Commercial Truck Accidents
Five Things You Should Do in the Aftermath
Every year, more than 4,000 people die and thousands more suffer serious injuries in accidents with commercial trucks. Trucks carry heavy weight: not just in terms of the size of a truck’s load itself, which can total as much as 80,000 pounds, but in terms of the cargo they haul across the country every day. Big trucks bear responsibility for hauling almost 70 percent of the cargo that travels across the United States every year. That means millions of miles traveled by truck drivers during any given year. It also means the potential for many types of accidents, including accidents involving serious injuries.
What Causes Commercial Truck Accidents?
Some factors that cause truck accidents are far beyond the control of other drivers on the road. Some factors, however, passenger vehicle drivers can help avoid. Consider these common causes:
Blind Spot Accidents
Big trucks have large blind spots down both sides of the truck and well behind the back of the truck’s trailer. If a driver cannot see the truck driver’s mirrors clearly, the truck driver likely cannot see the other driver, either. Blind spot accidents can cause sideswipe collisions, knock passenger vehicles off the road, and cause rollover accidents.
Every part of a big truck matters when it comes to keeping a truck running smoothly, from the headlights and windshield wipers to the engine, the hitch that keeps the trailer in place, and the trailer itself. When mechanical failures occur, they can lead to trailer detachment, falling cargo accidents, tire blowouts, and rear-end collisions. Mechanical failure in a truck can leave the driver unable to control the truck or other drivers unable to appropriately react to the truck’s movements, from brakes that will not engage properly to missing tail lights that prevent other drivers from accurately predicting the truck’s stopping and turning actions.
When loaders fail to properly secure cargo, it can cause serious issues for many truck drivers. Not only can improperly secured cargo increase the risk of rollover or jackknife accidents, cargo can fall from the truck, causing serious damage to other vehicles and drivers on the road.
Truck drivers endeavor to provide a safe ride for themselves, their cargo, and other drivers on the road. Sometimes, however, even the best drivers make mistakes. They may become distracted or let inattention get the better of them, especially after many long hours on the road. Drivers may over-correct after their tires slip, fail to notice other drivers’ actions, especially those in their blind spots, or fail to adequately engage the brakes when stopping or slowing the truck. In some cases, drivers may deliberately run red lights or speed to make up lost time, which can substantially increase the risk of an accident.
Poor Weather Conditions
Like any type of vehicle, trucks face substantially more risk of an accident in poor weather conditions. Wet roads, high winds, and icy conditions can all contribute to an accident, making it difficult for the truck driver to steer, slow, or stop the truck. In poor weather conditions, truck drivers must slow down, but they may still feel pressure to meet deadlines, which can lead to more dangerous driving behavior.
Who Carries the Blame for Commercial Truck Accidents?
Following a commercial truck accident, you may need to know who carries the blame for the accident so that you can file a personal injury claim against the responsible party. A personal injury claim can help provide funds that cover your medical expenses and your lost time at work after the accident, which means you need to make sure you file it against the right party or parties. Who bears the responsibility for a commercial truck accident? To some extent, it depends on what factors contributed to the accident. Talking with a lawyer can help you better establish who is responsible for the accident, including:
The Truck Driver
Ultimately, the truck driver bears responsibility for choices they made on the road, including all aspects of their driving behavior. A truck driver who drinks and drives or drives under the influence of drugs—including over the counter or prescription medications that make it difficult to safely navigate the road—is responsible for any damage or injuries their decision to drive under the influence causes. Distraction or inattention can also increase the risk of an accident. Typically, truck drivers carry better insurance than passenger vehicle drivers, which can mean better coverage after an accident. In some cases, the trucking company the driver works for may also carry insurance that covers the entire fleet or all of its drivers.
The Trucking Company
In some cases, the trucking company may bear responsibility for a trucking accident. Some commercial trucking companies have unrealistic expectations of their drivers. They may, for example, require the driver to falsify records to indicate that the driver did not exceed the 11-hour limit they are legally allowed to drive each day, or ask truck drivers to continue driving in unsafe conditions. The trucking company may also continue to employ a driver known to cause accidents on a regular basis. In cases like these, the trucking company may share responsibility for the accident.
The Mechanic Who Last Worked on the Truck
After every trip, most drivers have a mechanic fully examine their vehicle and identify the cause of any problems they experienced during the drive. Mechanics may also inspect the vehicle to check for any unidentified problems, including engine or transmission issues that could contribute to an accident. When a trucking company or truck owner fails to address issues identified by a mechanic that then lead to the accident, the trucking company bears liability for accidents caused by those issues. On the other hand, if the mechanic ignores or fails to identify potential issues they could reasonably be expected to notice, or if the mechanic performs inadequate maintenance on the vehicle, the mechanic may bear liability for the accident.
