Thousands of commercial vehicles travel the Florida interstates every day. Trucks provide a valuable service to businesses and consumers all across the nation. Unfortunately, 5,237 large trucks and buses were in fatal crashes in the most recent year for which there is data.
Driving a big truck requires training and skill. Most truck drivers drive safely to protect themselves and the passenger vehicles that surround them. Still, all too often, someone’s negligence causes a rollover accident. The insurance industry publication Claims Journal reports that rollovers caused a disproportionately high number of fatalities.
Common Causes of Truck Rollovers
Some factors, such as a truck driver failing to watch out for traffic conflicts or not checking carefully at intersections, contribute to many truck accidents. Other factors are especially likely to cause rollovers. The actions of other drivers may also play a part. For example, other drivers may drive erratically, forcing trucks to maneuver abruptly, or other vehicles may collide with a truck.
Truck rollovers still happen despite crash avoidance technology such as electronic stability control (ESC), which the law requires on all new truck tractors and buses since 2019. Although rollovers often occur during turns and on highway ramps, many also happen on straight, dry roads. Truck rollover accidents most often happen due to centrifugal force, which causes the truck to lean away from the direction of a curve as it travels along that path.
Speed increases the centrifugal force exerted against the truck, so there is a greater risk of an accident. Tractor-trailers typically have a high center of gravity. Therefore, they have a greater chance of getting into a rollover accident than other vehicles, especially if they carry unstable loads. Statistics show that 63 percent of rollover accidents happen to trucks with partial loads.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Large Truck Crash Causation Study studied 239 crashes in which a truck rolled over. Researchers observed that a rollover “increases the roll moment about the longitudinal axis of the vehicle, generally either turning too quickly or allowing one side of the vehicle to drop or rise suddenly.” Frequent causes of rollovers include:
Speed. Many truck rollovers happen because of speed. Excessive speed is involved in 45 percent of all crashes. In many cases, the truck driver misjudged the safe speed for entering and navigating a curve. Researchers have concluded that when the truck’s front wheels turn more quickly than the cargo the truck is pulling, or when the truck’s cargo is unstable or improperly loaded, the center of gravity shifts and may cause a rollover.
Distracted driving. The second most common contributor to truck rollovers is truck driver inattention or distraction. Any time a truck driver’s attention wanders from driving, the driver is more likely to react to hazards by sudden changes in direction, which may lead to a rollover.
The three main types of distraction for truck drivers:
- Visual – taking their eyes off the road;
- Manual – taking their hands off the wheel; and
- Cognitive – taking their mind off what they are doing.
Studies show that due to inattentional blindness, a driver may fail to see something, such as a stoplight, even when looking at it. Distractions are everywhere, from radios to passing scenery. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations prohibit texting and hand-held mobile phone use while operating a commercial motor vehicle used in interstate commerce. When it comes to using mobile devices by truck drivers, the FMCSA says a driver should not be reaching, holding, dialing, texting, or reading.
Losing control of the truck. When a driver loses control of a truck, they are at risk of causing a rollover. This loss of control sometimes happens due to over-steering when changing lanes or swerving harder than necessary to avoid a possible hazard. Sharp changes in direction are similar to what happens when a driver takes a curve too fast. They cause an imbalance that leads to rollover. Under steering, such as failing to steer away from a road shoulder, which causes the wheels to leave the road, and overcorrection can also cause rollovers.
Precautionary measures. Factors that happen even before the truck is on the road can lead to rollover accidents. The failure of the driver or cargo loaders to check the safety and security of the cargo is a significant factor in rollovers. An unbalanced load or sudden shift in cargo can cause a driver to lose control of the truck. Other factors can include alcohol or drug use, fatigue, or a medical condition.
Vehicle condition. The condition of the truck’s system and parts, particularly brakes, tires, and steering mechanism, are crucial in preventing all kinds of accidents. The trucking company, those responsible for maintenance and repairs, and the drivers themselves are all responsible to inspect the truck carefully before starting.
Other consequences of rollovers. Even if no other vehicle collides with an overturned truck, the rollover can lead to secondary accidents. These may happen because other vehicles swerve to miss an overturned truck, or are dangerously distracted by the accident. In addition, when a truck rolls, cargo may fall onto the road, potentially creating hazards. Goods can block traffic lanes and drivers may swerve to avoid it. Liquid cargo can cause an unexpectedly slippery road. Toxic or chemical cargo can lead to fires and explosions.
Common Injuries Resulting From Truck Rollovers
Truck rollovers are terrifying. In many accidents, the trailer tips over first, and then it snaps the cab over. While rollovers are fairly uncommon compared to other types of crashes, they tend to cause catastrophic injuries. A truck rollover can cause more than one injury. For example, a victim may suffer a spinal injury as well as serious burns from a tanker that catches fire. These injuries can cause months or years of pain and require expensive medical treatment.
