Collisions between large trucks and passenger cars are deadly. A commercial truck can weigh over 25,000 pounds and tow a fully loaded trailer weighing up to 55,000 pounds. In contrast, a passenger vehicle usually weighs between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds. In a crash, that large size and weight disparity often translate into fatal injuries to occupants of smaller vehicles.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), around 5,000 people die in large truck crashes annually. The majority of them are drivers or passengers in cars, SUVs, and light (pickup) trucks. Just as troubling, most of those accidents result from mistakes and carelessness on the part of truck drivers or dangerous conditions within the control of the driver or his employer.
In this blog post, we take a hard look at the tragedy of car accident fatalities caused by truck drivers and their employers. We explore how those accidents often happen, who should face legal and financial accountability, and the role experienced truck accident lawyers play in seeking justice and compensation for the deceased and their loved ones.
How Fatal Car-on-Truck Collisions Happen
Most fatal collisions between commercial trucks and passenger vehicles are preventable, and they happen because someone made a careless mistake or a dangerous choice that led to tragedy. In many crashes, that someone is the truck driver or an individual responsible for the truck’s safety and condition.
Some common causes of fatal car-on-truck accidents are attributable to the truck driver or the truck’s condition.
Speeding and Driving Too Fast for Road Conditions
Trucks need more room than other vehicles to maneuver and stop safely. As a truck’s speed increases, so do the risk of the truck driver losing control and causing a fatal collision. For example, a truck that exceeds the speed limit or travels too fast for road conditions cannot brake in time to avoid rear-ending a vehicle stopped up-ahead. Unsafe speeds also heighten the risk of a truck rolling while navigating a sharp curve, like a highway on/off-ramp.
In addition, the higher the speed of a truck, the more destructive its collision with another vehicle. A passenger vehicle will usually sustain catastrophic damage in a crash with a fast-moving big rig, with deadly results for the smaller vehicle’s occupants.
Truck Driver Fatigue
Dangerous levels of driver fatigue plague the trucking industry. Truckers routinely take the wheel of semi-trucks on insufficient rest, and they regularly report feeling sleepy while driving, according to FMCSA research.
Fatigue impairs driving ability in the same manner that consuming alcohol slows reaction times, impairs judgment and decision-making, interferes with the perception of speed and distance, and erodes motor control. A tired truck driver runs a high risk of causing a deadly collision with a car, SUV, or light truck.
Federal and state regulations set limits on the number of hours truck drivers can spend on duty in a day and over a week. Still, even truckers who follow those regulations can struggle to stay awake at the wheel.
Numerous factors contribute to dangerous truck driver fatigue. Long-haul truck driving can be a grueling profession, at once stressful and tedious. Drivers are constantly monitored, receive relatively low pay, face constant pressure to stay on schedule, and often have no choice but to drive in poor conditions or late into the night.
As a group, truckers are also older and in worse health than the U.S. working population. These factors make fatigue a major challenge for truck drivers and a major risk for causing fatal crashes between trucks and passenger cars.
Truck Driver Inexperience
Demand for trucking services has increased dramatically in recent years, driven by online shoppers who expect products delivered to their doorsteps. But with its aging workforce, the trucking industry has struggled to recruit and retain enough drivers to keep pace. Turnover of the trucking workforce is extremely high.
Some trucking operators resort to lowering their hiring standards for new drivers to keep trucks rolling. Others have cut back on the time they spend on driver training. And a few have simply cut corners and sent drivers out on the road without the necessary qualifications.
It’s a dangerous state of affairs. An inexperienced truck driver stands a higher chance of causing an accident than a seasoned one. A driver who lacks on-road experience is more likely to lose track of a vehicle in his truck’s blind spot, enter a sharp curve too fast, or underestimate the distance the truck needs to slow down for a traffic jam.
In other words, the more under-qualified or unqualified truckers the industry sends out on the roads, the more it puts the public at risk for deadly truck-on-car crashes that take innocent lives.
Aging Infrastructure and Poor Truck Maintenance
The aging, sometimes crumbling, interstate highway system also represents a serious risk factor for deadly truck accidents. As the quality of road surfaces deteriorates, it takes an increasingly heavy toll on the condition of trucks and trailers. Trucking companies must maintain their trucks in good working order, but some put off important repairs and upkeep to meet high demand.
As a result, many trucks and trailers take to U.S. roads in relatively poor condition, with tires, brakes, and other essential components in disrepair and at risk of failure. Blown tires, faulty braking systems, or malfunctioning hydraulics can easily lead to a loss of control and a fatal crash with a passenger vehicle.
Who’s at fault for a fatal car accident involving a large truck?
One of an experienced truck accident attorney’s most important jobs is identifying who should face legal and financial accountability for a fatal crash. It’s not always a straightforward inquiry. Truck accidents can have multiple, intertwined causes and may feature numerous parties with intersecting rights and interests. Untangling them requires skill, industry knowledge, and a commitment to seeing justice done for the families of deceased crash victims.
One or more individuals or entities can have legal liability for contributing to the cause of a fatal car-on-truck accident.
