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The Dangers of Colliding With Tractor-Trailers

by | Oct 12, 2021 | Blog, Truck Accidents | 0 comments

Long-haul truck drivers are the backbone of America’s freight transportation industry. Large trucks move approximately 70 percent of all goods across the continental United States and deliver nearly 80 percent of all food, materials, medication, and fuel needed for daily life. The booming Texas oil industry relies on truckers to transport crude oil and drilling equipment to and from rural pump sites.

In short, the American economy depends on truckers. Trucking companies regularly utilize tractor-trailers because one semi-truck can carry up to 45,000 pounds worth of freight. This would be enough food to meet the daily needs of over 7,000,000 Americans.

Fully loaded 18-wheelers allow trucking companies and large corporations to cut transportation and labor costs by using one driver to supply multiple retailers. However, operating these commercial vehicles requires dedicated training, skill, and constant focus. Tractor-trailers are susceptible to unique accidents that regularly endanger the lives of Texas drivers. Cargo loading mistakes, mechanical failures, speeding, driver fatigue, and alcoholism contribute to the nearly 5,000 fatal semi-truck accidents and 60,000 injury-causing collisions each year.

Moreover, fully loaded 18-wheelers can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, but even without cargo, these vehicles typically weigh 20 tons. The average passenger vehicle only weighs about 1.5 tons. It’s no surprise, therefore, that even low-speed impacts can cause serious injuries to vehicle occupants.

Most tractor-trailers must also operate on major highways designed to accommodate their weight. As such, many truck accidents occur at highway speeds. Texas has some of the fastest highway speed limits in the nation, which often lead to devastating rollover accidents and fatalities.

Vehicle weight plus speed leads to increased crash force. When this force travels through passengers’ bodies, even during seemingly minor rear-end truck collisions, serious and fatal injuries occur.

Among the most common injuries suffered during tractor-trailer crashes in Texas include:

  • Concussions (mild traumatic brain injuries)Truck Trailer Accident Lawyer in Texas
  • Miscarriages
  • Leg fractures
  • Dislocated shoulders
  • Broken necks
  • Spinal cord and nerve damage
  • Paralysis
  • Diffuse axonal injuries (severe brain trauma)
  • Widespread third-degree burns
  • Amputations
  • Facial fractures and lacerations
  • Blindness/hearing loss
  • Herniated and slipped discs
  • Disabling neck and back pain
  • Bowel and kidney damage
  • Crushed rib cages and lung/heart damage

Secondary conditions from medical treatment or resulting disabilities further compound the initial trauma. Claimants with serious truck accident injuries often suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression/anxiety. Many victims also struggle with weakened muscles, weight gain, nausea, post-traumatic stress disorder, and infections. Even non-life-threatening injuries can lead to deteriorating physical and mental health without proper care.

Common Types of Tractor-Trailer Accidents in Texas

Semi-trucks are unique vehicles averaging between 50 and 75 feet in length. As the name suggests, tractor-trailers consist of both the front portion (tractor) that provides power and the back portion (trailer) containing the cargo. The driver operates and controls the truck from the tractor, which gets hitched to the larger trailer with commercial-grade coupling equipment. Despite being almost four times the length of the tractor, truck drivers have little control over the trailer itself. Mass casualty accidents frequently occur when semi-truck drivers lose control over their trailers.

Examples of unique tractor-trailer accidents include:

#1. Rollovers

Many serious and fatal large truck crashes occur when drivers take highway exits too quickly or travel around sharp curves without reducing their speed. Because semi-trucks have higher centers of gravity, the centrifugal force created by curves often pushes the trailer onto its side. Unless truck drivers drastically reduce their speed before taking these curves, it may result in serious rollover accidents blocking exits, spilling cargo, and injuring innocent drivers. Overcompensation when changing lanes or avoiding hazards might also result in high-speed rollover accidents. Unbalanced and unsecured freight might also dangerously shift the trailer during turns.

