Any automobile or vehicular accident has the potential to cause severe, disabling injuries or even fatalities. However, due to the sheer size of large semi-trucks, trucking accidents are, by far, more likely to be dangerous enough to cause serious disabling injuries – and fatalities -- to occupants of other motor vehicles involved. If you were the victim of a vehicle accident, especially when a large commercial truck collides with your motor vehicle, you need the experience of an established personal injury counsel. Englander Peebles can assist you in getting justice and obtaining the compensation you deserve.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency whose mission is to prevent injuries and fatalities stemming from commercial motor vehicle accidents, there were 411,000 crashes reported to the policy involving large commercial trucks in 2014. Out of these crashes, 3,424 or 1 percent caused at least one death, and 82,000 or 20 percent caused at least one non-fatal injury. The vast majority of large commercial truck crashes, (approximately 63 percent) that resulted in a fatality involved two different vehicles. On the other hand, single vehicle crashes, i.e., pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, etc., accounted for 21 percent of all fatal accidents. Additionally, nearly 61 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes involving large commercial trucks took place on rural roadways, and 26 percent of such crashes occurred on urban or rural interstate highways.
The timing of truck crashes is also informative of trends in this area. FMCSA reports that 37 percent of all fatal large truck crashes, 19 percent of all large truck injury crashes, and 20 percent of all large truck crashes that cause property damage only occurred at night between the hours of 6:00 pm and 6:00 am. Additionally, FMCSA states that 84 percent of large truck accidents and 88 percent of nonfatal large truck crashes took place on weekdays between Monday and Friday.
FMCSA also measures data regarding when a collision with a vehicle in the middle of transport is the first harmful event during a crash that caused property damage or injury. Under this heading, FMCSA found that vehicular collisions where a crash with a vehicle in transport was the first damaging event in a large truck crash occurred in 73 percent of fatal crashes, 83 percent of injury accidents, and 75 percent of accidents that only caused damage to property. Rollover accidents where the truck overturns occurred in 5 percent off all fatal crashes involving large commercial trucks and 2 percent of large truck accidents that were nonfatal.
Another set of relevant data in this area comprises demographic information for drivers involved in large truck accidents. According to FMCSA, 202 out of 3,697 drivers of the major commercial trucks that were part of in fatal accidents in 2014 were 25 years old or younger (5 percent), and 216 of those drivers were 66 years and older (6 percent). Approximately 2 percent of all the drivers of large commercial trucks involved in fatal accidents in 2014 were female.
FMCSA’s last data call for reporting was in 2014, and in that year, 30 percent of fatal car crashes that took place in active work zones involved large trucks and nine percent of crashes in work zones that caused injury involved at least one large commercial truck. Since 2010, the number of fatal large commercial truck crashes increased by one percent to 10 crashes for every one million people in the country.Causes of Commercial Trucking Accidents
Victims who are trying to obtain compensation for injuries resulting from large truck accidents must first identify the specific cause of the crash. This issue, as will be discussed later, is important for plaintiffs to identify all of the responsible parties. Additionally, this will help the plaintiff and his or her attorney focus on the types of evidence that will be necessary to prove liability.
The FMCSA has done a lot of work in identifying the most common causes of commercial trucking accidents. Specifically, FMCSA conducted a large truck crash causation study, which is the first study of its kind to analyze accident causes that lead to large truck crashes. The study was a groundbreaking effort where researchers examined a national sample of 967 accidents involving at least one large truck. In FMCSA’s sample, there were 1,127 large commercial trucks involved and 959 other kinds of motor vehicles. There were 251 fatalities examined and 1,408 total injuries.
For all the accidents included in the study, trucks were the critical cause of 55 percent of the accidents. Driver conduct accounted for over 87 percent of the reasons cited for the accidents, and most accidents involved poor driving decisions. Driver conduct such as drug use, speeding, unfamiliarity with the roads, driver fatigue, and driver distraction made up the most common causes. Meanwhile, 13 percent of the reasons cited involved roadway problems, weather conditions, or the truck itself. If the problem cited was the truck, brake issues were the most frequent maintenance or part issue found by the study.Driver Conduct
In FMCSA’s study, the use of drugs was the most common cause found. Specifically, 26 percent of the accidents involved drivers that used prescription or illicit drugs, which affected their driving. In 18 percent of the crashes, over-the-counter medicines were also contributing factors.
