Truck accidents take many forms. Some leave an awful mess, but spare truck drivers and other motorists from harm. Others cause not only property damage, but also serious injuries and fatalities. Crash reporting data from the Washington State Patrol reflect that as of this writing, since January 1, 2018, there have been 91 fatal collisions and 143 serious injury collisions involving commercial carriers on the state’s roads.
In this blog post, we discuss the wide variety of ways in which trucks can cause mayhem on Washington roads, and who gets held responsible when they do. This is not a complete list, of course. We could write volumes about the seemingly limitless number of ways accidents involving trucks can happen. Rather, the list below highlights some of the most destructive truck accidents affecting clients of our legal practice at Boohoff Law.
If you or a loved one have suffered an injury in a truck-involved accident in the Seattle area, no matter how it happened, the experienced truck accident attorneys at Boohoff Law want to help you recover the compensation you deserve. Contact us today.
Because of their size and the inconsistent weight of the cargo they carry, trucks can make it difficult for their drivers to keep them under control. Here are some typical single-truck accidents resulting from loss-of-control of a truck.
Trucks, especially tractor trailers, have a relatively high center of gravity. When loaded with cargo, this makes them prone to roll over. The risk of rollover rises when truckers attempt to navigate sharp curves (such as on- and off-ramps) at unsafe speeds, when they operate in high cross-winds, and when a trailer carries an unbalanced or unsecured load that promotes tipping.
Truck rollovers cause a wide range of damage on Washington roads. Truck drivers can sustain serious injuries in rollovers. These accidents also cause significant property damage, particularly to the cargo the truck was carrying at the time of the incident. Of course, if a truck rolls over onto other vehicles or causes secondary collisions, it can injure or kill other motorists as well.
Jackknifing refers to what happens when the towing part of a tractor trailer truck swings around, like the blade of a folding knife, so that it faces backward relative to the rig’s direction of travel. What causes this to occur? In a word, physics. Specifically, the force a loaded trailer imparts on the truck pulling it can exceed the counterforce the truck (and its brakes) impart on the trailer. In a variety of scenarios in which the driver tries to slow the truck down, such as brake failure (discussed below) and slippery road conditions, the trailer can push on the towing part of the truck at an angle and with enough force to swing it around from behind.
Jackknifing immediately leads to the driver losing control of the truck. As a result, the truck usually ends up blocking lanes of traffic, colliding with other vehicles, or causing secondary collisions between other vehicles. Sometimes a jackknife leads to a rollover. In any of these situations, the truck driver and other motorists face serious risk of harm. Depending upon the speed at which the jackknife occurs, the violence of the cab of the truck swinging around backward against the trailer can destroy the cab and lead to truck driver fatality.
Equipment Failure (Tires & Brakes)
Equipment failure isn’t necessarily a category of truck accident all by itself; it sometimes is the cause of the accidents described above. Nevertheless, failed equipment merits its own mention here because of the catastrophic injuries that can result from it.
Tractor trailers are complex machines that take a lot of abuse. To operate safely, they require routine maintenance and quality (or, at least, non-defective) parts. Unfortunately, that is not always the case for trucks on Washington roads. Many trailers, in particular, get swapped out from one truck to the next, putting a strain on the electrical and hydraulic systems that control their brakes, lights, and other components. Truck tires, also, see an enormous amount of wear and tear. The so-called road gators—delaminated treads of blown truck tires—that litter U.S. highways attest to the relatively poor condition of many trailer tires.
Equipment failure, especially failed brakes and blown tires, can lead to all kinds of chaos on the road. It causes truckers to lose control and leads to collisions, rollovers, jackknifes, trucks leaving the road, and on and on. Any of these accidents can cause severe and fatal injuries to truck drivers and other motorists.
A second broad category of truck accidents involves collisions between trucks and other vehicles on the road. Though all of these types of collisions can result from the single-truck accidents named above, they can also occur without those above having happened.
Sideswiping/Running off the Road
Trucks have large blind spots, known in the trucking industry as No Zones, where it is extremely unsafe for other, smaller vehicles to travel because truckers cannot see them. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) page linked above, the No Zones around the typical tractor trailer are:
- 20 feet in the lane directly in front of the truck;
- 30 feet in the lane directly behind the truck;
- One lane-width in the driver-side blind spot extending from just behind the truck cab to mid-trailer; and
- Two lane-widths in the passenger-side blind spot extending the bumper-to-bumper length of the truck.
Motorists who drive in the No Zones put themselves at extreme risk of the truck sideswiping them or running them off the road, particularly in windy and heavy-traffic conditions. Of course, all manner of injuries can result from this sort of accident. To stay safe from a truck sideswiping you or running you off the road, follow the rule-of-thumb advocated by the FMCA: “If you can’t see the driver in his or her side mirror, the driver can’t see you.”
Underride refers to a particularly catastrophic and often-fatal accident involving cars and large trucks. It occurs when a smaller vehicle at least partially rides under a truck’s trailer. An underride collision can crush or shear off the top of a smaller vehicle, or cause the trailer to run over the smaller vehicle. In either case, the passengers in the smaller vehicle tend to suffer extreme injuries, if they survive the accident at all.
