Truck accidents, including those involving commercial semi-trucks, chemical tankers, and tractor trailers, have steadily risen over the past two decades.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), along with individual states, regulate the trucking industry to make it safer for truck drivers and motorists to share the road.
Still, according to the FMCSA, there were 126,274 accidents involving commercial trucks and buses in the United States in 2020. Of these accidents, 3,870 resulted in fatalities, while 63,007 involved injuries.
The sheer size and weight of trucks almost guarantee that an accident with one will cause severe damage and injury, if not a fatality. Truckers need to be aware of the power of their rigs and drive safely and respectfully. At the same time, drivers of passenger vehicles must be mindful that trucks cannot stop or maneuver as quickly as cars and operate accordingly.
Drivers and passengers who were involved in an accident involving a truck are encouraged to contact an experienced truck accident lawyer for assistance.
Factors Involved in Truck Accidents
Despite laws and regulations, truck accidents continue to occur at a concerning rate. The following are common causes:
- Distracted driving. Talking or texting on a cell phone, watching videos, talking on the truck’s radio, eating, and other activities can cause distracted driving. Even a quick distraction, such as a road sign, can cause a driver to swerve into another lane or the berm.
- Driver fatigue. Federal hours of service regulations state that a truck driver cannot drive more than 11 consecutive hours and must take breaks at certain times. Still, some truck drivers ignore these regulations to make their deliveries or pick-ups ahead of time or because the trucking company rewards them for making good time.
- Lack of training and experience. Truck drivers must hold a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate a commercial truck. Sometimes drivers do not have this license, so they lack the knowledge they need to drive safely. Other times they may not have had enough on-the-job training or the years of experience it takes to handle a truck safely.
- Weather conditions. Rain, sleet, snow, and ice can quickly make roadways dangerous, while fog can limit visibility. Truck drivers need to adjust their speed and other operations to account for bad roads. Unfortunately, sometimes the desire to make good time overrides the need to drive with caution.
- . According to laws and regulations, commercial trucks [TS1] must undergo periodic checks and maintenance. Lack of inspections and maintenance can result in brake, engine, and other failures and lead to accidents.
- Shifting or uneven cargo. Improperly loaded or overloaded cargo is a common cause of truck accidents. Regulations limit the weight and volume a truck can carry, and highway weigh stations exist to check weights. Still, cargo can shift or be loaded incorrectly, causing steering and braking problems, and possible accidents.
- Driver carelessness. Truck drivers are not immune to moving violations. Speed is a common violation and puts both the driver and other vehicles on the road in danger. Other careless behavior includes changing lanes too frequently or too quickly and slamming on the brakes, leading to jackknifing and swerving.
- Impaired driving. A truck driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot make sound judgments while driving.
- Road conditions. Construction, closed lanes, and other roadblocks can also cause accidents if the truck driver does not or cannot respond in time. Even potholes can cause a truck to veer or even rollover.
- Medical issues. A truck driver may have a physical or mental health condition or take medication that could lead to impaired driving and an accident.
- Bad parts. A truck’s tires and internal systems such as brakes and steering must work correctly at all times. Occasionally there are recalls on parts or tires, or a problem comes to light only after repeated accidents or system failures. Although regular maintenance and inspection can help pinpoint bad parts, sometimes the problem is unknown until many others have experienced it. Unfortunately, that is too late for anyone who was a victim of a truck accident.
Above is not an exhaustive summary of truck accident causes. Anyone involved in an accident with a commercial truck should contact a truck accident lawyer for guidance.
Who May be Responsible for a Truck Accident?
There are often many potentially liable parties in a truck accident because any one truck on the road can have many different players behind it, including the following:
Truck driver. A truck driver may be the only person liable in an accident. A truck accident lawyer can help prove that the driver was:
- Under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Driving carelessly, such as speeding
- Driving without the required breaks
- Inexperienced or improperly licensed
- Suffering from a medical or health issue
- Driving improperly for the weather or road conditions
Trucking company. The trucking company that hires a truck driver can also be negligent and liable. Trucking company liability can be challenging to prove, but an experienced truck accident lawyer can find evidence of trucking company missteps, including the following:
- Delayed maintenance or no maintenance
- Missing or incomplete inspections
- Safety violations under the law
- Illegally requiring the driver to make unreasonable deadlines
- Hiring unlicensed drivers
- Knowingly allowing drivers to drive unsafe vehicles
Truck owner. A trucking company or driver will sometimes lease a truck from an owner. A truck owner could then be found liable in an accident for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- Faulty, delayed, or missing inspections
- Failure to maintain or repair engines, brakes, steering, fluid systems, tires, electronics, and other parts
Shipper or cargo loader. Federal guidelines and state laws govern cargo loading, weight, and volume. An improperly secured or loaded truck can cause, among other issues, the following:
- Driver loss of control if the cargo shifts or is too heavy
- Falling cargo, which could injure or kill other drivers
Truck or part manufacturers. Sometimes the company that made or assembled the truck or truck parts can be found liable in an accident. For example:
- A tire manufacturer could be negligent if a truck’s tire blows out and causes an accident.
- A parts manufacturer could be liable if a part of its assembly is known to have defects, but there is no recall or the recall is too late.
It is worth contacting a truck accident lawyer whenever an accident involves a truck. Determining who is liable can be complex and takes the unique skills of experienced lawyers.
How can a Lawyer Help Me in a Truck Accident?
An experienced truck accident lawyer knows how truck drivers, trucking companies, shippers, cargo loaders, and manufacturers will defend themselves in a lawsuit.
They can respond with solid evidence when a trucking company tries to:
- Create distance between themselves and the driver, the vehicle, and the cargo by leasing or renting the tractor, trailer, and other equipment from the owner-operator
- Claim the employer was an independent contractor and not an employee
- Argue that a truck driver was not acting in the scope of their employment when the accident occurred
An experienced lawyer can also use indisputable evidence found in a truck’s black box to help determine:
- When and if the driver applied the brakes
- Any sudden deceleration or acceleration before the crash
- Tire pressure
- How long the driver had been operating the truck
- Daily and monthly vehicle activity
There are many other strategies a liable party will use to blame another party or shed any responsibility for the accident. Sometimes their strategy is to simply offer the victim an amount of money in exchange for their promise not to sue.
When that happens, negotiating is one of the most valuable services a truck accident lawyer can provide. An insurer will always offer the least amount of compensation possible. Offers rarely cover the victim’s total costs, nor do they reflect future costs for medical needs or lost wages. In addition, victims are seldom compensated for their pain and suffering.
It is always prudent for a truck accident victim to contact a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible after an accident.
Freehold Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Fight for Victims of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents can be financially, physically, and emotionally devastating. They are also often complex because of the number of potentially liable parties. In addition, the cause of the accident may be difficult to discern. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving a truck, the Freehold truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law will help you recover costs for current and future medical needs, loss of wages, property loss, and even pain and suffering. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation.
Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.