In just one year, more than 8,500 accidents took place on Florida roads that involved trucks. Along with California and Texas, Florida has one of the highest rates of truck accidents in the United States. Nationally, trucks carry over one trillion dollars of manufactured and retail goods on American roads, both inside the country and between the United States and its North American neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
Given this, it’s not surprising that passenger vehicles and trucks collide. Because of the size and weight difference between the two types of vehicles, when cars and trucks get into accidents, the results are often disastrous. Also unsurprising is that the occupants of passenger cars suffer more severe injuries and are killed more often than the occupants of trucks.
While there are many different types of crashes involving cars and big trucks, rear-end collisions account for over 26 percent of all truck accidents. As the name implies, a rear-end accident occurs when a truck collides with the back of the car in front of it.
Why Rear-End Truck Accidents Are More Catastrophic
While all car accidents can be fatal and cause serious bodily injury and property damage, those involving trucks often have more disastrous results because of certain truck features, including:
- Longer braking time: Given the weight and size of big trucks, stopping them takes longer than stopping passenger cars. Because it is more difficult to stop trucks, it is not uncommon for rear-end truck collisions to occur at faster speeds than other types of car-on-car accidents. Faster speeds mean more severe impact, which usually leads to more serious injuries.
- Truck weight: A fully-loaded truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds; whereas, the average weight of passenger vehicles is only 4,000 pounds. It’s easy to see that the vehicle weighing 1/20th of the other will end up with the most damage, and its passengers will sustain the more serious injuries.
- Multi-car pile-ups: Because trucks weigh so much more than other vehicles, when one collides with the back of a passenger car, the car is often forced into the vehicle in front of it. This chain reaction compounds the number of people and vehicles involved and, by extension, the number of injuries and extent of property damage.
Causes of Rear-End Truck Accidents
Rear-end truck accidents often end badly for the occupants of the passenger vehicle involved because there is usually little the driver of the car can do to avoid such accidents. These accidents often occur when a car is stopped at an intersection for good reason, such as for cross traffic. Even if the car’s driver notices a truck barreling toward it, if other vehicles are moving through the intersection, there’s not much the driver can do. But why are truck drivers unable to stop in time?
Often, defects that could have been discovered with proper inspection before the truck driver hits the road cause these types of accidents. If drivers fail to perform required maintenance checks, the results can be disastrous. Other times, these accidents are caused by driver error or carelessness.
A defect that can be caught with proper inspection is faulty brakes. Over time, brake pads wear down and lose their effectiveness. Beyond visual inspection, signs of bad brakes include squealing, vibration, or needing to apply more force to cause the vehicle to stop. Vehicles with worn down brakes take longer to stop. The weight of big trucks necessarily means that they take longer to stop. Bad brakes on top of that further increase the time required to stop and lead to rear-end collisions.
The most common truck maintenance issue relates to tires. Blowouts happen when either the tire has insufficient tread or its pressure is too low. Tire blowouts can make it difficult for drivers to control their trucks and prevent them from behaving erratically or unsafely. Losing control of a vehicle may make it difficult or impossible for the driver to stop the truck in time to avoid a collision with a vehicle in front of it.
Drivers under the influence of alcohol or other drugs lose their ability to concentrate, reason, and react to their surroundings. Reaction time is increased, so even if an impaired driver perceives a dangerous situation, she will have trouble responding to it in a timely way. Intoxication makes it difficult to even detect danger in the first place. Add that to a longer response time, and the results can be devastating.
The federal government has issued guidelines governing the number of hours truck drivers can spend on the road and how long they should rest before driving again. However, the trucking industry is heavily deadline-driven, and unscrupulous employers often pressure drivers to skirt regulations to meet tight deadlines and feed the employers’ bottom lines. In addition, drivers are most often paid per mile they drive, and personal financial pressures can influence them to drive when they should rest.
The symptoms of drowsy driving mimic those of alcohol intoxication. Reaction times are slowed. A driver’s ability to drive defensively and respond to dangerous situations and obstacles decreases. Judgment is impaired. In the worst-case scenario, the drowsy driver may fall asleep and completely lose the ability to even operate his or her truck. Drowsy driving can have deadly consequences.
Cell phones are ubiquitous, and nearly everyone has one, truck drivers included. Talking on the phone, sending text messages, or checking social media when driving causes drivers to divert their attention from the road. Even checking a map—something that is useful for a driver in an unknown area—requires a driver to take his eyes off of what’s in front of him. Distracted drivers may not notice a stopped vehicle in front of them.
The majority of truck accidents occur in rural areas, and rear-end accidents are no exception. Lighting in these areas tends to be sparse, and a driver who fails to be completely aware of his surroundings may not have time to react to other vehicles in front of his truck.
