costs of your injury or loss. An experienced truck accident attorney can help you understand this process and the types of services they can provide to assist you with your claim.
What Makes Semi-Truck Accidents So Dangerous?
Semi-trucks are responsible for transporting around 72 percent of all the products sold in the U.S. To complete their work promptly, truckers often carry large loads. They are also a link in the supply chain that brings goods into the U.S. and exports goods produced or manufactured here to the rest of the world.
Also known as commercial motor vehicles, semi-trucks, or tractor-trailers, these trucks are massive vehicles-the average semi-truck measures around 72 feet long, 13.5 feet high, and 8.5 feet wide. When fully loaded, a semi-truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, which is around 20 to 30 times heavier than most passenger cars with which it shares the roadway.
Many of the hazards related to semi-trucks have to do with their size, such as:
- Significant blind spots on all four sides of the vehicle. A blind spot is an area around the vehicle that the driver cannot see through their side or rearview mirrors. The bigger the vehicle, the more prominent the blind spot is.
- An increased distance is needed to bring the vehicle to a safe stop. No vehicle “stops on a dime.” Instead, braking is a process that involves the driver perceiving a hazard on the roadway, responding to the hazard by depressing the brakes, and the vehicle continuing to travel as the brakes pull the weight of it to a complete stop.
- A high center of gravity can make the truck prone to tipping over during an accident, when the driver is attempting to avoid an accident by swerving, or when they are trying to negotiate a corner or a steep curve while driving too fast.
- The high ground clearance can cause smaller vehicles to slip between the truck’s underside and the roadway during an accident.
- A surplus of miles traveled in a small amount of time while carrying a lot of weight, leading to parts such as the brakes and tires wearing prematurely. Because of this, commercial truck drivers must perform a pre-trip inspection to look for visible signs of wear before every journey, and truck owners are required to have the vehicle serviced and maintained regularly.
- When negotiating a sharp corner, the need to make wide turns requires the truck driver to swing the vehicle’s front wheels into another travel lane, posing the risk that an unaware driver will be struck by the turning truck or caught between the truck and the curb when turning.
Human Error Is Responsible for Most Semi-Truck Accidents
Semi-truck accidents result in the deaths of more than 4,000 people each year and many thousands more suffering severe or even catastrophic injuries. However, while the truck’s size makes it harder to maneuver on the roadway, the size is not the cause of most accidents; human error is.
The types of human error commonly involved in semi-truck accidents include:
- Distracted driving: Driving distractions are a significant cause of all types of motor vehicle accidents, including those involving semi-trucks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)-the agency tasked with overseeing and regulating the trucking industry-has banned texting and other handheld device use. The reason that texting-while-driving is of such concern to federal regulators is that texting features all three types of driving distractions: manual distractions, which cause the driver to take their hands from the wheel; visual distractions, which draw the driver’s eyes from watching the roadway; and cognitive distractions, which take the driver’s mind off the task of driving safely. Other types of distractions can also result in a semi-truck accident, including eating, drinking, smoking, visiting with passengers, adjusting GPS or vehicle controls, or communicating with dispatch.
- Driver fatigue: The FMCSA notes that approximately 13 percent of all truck drivers involved in accidents report being fatigued at the time of the crash. Fatigue is of great concern with long-haul truck drivers, who often spend hours looking at the same boring terrain and often drive in the late-night hours when the body needs sleep. Additionally, many truck drivers suffer from a sleep-related breathing condition called sleep apnea, which causes a person to temporarily stop breathing numerous times during sleep and leave the sufferer feeling fatigued even if they have had the optimal amount of rest. Because fatigue is such a common problem among truck drivers, the FMCSA requires drivers to take regular off-duty breaks and electronically record the hours they are on duty to ensure compliance with the hours of service regulation.
- Speeding: With deadlines involved in every trip they take, many semi-truck drivers exceed the posted speed limit or drive faster than the weather or traffic conditions of the roadway allow. Due to their weight, semi-trucks require up to 40 percent more distance to stop, even when traveling at a safe speed-excess speed results in an even greater stopping distance.
