As many as 15.5 million trucks operate across the United States each week. They provide vital transportation for everything from stock for stores to gas, milk, or water. The trucking companies that manage the majority of those shipments bear a responsibility for ensuring the safety of other drivers. Unfortunately, negligence by trucking companies can significantly increase the risk of accidents for their drivers.
Truck Accident Liability: When Negligence is More Than Just An At-Fault Driver
In 2020, an estimated 146,930 were injured, and 4,965 lost their lives due to accidents involving large trucking vehicles. The majority of these accident injuries were passengers in other cars, not the commercial truck drivers themselves. While determining liability in these crashes is not always easy, there are some common elements of negligence that often contribute to them. Sometimes, multiple liable parties, including the driver or truck owner, the trucking company, cargo loaders, and those responsible for maintenance. Here, we take a close look at potential acts of negligence and how they can contribute to trucking accidents.
1. Inadequate Maintenance.
Big trucks require a substantial amount of maintenance to keep them fully operational. When a trucking company runs properly, it uses several checks and balances to ensure proper truck maintenance. Truck drivers typically conduct a careful evaluation of their trucks both before and after each run.
They check over the trucks to ensure everything remains in proper working order, including head and tail lights, windshield wipers, and brakes. If the truck driver notices any problems in the inspection or notes any problems during the run, the driver then reports them to the trucking company, which will arrange for maintenance on the vehicle.
Efficient trucking companies also have a schedule of maintenance for all their vehicles. This maintenance schedule ensures that the trucks receive all the maintenance they need to stay on the road and keep running efficiently. Some trucking companies, however, try to cut costs by ignoring necessary maintenance. The trucking company might, for example, put off routine maintenance for as long as possible or ignore maintenance requests issued by its drivers.
When the trucking company fails to conduct critical maintenance on its trucks, it may increase the danger faced by everyone who shares the road with those drivers. Brake failures, engine failures, and even steering failures occur more frequently when a truck does not receive the maintenance and care it requires.
2. Pressure to Adhere to Strict Deadlines, Even if It Means Breaking the Law.
Truck drivers often face immense pressure to adhere to specific deadlines. They may need to get their goods, especially perishable goods, to their destinations quickly to prevent spoilage or to ensure they meet a specific timeline: getting new items to a store in time for release, for example. Unfortunately, those tight deadlines can leave drivers struggling. They do not take into account traffic delays or poor weather conditions. As a result, many drivers under tight deadlines may find themselves making errors in an attempt to deliver goods to their destination on time.
Breaking Federal Regulations.
According to federal law, truck drivers can only drive for eleven hours out of a fourteen-hour shift, after which they must take time away from the truck to recharge before resuming their route. This regulation helps reduce the risk of road haze and falling asleep behind the wheel. Unfortunately, drivers who feel pressured to meet tight deadlines may break the law, driving for too many hours and even falsifying their logbooks to meet those deadlines.
Big trucks naturally need more room to maneuver than smaller passenger vehicles. A speeding truck driver will typically need more room to come to a complete stop than the driver of a passenger vehicle. Speeding can also increase the risk of jackknife accidents or raise the risk that another driver will fail to anticipate the actions of a truck driver, increasing the risk of a serious accident.
When they get in a hurry, truck drivers may drive more aggressively. They may change lanes more often, creating a greater hazard for other vehicles on the road, or tailgate more often. Aggressive driving not only poses a substantial hazard since it may not leave other drivers adequate time to avoid potential collisions, but it can also raise frustration in other drivers, leading to increased incidents of road rage.
A distracted or fatigued driver poses a considerable risk to others. Due to the sheer size and velocity of this type of motor vehicle, a split second of inattention could result in a catastrophic collision. Accidents frequently occur when a truck driver fails to slow down or brake quickly enough to avoid an upcoming obstacle or stop light.
Driving in Unsafe Conditions
Truck drivers often spend long hours on the road, which can give them more confidence behind the wheel than other drivers. They also undergo special training to learn how to navigate the roads safely with their much larger vehicles. However, some truck drivers may not have significant experience driving in wet or icy weather.
Unfortunately, the pressure to meet tight deadlines may lead to truck drivers choosing to drive in conditions when they should wait out the weather, pushing through storms, or other poor weather conditions to meet their deadlines.
Unsafe conditions may also include the driver’s condition. For example, a driver under substantial pressure to meet a deadline may decide to get behind the wheel while inebriated or ill rather than wait it out or call in sick.
3. Failing to Adequately Screen Drivers.
Dangerous drivers, including those who do not have adequate skills for the loads they carry or drivers who may frequently drive aggressively, may pose a significant hazard to others around them every time they set out. Unfortunately, some trucking companies fail to adequately screen drivers to ensure they have the necessary skills. Instead of conducting the needed screening, the company may send those drivers out on the roads, providing relatively minimal instruction or assistance even if the driver encounters difficulty.