Types of Rear-End Truck Accident Injuries
The kinds of injuries victims in rear-end truck accidents suffer differ from those that people sustain in other types of crashes, mostly because of how the passenger cars in these accidents are impacted. Even if you believe at the time of your accident that you haven’t suffered an injury, it’s important that you at least get checked out by emergency personnel on the scene. You should also continue to monitor your body afterward for symptoms of injury, such as blurred vision, numbness in your digits or limbs, an increase in soreness, dizziness, or nausea. If you experience these symptoms, you should seek medical care right away.
Injuries from a rear-end truck accident can range in severity and involve any part of the body. Some more common types follow.
- Whiplash – When your neck experiences a forceful back-and-forth movement (similar to the cracking of a whip), you may suffer from whiplash. Despite widespread seat belt use, whiplash remains the most common type of injury suffered in rear-end collisions. Symptoms include headaches, pain and stiffness in the neck (which may worsen over time), numbness and tingling that spreads down the arms, inability to move the neck, fatigue, dizziness, and tenderness in the areas of the body near the neck (shoulders, upper back, and arms). In some cases, whiplash can cause lifelong complications or chronic pain.
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis – More people sustain spinal cord injuries from car accidents than from any other cause. These injuries are complicated to treat and can range from partial to total paraplegia. Spinal cord injuries are extremely expensive to treat and often require care for the rest of a patient’s life. They are often catastrophic and can affect injured individuals’ ability to work, engage in previously-enjoyed leisure activities, maintain mobility around their homes, and interact with their children.
- Concussion – Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBIs range in severity and are difficult to diagnose, because the patient may not exhibit symptoms until days or weeks after the incident. Though severe TBIs are rare in rear-end collisions, they certainly do occur and can cause long-term and sometimes debilitating symptoms in injured individuals who may require ongoing care, including mental health therapy.
- Broken bones – Bone fractures can occur in rear-end collisions when the lower extremities are forced forward or compacted in some other way. These injuries will require medical treatment and may require casts, surgery, and follow-up care, such as physical therapy, once the cast is removed.
After a Rear-End Truck Accident
If you’ve been injured in a rear-end truck accident, unfortunately, chances are good that you suffered severe injuries that may have long-lasting effects on your physical, mental, emotional, and financial health. But don’t lose hope. The law provides you remedies for recovering financial compensation for your injuries.
File Your PIP claim
All Florida drivers are required to carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance under the state’s no-fault law. These policies provide medical, disability, and death benefits in the event of a vehicle accident without regard to fault.
- Medical benefits – Drivers are required to maintain at least $10,000 in medical benefits coverage. Your plan will pay 80 percent of your medical expenses, up to the maximum policy level. These claims have to be paid within 30 days of the date they are submitted to your insurance company.
- Disability benefits – The minimum coverage is, like medical benefits, $10,000. Your PIP policy pays 60 percent of the wages that you lose due to your inability to work. You will probably be required to provide a letter of verification from your employer stating your earnings over the last 13 weeks of employment. Don’t hesitate to have your employer provide the documentation. Don’t be embarrassed to ask; it is the only way you will be able to prove how much compensation you should receive.
- Death benefits – As you might have guessed, death benefits are paid when a person is fatally injured in a vehicle accident. Drivers are required to carry a minimum of $5,000 in death benefit coverage. Death benefits are paid out to the estate of the deceased person, certain family members, or anyone else a court determines is equitably entitled to the benefits.
To receive PIP compensation, you must file it within 14 days of your accident. If you fail to do so, your claim will be rejected, so act fast.
When PIP Isn’t Enough
Depending on the severity of your accident, your PIP policy may not cover all of your expenses, and regardless, it only covers 80 percent of medical costs and 60 percent of lost wages. The cost of a hospital stay of only a few days can easily surpass $10,000 if you require surgery or certain types of testing. And then there’s the after and follow-up care. Physical or occupational therapy, additional surgeries, rehabilitation, medications, medical devices, and ongoing lost wages can reach into six-digit numbers before you know it. The weight of extensive medical bills and the stress of not working can feel overwhelming when the bills keep coming and creditors keep calling. In fact, the number one reason for bankruptcy filings in the United States is medical debt.
But that doesn’t have to be you. An experienced rear-end truck accident attorney can help you recover the money you’re entitled to through a personal injury lawsuit when you’ve been injured in a rear-end truck accident.
Florida law requires that you file your suit within four years of the date of your accident. Contact an attorney as soon as you’re able to do so.
If you still need answers, contact a truck accident attorney with your questions.