What You Should Know About Semi-Truck Crashes

2020 was a landmark year for truck accident cases and for all the wrong reasons. Coronavirus lockdowns badly disrupted the supply chain. Furthermore, 2020 was the year the ongoing truck driver shortage moved from a concerning nuisance to a major crisis. Not coincidentally, semi-truck crashes have increased 26 percent since 2020.

Modern semi-trucks are also much heavier and faster than ever before. A fully loaded tractor-trailer weighs over 80,000 pounds. At the same time, engineering improvements mean these large trucks are no longer lumbering dinosaurs. Usually, they are just as fast as the other cars and trucks on the road. Fast, heavy vehicles usually cause extremely serious injuries. More on that below.

Semi-truck crashes are very complex, and not just because of the serious injuries they cause. Usually, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) resides in another state. Foreign residence creates jurisdictional and evidence issues. Therefore, only the most experienced truck accident lawyer should handle these claims. Less-experienced lawyers rarely obtain maximum compensation in these cases.

What Causes Truck Accidents?

Because of the aforementioned environment, fewer drivers must move more cargo from place to place at faster rates. When drivers push the envelope in this way, they frequently drive while impaired and/or drive aggressively.

Fatigue might be the most common kind of driver impairment among truckers. They stay behind the wheel as long as possible to make on-time deliveries. Furthermore, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has rolled back some HOS (hours of service) safety regulations. Watered-down laws usually lead to lax enforcement of existing rules. Inspectors reason that if top brass does not care about HOS, they should not care about it either.

Many people do not understand the severe effects of fatigue. Drowsiness clouds judgment abilities and impairs motor skills. In fact, driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That is well above the legal BAC limit for commercial drivers in most states.

Quick shortcuts do not cure alcohol intoxication. Quick fixes, like drinking coffee or chewing gum, do not cure fatigue either. They simply help drivers feel more alert for a few minutes.

Drug impairment often overlaps with fatigue impairment. Over a third of truckers admit they use amphetamines while they are behind the wheel. These drugs help drivers feel more alert. In fact, they work too well. Amphetamines usually make users suspicious and edgy, further impairing their judgment ability. Additionally, these users typically crash hard and fast when these drugs wear off.

Truckers often drive aggressively as well. “Aggressive driving” is a relative term. These drivers normally do not zig-zag among lanes or otherwise drive recklessly. But considering the size of their vehicles, they drive aggressively.

For example, a little speed makes a big difference. At 55mph, after drivers hit the brakes, most trucks move forward an additional 300 feet. At 65mph, the stopping distance more than doubles, to over 600 feet.

Aggressive driving and impaired driving usually breach the duty of care. If a breach of care causes injury, the tortfeasor is liable for damages. Negligence claims are based on evidence, an area we examine below.

Truck Crash Injuries

As mentioned, the number of truck crashes has shot up since 2020. The fatality rate has shot up as well. Common truck crash injuries include:

  • Head Injuries: Airbags reduce the number of impact-related head injuries. But they don’t affect the number of motion-related head injuries. When victims’ heads violently move forward during wrecks, their brains slam against the insides of their skulls, causing brain bleeding and swelling.
  • Severe Burns: Semi-trucks usually carry hundreds of gallons of highly flammable diesel fuel. This substance burns at a different temperature from ordinary gasoline. These extremely hot flames usually cause third or fourth-degree burns, and the smoke usually destroys lung tissue. These serious injuries are very expensive to treat.
  • Broken Bones: Frequently, truck crash victims are pinned underneath wrecked trucks until emergency responders cut them out of their vehicles. The intense weight usually crushes their bones, instead of simply breaking them. Doctors must treat these wounds much more aggressively, which means a higher bill and longer physical therapy.

Usually, a truck accident lawyer connects victims with top-shelf doctors who charge nothing upfront for their services.

Building a Case

Victims/plaintiffs must prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. Therefore, proof is critical in these claims. 

Proof is also hard to come by. The tortfeasor’s driving record is usually an important bit of evidence in a truck crash claim. As mentioned above, most semi-truck tortfeasors come from out of state. It’s usually difficult, or impossible, to subpoena out-of-state government records and get them properly authenticated in court.

So a truck crash lawyer often pulls a driver’s Safety Maintenance System report. The SMS report is like a multi-state driver’s license. It includes information about:

  • Prior safety citations,
  • Crash record,
  • HOS violations,
  • Truck maintenance issues, and
  • Medical records.

Some of those points require some additional clarification. SMS vehicle maintenance reports usually draw on law enforcement sources. So, if Amy gets a fix-it ticket and takes care of the problem, the matter will not show up in judicial records. But it will show up in law enforcement records.

Medical records indicate if a truck driver has sleep apnea. People with this condition do not sleep normally at night. Therefore, they wake up fatigued, even after a full night’s sleep.

Possible Defenses

Building a strong, evidence-based claim is the minimum effort in these situations. Minimal effort usually produces minimal results. Maximum compensation is only available if a truck accident lawyer anticipates and refutes common insurance company defenses.

Comparative fault almost always comes up in these cases. This two-part legal defense shifts blame for an accident from the tortfeasor to the victim. 

Part one is the same in all states. Insurance company lawyers must convince judges that the victim’s negligence, usually impairment or aggressive driving, might have substantially caused the wreck. If Chris was speeding 5mph over the limit at the time of the wreck, his speed, while excessive, probably did not substantially cause the wreck. If Chris was speeding 20mph over the limit, that is a reckless velocity.

Part two varies in different states. Usually, jurors must divide responsibility on a percentage basis, based on the evidence presented. Then, the court typically reduces the victim’s damages accordingly. 

Therefore, a successful case goes back to evidence. Strong evidence refutes comparative fault and other defenses, like last clear chance, ensuring maximum compensation.

Reach Out to a Dedicated Personal Injury Lawyer

Truck crashes usually cause serious injuries to the pedestrians and other motorists on the road, not necessarily the truck driver themself. They have much more protection and bear a much larger share of road responsibility and safety when driving. Far too often, they fail at that task, which can leave a family broken. For a free consultation with an experienced truck accident lawyer, contact The Yost Legal Group today. We are available via e-mail, phone (1-800-YOST-LAW), and text (410-659-6800).