PERSONAL INJURY AND WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUITS IN TRUCK ACCIDENTS
May 21st, 2019 | Christopher C. Quinn
Every year, nationally, there are approximately half a million accidents involving large trucks (those with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds). The results are devastating. Over a recent five-year period, these types of accidents resulted in an average of over 4,000 deaths and nearly 115,000 injuries every year. Although large trucks account for about 5% of vehicles on the road, 11% of all motor vehicle crash accidents in 2017 occurred in crashes involving large trucks. Also, about two-thirds of fatalities and injuries that occur in truck-car collisions are suffered by the occupants in automobiles.
Why Truck/Car Collisions Are So Violent
Physics plays a big role in the outcome of truck-car accidents. Automobiles typically range between 3,000-4,500 pounds. When loaded, tractor-trailers can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. Although both vehicles are subject to the same force at impact, the automobile’s much smaller mass leads to it experiencing higher acceleration. Any change in the velocity of an object – speeding up, slowing down, and changing direction – constitutes acceleration. The human body can withstand virtually any constant speed. (Space shuttle astronauts traveled at 18,000 miles per hour.) However, to avoid damage to the human body, the rate of travel must be changed relatively slowly.
At the moment of impact in a vehicle crash, a tremendous amount of kinetic energy, measured in terms of “G-force”, is released. Unrestrained occupants in a car can be subjected to upwards of 120 G’s, ten times as much as fighter pilots can experience. Seventy G’s is enough to tear the pulmonary artery in a person’s heart, an injury almost impossible to survive. Impact force can be reduced by a seat belt. While seat belts do occasionally contribute to a serious injury or death, the use of seat belts can dramatically increase the chances of surviving an accident.
Truck/Car Accident Injuries
Accidents involving large trucks can often be horrific, resulting in fatalities and catastrophic injuries. Some serious injuries include:
The majority of head injuries from traffic accidents are concussions. However, accidents involving large trucks frequently result in traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Depending on the severity, TBIs can substantially and permanently compromise a person’s ability to function.
Spinal cord injuries
Massive collisions can cause spinal cord injuries which leave survivors partially or completely paralyzed. People with spinal cord injuries often need lifelong care that may cost millions of dollars.
In addition to whiplash, these injuries can include herniated disks and fractures. Herniated disks occur when a collision causes the disk to move out of place, creating severe pain in neck, back and legs. Abrupt impact or twisting of the neck during a collision can cause complex neck fractures that can result in a lifetime of medical problems.
In large truck accidents, a person’s back can experience damage to the bones and soft tissue, resulting in chronic pain and serious physical impairment.
Injuries to internal organs
The enormous impact of a truck accident can injure organs within the chest, abdomen or pelvis, resulting in internal bleeding, reduced function, organ failure, and other complications.
Severe burn injuries can occur when a truck carrying corrosive materials is involved in a crash. Burn hazards can also result if fuel from the vehicles ignites. Injuries can be extremely painful and can leave victims vulnerable to serious infections.
Extreme collisions in a large truck accident can cause limbs to be severed. Limbs can also be so severely damaged that removing them becomes medically necessary.
In a severe collision, any of the body’s 206 bones can be broken. Some fractures such as that of a femur may be life-threatening. Other breaks may never heal properly (e.g., scaphoid fractures.)
A large truck accident can cause deep cuts or a jagged tearing of the flesh. These open wounds can result in permanent scarring and disfigurement.
Causes of large truck accidents
HKQ Law Personal Injury Attorney Christopher Quinn notes that, “There are number of factors that can lead to a truck crashing. Our Personal Injury team works tirelessly to determine the precise cause of the accident.” HKQ Law investigates all the circumstances surrounding the accident, including:
The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 30%-40% of all semi-truck accidents involve some element of driver fatigue. Regulations restricting the number of hours truck drivers can operate are not always followed by trucking companies or drivers.
Driving under the influence of alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, and even over-the-counter medications can substantially impair a trucker’s driving skills, posing serious dangers for other motorists.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) truckers who text while driving are over 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than those who refrain from distracted driving.
Unsafe Driving Practices
These practices include speeding, failure to check blind spots, following another vehicle too closely, failure to use turn signals, frequent lane changes and road rage.
Inadequate or Improper Training
An FMCSA study concluded that inadequate or improper truck driver training resulted in thousands of truck accidents. Truck drivers who were properly trained would be less likely to engage in unsafe driving practices.
Faulty Equipment / Improper Maintenance
Large truck accidents can be caused by problems with components such as brakes, steering, tires, fuels systems, suspension and hydraulic systems. The problems can be the result of manufacturing defects or poor maintenance.
Overloading / Improper Loading of Cargo
An overloaded truck can travel down a hill much faster than anticipated by the truck driver, requiring additional braking force to stop in time. Loads that are not properly distributed can cause the truck to be off balance which can lead to multi-vehicle accidents or rollover accidents.
Truckers can face a variety of conditions such as snow-covered surfaces, pot holes, poorly designed roads and confusing or insufficient signage. While these conditions can contribute to an accident, commercial truck drivers still need to meet a higher “duty of care” than other drivers in order to avoid liability.
Defendants in truck accident lawsuits
While the truck driver may be the most obvious defendant, there are a number of other potential defendants, including:
- Truck driver’s employer
- Owner of the truck
- Company leasing the truck
- Owner of the leasing company
- Owner of the trailer
- Company leasing the trailer
- Maintenance and repair service companies
- Freight loading contractors
- Broker of the freight and trucking company
- Manufacturer of truck, trailer, or components
- Governmental agencies responsible for road conditions
In a personal injury lawsuit, victims of truck accidents can seek compensation for economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages compensate for actual costs, such as medical expenses and lost wages due to time off for work. Non-economic damages cover intangible costs such as pain and suffering. Pennsylvania also allows an injured party to make a claim for punitive damages.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, economic damages can include medical, funeral and estate administration costs, loss of income and other financial contributions of the deceased, and value of the services that the deceased would have provided. Non-economic damages can include emotional and psychological loss, grief and emotional distress. Punitive damages may also be awarded to punish a defendant for conduct that is particularly reckless.