Commercial trucks are a key component of the U.S. economy. Each year, large trucks cover hundreds of millions of miles distributing goods within the U.S. But as the number of trucks on the road increases, so does the risk of motor vehicle accidents.
Accidents involving large commercial trailers often have devastating effects. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), accidents involving large trucks resulted in 4,761 deaths in one year.
Jackknifing is a specific, particularly dangerous kind of large truck accident. Jackknifing accidents often involve much smaller passenger vehicles. Typically, the smaller vehicle’s occupants do not fare well given the significant size and weight differences between the vehicles. This piece gives a rundown of jackknife accidents, what they are and what to do if you are in one.
What Makes Jackknife Accidents so Dangerous?
Jackknife accidents occur with trucks having two interconnected parts—a cab and a trailer. When a jackknife accident happens, the truck folds at the point of connection between cab and trailer, as the trailer swerves to one side, forming a “V” shape or 90-degree angle, resembling the acute angle of a folding pocket knife.
Due to the trailer’s weight, especially when it’s loaded with cargo, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the truck driver to steer the truck back under control. Even after applying the brakes, the sheer weight of the trailer can pull the entire truck in the swerve direction. If this happens, the truck can wreak havoc on other vehicles on the road, resulting in devastating injuries and fatalities.
Common Causes of Jackknife Accidents
Several factors can cause jackknife accidents. The following are some of the most common.
1. Poor Brake Maintenance
At full capacity, large trucks can carry cargo weighing tens of thousands of pounds. With such weight, the truck can easily lose control and jackknife if it comes to a sudden stop. To bring the truck to a smooth stop, truck drivers must slow down gradually over an extended distance. This also means that unexpected emergencies on the road can pose an even greater danger on the road, given how difficult it is to bring a truck to a stop quickly enough to avoid further calamity.
Because of this, a large truck’s brakes must be in top condition at all times. If not, the brakes can lock up as the driver attempts to slow down. A sudden jolt from the brakes after locking can cause the trailer to swing in one direction, resulting in a jackknife accident. To reduce such instances, federal regulations require regular maintenance on braking systems.
2. Wet or Icy Roads
An inexperienced trucker, or one who doesn’t account for the weather, can make a safe situation extremely dangerous. Although trucks are generally better-fit to handle inclement weather in some ways, inclement weather remains a risk factor for jackknife accidents. When a road is wet or icy, a truck may have uneven traction, causing one side to pull harder and jackknife the truck.
According to the NHTSA, in one year, speeding contributed 26 percent of traffic fatalities. With commercial trucks, drivers have even less control of a vehicle when traveling at high speeds. The faster a large truck is traveling, the less likely the driver will be regain control if anything causes the trailer to swing.
Speeding also contributes to the problem of trucks requiring more time and space to slow down or stop. Attempting to stop a truck immediately while speeding is likely to result in the trailer swinging to one side, resulting in a jackknife accident.
Four Steps to Take After a Jackknife Accident
If you are caught up in a jackknife truck accident, you may experience significant damage to your person and property. In the tragic event that you or a loved one are involved in a jackknife accident, keep in mind the following.
1. Medical Attention and Reporting the Accident
Of course, your primary concern after a jackknife accident should be immediate medical attention needs. If you have sustained injuries, you should go to the nearest hospital. However, if your physical injuries are less severe, remain at the scene of the accident and call law enforcement. Wait for police officers to arrive at the scene and give them as many details of the accident as you can. Your statement should only be a description of the events as they occurred. You should not in any way make an admission of guilt. Also, avoid making statements regarding the extent of your injuries.
2. Keep Medical Records and Bills
The compensation you may recover following a jackknife accident depends on the severity of your injuries and the cost to treat them. Only your medical records and bills can prove this. This should include records concerning not only medical attention immediately following the accident, but also any on-going medical treatment or care you require based on the extent of your injuries from the jackknife accident.
3. Notify Your Insurance Providers
If you have comprehensive vehicle insurance coverage, it should cover medical and property-damage expenses that you incur in a jackknife accident, up to certain limits. To avoid any complications to your claim, call your insurance provider as soon after the accident as you can and convey the costs you incurred in the accident.
For injuries that may require long-term medical care, also contact your health insurance provider. Such policies will often provide significant coverage and cover medical expenses your vehicle insurance may not.
4. Hire an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney
Due to their higher risk of accidents, commercial truck drivers have insurance policies that provide greater coverage to protect victims of the driver’s negligence. However, the process to recover from the truck driver’s insurer can be complicated, and it can be awhile between the accident and when you receive compensation.
To reduce the amount they have to pay out, the truck driver’s insurance company may try to devalue your claim or get you to settle quickly for an unfairly low amount.
Dealing with the truck driver’s insurance company is one important reason to hire a seasoned lawyer to assist you after a jackknife accident. An attorney will consult with you to determine the cause of the accident and the liable parties, Thereafter, they can handle the legal process on your behalf and negotiate with insurance adjusters and other liable defendants. Having this expert assistance can be a relief in an already a stressful time and help compensate you fairly.