Over the last decade, truck accidents causing injuries have been on the rise across the United States, with yearly totals breaking 100,000 in 2017. The same is true of fatal truck crashes, according to data collected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Some of these crashes are undoubtedly a result of careless or inexperienced truck drivers making wide right turns. The tractor and the trailer of a semi-truck are connected by a hitch mechanism that pivots during turns. Trucks need extra space to the left to make safe right turns, but when turns go wrong, the trailer pivots too far to the left causing serious and sometimes fatal accidents.
This guide provides an in-depth look at wide right turn truck accidents, specifically what they are, how they happen, how insurance companies and courts determine liability for them, the damages you might recover following one, and how a truck accident attorney can assist you in recovering those damages.
Two Types of Wide Right Turns
Florida’s Commercial Drivers License Manual explains the two types of wide right turns that large trucks make: jug handle and button hook. Truck drivers are supposed to make button hook turns, which involves keeping a truck’s wheels as close to the curb as possible and swinging wide after beginning the turn. Staying close to the curb prevents other drivers from trying to pass you on the right because they think you are making a left turn. A jug handle turn occurs when drivers swing wide to the left before making a right-hand turn. This causes the truck to swing into oncoming traffic, which can lead to dangerous accidents and injuries.
Factors That Increase Wide Right Turn Accidents
Driving a semi-truck, or any other commercial truck, requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Obtaining a CDL requires passing a written test and a road test. During both examinations, truck drivers must know how to effectively and safely make turns in the vehicles that they will be operating for their jobs. This includes demonstrating proper wide turns. With these requirements, you might think it’s unlikely that wide right turn accidents occur. Certain factors promote the likelihood of a truck driver making an improper wide right turn, which can lead to dangerous—sometimes fatal—accidents.
Inexperienced Truck Drivers
It’s no secret that the trucking industry continues to have a massive shortage of drivers to transport the goods that Americans want and need across the country. Trucking companies have been forced to hire large amounts of inexperienced drivers who haven’t developed their truck driving skills, including making wide right turns. Each intersection can present different challenges and provides varying types of information that a driver must process to make a safe turn.
In some cases, an improper turn leading to an accident is a result of pure inexperience. Drivers haven’t had enough practice driving trucks to get it right every time. In other cases, trucking companies haven’t provided adequate training to ensure that their drivers can make safe right turns and avoid wide right-turn accidents.
Impaired Truck Drivers
When truck drivers are impaired, it makes it difficult for them to appropriately react to all of the different things going on at an intersection. If truck drivers don’t clear their blind spots when making a right turn, they can cause a dangerous wide right turn accident. Impairment might be a result of fatigue, alcohol use, illegal drug use, and prescription drug use. Truck drivers are held to a higher standard for illegal drug and alcohol use.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the U.S. agency that regulates the trucking industry, requires drivers to undergo random drug and alcohol tests to ensure that they don’t have controlled substances in their system. Those who hold a CDL cannot have any illegal drugs in their body, and their blood or breath alcohol limit must be less than 0.04 percent, half the legal limit of other motorists.
Prescription drugs, especially when mixed with illegal drugs or alcohol, can also impair a truck driver’s ability to judge time and distance. This makes it particularly difficult to discern exactly when to start a wide right turn, highlighting the importance of drivers taking prescription medication as directed by their physicians. Finally, truck drivers have demanding schedules, which include long hours, and many must drive overnight.
Although the FMCSA mandates the number of hours a trucker can drive in a day and a week, drivers who don’t get the rest that they need when they aren’t driving are at risk for fatigued or drowsy driving. According to the FMCSA, 18 hours without sleep impairs a person’s body to the same extent as a 0.08 blood alcohol level, once again impacting how a driver might judge distances when making a right turn.
Some truck drivers run the same routes day after day or week after week, so the truckers become familiar with the roads on their routes, especially city streets and main intersections where they must make right-hand turns. In some cases, when drivers are especially comfortable with their routes and surroundings, they learn shortcuts or tricks to avoid making right-hand turns at busy intersections. Those truck drivers who regularly have different delivery stops and must follow different routes may struggle with unfamiliar surroundings. When drivers are concentrating on their routes and where to go, they sometimes become complacent while driving, forgetting to hug the curb when they make a right turn and potentially causing a wide right turn accident.
When you think of distractions while driving, your mind probably goes to cell phones. Using a cell phone and texting is dangerous and illegal for all Florida drivers. However, it’s unlikely that a wide right turn accident or other truck accident will occur because of cell phones. The FMCSA has been regulating cell phone use in the trucking industry for more than a decade.
