Trucks have ruled American roads for generations. Beginning in the mid 20th Century, with the passage of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, the trucking industry transformed from a collection of local businesses that carried freight from railroad depots to local businesses, into a multi-billion dollar logistics juggernaut that today dominates the nation’s highways and back roads. 21st century trucks can take freight directly from huge container vessels at seaports and transport it anywhere in the country in a matter of days. It is no exaggeration to say that trucks constitute an indispensable backbone of the American economy.
Unfortunately, massive logistical efficiency comes at a steep cost. Large trucks, weighing tens of tons, get into accidents that inflict widespread damage, catastrophic injuries, and thousands of tragic fatalities every year. In this blog post, we examine the consequences of truck accidents, and how a lawyer can help if a crash involving a large truck harms you or your family. To learn more about your legal rights after a truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident injury lawyer today.
Truck Features Limit Their Safety
The expression “like getting hit by a truck” exists for good reason. It reflects the significant dangers to health and safety posed by a truck getting into an accident, particularly a collision with a smaller vehicle.
Lots of Weight and Even More Force
Trucks pull enormous amounts of weight. They depend on large tires, powerful diesel motors, heavy ladder frame construction, and a higher profile than the other vehicles with which they share the road. These features make it possible for trucks to haul enormous loads. Unfortunately, they also translate into catastrophically-large forces that destroy smaller vehicles in a collision.
Bad Visibility and Hard to Stop
Trucks have large blind spots that extend about 20 feet in front of a cab, 30 feet behind a trailer, one lane to the left of the driver, and two lanes to the right. Truckers cannot see vehicles hiding in these No Zones without the assistance of specialized mirrors or cameras. Drivers of smaller vehicles must always remember: if you can’t see a truck driver in his mirrors, then the driver can’t see you either.
Because of their weight, trucks also need a much longer distance to come to a stop compared to smaller, passenger vehicles. Trucks traveling at highway speeds with a full load cannot stop quickly, even with large air brakes and engine brakes to assist them. Plus, brakes can fail when trucks descend steep grades, and in an emergency stopping situation trucks also tend to jackknife. For those reasons, just because a truck needs to stop to avoid a deadly collision does not mean it actually can stop.
Trucks Don’t Handle Very Well
Stopping is not the only challenge for large trucks. Various factors particular to big rigs can make them difficult to control in virtually any driving scenario, including:
- Hauling weight: Strict regulations mandate how much weight a truck may haul. A distribution center must log the weight of the freight and the truck before departure, and trucks may need to stop at weigh stations along their routes. Still, even the maximum allowable weight can put excessive strain on brakes and mechanical systems that can lead to breakdowns and a loss of control.
- Load displacement: How a truck rides on the road and handles also depends on proper loading and distribution of the load. Too much weight forward or back on a trailer will cause the trailer to handle erratically and may promote fishtailing or a loss of control in windy conditions.
- Need for routine maintenance: From changing tires and servicing the engine to maintaining hydraulics and brakes in top condition, large trucks need constant maintenance to operate in a safe manner. Any lapse in maintaining a truck can easily lead to a loss of control and a fatal crash.
All of these factors combine to make trucks vastly different from passenger vehicles; far more different than many passenger car drivers realize. Because of the mismatch between assumptions and reality about how trucks handle, a heavy truck traveling on a busy highway can easily end up in a range of scenarios that put the public at risk for a catastrophic accident.
Truck Drivers Don’t Always Live up to a Heavy Responsibility
Truckers control tens of thousands of pounds of complex machinery. They can clock hundreds of hours on the road per month. Many get critical training on the capabilities of their vehicles and on techniques for avoiding accidents. However, some do not.
Even with proper training, many trucks make mistakes behind the wheel that cost innocent lives, such as:
- Drowsy driving: Truck drivers operate for long hours over thousands of miles at odd hours and under tight deadlines. As a workforce, they have relatively poor health and poor nutrition. Those factors, combined with long periods of boredom and the monotony of watching the road can lead to drivers falling asleep at the wheel. It only takes a few seconds for a driver to take his eyes off the road and wake up to finding himself plowing into a bridge abutment or oncoming traffic.
- Poor training/inexperience: New truck drivers tend to lack familiarity with the capabilities and handling of their big rig. New truckers must rely on their training to make safe decisions behind the wheel. So, if that training failed to prepare truckers for all contingencies, then it puts others on the road at risk for a deadly accident.
- Too much experience: One of the most dangerous people in any situation is a seasoned veteran who thinks he has seen it all. Cocky drivers who rely on luck or reflexes, rather than mindfulness kill motorists every day.
- Drug-impaired driving: Some truck drivers resort to taking amphetamines to extend their hours in the cab, with potentially deadly consequences. Even taking prescription medication can impair a truck driver’s ability to stay in control and to avoid an accident.