Driver fatigue was also one of the largest contributing factors. The study found that 13 percent of the truck drivers surveyed was fatigued at the time of the accident. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, almost 4,000 people die each year in large truck crashes where driver fatigue was a leading factor. The DOT stated that long working hours, without adequate time for recovery, may lead to chronic fatigue and reduced sleep. This kind of fatigue leads truck drivers to have slower reaction times and a more limited ability to assess developing situations quickly while driving.
Additionally, truck drivers who are unfamiliar with the areas they drive may be more prone to accidents. FMCSA reports that 22 percent of the crashes it studied involved drivers who were unfamiliar with the roads they were traveling on.
In 23 percent of the accidents studied, FMCSA reported that speeding was a contributing cause. According to FMCSA, the force of the impact from a truck that weighs eighty thousand pounds becomes more deadly with every mile of additional speed. In a study of the 2,987 fatal truck accidents in 2009, FMCSA reported that:
- 2.1 percent of these fatal truck crashes occurred with trucks traveling at 25 mph or less;
- 7.6 percent occurred with trucks traveling between 30 to 35 mph;
- 13.8 percent occurred with trucks traveling between 40 to 45 mph;
- 38.1 percent occurred with trucks traveling between 50 and 55 mph;
- 23.5 percent occurred with trucks traveling between 60 and 65 mph; and
- 13.1 percent occurred with trucks traveling between 70 and 75 mph.
Although companies train large truck drivers to check thoroughly for blind spots and carefully look at all sides of the truck before making turns or other complex maneuvers, many forget to do so. Indeed, 14 percent of the drivers in the study failed to implement standard safety measures such as using the turn signal. Additionally, 9 percent of the drivers involved were engaging in an illegal maneuver during the accident.
The study also reported that distracted driving is also a common problem experienced by truck drivers. Specifically, 8 percent of the crashes studied involved truck drivers whose attention was divided between driving and other events or activities. Drivers can be distracted by both things within the cab and outside the cab. Distractions within the cab may include texting, dispatching devices, reading, adjusting the radio, eating, or dialing cell phones. Other distractions that take place outside of a truck cab can include looking at a passing person, billboard, or building. Related to distracted driving is the problem of aggressive driving, which the study found was a contributing factor in 7 percent of the truck accidents studied.
Additionally, large trucks are difficult to maneuver. Although truck drivers often try to evade crashing, those drivers who failed to gauge the level of evasive maneuvering accurately contributed to 7% of the accidents. Insufficient evasive maneuvering may be defined as those situations that take place when truck drivers fail to execute a necessary maneuver by failing to use enough steering inputs, not braking adequately or a combination of steering and braking issues.Poor Truck Maintenance and Defects in Trucking Equipment
FMCSA’s regulations provide the parts and accessories that are necessary for the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles, including trucks. The regulations indicate how trucking companies and operators must inspect truck systems and parts how they must maintain records of inspections. Additionally, FMCSA provides that trucking companies are responsible for ensuring the safe operation of all their trucks, which requires a regular and documented schedule of inspections. Manufacturers of truck components, parts, and systems are also responsible for the safety of products that they provide to trucking companies to place into active trucks.
Consequently, if the truck failure or defective components cause a truck crash, the trucking company, manufacturer, or distributor may be held legally liable for the losses and injuries stemming from such truck crash. If the issue was insufficient maintenance, then the trucking company may be liable. If the issue was a defective truck component or system, then both the manufacturer and the distributor may be held liable.
FMCSA’s truck crash causation study indicates that the most frequent equipment or mechanical failure that the agency found in the 967 truck crashes that it examined across the nation was a truck’s degraded braking system, followed by improperly loaded cargo, and wheel or tire failures. The study identified other common defective component or equipment issues that frequently occurred in truck accidents, which include steering failure, suspension failure, defective lighting, body, hood, or door failure, kingpin or coupling failures in trailer attachments, and engine or transmission failures.
Trucks have event data records or EDRs, which act as a truck’s black box. EDRs can help people determine whether a mechanical or an equipment failure contributed to an accident. There is a wealth of information available from EDRs depending on the make and model of the big rig. The data that is available from EDRs include engine RPMs, tire pressure, and the status of the anti-lock braking system or service brakes. EDRs also contain information regarding accelerator and cruise governors, cruise control, daily engine use and history, maintenance history, wheel speed, clutch pedals, other engine parameters, and other critical event data such as rapid deceleration.
