Accidents involving large commercial trucks are often among the deadliest and most serious accidents. Many of the dangers posed by these accidents are due to the massive size of trucks—semi trucks can weigh 20 to 30 times more than passenger vehicles. Accidents often happen when the truck hits another vehicle that is in a trucker’s blind spot. Due to their size, trucks have more blind spots.
An accident involving a trucker hitting a vehicle in one of its blindspots is called a no-zone accident. The trucker, their employer, and other responsible parties can often be held liable for victims of no-zone accidents. Victims should not assume they are at fault for no-zone accidents. This blog explains no-zone accidents and the factors that determine liability, and how victims can hold responsible parties liable.
What is a No-Zone Accident?
Every vehicle has a blind spot, an area around the vehicle blocked from a driver’s visibility, particularly when only relying on their rear or side-view mirrors. In some cases, the driver can see a spot but must look over their shoulder. The blind spot is often called a no-zone. Generally, in smaller cars, the blind spots are located at the rear sides of the vehicle.
However, because they’re such large vehicles, semi-trucks have significant no zones on all four sides, including:
- The front no zone, which extends the length of twenty vehicles in front of the truck and is due to the truck driver’s high-seated position relative to smaller vehicles. The danger of this no zone is often realized when a driver attempts to pass the truck and re-enters the truck’s lane before they have enough space between their own vehicle and the truck to allow the trucker’s visibility. To ensure that the truck driver can still see a vehicle and come to a safe stop if the other vehicle must suddenly slow down or slam on their brakes, drivers should make sure they can fully see the truck’s headlights in their rearview mirror before re-entering the trucker’s lane.
- The right side no zone, which is the largest of a semi-truck’s blind spots, begins just underneath the right side mirror and behind the cab and extends along the length of the right side of the truck. This blind spot extends outward the width of 1-2 travel lanes and at least one car length behind the truck on the right side. Although semi-trucks generally travel slower than other vehicles and should therefore be in the right lane, a vehicle may end up in a truck’s right side no-zone if a semi-truck is in the left lane. While it may be annoying to have a semi-truck hanging out in the passing lane, drivers should avoid trying to pass semi-trucks in the right lane, particularly given the size of the right side no zone.
- The left side no zone, which begins just beneath the side mirror and behind the cab on the semi-truck driver’s side. The left side no zone is not as big as the one on the right, due to the driver’s position inside the cab immediately next to the left side of the truck. However, drivers should still avoid lingering in the travel lane alongside the left front portion of the truck trailer, as the truck driver cannot see in that area, either. A good rule of thumb as to whether you’re in the left side no zone is to look for the truck driver’s reflection in his or her life side-view mirror. If you cannot see the driver’s reflection, then he or she likely cannot see you either.
- The rear no zone, which extends 30 feet behind the truck. Commercial truckers don’t have rearview mirrors and cannot see the traffic for a significant distance behind the trailer. Often, they are unaware if a vehicle is tailgating them. This is also an issue if the driver is backing up.
Liability in No-Zone Accidents
The same traffic laws that apply to the drivers of passenger vehicles also apply to commercial truck drivers. All states have laws requiring a driver to ensure that the travel lane is clear before changing lanes, and to yield the right-of-way to others when turning onto a road or backing up. State laws generally place responsibility for blind spot accidents on the driver who failed to check his or her blind spot, not the vehicle who was driving in the blind spot.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—the federal agency tasked with compiling data, creating regulations, and enforcing rules pertaining to the trucking industry—describes blind-spot hazards as a form of inadequate surveillance in which “the driver is in a situation where he/she is required to look to safely complete a maneuver and either fails to look in the appropriate place or looks, but does not see.”
According to the FMCSA, no zones are to blame for one-third of all accidents involving a large truck and a smaller car. The FMCSA notes in its guidance to truck drivers that should check their mirrors regularly to be aware of changing traffic conditions around their truck and be better prepared to make a safe lane change when they need to.
Why Determining Fault in No-Zone Accident Cases Matters
Victims injured in no-zone accidents need to figure out how to recover compensation for any medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses and injuries you incur. If a victim carries personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy, it will likely be the first source of compensation for your injury. PIP policies provide coverage for medical expenses and wage losses up to the policy limits, regardless of who was at fault in the accident.
