Florida was one of the top 10 states in the United States for the number of fatal truck accidents occurring on its roads from 2014 to 2016, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Unfortunately, trucks are involved in 2.4 percent of all car accidents. Trucks, however, do a disproportionate amount of damage relative to the small percentage of accidents they’re in, and Florida leads the nation with the most registered trucks of any state—a quarter of a million.
Trucks haul the great majority of freight that consumers buy at the local mall and that provide businesses with goods and supplies. They are a vital element of the nation’s economy. But unfortunately, the number of trucks, the long stretches of highway in Florida, our robust businesses, and our vibrant population all mean that conditions are ripe for a high number of truck accidents on Florida roads.
Trucks were involved in 46 fatal crashes in Florida in 2017, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). Trucks were also involved in 225 accidents in which either a driver or passenger sustained injuries that were incapacitating and 771 accidents in which the injuries were classified as non-incapacitating.
These are a small percentage of the total number of traffic accidents that happened on Florida’s roads. But the problem is that truck accidents often cause fatal or debilitating injuries. Trucks are much larger and heavier than other vehicles on the road. Even medium to large trucks weigh twice as much as an average car, at 10,000 pounds or more. When tractor-trailers are completely loaded with freight, they can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. These size and weight disparities between trucks and other vehicles can cause catastrophic accidents. Cargo can spread as debris all over a busy roadway potentially causing further accidents. Some cargo, such as flammable material, is itself dangerous, and can cause injuries such as burns.
Drivers of all types need to be aware of the common types of truck accidents.
The Most Common Types of Truck Accidents
Almost one-third of passenger car fatalities are caused by head-on collisions with a truck, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
One-quarter of deaths are caused by the type of collision known as a T-bone or broadside (one vehicle striking another in the side; the term T-bone comes from the resemblance to the T-bone in a T-bone steak from the air.)
Twenty-two percent of passenger car deaths are caused by rear-end collisions with a truck.
Because of their greater height and higher center of gravity, trucks are much more likely to roll over than cars are. A high percentage, 48 percent, of truck fatalities in a truck accident are caused by rollovers, more than 100 percent higher than the 22 percent of fatalities caused by cars rolling over.
But what causes a rollover in the first place? Multiple factors can take blame. A truck going too fast and slowing down or having to brake quickly is a common reason. The speed might be too fast for changing conditions, because of traffic, inclement or windy weather, or the need to slow to enter or exit roadways or ramps.
Too heavy or incorrectly loaded trucks can also cause rollovers. Poor maintenance of a truck, such as delayed or inadequate maintenance of the brakes, can also cause rollovers. Improper steering of a large truck can also be a factor. Both brakes and steering in a truck are quite different than they are in cars. Truck drivers need to be trained to operate both. A trucking company who hires unqualified drivers may hire drivers ill-equipped to brake or steer properly, putting everyone on the roadway at risk.
In a jackknife accident, part of the truck turns perpendicular to the other part. From the air, the truck looks like an open jack-knife. A jackknife can cause accidents with other vehicles, because one part of the truck might suddenly be in another lane and blocking traffic. A jackknife can cause cargo to spill or make the truck itself an obstacle. Hitting debris can be as dangerous as hitting another vehicle—and drivers who swerve to avoid debris run the risk of causing an accident as well.
Jackknife accidents can be caused by a host of factors, including speeding, wet weather, improper braking and steering, inadequate maintenance, and driver fatigue.
An underride refers to another vehicle’s going underneath the truck. Because trucks sit higher off the ground than many other vehicles on the road, a car or even a motorcycle can go completely under them. Underrides usually occur when a truck stops abruptly and the vehicle behind is following too closely to stop in time. Underrides are potentially one of the most deadly of truck accidents, because they can trap motorists directly beneath the truck and, of course, subject them to its weight.
Anything that makes a truck’s cargo fall or throws it from the truck can cause an accident. This could happen because the truck’s doors are not properly secured or the cargo isn’t properly secured inside. Cargo spills can also happen if the truck is carrying too much weight for its size, or if the cargo is improperly loaded.
Cargo spills can also occur when an accident happens for other reasons. Both other vehicles and objects hitting the truck can cause the truck to lose cargo, and so can a jack-knife or a rollover.
Some cargo, like hazardous materials and flammable materials, is intrinsically dangerous because of the ability to catch on fire or pose a hazard. But nearly all cargo can be dangerous once it’s out of the truck and on a road, because of the possibility for it to hit other vehicles, people, property, or to impact visibility.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
For some types of truck accidents, such as jack-knifes and rollovers, there are specific potential causes, such as improper braking, wet weather, or improper maintenance. But many truck accidents are caused by the same factors as car accidents.