#2. Jackknifing

Because truck drivers do not have full control over the trailer, they cannot control the truck when the tractor and trailer fall out of sync. This often occurs when the truck driver stops short or overseers. Tractors quickly respond to these commands, but slight communication delays can send the trailer careening into other travel lanes. Jackknifing forces the tractor-trailer into an L or V shape and may trap drivers underneath the carriage.

#3. Tire Blowouts

Semi-trucks need multiple tires and axles to distribute cargo weight. These tires must meet industrial standards, and drivers must regularly check for tire pressure and wear during long trips. Tire blowouts typically occur when worn, old, and/or damaged tires suddenly pop. While the truck can safely pull over with one dead tire, the explosion may send treads into the roadway or cause inexperienced drivers to panic and overcompensate after a brief loss of control.

#4. Blind Spot Collisions

Although many newer model semi-trucks have sensors and rear-view cameras, most trucking companies won’t pay to upgrade their systems. Tractor trailers contain large blind spots behind and on both sides of the trailer. These blind spots can easily hide passenger vehicles, and drivers often have difficulty hearing horns over the roar of large engines and radios. Merging into small vehicles often runs the vehicle off the road, flips the car, or otherwise causes massive chain reaction crashes. Many semi-truck accidents also occur when the driver catches himself but oversteers in the other direction, causing rollovers and jackknifing.

#5. Rear-End Accidents

It takes substantial force to stop fully loaded tractor-trailers in Texas. Large trucks have commercial air brake systems, but inexperienced drivers frequently struggle to calculate their stopping distance based on decreased cargo weight, weather, and speed. Semi-trucks need nearly three times more space to fully stop than traditional cars. The necessary stopping distance also increases with speed. Getting rear-ended by tractor-trailers often crushes the back end of smaller vehicles, injuring rear-seat passengers and sending substantial force throughout occupants’ spines.

Most of these accidents do not occur absent truck driver or owner neglect. Even the most experienced truck drivers cannot always compensate for the vehicle owner’s refusal to replace worn tires or perform regular brake maintenance. Experienced Texas tractor-trailer accident lawyers might help clients injured as a direct or indirect result of these accidents. This includes obtaining damages when innocent drivers crash into jackknifed trailers or get in the middle of resulting chain-reaction crashes.

Parties Potentially Liable for Texas Big-Rig Accidents

Truck drivers do not generally own the tractor-trailer. Further, they are typically working when truck accidents occur. Traditional legal principles hold the truck driver’s employer and truck owner vicariously liable for truck accident injuries. This is important because, unlike hard-working drivers, these large companies generally have the insurance coverage and resources necessary to fully compensate seriously injured claimants. As such, basic tractor-trailer accidents give eligible claimants the right to sue the truck driver, the driver’s employer, and the truck’s registered owner (generally a corporation) directly.

Third parties may also share liability for truck accidents, especially because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that three out of four semi-truck collisions involve other vehicles, people, bicycles, highway debris, or animals encroaching on the driver’s travel lane. In addition to holding negligent truck drivers and companies liable, attorneys might help injured claimants recover damages from other drivers/vehicle owners, public entities responsible for designing dangerous roadways, careless cargo loaders, and even truck manufacturers.

Victims might hold multiple parties responsible for the accident through joint negligence, gross negligence (recklessness), or products liability litigation.

Primary Tractor-Trailer Crashes Factors

Identifying the primary cause of tractor-trailer accidents is essential for recovering financial damages. Commercial insurers only pay claims if the truck driver’s negligent (careless) conduct caused or contributed to the accident and resulting injuries.

The FMCSA’s comprehensive truck crash causation study indicates that most semi-truck accidents result from:

  • Running out of travel lane/off-road
  • Speeding or traveling too fast for conditions
  • Loss of control due to cargo shifting or vehicle systems malfunction
  • Tailgating and brake defects
  • Truck driver fatigue
  • Truck driver physical illness or impairment (heart attack, seizure, or flu)
  • Driver distraction, inattention, and/or loss of focus
  • Drunk or drugged driving
  • Overcompensation after panicking
  • Inability to judge other vehicle speeds and navigate unfamiliar roadways (driver inexperience)
  • Failure to obey traffic signs and control devices

These violations frequently support negligence per se claims in Texas, which allow for accelerated liability determinations if victims show vehicle and traffic violations caused their injuries.

