Commercial trucks serve an important role in society, ensuring that our grocery shelves are stocked and that other essential goods make it from their places of production to their places of purchase. Unfortunately, semi-trucks also pose a serious risk out on the road. There are few sights on the road as terrifying as an out-of-control semi-truck, especially because most deaths in accidents with commercial trucks are passenger vehicle occupants.
Commercial trucks take special skill and training to drive safely, and they present unique risks to others on the road, including a risk that the truck will jackknife.
Read on to understand what causes semi-truck jackknife accidents, how to avoid them, who is responsible for such an accident, and how to secure a recovery for any injuries. If you or a loved one suffered injuries in an accident with a commercial truck, contact an experienced truck accident attorney from Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney for assistance in evaluating your case.
What Causes a Truck to Jackknife?
Jackknifing occurs when a truck with two separate parts, such as a cab and a trailer, folds in on itself at the point where the cab attaches to the trailer. The trailer of the semi-truck will come to an acute angle with the cab, creating an L or V shape. Jackknifing occurs because either the cab wheels or trailer wheels lose traction.
One of the following factors normally causes such a loss of traction:
- Speed: The larger and heavier a vehicle, the more force and preparation it takes to stop the vehicle quickly. The maximum weight of a semi-truck pulling a full trailer in the United States is 80,000 pounds. Compare this to the approximately 4,000 pounds of a passenger vehicle, and it is clear that commercial trucks will need to either stop much sooner or much more aggressively when traveling at a high speed. If a driver slams on the brakes to stop quickly, the vehicle may skid. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that an increase of 10mph in speed increases the odds of a jackknife by 49 percent.
- Improper braking: If drivers brake too quickly, the drive axles may lock. While the cab stays in place due to locked brakes, the trailer continues forward and creates a jackknife. Improper braking is common when the truck is moving too fast, following another vehicle too closely, or a driver isn’t paying proper attention to upcoming road conditions.
- Curvy roads: Tight turns require skilled driving. If the trailer of a truck falls out of sync with the cab, it can swing in the opposite direction and fold into a jackknife shape. The NHTSA report found that a jackknife accident is 86 percent more likely on a curved roadway.
- Bad weather conditions: Bad weather can present a danger for any vehicle, but especially for trucks. According to the NHTSA report, the chance of a jackknife accident is three times higher in bad weather. Slippery roads heighten the traction issues that cause jackknife accidents. Poor lighting on roadways can heighten bad weather risk, especially if drivers can’t see or anticipate the road conditions.
- Steering errors: An abrupt turn on the steering wheel increases the likelihood that the trailer will jackknife. These errors are most common when a driver changes lanes, navigates a winding road, or otherwise attempts to avoid other vehicles.
- Truck weight: Trucks may seem less dangerous when they aren’t carrying a full load of cargo. This is not true, however, when it comes to jackknifing. The heavier the load, the less likely the truck will jackknife. An empty trailer is more likely to sway, resulting in a jackknife.
- Improperly secured cargo: If cargo is improperly secured, it may shift during transportation. A significant shift in cargo can lead to a jackknife. The driver should ensure that all cargo is properly loaded and secured to minimize sway in the trailer.
The likelihood of any one of the above factors resulting in an accident increases if: (1) a driver is distracted or fatigued, and (2) the truck driver has not received sufficient training. Driver distraction and fatigue make it less likely for a driver to react quickly and competently to any of the above factors. Additionally, to handle or avoid the factors contributing to a jackknife accident, a driver must be skilled in driving commercial vehicles. Florida law requires a truck driver to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). To secure a CDL, a driver must demonstrate knowledge in pre-trip vehicle inspections, vehicle control, and on-road driving.
One of the best ways to avoid a jackknife accident is to ensure that the truck driver is properly trained, rested, and attentive. Florida does not have an ongoing training requirement for truck drivers, but drivers can still pursue continuing education and training.
Training will help drivers:
- Adjust their driving to accommodate light and heavy loads
- Determine the appropriate speed for driving conditions, including curvy roads and inclement weather
- Recognize and keep a safe distance between their trucks and other vehicles
- Brake slowly and evenly without locking the brakes
- Understand the dangers of and how to avoid and react to skidding
- Keep their vehicles properly maintained
Truck drivers should take all possible precautions for avoiding jackknife accidents. The size and weight of commercial trucks pose significant risks for other drivers on the road, and a jackknife accident can result in serious injuries.
Who Is Responsible for a Jackknife Accident?
After suffering injuries in an accident, your truck accident lawyer may try to determine if another party is liable. If another party’s negligent action resulted in your injuries, the at-fault party is responsible for the damages caused by the accident. The most common negligent actors in a jackknife accident are the truck driver and/or the driver’s employer.