Often, plaintiffs must get a court order to make trucking companies release the truck involved in a crash for examination and for the plaintiff’s expert to examine EDR data. Plaintiffs must act quickly after an accident to prevent other parties from destroying or tampering with EDR data.Common Types of Truck Accidents
There are multiple types of trucking accidents depending on the equipment involved, the size of the truck, the inciting incident for the accident, and the truck driver. These accidents may include:
- Jackknife Crashes. Jackknifing takes place when the trailer of the commercial truck ends up facing the direction opposite of the cab. This accident is typically caused by the locking up of the commercial truck's axle brakes, which results in the trailer slipping out of control. However, equipment failure and dangerous road conditions (such as ice) can also cause a truck to jackknife;
- Rollovers. Rollover crashes are the most common kind of truck crash. Rollovers are usually caused by a large truck making an attempt to round a curve or take a turn on the roadway at an dangerously excessive speed. Additionally, a truck driver that tries to overcorrect a drifting trailer can cause the truck to rollover.
- Tire Blowouts. There are some ways that tire blowouts can occur. Overloaded trailers, poor road conditions, inadequate maintenance, or defective tires can all cause tire blowouts. Once one or more of a truck’s tires have blown out, any attempt to control the truck can become very difficult and result in serious accidents.
- Rear-End Collisions. Rear-End Collisions occur when a truck collides into the backside of another motor vehicle. This kind of collision can be caused by poorly maintained or malfunctioning brakes when a truck is pulling an overloaded trailer, or simple driver negligence such as speeding, being distracted by a cell phone, or tired driving.
- Underride collisions. Underride collisions take place when smaller vehicles get lodged underneath a large semi truck's trailer. Underride collisions may be caused by a truck driver who slams on the truck’s brakes, thereby causing a smaller car behind the truck to collide and slide under the trailer. Due to the nature of the collision, this type has the highest fatality rate among the other kinds of truck accidents.
- T-Bone collisions. T-bone collisions take place when a large truck collides into the side panel of another vehicle. These occur most frequently when a vehicle runs a stop sign or red light and crashes into another vehicle that was entitled to the right-of-way.
- Lost load accidents. Lost load accidents are a kind of accident that results from truck trailers that are loaded improperly. When a trucking company or even a separate loading company fails to load adequately or secure equipment to the trailer, such cargo may be dislodged during the trip and be thrown out of the truck during the trip. The dislodged equipment becomes an immediate danger to any vehicles following behind the commercial truck. In some cases, a truck may be so overloaded, leading to this type of accident.
Getting into a truck accident can cause serious, disabling, and even fatal, injuries. These injuries may include the following:
- Severe cuts and lacerations. Large truck accidents often cause glass and metal to fly with extreme force in multiple directions, particularly when much smaller vehicles are involved. These violent conditions increase the likelihood of life-threatening cuts and lacerations that require surgery;
- Fractures. Compound fractures, where bones are broken into more than a few pieces or are completely crushed, are common in large truck accidents due to the excessive force of the impact;
- Amputations. Smaller vehicles often stand no chance against large trucks, and individuals inside such vehicles may end up with amputated limbs due to the violent nature of crashes with large trucks;
- Burns. The force of the impact with a large truck can often cause vehicle fires to start. Additionally, fire and rescue personnel are sometimes hindered from removing victims from the accident scene because of crumpled smaller vehicles. These makes the possibility of serious, third-degree burns higher in truck accidents;
- Traumatic brain injuries. The kind of head trauma possible in large truck accidents increases the potential for long-term traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries often do not manifest completely and may result in the necessity of permanent residential care for victims; and
- Spinal cord injuries. The possibility of permanent paralysis stemming from a large truck accident is very high because of the force of the impact involved. Additionally, first responders are often unable to administer aid immediately because they often have to cut out victims from their cars in large truck accidents.
Following a trucking accident, it is important that you take immediate steps to protect your health. Your first concern should be requesting emergency medical assistance to address your injuries and the injuries of any other involved parties. Many people believe that they can wait and see if their symptoms improve and they will begin to feel better. However, it is important to get checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible to detect any internal injuries and to establish the state of your health as soon as possible after the crash.
You should then attempt to gather important information such as the name of the driver of the large truck and the trucking company that employs him or her. This attempt to gather information includes any information that the company printed on the side of the truck, the license plate number of the truck and trailer, and the names of any witnesses who observed the crash or assisted you after the crash. In instances where the tires on the truck separate from the wheel, is also very important that the tires be preserved.
If you have been injured in a crash involving a truck or other commercial vehicle, contact Englander Peebles' Fort Lauderdale Trucking Accident Attorneys today. Our Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Lawyers will analyze the facts of your case and create a plan designed to identify and preserve important evidence. We will take swift and aggressive action to protect your rights so you can focus on your health and recovery.