Common injuries from truck rollovers include but are not limited to:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI). Often, a TBI is a life-changing injury. The Centers for Disease Control describes a TBI as a “bump, blow, or jolt, or penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function.” A severe TBI can affect cognitive and motor functions. It may also result in behavioral and emotional problems. An individual who suffers from a severe TBI may require medical care and additional help for the rest of their lives.
- Spinal cord injury. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, someone who suffers a spinal cord injury may be partially or totally paralyzed. They may need assistance with transportation and daily tasks.
- Broken bones. Bone fractures are common in a truck rollover. Recovery is typically slow and painful. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.
- Internal injuries. Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, you should always seek medical attention following an accident. You may have internal organ damage or internal bleeding, which, if left untreated, can be fatal.
- Burns—Doctors classify burns as first, second, third, or fourth-degree burns, according to how deeply and severely they penetrate the skin. Burns are extremely painful and may result in permanent and disfiguring scars.
Laws Regulating Trucks
Two U.S. Department of Transportation agencies plus individual states oversee large truck safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sets standards for new truck equipment. The FMCSA oversees the safety of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce (vehicles operating across state lines) and has some jurisdiction over equipment standards for trucks currently on the road. FMCSA regulations cover equipment, licensing, hours of service, and vehicle inspection and maintenance. The department of transportation in individual states governs intrastate commercial trucking.
Truckers must follow many laws including:
Maximum weight permitted. The size of the truck determines its maximum weight permitted by law. For instance, a single axle truck can carry up to 20,000 pounds. However, a two-axle truck can carry up to 34,000 pounds. The federal commercial vehicle maximum weight standard on the interstate highway system is 80,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. Off the interstate highway system, states may set different commercial vehicle size and weight standards. In most states, the maximum permitted length for a single trailer is 53 feet. Tractors pulling two 28-foot trailers are called twins or western doubles.
Commercial driver licenses. Drivers of commercial trucks must have the appropriate commercial driver’s license. A Commercial Drivers License is required in Florida for any driver operating a tractor-trailer with a declared weight of 26,001 pounds or more. There are various classes of commercial drivers licenses.
Hours of service. The law regulates how long a driver can drive without taking a break, or “hours of service.” Generally, there is a 14-consecutive-hour window, called the daily limit, in which the driver may spend 11 hours behind the wheel after 10 or more consecutive hours off. Regulations require an off-duty break of at least 30 minutes when more than 8 consecutive hours have passed since a driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth half-hour break. Thirty-minute meal breaks, or a half-hour of other off-duty time, count for this break requirement.
There is also a weekly limit on hours of service.
A driver whose company does not operate trucks every day of the week is not allowed to drive after being on duty 60 hours during seven consecutive days. If the company operates every day of the week, an employer may assign a 70 hour/eight consecutive day schedule. Every commercial driver must maintain a daily driver’s log. Since 2015, drivers have been using electronic logging devices that automatically record driving time and monitor engine hours, vehicle movement, miles driven, and location information.
If a defect in the truck or any component of the truck causes an accident, the injured person may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer, supplier, or repairer of the truck. There are federal laws regarding the manufacturing and repairs of commercial vehicles, such as air brake systems.
The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety regulates the transportation of hazardous materials.
Who May Be Liable
Federal and state truck regulations are only effective if the drivers and companies adhere to them. If they do not, and this failure to follow the law leads to an accident, the person or entity responsible could be liable for the accident victims’ injuries. More than one party may be liable for a truck rollover accident.
Possible negligent parties can include:
- The driver;
- The company that owns the truck;
- The company that owns the trailer;
- The truck manufacturer;
- The truck loader (overloading a truck is dangerous);
- The manufacturers of the truck and its components; and/or
- The individual or company responsible for the truck’s maintenance.
Compensation for a Truck Rollover Accident
A truck rollover injury can lead to devastating personal and financial losses.
Compensation, also called damages, can include:
- Medical expenses – including ambulance fees, emergency room care, hospital stays, doctor’s visits, therapy, rehabilitation, adaptive devices, and hiring help to handle daily tasks.
- Pain and suffering – this refers to the physical pain and the psychological and emotional distress caused by the accident and resulting injuries.
- Lost wages – any lost income due to the accident and ongoing medical care.
- Lost earning capacity – in some cases, the injured person can’t return to their job or may even be unable to continue in their present career due to impairments from their injuries.
- Loss of companionship – this can be either the loss of familial affection or relationships.
- Wrongful death.
- Punitive damages, provided for in Florida Statute § 768.72, which states “[a] defendant may be held liable for punitive damages only if the judge or jury, based on clear and convincing evidence, finds that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.” Fla. Stat. § 768.72(2). Florida’s laws limit punitive damages to three times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
Were You Injured in a Truck Rollover Accident?
No one should experience physical, financial, and emotional losses due to someone else’s negligence. The law limits the time you have to file a lawsuit after an accident, called the statute of limitations. Truck accidents are very complicated, so act promptly. If a truck rollover accident injured you speak with an experienced truck accident lawyer. A lawyer can help protect your rights and guide you through the legal process.