Commercial trucks have an essential purpose in our American society. They ensure groceries make it to store shelves and that other necessary goods get to their places of purchase. At the same time, semi-trucks also create a dangerous risk out on the highways. An out-of-control semi-truck is terrifying, especially as most commercial truck accident fatalities are passenger vehicle occupants. Passenger vehicles are no match for a much larger, heavier truck.
A study released by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals that approximately every 16 minutes, someone is injured or killed in a truck accident in the United States. Far too many jackknife accidents contribute to this frightening statistic. These accidents are highly preventable. No matter who is at fault for the accident, it’s typically the non-truck drivers involved that are severely injured or killed as a result.
Due to their size, semi-trucks require special skills and training to operate safely. These trucks also come with unique risks to others on the road, such as the risk that the truck will jackknife. If you or a family member suffered injuries in a commercial jackknife truck accident,
How Trucks Jackknife?
Jackknifing happens when a truck with two separate parts, usually a cab and a trailer, folds in on itself where the cab attaches to the trailer. The semi-truck trailer ends up at an acute angle with the cab, which makes a V or L shape. Jackknifing is often the result of the cab or trailer wheels losing traction with the roadway.
One of the following factors is usually to blame for the loss of traction:
Since semi-trucks are larger and heavier than other vehicles, they require more time and a greater stopping distance. The faster they travel, the more force they need to stop, which increases their required stopping time and space.
The maximum weight of a semi-truck with a fully loaded trailer in the United States is 80,000 pounds. Considering that passenger vehicles are only approximately 4,000 pounds and it’s no wonder that semi-trucks will need to either stop much sooner or with much more force if they need to stop while traveling at high speed.
Unfortunately, the vehicle may skid if a trucker applies their brakes to stop quickly. For example, one study published by NHTSA revealed that an increase of 10mph in speed increases the chances of a jackknife accident by 49 percent.
#2. Improper Braking
The more time a trucker has to brake, the better. Truck drivers must be skilled in proper braking, and if they slow too fast for any reason, their drive axles can lock. The trailer will continue moving forward while the cab remains in place due to locked brakes, resulting in a jackknife. This scenario is common if the semi-truck is moving too fast, following another vehicle too closely, or its driver isn’t paying attention to changing road conditions or traffic.
#3. Curvy Roads
Truck drivers must often make tight turns as roads aren’t always straight. Their tight turns require skilled driving. For example, suppose a truck’s trailer doesn’t stay in sync with the movement of its cab. In that case, it might swing in the opposite direction it’s supposed to be traveling and fold upon itself into a jackknife. In fact, the NHTSA found that a jackknife accident is 86 percent more likely to occur on a curved roadway.
#4. Inclement Weather
Inclement weather often presents a danger for any vehicle on the road, especially commercial trucks. According to the same NHTSA report, there’s a threefold increase in the risk of a jackknife accident in poor weather conditions. Slippery roads often reduce traction, leading to jackknife accidents. Poor lighting on roadways also increases bad weather risk, as drivers can’t see or anticipate the coming road conditions.
#5. Steering Errors
Not only do truck drivers have to be careful not to brake too quickly, but they also have to take care not to turn the steering wheel abruptly. Doing so increases the chances that the trailer will jackknife. These errors most frequently happen when the driver switches lanes, is traveling on a winding road, or otherwise must avoid other vehicles.
#6. Truck Weight
You might think that trucks are safer if they don’t carry a whole cargo load. In some ways, this might be true, but not when it comes to jackknifing accidents. The heavier the load carried, the less likely a jackknife will occur. An empty trailer is much more likely to sway under various circumstances, increasing the risk of a jackknife.
#7. Improperly Secured Cargo
If cargo isn’t secured correctly, it will likely shift during transport. Some cargo shifts will result in a jackknife. The driver and those responsible for loading and securing cargo should ensure that all cargo is adequately loaded and secured to decrease any chances that the trailer will sway.
#8. Other Factors
The chances of any of the above factors causing an accident rise if:
- A driver is distracted or fatigued
- A driver hasn’t received sufficient training
Keep in mind that distraction and fatigue decrease the chances of the driver reacting swiftly and proficiently to any of these factors. A truck driver must be skilled in driving commercial vehicles. The law requires a truck driver to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). To receive this special license, a truck driver has to show their knowledge concerning pre-trip vehicle inspections, vehicle control, and real-life driving.
Ensuring that the truck driver is appropriately trained, well-rested, and fully attentive is one of the best ways to avoid a jackknife accident. Even if a truck driver’s state doesn’t require continuing education and training, it’s still in their best interest and the interest of every truck driver and the people they share the road with.