Driver error, such as going faster than the speed limit or faster than conditions warrant, is a causal factor in about one-third of truck accidents.
Trucks have large blind spots to the side and the rear—analogous to the blind spots cars have, but bigger. A truck driver may fail to check the blind spot, or the driver of other vehicles may sudden change into a blind spot after the driver has checked.
Failure to properly maintain trucks can also cause collisions and other accidents. A fully loaded truck can take 40 percent more space and time to stop than a car, and poorly maintained or even defective brakes can take longer. Poor maintenance can make steering difficult.
Improperly loaded trucks can cause accidents because they imbalance the truck. If the load is too heavy for the truck, an accident may also occur. Braking and steering are especially difficult if loads aren’t placed in the truck properly or they are too heavy.
Driver fatigue or drowsiness can also cause errors or poor judgment. Truckers are required by Federal law to spend a maximum of 11 straight hours driving. Eleven hours can be a long time, especially if the driver has had a string of such days. Some trucking companies may pressure their drivers to drive for longer, to make deliveries on time.
While driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not as large an issue with trucks as it is with cars (truck drivers are tested periodically), it still can happen. Driving under the influence can cause poor judgment and impair reaction time.
Driver distraction, such as looking at maps, eating while driving, or even using a cell phone, can also be a factor in accidents.
Inadequately maintained roads, traffic signs or signals, on- or off-ramps, and poor road design can also cause an accident. Truck drivers are not always familiar with the interstate roads they drive on, and are particularly dependent on clearly marked signals and functioning traffic signals.
Finally, trucking companies may be tempted to hire unlicensed and inadequately trained drivers. To drive a commercial truck, drivers have to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), which involves tests of both knowledge and driving ability. A driver without a CDL could be more dangerous on the road. Nonetheless, companies do hire them. Why? Because there is a nationwide shortage of truck drivers, and the shortage is very severe. The American Trucking Association estimates that the shortage will reach 175,000 by 2026. Many truck drivers are older and retirement is decreasing the number even more.
Who Is Liable in a Florida Truck Accident?
In general, a person or company that causes an accident can be deemed liable for injuries or deaths that resulted from the accident. Drivers and others owe the public a duty of care in the performance of their duties. Drivers, for instance, must drive in a safe and responsible way, obeying all traffic and applicable laws. Trucking companies must maintain their vehicles properly.
Truck accidents can be extremely complex, because both the potential causes and negligent parties can vary widely. In addition, of course, accidents can be caused by several different factors. Investigations are often required to fully understand why an accident occurred.
Potentially responsible parties include:
- The truck’s driver
- Other vehicle drivers
- Truck owners or trucking companies
- Subcontractors who were responsible for loading the trucks, maintaining the trucks, or other functions
- Truck manufacturers and truck part manufacturers if the accident is caused by defective parts
- Any party responsible for the design, manufacturing, or sale of a truck, if defects are responsible or partially responsible, depending on the specific cause.
- State or local governments, if the accident was caused by poor road maintenance, broken or improperly working traffic lights or signals, or poor road design, because government entities are responsible for instituting and maintaining good road quality, well-designed road systems, and adequate traffic lights and signals.
I Was Hurt In a Truck Accident. Can I Recover Compensation for My Injuries?
If you were harmed or a loved one died in a truck accident in Florida, the law may entitle you to sue to recover compensation from economic and non-economic losses. Allowable compensation can be sought for:
- Medical treatment costs (ambulances, emergency room visits, surgery, hospitalization, lab tests, prescriptions, and physical therapy)
- Prospective costs of medical treatment, if an injury requires a lengthy period of recovery, multiple surgeries, or permanent disability requiring care
- Rehabilitation costs
- Costs for assistive devices (canes, walkers, crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs)
- Wages lost from work, if your injuries have caused you to miss work
- Prospective wages if you cannot return to your former employment due to the accident
- Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of consortium
- Punitive damages if the court finds intentional harm or gross negligence
If a family member has died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident or was killed immediately, you may be able to file a suit for wrongful death.
How an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Can Help
If you have any further questions or need help determining your next steps, contact a truck accident attorney with experience negotiating with insurance companies and litigating complex truck accident injury cases. If you suffered extensive and even catastrophic injuries from a truck accident caused by the negligent or wrongful actions of a driver, trucking company, or another party, then you deserve justice and fair compensation.