All motor vehicle accidents have negative consequences. However, crashes involving commercial trucks are more likely to result in injury or death than an accident between two passenger vehicles, for the following reasons:
- Cars weigh an average of 4,000 pounds, while a fully loaded Class 8 tractor trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds.
- Trucks may be carrying flammable liquid, hazardous chemicals, or other dangerous cargo.
- Reduced maneuverability. Trucks take much longer to brake than cars. It is also far more difficult for trucks to maneuver, especially on poor road conditions.
When an accident involves only two cars, ascertaining liability is primarily a matter of determining which driver is at fault. It may be much more complicated to determine liability in accidents involving commercial trucks, since multiple parties may have been negligent.
What to Do After a Truck Accident
No one wants to think about getting hit by a truck, however, the possibility exists any time you get on the road. The following may help you make the best of a bad situation and improve your chances for obtaining the financial settlement you deserve, should you file a personal injury claim.
- Do seek medical attention. Turn on your hazard lights, call 911, and wait for help to arrive. Go to the hospital even if you think you are not injured. A medical evaluation is critical for making a strong claim, and injuries may not appear until later.
- Do remain calm. Cooperate with police officers and provide your driver’s license, insurance card, and car registration.
- Do gather evidence. If it is safe to do so, take pictures of the accident scene. Get contact details, license plate numbers, and insurance information of other drivers.
- Do contact your insurance company. Tell them the location of the accident but do not agree to any settlement.
- Do all a truck accident lawyer. Your lawyer can explain your rights, as well as the coverage provided by your insurance policy, which will be critical to maximizing your compensation. An adjuster works on behalf of the insurance company, not you. Your attorney’s job is to represent your best interests.
- Do not admit fault. Do not say anything to other drivers or the police that suggests you did anything wrong. Also do not say anything about feeling okay; simply say you want to see a doctor to be evaluated. Admitting fault or commenting on your lack of injuries may reduce the value of your personal injury claim.
- Do not agree to a settlement. The trucking company’s insurance agent may arrive at the scene. They have an incentive to settle as soon as possible because they want to minimize the amount they pay you and close the case rapidly. Simply tell them to speak with your attorney.
Truck Accident Injuries and Fatalities
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were nearly 165,000 crashes involving large trucks in 2018; almost half of them involved injuries. Nearly 5,000 of the large truck accidents were fatal. Although there are many more car accidents than truck accidents each year in the U.S., the fatality rate for truck accidents is more than four times higher. In 2018, there were approximately six million car accidents per year, resulting in nearly 40,000 fatalities.
Common injuries from truck accidents include the following:
- Brain injury
- Broken bones
- Musculoskeletal damage
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
All these injuries require medical treatment; some may be permanent and/or life threatening. That is why it is so important for accident victims to reach out to a skilled truck accident lawyer who can help obtain financial compensation needed to pay for medical bills, therapy, and other expenses.
Types of Truck Accidents
Due to the size, weight, and design of commercial trucks, accidents involving trucks can take many different forms, including the following:
- Jackknifed tractor trailer. This occurs when the trailer ends up in position that is at a 90-degree angle to the truck. Secondary accidents can occur when cars attempt to stop quickly and pile up in rear-end collisions behind the tractor trailer.
- A high truck may tip over if the driver tries to turn too fast and the truck is empty or improperly loaded.
- This is a potentially deadly type of accident that occurs when a car is pushed under a truck.
- Blind spot. Trucks have several blind spots; when a car is in a blind spot, the driver cannot see the car. Blind spot accidents may occur when a truck turns or changes lanes.
- Load spill. The truck may overturn and lose its cargo if it is overloaded or the freight is not balanced properly.
In many cases, the driver of the truck is not hurt. However, if the accident also involves a car, those drivers or passengers face a larger risk of injury or death. More than four out of five truck accident fatalities were passengers in other vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
What Causes Truck Accidents?
Driver error is the biggest cause of motor vehicle accidents across the board. However, there are underlying factors that are unique to accidents involving trucks, including the following:
Some trucking accidents are caused by a defect or malfunction that is not the fault of any one person. However, the trucking company may still be liable and responsible for any damages caused to innocent victims. Similar to traditional automobiles, common malfunctions in large commercial trucks include faulty air horns, brake malfunctions, tire defects, gas tank explosions, and broken trailer hitches. Any defect in a large truck can potentially cause accidents that result in serious injuries or even death of others on the road. The injured party may be entitled to financial compensation from the truck’s owner, manufacturer, or repair shop.
