Tractor trailer accidents, also known as truck accidents, involve at least one large commercial operated truck. A tractor trailer refers to the combination of a semi truck and its trailer, often referred to as an 18 wheeler. Tractor trailer accidents involve larger commercial vehicles as opposed to SUVs and/or other pickup trucks. A commercial truck typically weighs more than 25 times the weight of a car.
Why are Tractor Trailer Accidents So Dangerous?
Tractor trailer accidents are extremely dangerous. This is mostly due to the sheer size and weight of the tractor trailer. As noted above, they weigh far more than a regular vehicle driven on the road by citizens. This can cause substantial injuries to passengers of a vehicle if they are in an accident involving a tractor trailer.
What are Some Common Types of Tractor Trailer Accident Injuries?
There are many types of common injuries that occur in tractor trailer accidents. Injuries sustained in these types of accidents may be more severe based on the large weight and forces exerted by the tractor trailer. Common injuries include:
- Head injuries;
- Chest injuries;
- Injuries to limbs;
- Lacerations; and/or
- Whiplash and/or other soft tissue injuries.
Head injuries often occur when an individual’s head strikes the steering wheel, windshield, or a side window. This can cause superficial damage to the face as well as internal damage to the brain. A sudden force exerted on an individual’s head can cause injuries such as a concussion, and even more lasting brain damage.
A driver and/or passenger in the front seat may also sustain damage to their internal organs if they strike the steering wheel, dashboard, or other internal component of the vehicle. These individuals may also sustain broken ribs. Passengers may also suffer contusions as a result of their seatbelt during impact.
A sudden and/or forceful impact may also cause injuries to legs and joints of passengers. There is a limited amount of leg room in a vehicle, so limbs can strike portions of the vehicle during impact. This can cause broken and/or fracture bones.
Drivers and passengers may also suffer from lacerations. These may occur when items are thrown about the vehicle or glass is shattered. They may also occur when the airbags deploy.
One of the most common accident injuries is whiplash. Whiplash involves forceful stretching of ligaments and muscles in a passenger’s neck and upper back. It is one example of soft tissue injuries. These types of injuries involve tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Other soft tissue injuries may include:
- Bruising and/or contusions;
- Neck and/or back injuries;
- Concussions and or traumatic brain injuries (TBI); and/or
- Internal bleeding.
It is also important to remember that these types of accidents involving tractor trailers may cause emotional issues as well. Some accident victims will experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have issues driving in the future.
What are Common Causes of Tractor Trailer Accidents?
Negligence is one of the leading causes of automobile accidents. In some accidents, only one driver is a fault and in other accidents, multiple drivers may be responsible for the accident.
Examples of driver negligence include when a driver fails to stop at a stop sign and texting while driving instead of watching the road. Other examples of causes of car accidents can include:
- Poor weather conditions;
- A defect in a vehicle;
- Vehicle mechanical issues;
- Poor visibility caused by other factors that weather, such as an obstructed view;
- Driving under the influence (DUI);
- An issue with road signs and/or traffic light;
- Roadwork; and/or
- Other unpredictable factors.
Tractor trailer accidents can be caused by any of the factors discussed above as well as several others. The possible causes of accidents can be endless and may include an animal entering the roadway and a tire blowing out. Some common reasons for tractor trailer accidents include:
- An engine problem;
- The hood flying up;
- Poor road conditions;
- Poor weather conditions;
- Lane drifting;
- Improper truck maneuvering; and/or
- Driver fatigue.
Tractor trailers are much larger and more difficult to handle than a small vehicle on the roadway. Therefore, one small error by a truck driver can have catastrophic consequences.
87% of tractor trailer accidents were caused by driver fatigue in those accidents caused by the truck driver. Trucking companies pressure their drivers to have shipments arrive on time and, in some cases, that need overrides the driver’s safety. Because companies are always hurrying to fill orders, driver negligence may cause accidents.
Who Can Be Held Liable for Tractor Trailer Accidents?
In any motor vehicle accident, fault is typically determined by a police report, eyewitness statements, and accident scene reconstruction. Currently, many drivers who drive heavily use a dashboard camera, or dash cam. Some trucking companies require the use of these cameras.
Tractor trailer drivers have strict schedules and must often drive through the night to make deliveries in a timely manner. There are types of dashboard cameras specifically marketed to truck drivers. While these cameras do not prevent an accident, they can document the accident and help determine who is at fault.
A truck driver may be liable if the accident was intentional and/or if the driver was an independent contractor, or not an employee of the company for which they were driving, while operating the vehicle. If a driver can prove an accident was not intentional and that the truck driver was an employee of a trucking company, that company may be found liable for the accident.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is always held responsible for unintentional accidents caused by an employee. There are many ways in which an accident can occur that may place direct blame on the trucking company, including if the employer:
- Encourages unsafe driving in order to fulfill an order;
- Forces drivers to drive more hours than are permitted under state and federal regulations;
- Hires drivers without conducting proper criminal background checks, drug and/or driving tests, and/or mental examinations; and/or,
- Fails to consistently conduct inspection, maintenance, and/or repairs to their fleet.
Are There Any Legal Remedies Available for a Tractor Trailer Accident?
Yes, legal remedies are available for tractor trailer accidents. Remedies usually include a monetary damages award. A monetary remedy requires the party found liable to reimburse a victim for any losses associated with their accident injuries. These losses, or costs, may include:
- Hospital expenses;
- Medication bills;
- Therapy costs; and/or
- Lost wages.
If the accident results in a death, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed if the truck driver was grossly negligent.
Tractor trailer accident lawsuits usually involve complex factual and legal analysis to determine which party was at fault. In some cases, it may be difficult to determine which party was responsible for the accident. However, in most cases, a lawyer can help determine liability by recreating the accident. This analysis may result in a more accurate damages award that reflects proper liability for the accident.
What are the Damages for Auto Accident Claims?
A tractor trailer accident may lead to a civil lawsuit with a claim for damages. In these cases, the party found liable will be responsible for reimbursing the victim for losses that may include:
- Any costs associated with any resulting injuries, including hospital bills and/or physical therapy costs, among others;
- Damage that was done to the vehicle and/or other property;
- Lost wages and/or lost earning capacity;
- Pain and suffering; and/or
- Emotional distress.
Criminal penalties may also result from some automobile accidents. These include cases where a driver was driving while intoxicated.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Tractor Trailer Lawsuit?
Yes, it is essential to have a personal injury attorney assisting with a tractor trailer lawsuit. These accidents are extremely complex and may involve multiple parties, including a trucking company. In addition, most trucking companies will have the funds to hire their own attorneys to defend their drivers.
An attorney will be able to analyze the facts of the case, determine if a claim is available, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. An attorney can also assist in settling the case with a trucking company and getting you a settlement that will cover losses associated with the accident.