Every year, the demand for distribution of goods across the country increases, as does the need for trucks to transport those goods. Unfortunately, with more trucks on the roadways, the risk of accidents also increases. Motor vehicle accidents result in thousands of victims suffering from serious injury or death every year. Unfortunately, individuals involved in jackknife accidents oftentimes suffer severe, life-threatening injuries.
Jackknife Accidents: Defined
During a jackknife accident, a semi-truck essentially folds in half as the trailer swings out to the side, becoming perpendicular to the cab of the truck. Trailers generally weigh more than the cab of the truck, especially when loaded with cargo. When the trailer swings out of control, the truck driver typically loses control of the entire vehicle. The weight of the trailer may pull the cab in the direction it is swinging, making it impossible for the driver to steer. During a jackknife accident, the sheer weight of a swinging trailer may even be strong enough to pull the truck while its brakes are engaged.
Common Causes of Jackknife Accidents
Jackknife accidents can occur for a variety of reasons, including reasons outside of the driver’s control.
Improper Brake Maintenance
Perhaps a truck driver misjudges the sharpness of a curve, approaching a bit too fast. However, the driver maintains control of the vehicle until he tries to slow down and the brakes completely lock up. The sudden jolt from locking brakes could cause the trailer to swing out to the side and the driver to lose control of the vehicle. When a truck’s brakes lock up, there is a little a driver can do to avoid an impending accident.
Improper or inadequate brake maintenance and inspection can pose serious dangers to truck drivers, significantly increasing the risk of jackknife accidents. Federal regulations require trucking companies and truck owners to perform regular maintenance on their truck’s braking systems.
Like many other vehicle systems, the brakes must receive regular inspection and maintenance to ensure they are functioning efficiently and safely. Unfortunately, some companies value profits over roadway safety, choosing to neglect maintenance and necessary repairs to decrease operational costs.
Wet or Icy Roads
Inclement weather often affects passenger vehicles more than it affects large commercial trucks. The sheer size and weight of a cargo truck allow drivers to maneuver smoothly and safely over wet roadways without much risk of hydroplaning. Similarly, when driving in icy conditions, trucks may maintain better traction because they are fitted with multiple tires. Of course, trucks are not immune to dangerous weather conditions. On iced-over roadways, trucks may maintain traction unevenly, as one side pulls harder than the other, which can quickly lead to a jackknife accident.
High Rates of Speed
Speeding contributes to nearly a quarter of all fatal accidents each year, including jackknife accidents. At a high rate of speed, truckers often have difficulty maintaining control of their vehicles. If the trailer starts to swing while traveling at a high rate of speed, the truck driver may not have time to correct the imbalance before totally losing control of the truck.
Trucks require more space to slow down, stop, or maneuver than passenger vehicles. Excessive speeds only increase the distance and time required to safely stop a large commercial truck. Nevertheless, due to strict delivery deadlines and limits on the hours drivers can drive each day, many truck drivers choose to drive to higher rates of speed.
Maneuvering sharp curves may be troublesome for truck drivers, especially when traveling at high rates of speed. Entering a sharp curve too quickly can cause a driver to lose control of his vehicle, increasing the risk of a jackknife accident. In a sharp curve, the cab of the truck may turn too quickly for the trailer to keep up, causing the trailer to swing out of control.
Shifting Load Accidents
Sometimes, a shift in the weight of a truck’s load may lead to a jackknife accident. Experienced loaders carefully place cargo in trailers in a way that ensures the truck can maintain balance. If the load shifts, especially if it does so dramatically, it may cause the trailer to shift along with it. A dramatic shift in a truck’s cargo can make the trailer swing out of control causing a jackknife accident.
Truck drivers often spend long hours on the road each day. Due to the nature of the industry, truckers may eat and drink while driving. Unfortunately, drivers may also become overconfident in their ability to multitask while driving. When a driver is distracted, a sharp curve or unexpected slick spot can increase the risk of a jackknife accident. Cell phone use, including talking on the phone as well as texting, is typically the most commonly stated driver distraction. However, driver distractions include anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind off driving.
Common distractions include:
- Eating and drinking, especially messy foods or drinks.
- Changing stations on the radio.
- Checking the GPS.
Truck drivers are also at high risk of zoning-out while on the road. Because they spend such long hours on the road, they may struggle more to pay close attention to everything happening around them. Unfortunately, trucks also have large blind spots that require drivers to pay attention to other vehicles before they enter an area where they are not visible to the driver. Jackknife accidents, in particular, may happen in the blink of an eye, and distracted driving may hinder drivers’ ability to avoid preventable accidents.
Under normal circumstances, alcohol impairment causes a loss of fine motor skills that can be especially dangerous when getting behind the wheel. Unfortunately, drinking and driving while operating a big truck can be even more catastrophic. Truck drivers are well-aware of the risks of drinking and driving, and federal regulations hold them to a more strict standard than passenger car drivers. Nevertheless, truckers frequently drive after consuming alcohol.
