The American trucking industry continues growing, even with shockingly high diesel fuel costs. Truck transport is one of the most common ways to get goods across the country, and about 70 percent of all goods in America reach their destination in trucks.
The trucking industry has become notorious recently because of careless drivers of large trucks and the accidents that are bound to happen. Experts predict that by 2030, road accidents will become the fifth-most significant cause of death in the U.S., and truck accidents will contribute highly to this increase.
The following are some statistics regarding big rig crashes in the United States in one recent year:
- Almost 500,000 crashes involved large commercial trucks
- 4,415 truck crashes were fatal
- Truck accidents resulted in about 107,000 injuries
- 344,000 accidents only caused property damage
- 1,673 people who died were in passenger cars
- 442 pedestrians died in truck crashes
- 76 cyclists died in big rig accidents
These numbers demonstrate how common truck accidents and injuries are in the U.S., and they might only increase in the coming years.
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Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Big rig accidents cause thousands of injuries and deaths every year. The disparity in weight between the truck and the passenger vehicle it hits is often the cause of the severity of the injuries and the death rate. Given that big rigs often travel at high speeds, the injuries they cause can be catastrophic. Some of the causes of semi-truck accidents are:
Driver Fatigue – Commercial truck drivers are under enormous pressure to deliver often perishable loads as quickly as possible. Even with federal and state regulations regarding driving time and rest periods, big-rig truck drivers often drive when they are tired and sleepy. This sleepiness slows reaction times—a significant problem in a 40-ton vehicle—and seriously reduces the driver’s decision-making ability. Usually, the fatigue results from:
- Not enough sleep
- Driving too many hours
- Delivery pressure
- Disregarding federal and state regulations
Improper Vehicle Maintenance – Federal and state regulations also require good truck maintenance. However, worn tires and brakes and non-working engine and trailer parts make a vehicle vulnerable to accidents. The owner or the trucking company responsible for this maintenance may be liable if its poor performance leads to an accident.
Distracted Driving – As with all motor vehicle accidents, distracted driving is among the fastest-growing causes of big rig accidents. A distracted driver is doing something else while driving an 80,000-pound vehicle.
Something else can be eating, texting, adjusting the music volume, using a handheld phone, or playing computer games! The long and tedious hours that truckers work make them especially tempted to engage in distracted driving.
Inexperienced Drivers – Inexperienced and often inadequately trained truck drivers cause many accidents. Trucking companies will pay to train a new driver but then force that driver to drive a large dangerous truck much too soon.
The newly minted driver may not even know the kind of vehicle they need to drive. Inexperienced drivers are generally cheaper per mile than experienced drivers, an attractive feature to trucking companies slammed by the catastrophic increases in diesel costs.
These newly trained drivers cause accidents by:
- Not understanding the consequences of speeding
- Failing to understand the impact of a distracted driver
- Getting insufficient sleep and rest
- Not knowing safety laws and regulations
- Carrying improperly loaded or excessive cargo
- Ignoring traffic signs and signals
- Poor vehicle maintenance
These are all risky, and inexperienced drivers are more likely to try them.
Inexperienced drivers also have similar types of accidents. They include:
- Jackknifing – When the truck and its trailer form a sharp angle, leading to strong forces that can push the vehicle off the road or into another vehicle
- Side-impact collisions – Usually happening at intersections, when a big rig moving at full speed crashes into the side of a smaller vehicle, the results are shattering for the smaller vehicle’s occupants.
- Rear-end collisions – A truck can shear off the top or back of a car depending on which was the rear vehicle.
- Rollovers – Caused by an improperly balanced or moving load, turnovers can injure the driver and slam the truck into more vehicles.
- Blindspot collisions – occur when an inexperienced driver pulls into another lane occupied by an unseen smaller vehicle.
- Bad loading – The way a load sits on a big rig can determine its ability to remain upright. An unbalanced load relocates the center of gravity on a truck and can lead to rollover accidents. It can also contribute to jackknifing and makes maneuvering the truck difficult. Liquid loads in tanker trucks are particularly vulnerable to these problems because of the movement of the liquid in transit.
- Blowout accidents – Truck tire blowouts are very common, with the shredded results familiar to anyone who drives. However, according to the FMCSA, only 2.5 percent of truck accidents involve tire issues. Other reports estimate that tire defects account for nearly a third of all truck-related accidents.
Common Injuries in Truck Accidents
- Back and neck – Fractures to vertebrae can damage the spinal cord, but even by themselves, they can be life-changing with the need for reparative surgeries and possible metal implants.
- Spinal cord damage – Spinal cord injuries in a truck accident can be life-altering, leading to temporary or permanent paralysis. Spinal cord injuries can bring about loss of use and feeling in all four limbs or only two or three. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, vehicle crashes cause nearly 40 percent of spinal cord injuries. Lifetime care costs for these injuries run into millions of dollars.
- Whiplash – Whiplash, caused by the violent and sudden jolting of passengers in the passenger vehicles, injures the neck’s soft tissues. Although difficult to diagnose and treat, whiplash can lead to lifelong loss of mobility and chronic pain.
- Internal injuries bleeding – The ribs and other bones of the torso protects your vital internal organs. In a truck accident, that protection isn’t always successful. Internal injuries can cause internal bleeding and hard-to-treat damage to essential organs like the liver, gallbladder, and spleen. You can also experience fractures to the torso’s bony structures, and these fractures can result in further organ damage. If not promptly detected and treated, internal bleeding can be fatal within just a few hours.
- Head trauma – The violent forces of a big rig/car accident can cause the head to strike the car’s interior or even the pavement if the victim gets ejected. These injuries can fracture the skull and cause swelling and fluid in the brain. If not treated very quickly, this can be fatal.
- Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion – The forces that toss an occupant around the interior of a car or even eject them can lead to a blunt force trauma to the head. This can cause the brain to crash against the interior walls of the skull, resulting in a concussion or traumatic brain injury. Even seemingly mild brain trauma can result in potentially long-term or fatal complications.
- Burns and Scarring – Both because of the violence of truck accidents and the potentially hazardous cargo they may be carrying, burns and the accompanying scarring are frequently seen in truck accidents. Burns are slow-healing injuries, often requiring lengthy hospitalizations and multiple surgeries. Further, the significant scarring can result in loss of mobility and cause emotional disorders going forward.
Common Types of Truck Accidents
Unfortunately, the physics of one massive vehicle hitting another smaller one favors the truck driver over the car in a big rig/car collision.
Accidents involving trucks include:
- Blowout Accidents – Truck tire blowouts are widespread, as noted above. Although blowouts can throw a driver off course, they cause few accidents.
- Head-On and Rear-End Collisions – According to the FMCSA, big rig trucks feature in a fatal collision with a vehicle in 74 percent of all crashes, 81 percent of all injury cases, and 76 percent of all property damage cases. A head-on collision occurs when a large truck collides head-on with another vehicle. A rear-end collision happens when a large truck drives over the back of another vehicle of any size. Both types are exceptionally hazardous, especially for those in smaller vehicles.
- Jackknife Accidents – A jackknife accident occurs when the trailer of a suddenly braking truck swings out of alignment with the truck at a sharp angle. This jackknifing movement can result in the truck rolling over. Jackknife accidents often result from excessive speed or following another driver too closely. Bad weather is also often a factor.
- Blindspot Accidents – Every driver has seen the sign on the truck mirrors, “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you.” These signs remind other drivers that large trucks have significant blind spots on all four sides of their vehicles. Blindspot accidents involving big rig trucks are common; the NHTSA says over 800,000 blind spot accidents occur annually.
- Rollover Accidents – A truck driver can lose control of their vehicle, leading it to roll over, creating a hazardous condition for both the truck and its cargo. These accidents are among the most dangerous for truck drivers, with nearly half of truck driver fatalities resulting from a rollover accident. The FMCSA notes that 54 percent of the vehicles involved in a rollover accident had a brake defect.
- Underride Accidents – An underride accident occurs when another vehicle gets stuck under the trailer of a rapidly slowing truck. The top of the smaller vehicle often completely tears off, with equally catastrophic results for the passengers. Underride accidents represent approximately one-fourth of truck accident fatalities. Today, most states and the federal government require guards on the rear of trucks designed to prevent underride.
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Who Can I Hold Liable in a Big Rig Accident?
In a commercial vehicle accident, which a big rig accident usually is, the driver may not be alone in liability for the accident. The company may share in the liability. Under the law, in fact, you can almost always hold the trucking company liable for the acts of its employee.
For you to file this kind of suit, the driver must have been actively engaged in work duties when the negligence occurred. In other words, if a commercial truck driver hit you when they were on duty and performing the job, you can likely sue the employers. This can allow you to receive much more compensation simply because the company will carry higher coverage limits.
You might also sue the company that owns the truck if they failed to keep it properly maintained. If the problem is with the truck itself, you can sue the manufacturer of the truck or its parts.
In other words, determining liability when a commercial vehicle is involved is complicated.
What Damages Can I Recover?
The law recognizes three kinds of damages in a personal injury case. First, economic damages represent the readily determinable out-of-pocket expenses that include medical and hospital bills, lost past and future income, and rehabilitation costs. Second, there are non-economic damages. These are harder to determine and may require expert testimony to establish the monetary value of pain and suffering, loss of consortium, loss of earning capacity, and similar subject injuries and damages.
Finally, there are punitive damages. They are rare, and punitive damages aim to punish the defendant and deter others from similar conduct. They do not represent compensation to the victim, although the victim does receive them. Punitive damages are only available for conduct that shows utter disregard for the safety of others and shocks the conscience of the court.
Some states, like New York, do not apply a cap to any of these classes of damages. The IRS may tax punitive damages, but not compensatory economic and non-economic damages.
To best know the damages you can recover, consult with a truck accident attorney as soon as possible.