In addition to screening drivers before they begin employment, trucking companies should pay attention to their drivers’ records. Trucking companies may need to pay close attention to the driver’s efforts out on the road and take action quickly if a pattern of negligent or reckless behavior starts to emerge. If a driver has a history of causing accidents, particularly those caused by inebriation or distraction, the driver may need additional training or may need to pursue other employment options.
Independent contractors, while not subject to the same employment procedures as company drivers, must undergo the same screening techniques to minimize risk for the company and others.
4. Negligent Loading Practices.
Often, trucking companies handle loading up their trucks themselves. They may have specific employees who handle this task, separate from those who handle the driving. Negligent loading can significantly increase the risk of accidents in several ways:
- Overloading trucks. Each truck has a specific weight requirement that it can safely haul. While many trucks can, in practice, exceed those weight requirements, they may not have the hauling or stopping power to safely change direction, slow, or stop in time to avoid an accident. Overloading a truck can also increase the risk of a tire blowout, which may leave the truck driver completely out of control of the vehicle.
- Loading cargo incorrectly. In addition to the quantity of cargo a truck can handle, trucks require that loaders pay particular attention to how they load the cargo. Putting the weight in the wrong place can increase the risk of jackknife accidents, since incorrect loading can leave the cargo sitting in the wrong place. In a jackknife accident, the trailer swings forward, away from the truck unit. Most of the time, drivers have a very hard time bringing the truck back under control once a jackknife begins.
- Failing to properly secure cargo. Cargo loaders take care to do so correctly, maintain weight limits, and secure materials correctly. On flatbeds, in particular, shifting cargo can pose a danger to other vehicles on the road. If cargo slips off the truck, it can damage other vehicles and cause serious injuries. Flatbeds often haul heavy, oversized cargo, which other drivers might struggle to avoid if it hits the surrounding road. Improperly secured cargo can hit the back doors of a trailer, driving it open and spilling the cargo onto the road.
- Under-filling tanker trucks. Tanker trucks carry large quantities of liquid: gas, milk, water, and chemicals. Ideally, loaders should fill the tanks on the truck to prevent liquid from sloshing around during transport. Sloshing liquid can interfere with the driver’s ability to control the trailer, increase the risk of rollover accidents, and even cause jackknife accidents.
5. Inadequate Driver Training.
Frequently, trucking companies choose to send out under-qualified drivers to handle substantial loads. While truck drivers must go through training to acquire a CDL before they can handle a big truck legally, they may not have the necessary training to handle all big trucks. Trucks also have weight classes, and drivers must have the right license to safely operate those vehicles.
Drivers may also need special training to handle specific types of trucks: for example, it may take different skills to adequately drive a flatbed than to drive a tractor-trailer, and vice versa. Likewise, learning how to adequately hook up a vehicle to a tow truck may require special skills. Drivers should receive comprehensive training that will make it safer for them to operate their chosen vehicles.
Unfortunately, some trucking companies do not ensure that drivers have the right training to take on these additional responsibilities and thus may be held liable for negligence.
What Should I Do After an Accident Involving Truck Company or Truck Driver Negligence?
If a trucking company commits an act of negligence that results in an accident, the company may bear direct liability for an accident caused by one of its drivers. If you suffer an accident with a big truck, the steps you take can help protect your health and your legal rights.
- Seek medical attention. Any time you suffer serious injuries in an accident, especially a truck accident, make sure you pursue medical care. You should seek medical attention even if you do not know whether you suffered serious injuries. In many cases, adrenaline may camouflage the pain of your injuries and make it difficult for you to know whether you got hurt.
- Collect evidence from the accident. If you can safely move around the accident scene, collect evidence to help prove how your accident occurred and who caused your accident. You may, for example, want to snap a picture of the truck, its license plate, and any information displayed on the truck that indicates the cargo it contains. You may also want to collect any witness testimony from the accident, since witnesses can help establish who caused your accident.
- Get in touch with an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible. Do not wait too long to get in touch with an attorney, especially after a serious truck accident. A truck accident lawyer can help investigate your accident and find signs of negligence. By working with an attorney, accident victims may discover that the company shares liability with the driver directly, which may increase the compensation they can receive for their injuries.
Do You Need an Attorney After a Truck Accident?
If you suffered serious injuries in a truck accident, having an attorney on your side can help you determine whether the truck company committed any acts of negligence that could cause the company to share liability in an accident. As a result, you could be eligible for compensation for your injuries, property damage, pain and suffering, and more.
Contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible for a free consultation. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner your lawyer will begin an investigation into the events that led to the accident and give you a better idea of your legal rights to compensation.