After consuming even just a few drinks, individuals may experience slower reaction times. Alcohol impairment may prevent a truck driver from regaining control of the vehicle should the trailer start to swing. Impaired drivers may also make poor decisions on the road, for example driving at excessive speeds or underestimating the intensity of a sharp curve.
What Should You Do After a Jackknife Accident?
Due to the sheer size and weight of large commercial trucks, an accident typically causes more serious injuries than accidents involving passenger vehicles. In a jackknife accident, the truck driver may lose control of his vehicle completely, which could lead to more severe injuries. What should you do if you suffer injuries in a jackknife truck accident?
1. Remain at the Scene of the Accident Unless You Need to Seek Medical Attention.
If possible, wait for the police to arrive at the scene of the accident. However, your health and safety must be your first priority, so seek medical attention when necessary. Provide any details of the accident you can remember to the responding officers, especially information about what caused the accident. Do not make any statement that could be understood as taking responsibility for the accident, even in part. Try to avoid making statements concerning the extent of your injuries before seeking a medical evaluation.
2. Keep All Medical Records and Bills.
Oftentimes, most individuals involved in a jackknife accident need to visit the hospital for treatment or evaluation. Seeking a medical evaluation soon after an accident helps to establish the injuries you sustained in the accident and more importantly, prevents delaying treatment. Medical records also create a record of when the injuries were sustained, which may be important when seeking compensation for accident-related injuries.
Store your medical records and bills in a safe place following an accident. You may have what feels like an overwhelming string of bills coming in, especially if you suffered extensive injuries, like traumatic brain injury or spinal cord damage. The more procedures required to properly treat your injuries, the more bills you may see coming your way. It’s important to keep copies of all records and bills.
Those documents can be used to show proof of the financial impact of accident injuries in your truck accident claim. When injured victims seek compensation for pain and suffering, the amount is typically calculated as a percentage of their medical bills. You may also need to provide medical records to establish the severity of your injuries and your prognosis.
Records you should save include:
- Scans and tests performed in the emergency room;
- Follow-up tests;
- Bills for all procedures; and
- Progress reports from your physical and/or occupational therapist.
You should also keep records of any additional expenses including the costs of assistive medical equipment or psychological therapy.
3. Get in Touch With Your Insurance Companies.
Florida drivers typically carry truck accident protection insurance, which provides the initial source of funds to cover medical expenses for severe injuries caused by an accident. Typically, truck accident protection coverage is provided by your car insurance policy rather than your medical insurance policy. After an accident, you must notify your insurance provider and explain what caused the accident. Your insurance provider should also be informed of the extent of the damage to your vehicle. You may need to obtain a mechanic’s estimate of the extent and cost of the damage.
You will also need to contact your health insurance company. Many jackknife accident victims sustain serious injuries that require long-term medical needs with significant costs. Health insurance policies help to provide vital financial protection for victims who suffer severe injuries, covering the majority of their medical expenses. Be sure to obtain as much information about your coverage as possible.
Some questions you may want to ask include:
- What services and procedures will your medical insurance cover following an auto accident for which another party bears liability?
- When will your medical insurance start covering your medical bills? What information do you need to provide to your provider to make that happen?
- What percentage of costs will your medical provider cover? What is the amount of your deductible and how much should you expect to pay in copays each year? What is the status of your deductible?
- How much can you expect to pay out-of-pocket each year?
- Will your provider cover a percentage of necessary durable medical equipment? What about therapy visits? How many therapy visits, including physical, occupational, and psychological, will your insurance company cover each year?
A conversation with your insurance provider’s representatives can help you prepare for upcoming medical expenses. Many accident victims find that it helps them to make informed decisions about their medical care and needs.
4. Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney as Soon After Your Accident as Possible.
Most truck drivers carry insurance policies that provide substantial coverage, offering the highest protection to victims who suffer injuries resulting from the driver’s negligence or error. Truck drivers’ insurance policies may offer compensation for accident-related expenses to relieve injured victims from bearing the financial burden.
However, the process of receiving compensation for your injuries is typically not automatic. In many cases, the liable party’s insurance provider will attempt to devalue the injured party’s claim. The insurance company may try to prove that you share liability for the accident or entice you to accept a low settlement amount in exchange for quick cash.
When appropriate, an attorney can help injured victims by gathering evidence and obtaining expert witnesses. Expert witnesses can evaluate the accident to help determine exactly what caused it. An attorney can also help injured victims understand their legal rights and ensure those rights remain protected throughout the claims process. Experienced truck accident attorneys regularly fight for the rights of injured victims to seek the compensation they are entitled to.
Did you suffer serious injuries in a jackknife accident involving a large commercial truck? An attorney can provide a better understanding of your legal rights and, in many cases, help you pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible.