Truck accidents happen for a wide variety of reasons, in a wide variety of contexts. Some cause massive property damage and harm bystanders beside a road. Others result in catastrophic injuries to truckers, and still others leave only other motorists hurt while the trucker escapes unscathed. Whatever the circumstances, truck accidents create serious risks for anyone near them.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that truck crashes kill and injure thousands of Americans each year. Florida is no exception. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, medium and heavy truck crashes cause a significant portion of injuries and fatalities on Florida highways every year.
In this blog post, we dig into the types of truck crashes that frequently occur on Florida roads and highways. We hope that this overview will help the public learn about how these tragic accidents happen, so that they might use that knowledge to avoid falling victim to one.
Trucks that collide with other vehicles tend to cause significant damage to the other vehicle, and less damage (at least resulting from the impact itself) to the truck. That is simply a reality of the massive size and weight difference between a fully loaded truck, say, and an ordinary passenger vehicle. That does not mean, however, that collisions with other vehicles do not create huge dangers for trucks. To the contrary, when a truck collides with another vehicle, the truck’s driver often loses control, causing secondary accidents and other damage.
Here are some of the circumstances in which trucks collide with other vehicles.
Underride collisions are the stuff of nightmares for drivers of passenger cars. In an underride, the smaller vehicle becomes pinched or trapped underneath a truck trailer. This happens in two scenarios. In one, the passenger car fails to stop and rear-ends the truck trailer, wedging itself underneath. In the other, the passenger car rides under the side of the truck trailer.
In either case, the occupants of the car run an extremely high risk of catastrophic and fatal injuries. An underride accident can easily shear off the roof of a passenger vehicle, or leave that vehicle partially or totally crushed beneath the truck’s tires.
No Zone / Lane Change Accidents
The typical large truck has huge blind spots. Highway safety advocates call these areas around a truck No Zones; in other words, zones a passenger vehicle should try to avoid at all costs. A vehicle driving in a No Zone is, for all intents and purposes, invisible to the truck’s driver. Remaining there for any length of time puts a car’s occupants in extreme danger of being run off the road or run over by the tractor trailer. The No Zones for a typical tractor truck towing a single trailer are:
- 20 feet in front of the truck;
- 30 feet behind the truck;
- A blind spot one lane wide stretching from just behind the truck cab to mid-trailer; and
- A blind spot two lanes wide stretching the length of the truck on the passenger side.
The best way to avoid a No Zone is to follow a simple rule: if you can’t see a truck driver in his mirrors, then he can’t see you. That means you are in a No Zone and you should move out of it as quickly as possible (of course, even when a passenger vehicle avoids No Zones, the vehicle may still collide with a truck if the truck makes an improper lane change).
Unable to Stop
Trucks are large, heavy vehicles. They require far greater braking distances to come to a full stop than an ordinary passenger vehicle. Truck drivers who drive too fast for conditions, follow too closely to other vehicles, or misjudge distances, run higher risks than other drivers of not being able to stop in time to avoid a rear-end or similar collision. Unfortunately, the occupants of other vehicles pay the price in these cases. In a rear-end accident involving a collision between a truck and a passenger vehicle, the passenger vehicle will ordinarily sustain the bulk of the damage and its occupants will suffer the greatest harm.
Accidents Involving a Single Truck
We separate accidents below involving a single truck from the collision category above because they cause significant damage all on their own. But make no mistake, a single truck accident still poses an extreme danger to motorists and others on and near the roadway. The initial single truck accident can result in an impact with other vehicles. It also often leads to secondary accidents, including collisions between vehicles and the wrecked truck, and between vehicles trying to avoid a collision with the truck.
A jackknife accident represents, in effect, a truck going totally out of control. As its name suggests, it occurs when the tractor part of a tractor-trailer folds like a pocketknife blade backward against its own trailer. This can happen, for example, when the trailer contains an especially heavy load of cargo, such that when the trucker taps the brakes to slow the entire rig down, the trailer pushes the tractor at an angle, spinning it around. Once a jackknife happens, the trucker loses virtually all control of the rig. Sometimes his cab swings backward against the trailer so violently that he sustains devastating injuries.
The trucker, however, is hardly the only person at risk in a jackknife accident. A truck sliding out of control on a highway is like a rogue missile. It could strikeanyone or anything. It could cause the truck to flip over on its side. Often the best case scenario in a jackknife is that the truck blocks multiple lanes of traffic for hours as emergency responders work to set it right again. In the worst cases, a jackknifed tractor trailer plows indiscriminately through lanes of traffic, leaving multiple people in its wake severely injured or tragically killed.
