Common Causes of Truck Accidents

 

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Common Causes of Truck AccidentsEvery year, more than 4,000 persons die in accidents with large trucks. Another 170,000 suffered injuries in 2017 alone, often serious injuries. Because of their larger size, big trucks can cause considerable damage to other vehicles on the road, and smaller vehicles may offer their occupants little protection. While you cannot prevent the possibility of truck accidents entirely, understanding the most common causes of truck accidents can help keep you and your passengers safer.

Dangerous Behaviors (From Truckers)

Many truckers spend hundreds of hours on the road each month, including multiple hours each day they work. While they typically try to drive as safely as possible to get their cargo to its destination safely, even the most experienced truck drivers can make errors in judgment that lead to serious accidents. Distracted driving. Because of the number of hours they spend on the road, many truck drivers become extremely comfortable behind the wheel, even to the point of complacency. They may become distracted by things going on in the cab of the vehicle or by taking care of their own activities, even if that means taking attention off of the road. Distracted behaviors may include:
  • Eating and drinking behind the wheel, especially messy foods that are more likely to pull driver attention from the road
  • Talking on a cell phone or radio
  • Texting
  • Checking the GPS
Drivers may also become distracted by their own thoughts, “zoning out” and no longer paying attention to the road. Often, cognitive distractions cause accidents due to errors from other drivers. Driving while tired. Truck drivers work in 14 hour “duty periods,” during which they can drive for 11 hours. After a solid 8 hours on the road, drivers must take at least a 30 minute break before getting back behind the wheel. Unfortunately, this legal requirement does not account for drivers who stayed up too late the night before, grow tired while on the road, or did not get a good night's sleep. Growing tired on the road can cause as much danger as drinking and driving, especially while operating a large truck. Driving while intoxicated. Many truckers regularly use a wide range of substances, from uppers to help them stay awake to downers to help them come down at the end of a shift. Others use alcohol to dull the pain of missing family members or long, lonely hours on the road. Unrealistic expectations from trucking companies and companies awaiting their shipments can lead drivers to struggle with substance abuse—abuse that often continues even when behind the wheel. BAC over 0.08 percent or impairment due to drug use can cause:
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Poor response time
  • Blurred vision
  • Decreased coordination
  • Memory problems
The maximum BAC for on-duty truckers, however, is 0.04 percent. Ignoring the rules of the road. Truck drivers, like other drivers, may break the rules of the road due to a need for convenience or other challenges. Speeding, for example, may help truck drivers meet tight deadlines, while running red lights can help conserve gas or improve the driver's ability to meet tight deadlines. Unfortunately, breaking the rules of the road can make truck drivers' behavior difficult to predict, which can in turn increase the risk of an accident. Driving on unfamiliar roads. Truck drivers do not get to pick their own routes. As a result, they can go anywhere, including roads they have never seen before. On unfamiliar roads, accident risk increases substantially. Driving an unfamiliar route may also increase the odds that a truck driver will end up in a tight spot: trying to pass under a bridge with inadequate clearance, for example, or driving down a road too small to allow adequate room for the truck. Aggressive driving. Failing to take proper precautions on the road can substantially increase accident risk for any driver. Aggressive driving creates the potential for even more problems for truck drivers, with their larger vehicles. Truck drivers may choose to drive aggressively to make up or save time.
Video Transcript: Common Causes of Truck AccidentsMatt Dolman: In this video, I'm going to discuss what makes truck accidents unique and much different than your normal car accident, motor vehicle accident, case. So I'm here with my partner, Stan Gipe. Stan's a Board certified civil trial lawyer, designated as an expert in trial practice and litigation by the Florida Bar. Stan, the biggest mistake I always see when we take over a case from other lawyers, and oftentimes other lawyers entrust us to handle some of their biggest cases, what is the difference between car accidents and truck accidents? Because I see many lawyers, especially younger lawyers, treating them much the same and there's so much different. Stan Gipe: Well, to some extent they are the same in that they're both accidents that happen on the road. Beyond that there's very little that is the same about them. And the main reason being is that most people, when they sit down and you have a auto accident, I can look at it, you can look at it. We've been drivers. We can tell who's at fault. We can tell what happened. We know the rules of the road. We know what the state of Florida has set. We can kind of size up a lot of this. And a lot of attorneys just approach truck accidents the same way. Problem is most everything a trucker has done wrong or negligent is going to be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, usually Chapter 49, which is the federal rules that govern truckers. It talks about how long they can drive, how often they can drive, how long their brakes must be, safety equipment, inspections, all this other stuff that doesn't apply to the average person. Matt Dolman: Which is the FMSCA, which is the Motor Carrier Safety and Standards Act. But what I often see is that many lawyers, one, they don't have the financial resources to hire the experts that are necessary because it's such an expert laden area when you're handling an 18 wheeler or a big rig truck accident case. What we see with these semi truck accident cases is truckers, there's a certain governing set of laws and rules as to the amount of hours that a trucker is allowed to drive consecutively, how often they have to take breaks, and what their hours are to be set during a given week or month. Let's talk about that for a moment because most individuals who are just handling, normal, run the mill personal injury cases or car accident cases, they don't understand that in the beginning of any claim, you don't want to reverse engineer. Is there a negligent maintenance claim? And is there a negligent retention hiring claim? And if I don't understand the actual rules to the road, especially regarding trucks and semi trucks, you're going to lose. You're going to downplay your case and you're not going to get the full value of what that claim is truly worth. Stan Gipe: That's exactly it, and, Matt, I can tell you, this is even a mistake I made early on in my career. You got to spend the money. As an attorney, and this is why a lot of people need attorneys, in order to properly work up a claim in order to get full value for a claim, you have to spend the money. We're going to have to spend thousands of dollars to retain an expert to look at the logs, look at what happened, and identify all the specific theories of liability and sort of avenues of recovery that may be available. While you and I may have done this several times in the past and may be good at looking at it and sizing it up on the initial