Among the accidents occurring every day on American highways, those involving trucks are often the most costly and devastating.
Although they represent a small percent of the total number of accidents, the massive size and weight of large trucks – also known as semis or 18-wheelers – lead to higher risk of injury, death, and destruction when they strike smaller vehicles. Rollovers, rear-endings, and multi-car crashes are only a few of the consequences driver error and poor maintenance can cause. An experienced San Diego truck accident attorney can help you better determine the cause and type of accident you are dealing with.
In addition to the physical damage, major financial difficulties can occur after an accident with a truck. Survivors and family members affected by truck accidents are often left wondering how to pursue compensation for their extensive medical bills, car repairs, and other expenses related to lost time at work or funeral arrangements.
To better understand the state of truck collisions in the United States, let’s take a look at recent data from San Diego, California, and the entire nation.
Prevalence of Truck Accidents in the United States
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2012 marked a 4% increase in the number of individuals killed in collisions with large trucks. Total fatalities rose from 3,781 to 3,921.
That same year, 104,000 people sustained injuries in trucking accidents. This number jumped significantly (18 percent) since 2011, when 88,000 truck-related injuries occurred. Nearly three-quarters of injured parties were in non-truck vehicles, 24 percent occupied trucks, and 3 percent were not inside a vehicle.
A total of 333,000 trucks experienced traffic collisions in 2012. The NHTSA report also shows large trucks were more likely to cause multiple-vehicle accidents, revealing these incidents occur more often and present a greater potential for harm to a larger number of people.
Truck Accidents in the State of California
A 2011 report from the California Highway Patrol provides the most recent statistics available regarding the occurrence of accidents involving trucks in California. According to the report, the total number of injuries and fatalities due to truck collisions decreased in the state between 2007 and 2011. Fatalities went from 320 to 245 – a nearly 25 percent decline – while injuries decreased 26 percent from 6,942 in 2007 to 5,155 in 2011.
Trucking Accidents in San Diego County
The same California Highway Patrol report breaks down injury and fatality rates by county, showing San Diego’s outcomes to reflect the state’s larger downward trend. From 2007 to 2011, the number of truck-related accident injuries declined from 349 to 253 (28 percent), and fatalities went from 19 to 14 (26 percent).
While these statistics are encouraging for truck and non-truck drivers alike, the reality remains that hundreds of individuals still suffer from the trauma of trucking accidents in San Diego each year.
Types of Truck Accidents
Regardless of the cargo they carry, semi-trucks present a massive size and unique physical characteristics that make traffic collisions particularly lethal. Truck collisions come in many forms, including:
- Lost loads For truck drivers and their employers, securing truckloads prior to embarking represents one of their greatest professional responsibilities. When loads come loose on the open road, the consequences are often catastrophic to surrounding drivers.
- Under-rides Trucks drivers that quickly slam on their brakes may cause the drivers behind them to become wedged beneath the trailer if they are unable to stop in time.
- Air brake failures Faulty or poorly maintained brakes frequently fail while trucks are traveling downhill, causing them to rapidly increase speed and collide with the vehicles in front of them.
- Rollovers Lack of tire traction and high speeds often cause trucks to careen sideways and flip over in this common type of accident.
- Blind spots Accidents frequently occur when truck drivers fail to see smaller vehicles in their rearview mirrors when switching lanes. This causes them to cut into these cars’ paths and collide with them.
- Rear-end Because of their heavy weights, trucks take a longer time to slow down when traveling at high speeds. When following too closely or traveling behind a car that suddenly slams on its brakes, a truck can cause serious damage to the vehicle it strikes.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Accidents involving large trucks occur for a wide variety of reasons relating to driver behaviors, truck mechanics, and external conditions. Among the many reasons such collisions occur, the most frequent include:
- Drowsy driving Although California truck driving laws impose strict requirements on how many hours truck drivers can spend on the road each day, tight deadlines and demanding employers may cause drivers to operate on less sleep than they need to complete their routes safely. Only a second of dozing off at the wheel can result in a tragic accident.
- Poor truck maintenance Lights, tires, brakes, and other mechanisms of a truck must undergo regular, rigorous testing and maintenance. When component failure causes a driver to lose control and crash into another vehicle, such accidents often could have been prevented if the problem had been detected in a timely manner.
- Speeding Speeding among truck drivers presents heightened risk because of the size and momentum of the truck. Should an obstacle or slowing traffic suddenly appear, the driver may be unable to slow his speed in time to avoid an accident.
- Lack of blind spot mirrors Even when a truck bears signs warning against driving in its blind spot, the trucking company and its drivers bear the responsibility for performing safe lane changes. One way to ensure truck drivers keep smaller vehicles in plain view is to install blind spot mirrors, which provide a more complete perspective of the surrounding traffic.
- Aggressive drivers Truck drivers under pressure to deliver a load in time may engage in reckless behaviors, such as weaving and cutting off other drivers. Such actions endanger everyone around them.