But victims without PIP coverage or victims whose medical and other expenses exceed their policy limits need to seek compensation elsewhere, which a truck accident lawsuit may accomplish. In a no-zone accident lawsuit, who was at fault for the accident is key, as it is necessary to establish the other party or parties were at fault for the accident to hold them legally liable for compensation.
Lawyers establish liability by showing the following elements in your case:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. The term “duty of care” refers to the responsibility one has to others. Generally, everyone has a duty to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. In a blind spot accident, the truck driver’s duty of care is to check their blind spots and ensure that they have a clear path to change lanes, turn, or back up.
- The defendant breached their duty of care. “Breach” refers to the actions that the driver took that violated their duty of care. In a blind spot accident, a truck driver breaches their duty of care if they fail to adequately survey the lane they entered, or otherwise take action to ensure that the coast was clear before changing lanes, turning, or backing up.
- This breach in the duty of care caused the accident that resulted in the victim’s injuries and subsequent impacts and expenses.
Potential Sources of Liability
In no-zone accidents, the trucker is not the only source of potential liability.
Other individuals or entities who may also share liability include:
- The semi-truck driver’s employer. Plaintiffs can hold commercial trucking companies vicariously liable for the tortious actions of their employees if those actions take place during the normal scope of employment. Additionally, trucking companies are responsible for properly training and certifying their truck drivers to safely operate their trucks.
- Other motorists. Someone other than the semi-truck driver may partially cause a no zone accident, particularly in high traffic areas where distracted, fatigued, or alcohol-impaired drivers are all near the truck. For instance, if another driver’s irresponsible driving forced a victim into a no-zone, that driver may be responsible for compensating the victim.
What Are Damages?
For a successful outcome in your case, you not only have to prove liability, but you must also prove damages. Damages is a legal term used to refer to costs of injuries for which a victim may recover compensation. State law generally controls what kinds of damages victims may recover, and will dictate whether truck accident victims may collect both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to a payment made to compensate you for financial harm that resulted from your injury.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Medical expenses for things such as emergency treatment and transport, hospitalization, and subsequent treatment services, such as physical therapy and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages for victims too injured to work or who are required to miss work due to treatment and recovery activities.
- Loss of future earning capacity for victims whose injury resulted in a permanent disability preventing them from working in the same occupation or earning in the same amount as they did before the accident.
- The cost of repairing or replacing the victim’s vehicle damaged in the accident.
Non-economic damages refer to a payment made to compensate for quality-of-life impacts an accident causes.
Some common impacts that plaintiffs claim in no-zone truck accident cases include:
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life, if your injuries prevent you from taking part in activities you formerly enjoyed.
- Loss of consortium, which is a claim made due to the loss of ability for physical intimacy and companionship.
Can No-Zone Accidents Be Avoided?
While it is impossible to completely avoid, some conscious actions motorists can take to prevent many of these accidents.
The following are some no-zone accident prevention tips.
- Don’t linger in a semi-truck’s no-zones. The longer you’re there, the more likely it is that the truck driver may forget you were there and move toward you without realizing you are there.
- Always pass tractor-trailers on the left side, where the no zone is smaller and the truck driver is more likely to expect passing vehicles to be.
- Use caution when turning right alongside a semi-truck. The size of a semi-truck requires it to make wide turns, and thus needs more room on the left for the turn. If you are to a semi-truck’s left making a right turn with it, slow down and give the truck enough space to make the turn. Never attempt to pass the truck while turning.
- Before you pass a semi-truck, make sure that you can see the truck driver in their side-view mirror. If you can see them, they can see you. Signal while you can still see the driver’s reflection. Pass without delaying in the no-zone and ensure that you can see the truck’s headlights completely in your rearview mirror before attempting to re-enter the travel lane.
Did a truck fail to notice you and cause you to crash, perhaps while changing lanes? Contact a truck accident lawyer for a free consultation can answer your questions about whether you can pursue damages for your injuries and wrecked vehicle.