Picture a typical tractor trailer truck. The bulk of its body rides above the roofs of most other vehicles. The sides of its trailer are almost as wide and high as a billboard road sign. The trailer carries cargo, sometimes quite heavy, and not always adequately secured or appropriately layered. The result: a vehicle with a high center of gravity and a relatively narrow wheel base that is prone to tipping over in a wide variety of relatively ordinary road conditions.
Tractor trailers roll over in high wind. They roll over when their cargo unexpectedly shifts, particularly on sharp curves. They roll over when their wheels run off of a narrow road shoulder and they tip down an embankment. They roll over in collisions, and when they jackknife.
Whatever the cause of a truck rolling over, the effects are often devastating. Trucks that roll over can crush other vehicles, cause secondary accidents, and spill their cargo (see below). And, of course, injuries and fatalities follow.
Defective equipment on a truck can cause all of the types of accidents above. A truck with bad brakes may jackknife or simply collide with other vehicles. A truck with tires that come apart (littering the road with so-called road gators) can lose control or throw debris into oncoming traffic. Like any other vehicle, a truck with defective equipment poses dangers to others on the road.
Truck defects should not occur, but they do, and far more often than they should. Trailers, in particular, create hazards because they often pass from one tractor to another, and take a significant amount of abuse, between overhauls by a mechanic.
Accidents Caused by Cargo
Trucks carry cargo. That is their primary function. However, sometimes the cargo they carry creates significant hazards for truckers and other motorists. Here are two examples of that phenomenon.
Explosions and Toxic Events
Tanker trucks that carry flammable or toxic materials must have special permits to operate on Florida roads, their drivers must have special licenses, and they are subject to more stringent inspection requirements than other trucks. Most of the time, these extra precautions prevent toxic cargo from escaping from tanker trucks. But not always. When an accident ruptures a tank carrying hazardous materials, it causes an extreme risk of injuries and deaths from explosions or exposure.
Cargo That Causes Physical Hazards and Obstructions
Even a car that is not flammable or toxic may still create dangerous conditions on Florida roads. Any kind of cargo that spills onto a roadway causes immediate hazards to other motorists by limiting visibility, creating treacherous road surface conditions, or simply by obstructing a travel lane in a manner that could lead to a deadly collision.
How a Lawyer Can Help After a Truck Accident
While a wide variety of truck accidents endanger our roads, they all share a common trait: a high risk of harm to anyone on the road with the truck that crashes. They also frequently share another commonality: a potentially dizzying level of complexity when it comes to figuring who-owes-who-what for injuries and losses a truck accident causes.
In a nutshell, that is why it is so important to seek the advice of an experienced truck accident attorney after sustaining injuries or losing a loved one in a truck accident. No one suffering from the aftermath of a truck accident should attempt to go it alone in trying to recover the compensation they deserve.
Identifying Liable Parties
A skilled truck accident attorney can help accident victims pick through the rubble of a truck accident to figure out, first, who has potential legal liability for the harm that the accident caused. Unlike an ordinary car accident, that is not always a straightforward task when a truck has crashed.
Why not? For one thing, because lots of different commercial stakeholders may have an interest in, and obligations related to, a large truck that carries cargo. Each of these parties—from the truck driver, to the truck owner, to the owner of the cargo, to the truck’s mechanic, and so on—may have liability to someone injured or killed when the truck crashes. And of course, sometimes a truck accident results from the actions of some other party having nothing to do with the truck, but who may still have liability to injured parties.
Recovering Compensation You Deserve
The second, critical job a skilled truck accident attorney can do for you is to take over the process of pursuing the compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses in a truck accident. Typically, that involves making a demand for compensation from the parties with potential legal liability (or their insurance companies), and then engaging in careful, but aggressive, negotiation with them and their attorneys. In the best case, those negotiations result in a settlement that pays you, the truck accident victim, the compensation you deserve.
When negotiations do not yield a positive result, however, a skilled truck accident attorney can take your claims to a court of law, if necessary. Because truck accidents often involve commercial interests with operations throughout the United States, a claim for injuries sustained in a truck accident may end up in federal court. Litigating a case in federal court requires a high degree of precision and legal sophistication from your attorney. Do not trust an attorney who only goes to trial in state courts to handle a truck accident claim.
Truck Accidents: A Diverse and Constant Threat to Motorists on Florida Roads
We hope the information above about how and why truck accidents happen will keep you just a little bit safer the next time you head out on Florida roads. By staying out of No Zones, keeping an eye out for trucks that look unbalanced or out of control, and seeking the help of a skilled truck accident attorney if you end up harmed by a truck accident, you can protect yourself and your family from tragedy.
If you have questions about your rights after a truck accident upends your life, a skilled Orlando truck accident lawyer can schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.