- Tailgating Similar to aggressive driving, truck drivers in a hurry to make their deadlines often “ride the bumpers” of the cars in front of them. This intimidating and unsafe tactic greatly increases the risk of rear-end collisions.
Common Types of Injuries from Truck Wrecks
Due to the massive size and weight of trucks, they frequently cause severe injuries and property damages to the drivers with whom they collide. Truck accident victims suffer a wide array of injuries, such as:
- Burns When a fire results from a truck crash, drivers often have difficulty extricating themselves from their vehicles before suffering significant first- to third-degree burns.
- Neck and back injuries The speed and force a truck strikes a smaller vehicle with can cause painful, debilitating damage to the back and neck. Even when such injuries do not result in disability or death, these individuals often suffer from discomfort and decreased mobility for the rest of their lives.
- Bone fractures When non-truck drivers and passengers experience a hit from a truck, their bones frequently bear the brunt of impact. Collapsing vehicle structures, seatbelts, and even airbags can produce fractures requiring months of treatment.
- Internal injuries The most critical injuries resulting from a collision with a truck may not become apparent at first. However, internal bleeding and organ damage often occur when a collision delivers blunt force trauma to a victim’s torso.
- Brain injuries One of the most devastating injuries an individual can incur is one that compromises the skull or brain. Once it has sustained damage in a high-impact trucking accident, the survivor may experience decreased cognitive abilities for the rest of his or her life.
- Wrongful death The worst possible consequence of a truck accident is another driver’s death. In addition to grieving the loss of their loved one, the families of these individuals often deal with unexpected complications, such as managing estates, paying for funerals, and assuming guardianship of bereaved children or other dependents.
Determining Liability in a Trucking Accident
Although the blame in an accident with a truck may appear to rest squarely on the shoulders of one party, the reality may be considerably more complicated. This is due to the various individuals involved in a single big truck load, including:
- The driver
- The trailer or truck owner
- The company or individual leasing the trailer or truck from the owner
- The loader or shipper responsible for proper cargo loading
- The vehicle, tire, or component manufacturer responsible for a truck malfunction
Authorities and insurance companies must work together to examine the circumstances affecting the accident, in addition to interviewing the surviving drivers and witnesses to discern whose behavior contributed to the collision.
Importance of Hiring a Lawyer Immediately
Empirical and statistical evidence have demonstrated the disproportionate tendency of trucks to cause damage, destruction, and injury. As a result, the costs related to accidents with trucks often reach into the hundreds of thousands or millions.
Unfortunately, this means trucking companies and their insurance providers may engage in aggressive (and sometimes dishonest) tactics to avoid taking responsibility for an accident. They may also place pressure on injured parties to accept less than what they are entitled in exchange for absolving the trucking company of its responsibility.
When trying to heal from a painful injury or the loss of a loved one, the last thing individuals affected by a collision with a truck needs is to try to navigate the murky legal waters of such a case. Contacting a San Diego truck accident attorney shifts the burden from the injured or bereaved individual onto a skilled, experienced legal professional with the resources and ability to take on trucking and insurance companies.
Qualities a Truck Accident Attorney Should Possess
When selecting a San Diego truck accident attorney, take into account the circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome you wish to achieve. Although a family member, friend, or other local lawyer may be eager to take on your case, the stakes are too high to work with anyone but the most qualified and experienced.
Before hiring an attorney to represent you in an accident claim, ask him or her the following questions:
- What are your credentials? Did your attorney attend a reputable law institution? Does he or she possess highly respected professional memberships? Has he or she received any community or industry-based awards?
- What is your billing policy? Having already faced massive hospital, funeral, or other bills, truck accident victims can rarely pay an attorney’s hourly rate before the case is decided. An honest and confident attorney will usually defer legal fees to after winning a case – and will accept nothing if their client loses.
- Have you handled cases like mine before? Any personal injury lawyer may claim to have expertise in truck accident cases, but those who have argued dozens of cases similar to yours provide the greatest advantage in a courtroom.
- What is the likely outcome? Based on previous cases, an experienced San Diego accident attorney will give clients a realistic expectation of their likelihood of success, as well as the amount of monetary compensation they may receive.
What Sets Estey & Bomberger, LLP Apart
Among the many San Diego auto accident attorneys offering services to those affected by truck accidents, we at Estey & Bomberger possess a remarkably high level of experience, knowledge, and expertise in such cases. We have worked with clients like you for decades, providing the aggressive advocacy accident victims deserve to hold trucking companies accountable for negligent or reckless behaviors.
We understand you and your family have been through a great deal. It would be our pleasure to assume the challenging task of working with investigators and insurance companies to ensure you receive every penny to which you are entitled. Because we believe strongly in our ability to produce the results you need and desire, we only accept payment for our services when clients win their cases.
It would be a privilege to talk with you today to learn more about your situation and provide you with a free case evaluation. Give us a call at (619) 873-4498 in San Diego or complete our online contact form today!