If the truck driver acted (or failed to act) in a reasonably prudent fashion, the driver is negligent. This includes failing to follow traffic laws or to operate in-line with prevailing industry standards.
Common negligent actions include:
- Improper licensing. As mentioned above, a CDL is required for a truck driver to operate a semi-truck. If the driver failed to meet all of the obligations for the CDL, or is driving with an expired CDL, he or she has acted negligently.
- Drowsy driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations limit the time a driver can drive in a single day to 11 hours. If a driver violates the federal requirements for on-duty time, this is strong evidence of negligence.
- Distracted driving. Truck drivers are on the road for long hours, making them more likely to turn to mobile phones or other devices to entertain themselves. Federal regulations limit drivers’ use of mobile phones, and there is a complete ban on texting while driving. If the evidence shows the driver was distracted at the time of the jackknife, he or she has acted negligently.
- Traffic citations. Be sure to request a police report at the scene of the accident or in the days following. A police report will collect important evidence for the case, including pictures of the accident scene, witness information, and issuance of any traffic citations. If the driver received a citation for violation of any traffic law, this important evidence can show that the driver acted negligently. If you do not get a police report, make sure you thoroughly document the scene so that this important evidence does not disappear.
An employer is legally responsible for the acts of its employees. If a trucking company employs a driver, then the employer is responsible for the driver’s negligent acts. Before you seek compensation from the employer, you should consult with an attorney to confirm the driver is an employee and not an independent contractor.
In addition to an employer’s responsibility for its employees, a trucking company may have acted negligently by engaging in the following actions:
- Failing to confirm the driver’s licensing status
- Disregarding the federal regulations for driver on-duty time
- Sending poorly maintained vehicles out onto the road
Establishing negligence against any party is a fact-intensive analysis. Whether you should expect to recover for your damages will hinge on whether you have a strong case of negligence. An experienced attorney can help you uncover relevant evidence and evaluate the strength of your case and evidence.
Recovering From Your Injuries
After suffering injuries in a jackknife accident, you will be confronted with a multitude of stresses, including adjusting to any limitations created by your injuries. As you deal with your injuries, financial stress is likely to pile up, as well. If you were injured due to the negligent actions of another party, you should seek financial compensation for all the damages that you have suffered because of the accident.
Common damages after a jackknife accident include:
- Medical costs: Injuries come with medical expenses, including doctor’s bills, hospital stays, prescriptions, and long-term physical therapy. Keep track of all your medical expenses to ensure complete recovery.
- Loss of income: If you missed work or worked reduced hours because of your injuries, you should include lost wages in your damages demand. Additionally, if your ability to advance in your profession or work a full schedule in the future remains limited, also include your lost future earning potential in your damages demand. An attorney can coordinate input from an expert as needed to calculate this amount.
- Property damage: If your vehicle went up against a commercial truck, it probably suffered serious damage. Include repair or replacement costs in your damages claim.
- Emotional distress: A car accident is a traumatic event and may leave you suffering from emotional impacts long after leaving the scene of the accident. Many accident victims struggle with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An attorney can work with you to determine the appropriate compensation for any emotional injuries suffered due to the accident.
- Loss of enjoyment: Some injuries will forever alter your way of life, including limiting your ability to participate in activities that previously brought meaning or joy to your life. If you can’t participate in an activity that was a substantial part of your life, you deserve recovery for the loss.
- Punitive/exemplary damages: All the damages discussed above are meant to compensate the injured party for some injury that he or she has suffered. Punitive damages are different, as they are intended to punish a defendant. In Florida, punitive damages are only awarded when a defendant acted in a grossly negligent manner.
Compiling a damages claim may seem overwhelming, but it is very important to put in the work. A comprehensive damages assessment will help you evaluate any settlement offer received from a defendant or his or her insurance company. Often, the defendant or insurance company will make a low settlement offer in hopes that the injured individual will act quickly to secure some financial relief. Be wary of accepting any settlement offer that is drastically less than the cost of all your injuries, particularly settlements offered early on in the process.
An attorney can work with you to ensure that your damages demand includes all of the injuries that you suffered due to the defendant’s negligence. A lawyer can also enlist financial and medical experts to opine on complicated damages, like future medical care or loss of future earning potential. Your attorney will also help to evaluate any settlement offers that you receive to ensure you are fairly compensated based on your likelihood to prevail at trial.
Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney
If you were involved in a jackknife accident, an experienced lawyer is an invaluable asset. An attorney will help analyze any evidence, advise on the strength of the case, and assess your damages. Jackknife accidents are particularly complicated, as they often require analysis of federal and state laws and regulations and involve multiple parties and multiple insurance companies. Contact a truck accident attorney who will serve as your advocate throughout the complicated process of securing recovery for your injuries, always keeping in mind your best interest.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814