phone call, it's that expert that's going to drive the ship. It's like other things, a life care planner, a doctor most people have never seen. Life care planner's the type of doctor most people would never think to see unless they're involved in this type of accident. They're very expensive and a lot of firms avoid getting them involved in claims. Well, when you're dealing with a semi claim, we know there's big coverage usually. We don't want to just collect for what someone's been through. That's easy. This is how much the medical bills were, what'd it take to get better? We want to collect for what's going to happen, what they're going to go through. That's the secret. That's where sort of the big recovery is. Because if you've got permanent injuries, you're going to deal with them over a number of years, you have to have a life care planner to tell us what that's going to cost. A minor spine injury, if it requires some interventional pain, can be a million dollar claim because of the cost of future medical care on younger people. So it's developing the theories of liability with the experts front that are very expensive. Matt Dolman: And those are usually semi truck, trucking accident experts. Stan Gipe: Yes, that's it. Semi trucks, big rig cases, truck accidents, 18 wheelers, whatever you want to call them. They're special. We need the expert on the front end. We need a life care planner on the back end. And you need to make a full court press on these types of claims. They can be valuable. They need the proper attention. They need the proper medical care and you need a claimant that's interested in getting better and willing to follow their attorney and doctor's instructions on how to document everything they've been through. Matt Dolman: And for our viewers, a strong truck accident expert, these guys all they do is look at truck accidents, and they kind of reverse engineer how did it happen? So they're going to download the black box data and they're going to do a full inspection of the truck to look at all the maintenance issues as well as the maintenance log to see every time the truck has been repaired, had been serviced, and what issues might be latent in that specific semi truck and trailer that's attached. They're also going to research what type of load was being handled and was a truck overfilled? Was it carrying too much of a load? And where was it going and should it have been on that very road that it was on? Because there's always standards and rules and regulations that govern where trucks are allowed to travel as well. And so you can't treat it like a typical personal injury case. A good truck case, usually it's running us 50 to $100,000 in experts at a minimum. And your normal average personal injury lawyer or car accident lawyer may not be able to shoulder those type of expenses without a big credit line. So if you're not used to handling those type of cases, buyer beware. If you've been a victim of a truck accident, you've been hit by a semi truck, you got to be very careful in the lawyer that you hire, a law firm that you retain. Stan Gipe: Well and there's a number of different regulations out there that just typically don't apply in typical cases. For instance, as you and I sit here, most people can't tell you how the reflectors are legally required to be placed on a semi-trailer. But when you've got an accident where a semi-trailer is crossing lane of travel and someone hits them, that becomes very, very, very relevant. And if you don't know those requirements are there, if you don't know your expert needs to get out there right away before they repair this, before they put additional reflectors on it and before they do stuff like that, then you're behind the eight ball. You're not going to get the full recovery that you should on your case because you're giving the defense more ammunition to devalue the claim. I mean the Code of Federal Regulations is so detailed on requirements, it gets down there to talk about the type of powering systems they have to have on their windshield wipers. There's a whole nother level of requirement and scrutiny when you're driving a multi-ton big rig down the road at 80 miles an hour, 70 miles an hour, because the propensity to kill people in these accidents is so much higher than when you're driving a small vehicle. The ability to stop these vehicles, it takes so much longer than it does with a small vehicle. The safe following distances, the safety procedures for these vehicles, are so much different than what we're dealing with with your average vehicle, that any semi case, any 18 wheeler case, any big rig case at all requires an attorney that knows what they're doing, will get it going correctly from day one, and get you out of the gate right so that you finish strong. Matt Dolman: So if you're hiring a trucking accident lawyer, what's the key criteria that you're going to be looking at? If you're researching the best truck accident lawyers in the area or a truck accident lawyer near me? Stan Gipe: It's going to be experience. Look online. It's going to be experience and people who have the resources and experience to do it. It's two things. It's know how and ability. That's really what most of life comes down to. Do you know how to do it? Do you have the ability to do it? Know how is the experience of the attorney. Someone who's done it before. Someone who's seen it before. Someone who knows where to find the experts and doctors. Ability comes from the firm behind that attorney? Can they finance what needs to be done? Can they put sometimes the 20, 50 or $100,000 that needs to be invested into these claims before you see a recovery? Because if they're not willing to put that money out there, you're not going to have the documentation, you're not going to get the full recovery, and once again, you're fighting with someone who has an unlimited pocket book. Matt Dolman: Yeah. Shoestring budgets bring back shoestring results. And that's the biggest mistake we often see with many of these cases. They're not properly funded. Stan Gipe: You don't learn that until you've been practicing for a while, honestly. You think that- Matt Dolman: Yeah, truck accidents is a war of experts. Stan Gipe: Well, it is. It's a war of experts and you can tell them this is exactly what the experts are going to say. Until the expert says it, until you actually spend the money to get the report, they're not going to take it seriously. Matt Dolman: One last question. So we often see this in truck accident claims. We already discussed a negligent maintenance claim against the owner of the big rig or semi. What is a negligent retention hiring claim? What brings that about? What are we looking at? Stan Gipe: Well, that's got to do with the history of the driver himself. As common sense as it may be, if someone's got three DUIs in the past four years, you probably shouldn't put them behind the wheel of a big rig. If someone's got a significantly bad driving history, you shouldn't put them behind the wheel of a big rig. So that's kind of the crux of a negligent hiring or retention type of claim. It is an active negligence type of claim on the employer, meaning the employer has actively done something wrong. They've hired a bad person. They've got an improper driver in there. And it changes somewhat the dynamics of the claims. Matt Dolman: Understood. Well, appreciate your time, Stan. I appreciate the viewers out there. If you have any further questions, just give us a call today. 833-55-CRASH for a free consultation or a free case review or go to our website, www.dolmanlaw.com. That's D-O-L-M-A-N-L-A-W.com. Thank you and have a great day.

