With proper training, most truck drivers are capable of maintaining control of a vehicle that is not only heavier but more difficult to stop than a passenger vehicle. When a truck driver loses control of their semi-truck or tanker truck, the results are devastating for those around them. In the case of a truck rollover accident, the results are often catastrophic injuries and sometimes death. If you or a loved one was seriously injured due to the reckless actions of a distracted, fatigued, or speeding truck driver, contact a Washington truck accident lawyer for information regarding your options.
What Causes a Truck Rollover?
Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) shows that 78 percent of truck rollover accidents involve some kind of driver error. The data also shows that a “first event”—a dangerous event that occurs before the rollover—is typically prevalent in more than 98 percent of rollover accidents.
Large trucks are at greater risk for rollover accidents due to a high center of gravity and unstable loads. When a semi-truck with a trailer travels a curved path, centrifugal force causes the trailer to lean away from the direction of the curve. A leaning trailer shifts materials, resulting in an unbalanced load and the potential for a rollover.
The FMCSA conducted a Large Truck Crash Causation Study of 239 accidents in which a truck rolled over. The study found that almost half of the accidents were the result of the following:
- Failing to adjust the truck speed to a curve in the road, specifically entrance and exit ramps
- Top-heavy, badly distributed or unsecured loads
- The poor condition of the brakes, suspension, or under-inflated tires
Other contributing factors to truck rollover crashes involving driver error include:
Driver inattention – Distracted driving is a big issue for all drivers, regardless of age and vehicle type. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers talking on a cellphone are up to four times more likely to crash. The study also found that those texting while behind the wheel are up to eight times more likely to crash.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the three main types of distraction:
- Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
- Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel
- Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving
Texting, according to the CDC, involves all three types of distraction. For truck drivers, distracted driving can involve smartphone use, navigational systems, eating, or reaching for a drink. By the time they refocus on driving and the road, it is often too late. Truck drivers who run off the shoulder of the road often overcorrect their steering, resulting in an accident.
A fully loaded tractor-trailer traveling at 65 miles per hour under ideal conditions requires 525 feet to stop. That is almost equivalent to the distance of two football fields. A failure to promptly come to a complete stop can also result in a truck driver swerving, therefore shifting the load and possibly rolling over.
Fatigue – The FMCSA sets mandatory hours-of-service regulations for truck drivers. The regulations set the limits for the hours and the breaks required for commercial truck drivers. The electronic logging device (ELD) makes it easier for truck drivers to track, share, and manage records of duty data (ROD). An ELD automatically syncs with a truck’s engine to accurately record driving time.
Despite this improvement in tracking driver hours, truck drivers remain at risk for falling asleep behind the wheel. Monotonous highways, a lack of comfortable sleeping arrangements, and an undiagnosed sleeping disorder create drowsy truck drivers. The National Sleep Foundation claims drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving due to the lack of reaction time and inability to process information.
Drunk driving – When it comes to drunk driving and commercial motor vehicles in Washington, the law is very clear. While the state blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for drivers age 21 and older is .08 percent, the level is lower—.04 percent—for those with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
For a first incident, a truck driver faces losing their CDL for one year. If the driver was transporting hazardous materials when charged, they face a license suspension of three years. In Washington, a second conviction results in the suspension of a CDL for life.
In a state where recreational marijuana use is legal, strict laws remain in effect to deter driving under the influence (DUI). Washington law makes it illegal to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Truck drivers found with any measurable amount of THC face suspension of their CDL. The disqualification is in place until they successfully complete a drug and alcohol assessment by a substance abuse professional.
Speeding – One common problem involving trucks and rollovers are drivers who are in a hurry. The majority of truck drivers on the nation’s highways are paid per mile and not per hour. The more miles they drive, the better the paycheck. Speeding to get to their destination sooner causes drivers to misjudge distances and curves.
Most posted speed limits are too high for a fully loaded tractor-trailer to navigate successfully. The FMCSA Large Truck Crash Causation Study discovered that in 26 rollovers, accidents involved loads that were too heavy and insecurely fastened. Combined with speeding and road curves such as entrance and exit ramps, improperly loaded trailers were more prone to rolling over.
Complacency – The FMCSA warns against complacency among experienced drivers. Research by the FMCSA shows:
- Sixty-six percent of rollovers involve drivers with more than 10 years of experience
- Most rollovers occur among drivers between the ages of 25 and 55
Truck rollover accidents can occur anytime, anywhere, and to any driver, no matter how experienced. Becoming too comfortable with a route and the load they haul can have tragic consequences when a driver fails to pay attention to changes in roads or carries new freight.