Act Quickly to Preserve Essential Evidence of Crash Factors

It’s important to connect with a local tractor-trailer accident lawyer immediately after large truck crashes to preserve essential evidence of negligence. Most semi-trucks contain black boxes and computer systems that track vehicle speed, drifting, brake pressure, and abnormal driving patterns. However, risk management teams often bury or destroy this evidence immediately following serious crashes. Claimants frequently receive letters about “malfunctioning” dash cameras or black boxes when, in reality, the data showed truck driver neglect.

An experienced truck accident lawyer will know how to preserve this essential evidence or hold trucking companies liable for destroying records. We might also immediately request hours of service (anti-fatigue) logs and drug/alcohol testing following the crash. Without dedicated legal counsel on your side, we’ve seen risk management teams quickly remove evidence of negligence.

Demanding Damages from Commercial Truck Insurers

The FMCSA requires tractor-trailers to maintain at least $750,000 in liability insurance for accidents. Trucks carrying hazardous materials or freight must sometimes carry $5,000,000 in coverage. These high-value policies cover most semi-truck accident injuries, including herniated discs, mild concussions, and fractures. However, parties injured in mass casualty rollover accidents may all demand a piece of this policy.

Disabling injuries also frequently result in damages beyond those compensable by insurers. Catastrophic conditions including paraplegia, double amputations, severe traumatic brain injuries, blindness, and substantial burns often cause millions of dollars in lifetime medical expenses and lost wages. Many victims even die from these traumas, leaving families to file wrongful death litigation against liable truckers and trucking companies.

Before accepting settlements from high-value commercial insurers, which requires waiving your injury claims against truck drivers and their employers, an attorney should send an insurance demand letter. These settlement packages often include evidence of negligence, such as the police report and witness statements, medical records confirming your injuries, and expert calculations setting forth your damages.

Recoverable expenses following tractor-trailer accidents may include past and future:

  • Hospital, surgical, and rehabilitation facility bills
  • Doctor costs
  • Cognitive and physical therapy expenses
  • Pain management and chiropractic costs
  • Home nursing care and/or companionship expenses
  • Necessary medical devices, home modifications, and medications
  • Lost income, including reduced hours and wages, commissions, and salary
  • Lost employment benefits, including 401K contributions, pensions, insurance payments, and paid leave
  • Lost overall earning capacity and advancement opportunities
  • Compensation for physical pain, fatigue, and discomfort
  • Payments for emotional suffering, mental health decline, and frustration
  • Damages for lost enjoyment of previous activities and lifestyle

Additionally, spouses might recover special loss of consortium damages, and children could demand certain payments for lost parental guidance. Families bringing wrongful death claims after tractor-trailer accidents could further request coverage for funeral expenses and lifetime lost financial support.

Dedicated truck accident attorneys might even help claimants recover punitive damages if extreme recklessness, such as drunk driving, caused the semi-truck crash. While claimants must file truck accident lawsuits within two years of the accident or death date, economic experts retained by experienced lawyers can calculate the value of future damages.

Finding Right Truck Accident Lawyer After Texas Tractor-Trailer Crashes

Semi-truck accidents differ from traditional car crashes. They often involve high-value insurance policies, complex federal regulations, and mass casualty events. Most large trucking companies also employ teams of dedicated defense lawyers and risk management professionals to reduce their financial liability.

This means that truck accident victims need advocates on their sides to stand up against the trucking companies and legal teams. Seek help from an experienced truck accident attorney who knows how to handle complex tractor-trailer crash claims. Such attorneys should offer free case evaluations to advise you of your rights, as well as to answer any questions that you may have about the legal process.