Dangerous Behaviors (From Other Drivers)

While truckers can cause accidents in the blink of an eye, other drivers on the road must also take into account the needs of the truckers who share the road with them and take steps to ensure their safety. Engaging in some of these dangerous behaviors can cause serious challenges for truck drivers and, in many cases, lead to an accident.
  • Pulling over in front of a big truck. Big trucks need more room to stop than other vehicles. If another driver pulls over in front of a truck driver, he may struggle to prevent a crash. In some cases, a big truck driver may not have enough room to prevent an accident.
  • Sitting in a truck's blind spot. Truck drivers rely on their mirrors to see what other drivers do around them and where those vehicles are positioned. A driver who sits in a truck's blind spot may increase accident risk because the truck driver has no idea they have moved to that spot. Drivers must also avoid following too close to a truck.
  • Failing to dim the brights. In many cases, bright lights reflecting off of truck mirrors can cause two or more seconds of blindness. This can leave truck drivers completely unable to see what happens around them, which can substantially increase the risk of accidents.
  • Not leaving enough room for big trucks to maneuver. Big trucks need much more room to maneuver than smaller passenger vehicles, especially when they need to make a turn. Other drivers, however, may pull up too close to the trucks, leaving them inadequate room to make the turn and increasing the odds of an accident.

Weather Conditions

In poor weather conditions, every driver on the road often has more trouble navigating. Wet roads alone may substantially increase accident risk. Ice, especially black eyes, may make roads even more slippery. In poor weather conditions, trucks need even more room to recover than regular vehicles. Other weather hazards might include:
  • Fog. Fog makes it difficult for drivers to see. Truck drivers may struggle to determine where smaller vehicles move around them, especially if those smaller vehicles have a pale color. Vehicles that remain at a reasonable following distance from trucks may also become more difficult to see in foggy conditions.
  • Heavy winds. Heavy winds can send trailers swaying, making them more difficult to control. In heavy winds, truck drivers may need to slow down significantly to travel safely.
  • Snow and slush. Snow and slush often significantly decrease visibility, making it difficult for truck drivers to see the road around them. Worse, a protective coating of snow may cover ice on the road, obscuring its presence until the wheels of the truck hit it. These problems are rare in Florida, but that makes them even more dangerous when they're present, because Florida drivers lack the experience of driving in them.