In any given case, they may include:
- Truck drivers who make careless, dangerous mistakes behind the wheel that lead to deadly crashes;
- Employers of those truck drivers, both because laws often hold the employer liable for the wrongful actions of their employees, and because employers may themselves contribute to the cause of a fatal crash by failing to hire, train, or supervise their drivers responsibly;
- Truck owner/operators if they fail to maintain trucks in safe working order or create hazardous working conditions for drivers that lead to a crash;
- Cargo owners/loaders, if their unsafe practices in connection with shipping or loading cargo play a role in causing a fatal accident, such as when poorly secured cargo makes a truck dangerously unstable;
- Truck and truck part manufacturers, if their defective products make a truck unsafe to operate and cause a fatal accident;
- Local and state governments, if they fail to take reasonable steps to maintain roads safe for truck transit, or if they fail to prevent truckers or other motorists from traveling on unreasonably dangerous roads; or
- Other motorists drive unsafely when sharing the road with large trucks, leading to a collision between a truck and another vehicle.
To identify which of these or other parties may have legal liability for a fatal truck-on-car crash, attorneys for crash victims’ families often work closely with forensic and trucking industry experts to reconstruct an accident and pinpoint its root causes. Often, they can uncover contributing factors that may not have appeared obvious at first but which, if proven, can expand the options victims’ families have for seeking justice and compensation.
Wrongful Death Actions for Fatal Truck-on-Car Accidents
In every state, the surviving spouses and/or family members of a fatal truck accident victim have the right to seek financial compensation for their tragic loss. The legal action they can pursue is known as a wrongful death lawsuit.
Of course, money cannot replace a life tragically cut short when a truck collides with a passenger car. But meaningful financial compensation can assist a spouse and family in rebuilding after that loss, and it can give them the ability to see some form of justice done. Wrongful death actions can also be a powerful force for bringing about change in the trucking industry by forcing trucking companies and industry stakeholders to bear the costs of their carelessness and misconduct.
The particular requirements and processes involved in pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit vary state-to-state. In some places, spouses and/or family members can file the lawsuit directly, and in other jurisdictions, an appointed representative undertakes the lawsuit on their behalf. The time available after the death to start a wrongful death lawsuit, known as a statute of limitations, also differs widely depending on the location and circumstances of the crash—from as little as a few months to a few years.
Likewise, the types and amounts of compensation for a wrongful truck accident death can also vary.
Depending upon where a fatal truck accident happens, the parties at fault may owe compensation to pay for:
- Medical expenses incurred in treating the crash victim before death from crash-related injuries;
- Other expenses incurred by the spouse, family, or victim’s estate as a result of the crash and resulting death, such as funeral and burial expenses, or costs of replacing damaged or destroyed vehicles;
- Loss of the deceased victim’s income, if the victim was a wage-earner who supported dependents such as a spouse or children;
- Loss of the value of the deceased victim’s services in a household if the deceased victim was not a wage-earner;
- Loss of inheritance that the deceased victim would have received;
- Loss of the deceased victim’s companionship or guidance, reflecting harm to a spouse or family member due to the loss;
- Pain and suffering on the part of the deceased victim before death;
- Pain and suffering on the part of the surviving spouse and/or family members because of the death;
- In some states, punitive or exemplary damages aim to punish the at-fault party for extreme or outrageous conduct that contributed to the cause of a fatal crash.
Not every state allows all of the types of damages listed above. The most reliable way to find out about the types and amounts of financial compensation permitted by the laws of your state is to speak with an experienced truck accident injury lawyer.
How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help
In the wake of a fatal truck accident involving a passenger vehicle, grieving spouses and family members may not think to prioritize calling an attorney. But a skilled truck accident injury lawyer can offer invaluable advice, counsel, and services during this difficult time. And in many cases, having a lawyer on your side is essential to protecting your family’s rights and interests.
Fatal truck accidents often cause widespread destruction, leave behind multiple victims, and involve numerous potentially at-fault parties. That is a recipe for a complicated, dynamic legal dispute. Victims and parties with commercial interests in the truck and its cargo immediately seek compensation, and at-fault parties start looking for ways to avoid financial responsibility.
Families of deceased crash victims need an experienced advocate fighting for them. The longer they wait, the greater the risks of someone trampling on their rights and avoiding accountability.
Through quick and decisive action, a skilled truck accident attorney can, among other things:
- Locate and preserve critical evidence to prove how the crash happened and who should face accountability for it;
- Appear in court on the family’s behalf to protect their rights and interests;
- Advise the family on decisions that can affect their legal interests and ability to seek financial compensation;
- Prepare and file the necessary paperwork to pursue a wrongful death action;
- Coordinate with counsel for other victims, and engage in negotiations with at-fault parties and their insurance companies; and
- Deal with the numerous administrative burdens that arise on the family’s behalf so that the family has the space and time it needs to grieve.
If a fatal car accident involving a large truck tragically took the life of your loved one, contact an experienced truck accident attorney today to get the help you need.
Truck Accident Case Results:
- $3,200,000.00 – Wrongful Death – Trucking Accident: Recovery from a company truck that struck our clients’ vehicle head on, killing one and injuring another.
- $2,250,000.00 – Wrongful Death and Personal Injuries – Trucking Accident: Recovery from trucking company whose truck struck our client on the interstate at night.
- $1,475,000.00 – Wrongful Death – Trucking Accident: Recovery for the death of one client and for catastrophic injuries suffered by another.
- $1,970,000.00 – Wrongful Death – Trucking Accident: Recovery for death of our client caused when his truck was struck head on by another truck on I95.
- $600,000.00 –Wrongful Death – Trucking Accident: Recovery on behalf of a client who was struck and killed by an eighteen-wheeler when the truck violated the client’s right away.
Orlando, FL 32814