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The Dangers of Jackknife Accidents

Semi-trucks and other large commercial vehicles crisscross Florida every day, hauling essential goods and materials from city to city. These vehicles provide an essential function in the state and national economy, but also pose a risk of serious injury to other motorists and the general public as a whole. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published data[1] earlier this year indicating that over 100,000 people were injured in accidents involving large trucks in 2012 alone. When these accidents occur because of truck driver or trucking company negligence, injured parties can often recover for their losses by filing a personal injury claim against the driver or company responsible for their injuries.

The Triple Braking Factor

A tractor truck pulling one or more trailers has a breaking system of much greater complexity than a car. There is a brake that controls the steering axle in the front, one that controls the driving wheels at the rear of the cab, and a third that controls the trailer wheels. When a tractor trailer is traveling at highway speeds the driver must know exactly when, and how, to apply the braking systems to slow down. The driver relies on the height of the cab for better road visibility and the ability to anticipate a braking situation allowing him to brake gradually. If he is suddenly forced to slow or stop abruptly, the driver has three options. He may lock the steering axle brakes causing the truck to move straight ahead regardless of the turning wheel angle. He may lock the drive axles which can easily result in a jackknife accident. Or he may lock the trailer axles, losing directional control of the rig. The optimal results in most situations are attained by locking the steering axles. The tractor trailer will continue to slow in a straight forward motion although steering ability will be lost. Anyone who has spent any time on the interstates has seen an 18 wheeler lock the trailer brakes to slow down. This is evident by a lot of tire smoke, leaving those telltale double skid marks primarily on straight sections of road.

When a tractor trailer jackknifes the truck and trailer skid at a 90 degree angle to each other forming a pattern similar to a partially opened jackknife. This happens more frequently on wet roads and may also occur when the truck is traveling too fast to handle a curve. The sliding truck may strike other vehicles, and the trailer may sheer the roof off of cars. Even worse, the rig may turn over atop another vehicle. The truck may also leave the roadway and roll over. The results of a jackknife accident are rarely short of devastating.

Determining the Cause of a Jackknife Accident

A jackknife accident, in many cases, is the fault of the driver, but there are circumstances where the blame lies elsewhere. If another vehicle or pedestrian cuts in front of the truck and forces an immediate reaction, the driver is not generally at fault. If the roadway is not maintained properly and a dangerous condition is not properly marked, the federal, state or county authority may be held responsible. Although truckers frequently exceed the speed limit to make up time, a jackknife accident is not always the fault of the driver.

Accidents involving big rigs require more complex investigations than those involving only cars. In order to collect damages in a truck accident, negligence must be proven on the part of one or more parties. If you are involved in an accident with a jackknifed truck it is in your best interest to hire an experienced truck accident attorney. The attorney will have the resources to reconstruct the accident exactly the way it happened. The speed and the weight of the truck, the conditions of the road and the number of driving hours logged by the driver prior to the crash, all play a part in the big picture. Skid marks and the final resting place of all vehicles involved are valuable pieces of evidence. Accident reconstruction experts can produce a virtual animated recreation of the accident with evidence gathered at the scene and through witnesses.

Jackknife accidents and semi-trucks

The tractor-trailers that are ubiquitous on Florida’s highways belong to a class of vehicles referred to as “articulated vehicles[2],” meaning that they are made up of multiple segments that are attached by movable joints. Other examples of articulated vehicles with which most people are familiar include trains, certain buses, and trams. The fact that these vehicles are articulated allows them to be more maneuverable than they would be if they consisted of a single section, making them particularly useful in urban areas where making tight turns is necessary. Unfortunately, it also makes them vulnerable to certain types of malfunctions and accidents to which other vehicles are not.

Jackknife accidents[3] are an example of an accident unique to articulated vehicles and often happen to semi-trucks. They occur when the trailer of a truck swings out from behind the truck in an action that resembles a folding knife. Sometimes, the trailer can even come to rest folded completely against the truck, making the vehicle impossible to control. Jackknife accidents can cause tremendous damage, as the trailer of the truck can sweep perpendicularly against traffic, potentially crushing anything in its path. In addition, if a truck’s cargo escapes during a jackknife accident, secondary accidents may result due to motorists taking evasive action to avoid the spilled cargo on the road. If the cargo is particularly heavy or large, it can also itself cause serious injury it collides with another vehicle or a passerby.

Clearwater jackknife accidents can be caused by the negligence of various parties

There are a variety of parties that could potentially be held liable for the injuries and other losses caused by a jackknife accident. While many accidents are caused by driver error, others could be caused by defectively designed or manufactured truck equipment or even the company responsible for loading the cargo into the vehicle. Some of the more common causes of jackknife accidents include the following:

  • Speeding
  • Ignoring poor weather conditions
  • Taking turns too fast
  • High winds
  • Improper braking
  • Tire blowouts
  • Hitting objects while driving
  • Oversteering
  • Understeering
  • Unbalanced cargo
  • Improperly secured cargo
  • Coupling device failure
  • Hitting objects while driving
  • Oversteering
  • Understeering
  • Unbalanced cargo
  • Improperly secured cargo
  • Coupling device failure

In order to determine who can be held liable for a jackknife accident, it is first necessary to determine how the accident occurred. For example, if an accident was caused by a driver ignoring icy road conditions and improperly applying the brakes, the driver or the driver’s employer could likely be held responsible for damages that occurred as a result. On the other hand, if a tire blowout was the culprit, the manufacturer of the tire or the party responsible for the maintenance of the truck may be held liable. After a jackknife accident, an experienced attorney will be able to conduct a thorough investigation to determine who could potentially be at fault for your accident and take the proper steps to ensure that you recover for your losses.

Contact a Clearwater truck accident lawyer today to schedule a free consultation

Anyone who has been injured in a accident involving a semi-truck should retain legal representation as soon as possible. To schedule a free consultation with one of our Clearwater truck accident attorneys, call our office today at 727-451-6900.

Dolman Law Group
500 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33756