Mechanical Problems

Trucks should regularly undergo substantial maintenance to keep them road-safe. That maintenance, however, does not always prevent the possibility of mechanical problems.
  • Brake failure. Even with brakes that work perfectly, big trucks need plenty of room to stop. Unfortunately, when brakes fail, truck drivers may have few options. Stopping a semi truck without brakes, especially on any sort of incline, may require careful maneuvering. Often, brake failure results in serious accidents.
  • Transmission problems. Big trucks receive attention to their transmissions regularly. In some cases, however, overloading or improper loading can cause more wear and tear on a transmission than expected. When the transmission fails, the truck driver may struggle to control the vehicle and prevent accidents.
  • Steering issues. Without a properly-maintained steering system, the truck driver cannot safely maneuver the vehicle. Unfortunately, if the steering fails unexpectedly, it can leave the driver struggling to prevent an accident. Getting a big truck safely off the road after a steering failure requires a great deal of skill.
  • Headlight or taillight failures. Like the lights on other vehicles, truck headlights and taillights can wear out. While big trucks, with their larger profile, can remain more visible even if the lights go out, a lack of headlights or taillights can still cause serious accidents.
  • Tire issues. Big trucks have more wheels to rely on, but blowouts can still cause serious problems, especially in the middle of a long stretch of highway or at high speeds. Regularly replacing tires and avoiding potential hazards in the road can help tires last longer and decrease the odds of blowouts. Tires may also fall off at high speeds, leaving the truck listing to one side or extremely difficult to control.
  • Trailer detachment. When a trailer comes loose at the wrong moment, it can cause serious consequences for both the truck driver and others on the road. Hooking the trailer up properly remains one of the most critical parts of the driver's training.

Cargo Problems

During loading, the loaders must properly secure a truck driver's cargo to make it as safe as possible. Improper loading can cause problems, including increasing accident risk.
  • Unbalanced cargo. Unbalanced cargo substantially increases accident risk, including the risk of jackknife accidents. Cargo balanced improperly can also shift during the trip, leaving the trailer listing unpredictably.
  • Too much weight in the trailer. Carrying too much weight in the trailer poses a substantial hazard for many trucks, since it can increase the odds of transmission damage and make them wear out faster. Worse, too much weight in the trailer can put stress on the brakes, leading to failure. Too much weight in the truck can also make it harder to stop.
  • Hazardous cargo. When hazardous cargo receives proper labeling, truck drivers treat it with the appropriate care and caution. Improper labeling, however, can substantially increase accident risk. Worse, improper labeling may cause other drivers to ignore proper precautions around the truck. Hazardous cargo can also increase the damage done to victims of the accident.

What Should You Do After a Truck Accident?

In crash reconstruction scenarios, often, many factors work together to cause an accident. In fact, most of the time, reconstructors cannot isolate a single factor that caused the accident. You may struggle to identify the cause of the accident at the scene. After a truck accident, make sure you follow these steps to help protect yourself.
  • Seek medical attention immediately. After a truck accident, you may face serious injuries. Some people discover more serious injuries than initially thought several hours or even days after the accident. By seeking immediate medical attention, you not only get the help you need to start your recovery, you also receive vital evidence about your injuries that can help support your claims.
  • Collect evidence at the scene if possible. At the scene of the accident, if you can move around without causing further injury, take the time to collect evidence concerning the accident. Take pictures of the truck and your vehicle, if possible. Make sure you collect insurance information from the driver as well as his contact information. Snapping a picture with your phone is a great way to keep that information easily accessible.
  • Contact the authorities. When you call 911 to summon an ambulance, you will also bring the police to the scene. The police will create a report about the accident, which can help indicate fault and allow you to pursue the compensation you deserve following your accident.
  • Get in touch with an attorney. Start with a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. The attorney will tell you whether you have grounds for a personal injury claim and what you should expect from the claims process. If necessary, an attorney can also go to court to help fight for the compensation you deserve after an accident. By contacting an attorney as soon as possible after a truck accident, you increase the attorney's ability to collect evidence and, in many cases, streamline the claims process.

The Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Lawyers: Your Truck Accident Lawyers

Did you suffer serious injuries in a truck accident? You may need a lawyer to help you negotiate damages or help you secure the settlement you deserve. Contact us at Dolman Law online to learn more about how we can help you seek the compensation you need for your injuries. With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or you can email us. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Lawyers 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/florida-truck-accident-lawyer/

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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