The Manufacturer of the Truck or Parts
Manufacturers often put out large quantities of parts, including tires. In some cases, faulty parts may slip through the inspection process and make it onto vehicles and the road. In other cases, manufacturers may put out trucks or parts with known defects that ultimately lead to accidents. When the manufacturer allows parts with known issues to remain on the market, the manufacturer may bear or share liability for any accidents that occur due to those defects.
The Company That Loaded the Truck
Improperly secured cargo can cause hazards for big trucks, their drivers, and other drivers on the road with them. Shifting cargo can fall out of the back of the truck, often before the driver recognizes a problem. In other cases, shifting cargo can lead to rollover accidents, increase the truck’s force in a rear-end collision, or cause a jackknife accident. If shifting cargo causes or contributes to an accident, the company that loaded that cargo may share responsibility for the accident.
Avoiding Commercial Truck Accidents
When you share the road with big trucks, you should take as many steps as possible to avoid accidents. While you cannot entirely avoid every accident, you can substantially decrease your risk of suffering injuries in a collision by taking the following precautions:
1. Stay out of big trucks’ blind spots.
Big trucks come with big blind spots. The bigger the truck and its cargo, the more trouble the driver will have seeing other vehicles with whom they share the road. When you share the road with a big truck, you should remain outside its blind spots as much as possible. Do not travel beside a truck for long periods of time unless you can see the truck driver clearly in their mirrors. You should also follow far enough behind a big truck that the truck driver can clearly see you if they check their mirrors for you. Failure to stay out of the truck’s blind spot can cause you to become involved in a sideswipe collision.
2. Give big trucks plenty of room.
When you share the road with big trucks, make sure they have plenty of room to maneuver. Do not come up close to a truck attempting to make a right turn. If you notice a truck attempting to change lanes into your lane, back off and make sure the truck driver has plenty of room to maneuver. By offering the truck driver plenty of room, you ensure that they can see you clearly and that they have plenty of room to complete maneuvers on the road without hitting you.
3. Do not cut off big trucks.
Big trucks sometimes need more than the length of a football field to come to a full stop. If you need to change lanes in front of a truck, make sure the truck will not need to slam on its brakes to avoid you. Do not stop abruptly after pulling in front of a big truck. Instead, signal and let the truck driver know you want to come over. Often, truck drivers will back off to give you plenty of room to get in front of them, making the transition easier for both you and them.
4. Exercise extra caution in bad weather.
In poor weather conditions, even the best drivers need extra space and time to maneuver safely. If you share the road with big trucks in poor weather conditions, make sure you leave the truck driver plenty of room. Do not attempt to pull over in front of a big truck or follow too closely behind it. If possible, leave plenty of room for both the truck and for other vehicles around you.
5. Share the road safely.
Many drivers quickly become frustrated by sharing the road with big trucks. You may feel that the truck’s presence slows you down or makes it harder for you to get to your destination. In reality, however, big trucks must use the road just as you do, and their drivers must follow the same laws. Share the road safely. Pay attention to truck drivers and their needs. Exercising care on the road can make the difference between a journey completed safely and a drive that ends in an accident.
What Should You Do After a Commercial Truck Accident?
A truck accident can leave you feeling out of sorts, injured, and confused. What should you do first? Who needs to know about your accident? Make sure you follow these steps after a commercial truck accident:
1. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Do not skip a visit to the emergency room or an urgent care center. Many injuries may take time to show symptoms after an accident. Visiting the emergency room will also provide documentation of your injuries and help you make a fuller recovery after the accident.
2. Report the accident.
After a commercial truck accident, police will probably come to the scene of the accident. Wait for police to arrive unless you must leave to seek medical attention. Comply with any instructions given by the police at the scene of the accident, since they will do their best to keep you and everyone else safe.
3. Collect evidence.
Get a copy of the truck driver’s insurance card or take a picture. Take a picture of their driver’s license. You may also want pictures of the accident scene, your injuries, and the vehicles.
4. Contact your auto insurance company.
You will need to notify your company about damage to your vehicle. Your insurance company may offer to pay to have your car repaired so that you will not have to wait on a settlement from the driver’s insurance company. Your insurance company will then seek reimbursement from the truck driver’s insurance policy.
5. Contact a truck accident attorney.
Following a commercial truck accident, you may need to work with a truck accident lawyer to file a personal injury claim. An attorney can provide valuable insight into who you should file a claim against and what compensation you should expect. By getting in touch with an attorney soon after the accident, you can increase the attorney’s ability to gather vital evidence to support your claim.