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Jackknifing Accidents

How Common Is “Jackknifing” in Philadelphia?

Philadelphia Jackknife Truck Accident AttorneyLarge semi-trucks and 18-wheelers are made of two separate parts—cabs and trailers. Jackknifing occurs when these two components fold in on themselves at the point of connection, causing the trailer to swivel out away from the cab, potentially hitting anything in its path. The phrase gets its name from the shape the truck and the trailer creates, which bears a resemblance to a knife whose blade folds into the handle.


Although different conditions can cause a truck to jackknife, it usually comes down to a loss of traction. Traction has to do with how well a wheel’s tires grip the road. The more static friction there is between the rubber of a tire and the surface of the road at the point where the two meet, the better the traction. A vehicle’s wheels depend on static friction for enough traction to both move and stop controllably. Slick roads, improper braking, and over-correcting turns wreak havoc on this grip, causing tires to skid along the pavement instead of rolling. Skidding tires only have sliding friction, which isn’t as powerful as static friction, to stop them. In this way, slamming on the brakes could have an adverse effect, causing them to lock and leaving the skidding wheels without enough traction to stop. If the tractor or the trailer wheels lock, the loss of traction will allow part of the rig to swing sideways out of control into a tractor jackknife or a trailer jackknife.

How Are Jackknife Accidents Caused?

Human error and road and weather conditions cant cause jackknife accidents. More specifically, there’s:

  • Driver fatigue: Because truck drivers often work incredibly long hours, fatigue is a persistent and dangerous problem. Fatigued drivers often fall asleep at the wheel, misjudge gaps, ignore signs of impending dangers, and under- or overreact to dangerous situations. When truck drivers who fall asleep briefly come to, they will often overreact to road conditions by sharply turning their wheels, which can easily cause trucks to jackknife.
  • Drug use: Truck drivers who are not in the proper state of mind for driving can also cause jackknife accidents. When drivers are under the influence of controlled substances—including alcohol and marijuana—they can lose focus on the road and decrease their reaction times. To compensate for this delay, they may overcorrect driving errors, which can cause trucks to jackknife.
  • Failure to watch blind spots: Blind spots cause all drivers trouble, but they are especially an issue for truck drivers because a truck’s blind spots are much larger than a car’s. For a trucker, blind spots are known as “no-zones,” which are the areas in which a passenger vehicle can completely disappear from the truck driver’s view. Jackknife accidents can occur if a truck driver is not paying attention to his blind spots, attempts to change lanes, sees a car in his path at the last minute, and swerves back into his original lane.
  • High speeds. A large truck that travels at more than 55 miles per hour cannot stop on a dime. If a truck driver slams on the brakes while going at more than 55 miles per hour, the likelihood drastically increases that the heavy trailer he is pulling will swing out of control.
  • Curves. Slight curves shouldn’t pose problems for most commercial trucks, but the steeper the angle and the longer the trailer, the greater the chance that the trailer end will swing and cause the entire truck to lose control and fold in on itself.
  • Slippery weather conditions and roads. Any loss of traction with the road can cause weight to shift and both cab and trailer to slide. Considering the massive weight and length of commercial trucks, even a small slide can cause the truck to jackknife.
  • Tire blowouts: When a truck’s tire blows out, the truck will suddenly and violently veer in the direction of the blown out tire. If it is a right tire that blows out, the truck will veer to the right. If the left tire blows out, the truck will veer to the left. If the truck driver does not handle the blowout properly, this extreme veering can cause the trailer of the truck to jackknife all over the road or even flip over, taking out any cars that are unfortunate enough to be in its path. If the truck flips over, the force of the impact can cause its cargo to spill out into the path of oncoming traffic. At the same time, large chunks of the truck’s exploded tire can also go flying and strike nearby vehicles. All of these conditions combined—the jackknifing, the projectile tire debris, the overturned trailers spilling obstacles into the road—can create dangerous and even deadly conditions for nearby drivers.

Liability for Jackknife Accidents

As outlined above, human error is the most common reason why trucks get into in jackknife accidents, but other situations can cause them, including weather, road hazards, or the poor driving of others. As with almost all types of automobile accidents, assigning liability in a trucking accident usually requires the proof of negligence. A plaintiff in a jackknife accident suit must show:

  • That the defendant truck driver owed the plaintiff a duty of care needed to avoid injury under the circumstances
  • The defendant breached that duty by engaging in behaviors that fell below that duty of care
  • The defendant’s breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
  • The plaintiff suffered actual harm

When bringing a personal injury suit after a truck accident, the most common defendant is the trucking company, not the driver. An employment relationship often exists between the driver and the employer. If the trucking company exercised control over the driver and his actions, then the driver was working within the scope of his employment, and the employer may face liabilities for the driver’s actions. You may also hold other parties liable if their actions contributed to the jackknife accident, including anyone who performed maintenance on the truck or the manufacturer of a defective component part of the truck that played a role in the accident.

Contact a Philadelphia Jackknife Accident Attorney

If you have been injured in a jackknife accident that was the result of driver error, you may recover compensation for your damages. The attorneys at the Levin Firm are experienced at representing jackknife accident victims. All of our cases at The Levin Firm are based on a contingent fee agreement, which means that you only pay us if we win. Contact the attorneys at the Levin Firm at for a free consultation at (215) 825-5183 or online, where we will evaluate your case and advise you of your best options.

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