Truck drivers can only use their phones with a hands-free feature and may not use more than one button to initiate or end a call. Yet, truck drivers might get distracted in many other ways that can potentially lead to a wide right turn accident. Some examples include drinking and eating, adjusting climate controls, personal grooming, reaching for an item on the floor, watching an event outside of the truck and daydreaming.
Recovering Damages After a Wide Right Turn Accident
If you’ve suffered injuries in a wide turn truck accident, Florida law entitles you to seek compensation for losses that you’ve incurred as a result of a wide right turn accident, as long as you take legal action within the four-year statute of limitations and exhaust the limits of your mandatory Florida personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. If you reach a settlement or a court rules in your favor, you might recover some or all of the following economic and non-economic damages:
- Medical costs, including ambulance and emergency services, surgery, hospital stay, medication, and radiology
- Future medical costs when a wide right turn accident causes a severe injury requiring extensive recovery or a permanent injury requiring lifelong healthcare
- Lost wages for time away from work as a result of an accident, injury, hospitalization, or recovery
- Future lost wages when a wide right turn truck accident causes an injury that prevents someone from returning to his or her job or from otherwise seeking gainful employment
- Rehabilitation expenses, including assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and crutches, as well as visits to physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other specialists
- Cost of travel and gas to and from follow-up appointments
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional suffering
- Loss of consortium with a spouse
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of quality of life
- Other non-economic costs that might apply to your case
If you have lost a loved one in a wide right turn accident, your ability to recover compensation depends on your relationship with the deceased. Eligible surviving family members might recover funeral and burial expenses, non-economic losses dependent on the relationship with the deceased, and economic losses as a result of the death. A qualified truck accident attorney can advise you on the most prudent course of action for you and your family.
Determining Liability in Wide Right Turn Truck Accidents
If you have suffered harm in a wide right turn truck accident, you will likely assume that the truck driver caused the accident by turning improperly. Although this may prove true, liability in traffic accidents, especially those involving commercial vehicles, isn’t as simple as it seems. In many cases, the truck owner might share liability.
If a trucking company owns the involved truck and not the driver, you have two parties that the court could potentially hold responsible for the accident. Some examples of scenarios where the trucking company might be partially or wholly at fault for a wide right turn truck accident include:
- The trucking company improperly loaded or overloaded a truck, which can make it more difficult to control while making a right turn.
- The trucking company failed to provide adequate training to the truck driver.
- A maintenance issue caused a truck driver to lose control while making a right turn.
- The company hired a driver without a commercial driver’s license or other proper qualifications.
- The trucking company forced the driver to break FMCSA Hours of Service regulations, causing fatigue.
Contact an Experienced Attorney After a Wide Right Turn Truck Accident
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a wide right turn truck accident, you shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial burden in the wake of an accident caused by another party. An experienced truck accident attorney does more than simply file a lawsuit for you. A lawyer can help by:
Investigating the Accident
Your attorney will gather evidence and uncover the facts surrounding your wide right turn accident to build the best case against the defense. This can include obtaining police reports, medical records, and eyewitness statements. Also, your attorney can ask for the truck driver’s cell phone records, electronic logbook entries, and truck maintenance records to support your accident claim.
Additionally, your lawyer might consult with experts like accident reconstruction specialists to help determine and prove liability in your case. As your lawyer continues to build your case, he or she might also consult with medical professionals who can speak to the nature of your injuries and your prognosis to help place a value on your case.
Negotiating With the Insurance Company
It will be difficult for a trucking company or driver to deny the cause of your accidents if you were injured in a wide right turn. Even if you were in the driver’s blind spot, he or she is required to clear those blind spots before making any maneuvers. When insurance companies know that their policyholders are at fault, they will aggressively attempt to minimize their payout. Sometimes, they offer victims a quick settlement amount to avoid paying much larger damages awarded by a court, but this quick offer should be a starting point for negotiation. Lawyers are skilled negotiators who can communicate with insurance companies to maximize your chances of receiving full and fair compensation for your injuries. Additionally, insurance companies look for you to say things that they can use to devalue a claim. Your attorney can protect you from these kinds of tricks.
Litigating Your Case
Sometimes negotiations don’t go well with insurance companies. They might argue that the accident didn’t cause your injuries, that you aren’t as injured as you claim, or about the overall value of your claim. When insurance companies don’t want to offer full and fair compensation to an individual who has been injured by their policyholder, litigation is necessary.
An experienced truck accident attorney can fight your wide right turn truck accident case in the courtroom to help you secure compensation for the full cost of your injuries and losses. If you still have questions, call a truck accident lawyer today.