- Distracted driving: Texting and driving, checking emails, or operating an onboard computer constitute dangerous distractions that can lead to a catastrophic truck accident. A trucker who attempts to operate a screen while driving might as well close his eyes for that period of time—distraction is that dangerous.
- Health problems: Seizures, heart attacks, and other illnesses can incapacitate drivers of trucks traveling at high speed, putting many lives at risk.
- Speeding: Truckers who misjudge what constitutes a safe speed can end up crashing, jackknifing, or rolling their big rigs, with catastrophic consequences.
In short, truck drivers are human. They make many of the same types of mistakes as other drivers. However, because truckers operate heavy machinery, their errors can lead to accidents far-more-devastating than a collision between passenger vehicles. No matter what type of truck driver behavior led to an accident that harmed you or your family, working with an experienced truck accident injury attorney is the most reliable way to get the compensation you deserve.
Plus, Trucks Face the Same Dangers as the Rest of Us
A truck and driver also must contend with the same road hazards that all of us face behind the wheel. Things like:
- Bad weather: Icy conditions, as well as wind, rain, and snow, make it very difficult for trucks to climb steep road grades, much less stop suddenly if they need to. Windy weather can even take a tractor-trailer and roll it over onto its side.
- Rough roads: Trucks maneuver through all sorts of road conditions as best as they can. Potholes, debris, and other hazards take their toll on the suspension and tires of a truck and can eventually lead to equipment failure. Mud and snow might cause a truck to veer out of control or become stuck, or slide right back into your lap on an incline.
- Animal strikes: Animal strikes can lead to a truck losing control or tossing an animal carcass into other lanes of traffic.
- Other drivers: Oftentimes, truckers must take evasive action to avoid hitting drivers who were distracted, not paying attention, or pulling suddenly in front of a tractor-trailer moving at speed.
Any of these and the myriad other factors that cause accidents on U.S. roads every day can affect the safety of trucks on the road. Just because an accident involved one of these conditions, however, does not mean the crash was bound to happen. Speak with a lawyer today to learn about who might have legal liability to you for a truck accident, even one caused by factors out of a trucker’s control.
Catastrophic Consequences of Truck Accidents
A collision with a large truck puts passenger car occupants on the receiving end of an unimaginably violent impact. Car bodies are no match for the mass of a big rig, human bodies even less-so. Occupants of smaller vehicles account for more than two-thirds of all fatalities in truck-on-car collisions.
Crash victims lucky enough to survive a collision with a truck often suffer catastrophic injuries that alter the course of their lives.
These injuries frequently include:
- Traumatic brain injuries that leave victims with severe cognitive, emotional, and motor impairments, and in the worst cases, condemn them to permanent states of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness.
- Spinal cord injuries that cause permanent paralysis and life-long secondary health complications, both of which cost millions of dollars to treat and require wholesale alterations to how victims live their lives.
- Lost limbs due to traumatic amputations or crush injuries that rob a victim of the function of an arm or leg.
- Severe orthopedic injuries that throw victims into a state of chronic pain and disability from which they struggle to emerge.
These are just a few examples. Survivors of truck accidents often succumb to their injuries or secondary health complications in the months or years that follow. They must also contend with severe emotional trauma, including post traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt, that if not managed can lead to extreme difficulties with depression and substance abuse. No matter how a truck accident has harmed you or your family, working with a lawyer can help to ensure you recover the compensation you deserve and need.
How an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help
In the aftermath of a truck accident, victims need skilled, responsible guidance about their legal rights. Many truck accident victims have the right to hold an individual or entity accountable for causing the crash and its resulting harms. An experienced truck accident injury lawyer’s job is to enforce those rights to obtain maximum compensation on behalf of a client.
How does a lawyer do this? Every case has its own unique facts and circumstances, so a lawyer’s day-to-day tasks can vary. But as a general matter, lawyers help truck accident victims by:
- Investigating accidents and the trauma they cause to figure out who has legal liability to victims, and how much money those victims deserve to receive to meet their present and future financial needs associated with crash injuries;
- Negotiating with insurance companies and defense lawyers who represent at-fault parties to obtain a fair and reasonable settlement of crash victims’ damages claims; and
- Litigating in court, including going to trial in front of a judge and jury, to hold legally-liable parties accountable when they refuse to make a fair and reasonable settlement offer.
No lawyer can guarantee that a truck accident victim will recover money by taking legal action, much less how much money the victim might get. Many factors, most beyond the victim’s control, affect the probabilities of achieving a favorable outcome. That does not mean, however, that victims should shy away from enforcing their rights. Hiring an experienced lawyer gives them the best chance of getting the money they deserve.
Do not put your legal rights at risk. If a truck accident caused by someone else’s dangerous actions or decisions has wreaked havoc in your life, then you have important and valuable legal rights to obtain financial compensation. Contact a skilled, experienced truck accident injury attorney today for a free case evaluation.