- Impaired driving: Semi-truck drivers are required to obtain a special license to operate such a large vehicle, known as a commercial driver’s license (CDL). To obtain and maintain their CDL, the driver must submit to regular drug and alcohol screenings. Additionally, they are subject to a lower impairment level when driving after drinking than other adult drivers. However, despite the regulations to prevent impaired driving, some drivers indulge in alcohol or drugs while on-the-job. Others take prescription or over-the-counter medication that can have impairing effects. Alcohol and drug impairment can impact the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle safely, including controlling speed, braking effectively, tracking moving targets, maintaining a single lane of travel, and making good driving decisions.
Seeking Compensation After a Semi-Truck Accident
Of the over 4,000 people killed in semi-truck accidents in the U.S. each year, only 16 percent are the truck drivers themselves. Around 67 percent of this type of accident fatalities are the occupants of other (generally much more minor) vehicles, while another 15 percent are motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
Semi-truck accidents are responsible for causing incredibly severe injuries, including injuries to the organs that make up the body’s central nervous system-the brain and the spinal cord. These are known as catastrophic injuries because neither of these organs is particularly adept at healing from injury and commonly result in permanent disabilities that will prevent the sufferer from earning an income in the future.
The personal injury or wrongful death claims process involves seeking the value of your claim from the at-fault party’s insurance provider. If the insurance provider fails to pay your claim or make a settlement offer that fairly compensates you, you can file your lawsuit in civil court.
Potential Sources of Liability in Truck Accidents
Truck accidents are complex claims due to the federal regulations that the industry is subject to, the types of documentation trucking companies must keep on hand, and the other potential sources of liability in this type of accident. While the truck driver is often one source of liability, if they work for a trucking company, the company can also be liable for the accident as they are vicariously liable for the actions of their employees during work hours.
This liability is because the company is tasked with ensuring that the driver is properly licensed, trained, and physically able to perform the job safely. They also must ensure that the driver’s criminal background or previous driving history is acceptable for the position and that the truck is regularly inspected and maintained according to regulations.
The shipper can also be liable in certain accidents, including those involving improperly loaded cargo, as loading the truck’s trailer is often the shipper’s job. Shippers are also responsible for ensuring that the drivers and companies they trust with their shipments are appropriately licensed, insured, and in good standing with the FMCSA.
Other potential sources of liability in semi-truck accidents include:
- Other drivers, whose negligent actions could factor into a collision involving a semi-truck
- The entity or individual tasked with providing maintenance services on the truck
- The agency responsible for maintaining the road if a road defect factored into the accident
- The manufacturer or distributor of defective parts used on the truck or other vehicles
The Type of Compensation You Can Seek After a Semi-Truck Accident
If a semi-truck accident injured you, you can seek compensation for expenses and psychological impacts such as:
- All medical expenses associated with the treatment of the injuries you suffered in the semi-truck accident as well as those necessary to address complications related to those injuries
- Wage loss for missing work as a result of your injury, or loss of earning capacity if your injury results in permanent disabilities and you are no longer able to earn what you did before the accident
- Property damage, such as the cost of repairing or replacing the vehicle you were driving when the accident occurred
- Physical pain and suffering or emotional distress related to the accident or the injury you incurred
For wrongful death claims, family members of the deceased can seek compensation for expenses and psychological impacts relating to their loss, such as:
- Medical expenses associated with treating the deceased’s final injuries
- The cost of a funeral and burial or cremation
- Loss of wages and benefits that the deceased would have made during their career if they had survived the incident
- Loss of care, companionship, nurturing, guidance, or moral support that the deceased afforded to their loved ones
- Loss of prospective net accumulations to the estate (loss of inheritance)
Why Hire a Truck Accident Attorney to Help You With Your Claim?
The right truck accident firm brings the experience of thousands of cases and a deep understanding of the difficulties faced after a severe injury.
A legal team can:
- Establish a value to the claim
- Determine liability
- Manage communication with the at-fault party’s insurance provider to negotiate a settlement and protect the claim from common insurance tactics used to reduce the number of payouts
- Gather the evidence and witness testimony needed to prove your claim, including the testimony of expert witnesses if necessary
- Guide you through all the critical decisions about your claim
- Litigate your claim
- Collect your settlement or award
Let a lawyer help you make sense of the claims process following a semi-truck accident.