Training helps truck drivers:
- Perform proper vehicle maintenance
- Adjust their driving habits as they drive to accommodate light and heavy loads
- Identify the ideal speed for driving conditions, including curvy roads and inclement weather
- Recognize and keep enough distance between their trucks and other vehicles
- Brake slowly and evenly while not locking the brakes
- Appreciate the dangers of and how to avoid and react to skidding
It should go without saying that semi-truck drivers should take every possible precaution to avoid a jackknife and other accidents. In addition, the weight and size of commercial trucks pose considerable risks for other motorists, and a jackknife accident can result in severe, catastrophic, or even fatal injuries.
What Are Damages?
Damages are the financial representation of the economic and non-economic losses and inconveniences you suffer after a personal injury such as a jackknife accident.
They can include:
- Medical bills and expenses
- Lost wages and income
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Property damage
A truck accident lawyer can work with you to ensure that your legal demand includes all of the injuries you sustained due to the at-fault party’s negligence. They also have financial and medical experts who can provide their opinion on your complicated damages, such as future medical expenses or the loss of future earning potential.
Your attorney will also evaluate any settlement offers that you receive to ensure you are fairly compensated based on your likelihood of prevailing at trial.
Who Is Liable for Jackknife Accidents?
After suffering injuries in a jackknife accident, it’s best to seek experienced legal assistance for your injury claim. Your truck accident lawyer will thoroughly explore the details of your accident and who was involved in determining if another party is liable.
If another person or party’s negligent action caused your injuries, they are responsible for the resulting damages. Frequently, the liable parties in a jackknife accident are the truck driver and/or their employer.
#1. The Truck Driver
If the truck driver acted or didn’t act in the same manner a reasonably prudent person will, the driver is negligent. Examples of driver negligence include failing to obey traffic laws or operating according to prevailing trucking industry standards.
Truck driver negligence might include:
- Not having a current CDL license: A CDL is a prerequisite for anyone operating a semi-truck. However, if the driver failed to obtain their CDL or is driving with an expired CDL, they were negligent.
- Drowsy/fatigued driving: The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) Safety Regulations restrict the time a driver can drive in 24 hours and how much rest they must take before driving again. If a driver doesn’t adhere to the federal requirements, they are likely negligent.
- Distracted driving: Truck drivers drive for long hours every day; it’s understandably a difficult job. However, this fact often makes them more likely to use mobile phones or other devices to occupy themselves during those long hours. The FMCSA’s regulations limit truck drivers’ use of mobile phones, including a complete ban on texting while behind the wheel. If the evidence supports that the driver was distracted just before or at the jackknife, they acted negligently.
- Traffic tickets and citations: You need a lawyer to obtain a copy of the police report at the accident scene or within a week or so after the accident. Depending on the jurisdiction, you might have to wait to get one. This detailed report usually includes critical evidence for your accident claim, like witnesses, information, photos of the accident scene, and issuance of any traffic citations. For example, suppose the responding law enforcement officers issued the truck driver a ticket or citation for violation of any traffic law. In that case, this will become evidence that can show how the truck driver acted negligently. If necessary, your attorney can obtain the report from the appropriate agency.
#2. Driver’s Employer
In many ways, employees are legally responsible for the actions of their employees. If a trucking company employs a trucker, then they are responsible if the driver acts negligently while on the job. However, there’s one important caveat- if the truck driver is an independent contractor instead of a hired employee, you may be unable to hold their employer liable.
It’s essential to seek sound legal counsel on this matter from an experienced truck accident attorney before seeking compensation from the employer.
Aside from responsibility for its employees, a truck carrier may have acted negligently by:
- Failing to confirm that the driver had a current CDL
- Hiring a driver with poor driving history, such as a DUI
- Ignoring federal regulations for driver’s on-duty time
- Using poorly maintained vehicles on the road
#3. Other Drivers
It’s also possible that other drivers can be liable for your accident. Perhaps they didn’t follow the rules of the road or were drowsy or distracted. It’s also possible they failed to maintain their vehicle or were driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Sometimes the cities, counties, or other municipalities responsible for roads or signs are negligent in causing an accident. In some cases, it might even be a third party, such as a construction company that they hired to work on the roads, that is liable.
You must have a strong case for negligence to receive compensation for your damages in any personal injury case. Establishing negligence against any party requires facts supported by evidence. A seasoned truck accident attorney can uncover relevant evidence and evaluate the potential success of your case.
Were You Injured in a Jackknife Truck Accident? Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer Today
If you or someone you love was recently involved in a jackknife accident, an experienced attorney is an invaluable asset to your claim. They will collect and analyze any relevant evidence, advise you regarding the strength of the case, and assess your damages.
Unfortunately, jackknife accidents are incredibly complicated, frequently requiring an in-depth analysis of state and federal laws and regulations. They can involve multiple parties and multiple insurance companies.
Therefore, contact a truck accident lawyer who will advocate for you during the complicated and sometimes lengthy process of securing monetary recovery for your damages.