No-Zone Truck Accidents
One of the biggest hazards of a large commercial truck involve its large blind spots. Entering a blind spot of a large truck should always be avoided if possible, but a resulting accident is not always the fault of the person driving into the spot. Some large truck drivers are not aware of their own no-zones, or blind spots. These no-zone areas should be clearly marked with warning stickers. In some cases, the driver of the truck or trucking company can be held responsible if they do not properly warn other drivers on the road of their blind spots. Despite the no-zones, truckers are still responsible for safe driving.
Determining Liability After a Truck Accident
Accidents caused by tractor trailers result in many injuries every year. The truck drivers and the companies they work for are responsible for operating their vehicles with the utmost care and safety and may be held liable for any accidents they may have caused.
Truck Driver Liability
Truck drivers are trained to operate their vehicles safely and submit to roadside checks when required. For years, drivers have been responsible for maintaining a log of their driving hours. The purpose of this is to ensure drivers get enough rest so they will not fall asleep at the wheel. New regulations are now being implemented requiring electronic logging devices (ELDs). Drivers using ELDs are still responsible for properly using and maintaining apps and other systems to ensure the ELDs are capturing the required data. Drivers must also be aware of the condition of their vehicles and stop if any equipment is malfunctioning.
Truck Company Liability
An accident involving a large commercial truck is not always the fault of the driver. In many cases the trucking company may be held responsible for any injuries sustained. The trucking company is responsible for properly maintaining vehicles, obtaining necessary inspections, and ensuring that drivers are healthy and trained. A trucking company is a business and is therefore under pressure to produce a profit. Sometimes trucking companies compromise safety by cutting corners. Various examples of this type of negligence include the following:
- Negligent hiring. Trucking companies must ensure all employees have clean driving records, proper licensing, no history of substance abuse or criminal activity, and are able to perform all job requirements safely.
- Violating hours of service. Because of increased accidents due to driver drowsiness, strict legal guidelines were enacted to limit truckers from working too many hours. A truck driver cannot drive more than 11 consecutive hours or more than 60 hours in a seven-day period. There are also laws governing rest breaks and sleeper berths.
- Failure to properly maintain vehicles. Just like all vehicles, trucks need to be properly maintained for peak performance and protect against mechanical failures. Commercial trucks sustain great amounts of wear and tear and failure to provide proper maintenance may result in brake failure, burned out headlights or taillights, or tire blowouts. Any of these can likely result in a serious traffic accident.
- Failure to properly train employees. The employer must make sure each driver can operate an 18-wheeled vehicle. An under-trained driver may be unprepared to operate commercial trucks, which are difficult to maneuver, have considerable blind spots, and can be difficult to stop.
There may also be other parties involved that bear responsibility for the safe operation of a truck. Depending upon the circumstances of the accident, any or all of the following parties may be held liable for damages resulting from a truck accident:
- Leasing company. If the truck is owned or maintained by a fleet leasing company, that firm may be held liable for the condition of the vehicle.
- Vehicle manufacturer. Manufacturers may be held liable for defective tires, brakes, or headlights that contributed to the cause of the accident.
- Loading crew. A loading crew employed by someone other than the trucking company may load cargo into a truck when it pulls up at a loading dock. If they load the truck improperly and this contributes to an accident, the loading crew may be held liable.
Additional information, such as the speed of the truck, the precise accident location, and other circumstances may be captured by video cams or black boxes installed in the truck. The multiple layers of potential liability in any truck accident increases the complexity involved in pursuing a successful personal injury claim.
New Jersey Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Obtain Maximum Recovery for Truck Accident Victims
If you were involved in a truck accident and suffered serious injuries as a result, you are likely to have questions about your rights and how you will be able to pay for your expenses. Our experienced New Jersey truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law are committed to protecting your rights and will hold negligent parties accountable for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation today, call us at 732-308-0200 or fill out our online contact form. Centrally 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.