Underrides result from a wide variety of truck-on-car collisions, including sideswipes, cars running into jackknifed trucks, and cars failing to slow down for a truck turning across traffic.
Trucks traveling too fast for road and/or traffic conditions risk running into (and even up-and-over) vehicles in front of them. Unlike many rear-end collisions between passenger vehicles, getting rear-ended by a heavy truck is no fender bender. It’s almost always a life-threatening accident for the occupants of the smaller vehicle, simply because of the huge disparity in mass between the truck and the vehicle it rear-ends.
Cargo-Related Truck Accidents
Sometimes, it’s not the truck or its driver that causes severe injuries and fatalities, but rather the cargo the truck carries. These accidents are a little more rare, but when they happen they’re especially dangerous.
Explosions and Toxic Events
Trucks on Washington roads sometimes carry highly-flammable or toxic materials. It’s rare, but every so often the materials in a truck ignite or escape, putting the public at risk. Most often, cargo explosions and toxic events happen after a preliminary accident, such as a collision or rollover. We place them in a separate category because of the enormous and indiscriminate destructive force of these incidents, which can threaten the lives of truckers, motorists, first responders, and anyone within an unsafe distance of the road where the event occurs.
A truck’s cargo need not be explosive or toxic to pose a danger on Washington roads, however. Otherwise harmless cargo that falls off or out of a truck can pose life-threatening risks to motorists. Virtually any item that tumbles from a truck at highway speeds, from logs to livestock, becomes a deadly projectile that, more likely than not, will cause a catastrophic accident for someone else on the road. It is for this reason that all drivers should give trucks a wide berth. Not only are No Zones potential death traps for passenger cars, but defensive drivers should always give themselves enough space to avoid unexpected objects in the roadway.
Liability for Truck Accidents
The categories above do not cover every truck-involved incident that causes injury and death on Washington roads, but they are among the most common. People injured in these accidents and families of those tragically killed need skilled legal representation on their side to make sure they recover every penny of compensation the law allows.
Truck-Related Parties with Potential Liability
We began this blog post by alluding to the “mess” truck accidents cause. We meant the physical mess when we used that word above, but it’s also true that truck accidents frequently leave behind a legal mess, too. That’s because a single tractor trailer loaded with cargo often has three or four legal interests attached to it, meaning there are usually, at a bare minimum, three or four parties with potential legal liability to anyone injured in a truck accident. They include:
- Truck drivers, whose inattentive or careless actions can cause an accident;
- Truck driver employers, whose failure to train, monitor, or supervise a truck driver can lead to an accident;
- Truck and/or trailer owners, if different from drivers or employers, whose failure to maintain trucks in safe condition can lead to an accident; and
- Cargo shippers, whose careless loading, handling, or labeling of cargo could lead to an accident.
Other Parties with Potential Liability
And that’s just the parties related to the truck involved in the accident. Other parties could also face legal liability for the injuries and fatalities a truck accident causes. For example:
- Other drivers, whose actions could lead to a truck losing control or crashing into other vehicles;
- Truck equipment manufacturers, whose defective products (such as tires or brake systems) could cause a catastrophic failure in a truck’s systems, leading to a crash;
- Mechanics, whose negligent performance of maintenance work could lead to an accident;
- Local and state government entities, whose failure to design, build, and maintain roads safe for trucks to travel can lead to serious and fatal accidents.
Under Washington law, in any given truck-related accident, one or more of the parties above could have liability for damages to those injured or killed. Untangling the web of facts and legal interests to find the parties most likely to face liability and most able to pay damages takes skilled, determined lawyering. In many cases, truck accident lawyers will work with experts to reconstruct how and why a truck accident happened, in order to pinpoint the parties with liability.
But, that is only the first step. Once they have settled on parties most likely to have legal liability, experienced truck accident lawyers like those at Boohoff Law also develop a plan for seeking compensation on their clients’ behalf. This may include negotiating directly with parties, negotiating with insurance companies for those parties, or, when negotiation fails to yield a suitable settlement, taking cases to Washington state and federal courts. When successful in these efforts, lawyers can recover money to pay for their clients’:
- Medical expenses, both past and future;
- Lost wages and lost earning capacity;
- Pain and suffering; and
- Loss of life enjoyment/loss of consortium.
Unlike some states, Washington caps the latter two categories of damages listed above, which are sometimes called non-economic or general damages. Washington law limits those damages to a maximum of 43 percent of the average annual wage in Washington multiplied by the plaintiff’s life expectancy at the time of the accident (which can be no less than 15 years). Punitive (or exemplary) damages generally are not recoverable in Washington truck accident cases.
Call Our Seattle Truck Accident Lawyers if a Trucker Injured You
At Boohoff Law, we serve the interests and protect the rights of victims of all manner of truck-related accidents. If a Seattle-area truck accident left you injured or took the life of a loved one, email attorney Tatiana Boohoff and her colleagues at Boohoff Law today, or dial (877) 999-9999 to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation case consultation.