Cargo Tank Rollovers
According to the FMCSA, more than 1,300 cargo tank rollovers are reported each year. This equates to an average of nearly four rollover accidents every day. Cargo tank rollover accidents are especially dangerous due to the hazardous material they carry.
Trucks transport thousands of shipments containing such hazardous materials as gasoline, crude oil, and flammable gases. A cargo tank rollover can cause serious harm to other drivers and endanger the environment. The FMCSA reports that 90 percent of cargo tank rollovers occur when the tank is partially full. This is due to what the industry refers to as “slosh and surge” of the liquid material.
The slosh and surge of the liquid in the tank is what presents the most danger for a potential rollover accident. The slosh refers to the liquid running up the sides of the tanker. The surge refers to the liquid shifting from back to front, then front to back due to sudden maneuvers or braking.
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) developed specific classes for hazardous material with a specific warning label for each class. There are nine classes, with categories for such hazardous materials as explosives, gasses, poisons, and corrosives. Hazmat training for first responders is essential for them to respond in a way that allows them to reach accident victims quickly and safely.
The materials transported by cargo tank are essential to the economy, such as gasoline and agricultural products like fertilizer. When driver error results in a cargo tank rollover, it can change cause explosions, fires, and the leaking of toxic poisons.
Types of Possible Serious Injuries
The sheer size of a semi-truck with a trailer is enough to cause serious injuries to other drivers. When a rollover accident occurs, passenger vehicles and their occupants face a force of 18,000 pounds and 73 feet landing near—or worse—on top of them. The crushing impact, along with the possibility of fire can make one or more of the following injuries a life-changing experience:
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – The CDC defines a TBI as a bump, blow, jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function. A severe TBI can change a victim’s life forever due to the damaging effects of the following:
- Cognitive function – Memory and attention
- Motor function – Impaired coordination and balance
- Sensation – Hearing, vision, and touch
- Behavior – Depression and anxiety
A severe TBI often requires extensive therapy and a need for life-long personal care. The victim may never return to the person you once knew.
Spinal cord injury – The spinal cord coordinates movement and sensation by communicating with the brain. When the spinal cord injury becomes injured due to trauma, the injury results in total or partial paralysis. Victims of spinal cord injuries require expensive modifications to their home and transportation, as well as power chairs for mobility.
Burns – When a cargo tank carrying flammable material overturns, there is a real risk of fire. Suffering severe burns in addition to other serious injuries compounds the tragedy. Accident victims with severe burns often require treatment at specialized burn centers.
Broken bones – With more than 200 bones in the human body, one can expect at least one, or more of them to break in an accident. The forceful impact of a truck rollover can not only break bones—they can possibly crush them. Even a broken arm and/or leg can delay your recovery, require surgery and physical therapy, and make daily tasks difficult.
Internal injuries – Severe injuries that are not visible to the naked eye are why seeking medical attention is imperative—even if you don’t feel pain or see any injury. It takes a trained medical professional to properly diagnosis, and to treat, an internal injury such as internal bleeding.
A truck rollover is a danger motorists face every day on highways in Washington and throughout the nation. When a truck rollover occurs, there are traumatic consequences for innocent drivers. No one should experience a lifetime of physical, financial, and emotional stress due to the negligence of a commercial truck driver.
Insurance companies will attempt to speak with you regarding a settlement. While their initial offer may appear as a large amount of money, it most likely will not cover your future medical needs. Do not speak with them but rather with a licensed attorney instead.
Take Action and Demand Justice
A simple trip to the store or your commute home from work can turn tragic in an instant. No matter how defensively you drive, dangerous drivers surround you every day. When the dangerous driver next you is behind the wheel of a large truck, you have an increased risk of potential harm.
If you find yourself in a truck rollover accident, seek medical attention immediately. If possible, take pictures and collect the contact information for witnesses. If this is not possible, ask a witness to do these important steps for you. Should you decide to pursue litigation, the information collected at the scene can serve as a valuable resource later.
Catastrophic injuries may result in never returning to a career you love and the injuries can greatly affect your relationships. It is a time of turmoil, pain, and stress, all due to a truck driver who was in a hurry or distracted. Their failure to share the road affects more than their CDL—it affects the lives of innocent drivers with cars carrying children and loved ones.
Aggressive insurance companies are not looking out for you. Their primary goal is to settle the case quickly. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a truck rollover accident, don’t settle for less than you deserve. While each case is different, you may be entitled to financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. A truck rollover accident is a serious matter and you deserve justice for your injuries.
Time is of the essence due to the statute of limitations, so don’t delay. The sooner you seek legal representation, the sooner they can evaluate your case and determine the best course of action for you. If you have additional questions regarding a truck rollover accident, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your options.