Among the more than 12 million trucks operating in the U.S., almost three million are tractor trailers. Also called “big rigs,” 18-wheelers or semi-trucks, these huge vehicles have a defining characteristic of a gross vehicle weight rating of 80,000 pounds. Some trucks described as “large” may only have a GVWR of 10,000 pounds. In an accident involving a tractor trailer, however, a passenger vehicle could experience an impact with a 40-ton object moving at high speed.
In Addition to Its Weight, What Makes a Big Rig So Dangerous?
The weight of a tractor trailer could result in a stopping distance equaling the length of two football fields. Semi-trucks also have a much larger blind spot than other vehicles. As a rule of thumb, if you cannot see the driver of a tractor trailer, your vehicle is in that truck driver’s blind spot.
Another potentially dangerous characteristic of a big rig is the length of the trailer hooked up to the cab. A semi-truck’s trailer can span 48 feet, and in some cases, its legally permissible length could extend an additional 10 feet. The danger that comes with the length of the trailer is its associated large turning circle. When making turns, the trailer portion of a semi-truck can easily move into the adjacent lane, which might also include oncoming traffic.
Do Accidents Involving Tractor Trailers Usually Require a Legal Action?
Because of the severity of injuries that could result from a collision with a big rig or any large truck, many harmed individuals seek legal assistance to recover from the damages suffered. The settlement offered by an insurance carrier alone does not usually provide fair compensation for the pain and suffering endured.
Crashes involving large trucks could result in permanent disabilities, long-term medical conditions or lost career opportunities. The tragic loss of a loved one often leads to a wrongful death suit to help grieving family members move forward.
Determining liability in truck accidents can become a complex issue. A personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit could require an investigation of both the truck driver and the employer to provide the legal grounds for a lawsuit. In some cases, issues of truck maintenance, shared negligence or driver training also affect the case.
An attorney who only handles car accidents may not have the necessary experience and skill to conduct a successful big rig legal action. Harmed individuals often consult an attorney with a track record of success in truck accident lawsuits before proceeding with a claim.
What Are Some Statistics Related to Crashes Involving Large Trucks?
In the most recent figures available, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that more than 4,000 people across the USA suffered fatal injuries during the year 2020 in accidents involving large trucks. The number of fatalities excludes the truck drivers involved in those crashes, which the NHTSA note as an additional 831 fatalities.
The occupants of the other vehicle accounted for 71% of the fatalities resulting from crashes involving large trucks in 2020. A reported 13% of the fatalities represent “nonoccupants,” which the NHTSA notes includes bicyclists and pedestrians. California recorded the largest number of nonoccupant fatalities in 2020. Nonfatal injuries suffered nationwide by the occupants of other vehicles and nonoccupants reflected a combined total of over 100,000 in 2020.
What Types of Damages Could a Truck Accident Attorney Recover?
There are three types of damages that a successful truck accident suit may recover:
- Economic damages cover the medical costs required to recover from injuries sustained in the accident. The damages can also include the loss of income, vehicle loss and any other out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident.
- Non-economic damages provide compensation for the pain and suffering, mental anguish, distress and harm caused to family and spousal relationships.
- Punitive damages reflect a monetary amount the court may award if the truck driver acted in a way that showed extreme negligence or reckless behavior.
Given the tragic circumstances of a truck accident that results in a loss of life, a wrongful death suit could seek non-economic relief for the love, companionship and guidance that a family member provided. The compensation could include the loss of income that a wage earner brought to the household.
What Could Happen if a Tractor Trailer Jackknifes?
One of the reasons cautious drivers give big rigs a wide berth on the road is the potential for a jackknife accident. When a semi-truck skids, the trailer portion could spin around and collide with the tractor cab. What takes place resembles the action of closing a jackknife, but the trailer may “get stuck” at an acute angle to the cab, which could effectively create a “pop-up” barrier spanning two or more lanes of roadway.
The danger facing other vehicles sharing the road is the potential for a jackknifed semi-truck to keep moving. The rig may also be moving outside of the driver’s control at this point. If road conditions caused the truck to skid, they could also cause other vehicles to skid and slam into the jackknifed rig. A jackknifed semi-truck could easily become the primary cause of a catastrophic multi-vehicle pile-up.
In addition to road conditions, a range of factors may contribute to a jackknife accident. Driver error, worn truck tires or malfunctioning air-brake systems could play a role. Because of the complexities associated with jackknife investigations, harmed individuals often work with experienced truck accident attorneys to recover damages.
What Does a Truck Accident Attorney Do To Recover Damages?
In addition to providing injured parties and surviving family members with some much-needed peace of mind, a truck accident attorney typically covers a wide range of tasks related to recovering damages. The steps a truck accident attorney may take to settle a case include:
- Conducting an accident investigation and gathering evidence
- Contracting accident reconstruction teams to prove liability
- Representing the claimant throughout the case, including in discussions with insurance carriers and with the defense team if the case goes to court
- Filing all of the paperwork required for a lawsuit
- Interviewing eyewitnesses and other involved parties
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Truck Accident Claim?
In California, you must file a personal injury claim within two years of the date of the accident. Certain circumstances may, however, alter or extend the two-year time frame, such as:
- The injured party is a minor. The statute of limitations may then extend to reflect the harmed individual reaching the age of 18.
- The harmed individual was mentally incapacitated at the time of the accident. The filing time may extend to when the injured party regains his or her mental capacity.
- The injury may not become apparent until days or weeks after the accident occurred. Certain types of injuries, such as spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries, may not reveal themselves until days or weeks after the accident. In cases of delayed discovery, the statute of limitations may start when the injury symptoms first appear.
Overall, filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim as soon as possible could relieve some of the anxiety and emotional turmoil that follows a tractor trailer accident. Hiring an experienced truck accident attorney helps you place your focus on recovery, moving forward or mourning your loss. The knowledgeable and experienced team of truck accident lawyers at Johnson Attorneys Group will handle all the details of your claim and fight hard for the settlement you deserve. Contact us today for a no-fee and no-obligation case consultation.