In 2011, there were several thousand truck accidents in Alabama, with well over a thousand people injured and 92 killed. Nationwide in 2012, 3,921 people were killed in truck accidents, and another 104,000 injured. The dead and injured were four times as likely to be occupants of another vehicle as they were to be occupants of the truck.
Large trucks are particularly prone to involvement in accidents for at least three reasons:
- The trucks have limited visibility (large blind spots)
- They take longer to stop because of their weight; at 55 miles an hour, the stopping distance of a typical semi truck is more than twice the stopping distance of a passenger vehicle
- They are less maneuverable; in fact, big rigs typically begin a left turn by swinging wide to the right to get a better angle for the turn
Drifting in the opposite direction of the intended turn has lured many an impatient car driver into trying to pass on the side to which the truck suddenly turns.
A collision between a huge semi truck and a passenger vehicle is always a mismatch, likely to cause extensive injuries to the passenger vehicle occupants. It’s even worse if the truck is fully loaded and travelling at a high speed. To minimize the problem, federal law requires big rig drivers to get special licenses and special training, puts strict limits on their hours, requires a large insurance policies, and holds them to a higher standard than ordinary drivers.
Types of Truck Accidents
The broad phrase “truck accidents” covers a lot of different situations. The nature of the accident often affects who gets injured, how severe the injury is, and who might be legally responsible for the damage. Many types of accidents occur only when there is more than one vehicle involved; others may involve other vehicles, or not.
Recognized types of truck accidents include:
- Head on collisions occur when the truck strikes another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction; these accidents involve tremendous forces and frequently cause severe injuries and death to occupants of both vehicles. Many accidents of this type involve drivers who are distracted, impaired, tired, or actually asleep.
- Rear end collisions occur when the truck crashes into the back of another vehicle; these accidents tend to cause significant damage to the front vehicle, especially if the truck is fully loaded. Rear impact collisions tend to be caused by the inattention or negligence of the truck driver, or by sudden stops or cut-ins by the driver of another vehicle.
- Underride collisions occur when a smaller vehicle crashes into the rear of the truck, and the smaller vehicle rides under the trailer. Injuries to people in the smaller car may be extensive and severe, especially to the head. Causes tend to be similar to rear end accidents, with the roles of the truck and the other vehicle reversed. Underride guards on trucks can prevent this type of accident.
- Side collisions occur when the truck crashes into another vehicles side, or another vehicle crashes into the side of the truck. These tend to be caused by one vehicle turning across the path of the other, failure of one vehicle to stop at a light or stop sign, and sudden and sharp lane changes.
- Truck rollovers occur when the balance of the truck is upset by other forces. Many are single vehicle accidents in which the truck rolls over because the center of gravity is outside the wheel base, but rollovers also occur as a consequence of other types of accidents upsetting the vehicle’s balance
- Collisions between the truck and something other than another moving vehicle. These accidents tend to be single vehicle collisions that occur when the truck collides with fixed objects, people or animals. They typically involve guard rails, buildings, poles, pedestrians, and animals. Most accidents of this type are caused by the truck driver losing control of the vehicle for any number of reasons, with a smaller number caused by failure to see the object or person that is struck.
Causes of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents may result from mechanical problems, driver error and/or impairment, anything that causes the driver to lose control of the vehicle, including load shifts, and any number of obstacles and conditions on the road. Among the most common causes of truck accidents are:
- Driver fatigue, exhaustion, distraction, or impairment
- Driver inexperience, lack of sufficient training, or incompetence
- Speeding and other unsafe practices
- Brake, tire or mechanical failure
- Debris or material in the road
- Load shifting
Federal and other Government Regulations and Truck Accidents
In addition to Alabama’s extensive regulations governing the use of trucks, trailers, and semitrailers, the federal government’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) provide extensive requirements that apply to trucks used in interstate commerce. Among the many, many subjects of regulation, the FMCSR set out minimum standards for:
- Vehicle safety and maintenance
- Driver qualifications and limits on driver hours of operation
- Financial responsibility
- Licensing requirements for motor carriers, brokers and freight forwarders
Violating these regulations amounts to negligence and can be the basis for recovering damages for injuries caused by a truck accident if the violation can be shown to have caused the accident. As a result, any lawsuit to recover for injuries in a truck accident may involve detailed analysis of the regulations in addition to the usual concerns like the speed of the vehicles in the accident, whether one vehicle was following another too closely, whether proper signals were used before turning, and the like.
Who is Responsible?
Any person, company, or other organization whose conduct cause an accident can be held liable for the injuries (and deaths) that result. That sounds simple, but it means that the cause of the accident has to be determined before making any final decision on who may be liable. The value of getting an experienced Alabama truck accident lawyer involved early in the case can’t be overstated.
Because the commercial trucking industry itself has complicated relationships, it can take time to figure out who was responsible for the truck’s operation at the time of the accident. Some trucks are owned by the same company that owns the cargo, with the driver simply an employee of that company (imagine a local furniture store delivery truck). Trucks may be owned by the driver, whom a shipper hires, or owned (or leased) by a trucking company, with the driver merely hired to haul the load, which a shipper has hired the trucking company to transport.
The driver of the truck or other vehicle involved in the accident, the trucking company and the truck manufacturer are obvious candidates for legal responsibility, but there are virtually no limits to what other entities may end up being held responsible for a truck accident. Blown tires may implicate the tire retailer or manufacturer. Defective brakes may implicate the manufacturer or the repair shop that installed them. Defects in road design or maintenance may implicate a governmental entity responsible for those functions. Even the shipper may have liability if the cargo required specific warnings to the trucker, which weren’t given.
Get Experienced Help Early On
Many of the entities that may be liable for a truck accident are large, wealthy companies (and their insurers), with every incentive to fight the claim vigorously. It takes determination and a lot of experience to successfully take them on. Drake Law Firm has been successfully handling injury cases, including truck accidents, for a quarter of a century. We only handle injury cases, and we handle them thoroughly, with a success rate approaching 99 percent.
If you are involved in a truck accident and were seriously injured, or if you lost a family member in a truck accident wrongful death, get help as soon as possible. Call Drake Law today for a free consultation.