National Safety Council (NSC) data shows that an estimated 118,000 truck-involved crashes resulted in injuries in 2019. These collisions resulted in over 4,000 fatalities.
Many Philadelphia motorists fear sharing the road with truckers, and with good reason. The injuries that result from crashes involving an 18-wheeler and passenger vehicle tend to be particularly catastrophic.
The seriousness of these collisions often adds a layer of complexity when it comes time to file an insurance claim or litigate a truck accident case. We’ll delve a bit deeper into the reasoning behind each of these matters below.
What Makes Truck-Involved Crashes So Devastating?
Factors that make truckers dangerous to share the road with include:
- Speeding: Truckers are often subject to time constraints to get to their destination. They may attempt to speed to make up for lost time after coming upon a construction zone, inclement weather, an accident, rush hour traffic, or something else that slows them down.
- Braking Distance: Tractor-trailers can weigh up to 10,000 pounds, an amount up to 30 times the weight of a passenger car. An 18-wheeler’s weight load, speed, and road conditions directly impact how quickly it can completely stop.
- Tire Blowouts: Truckers put a lot of miles on their tires, driving that may take them through different climates and across inequitably maintained roadways. These factors, along with over-braking, poor manufacturing, and inadequate inspections, can all give way to tire blowouts.
- Poor Maintenance: Federal regulations require truckers to inspect their tractor-trailer’s many critical operational systems and components before taking off on a trip. Few truckers perform these inspections, leaving individuals they share the roads with vulnerable to getting hurt if a truck’s equipment fails.
- Topography and Inclement Weather: Truckers can traverse different terrains and encounter different weather situations during a single trip. Tractor-trailer operators must adjust their truck’s operation to account for these changes or run the risk of potentially causing a crash. A jackknife crash, for example, can result from a trucker braking too quickly upon encountering icy roadways.
- Distractions and Fatigue: Truckers are human, just like the rest of us. A phone conversation, text exchange, or random internet search while behind the wheel can take a trucker’s eyes and focus off the road and hands off the wheel. Also, a tractor-trailer operator may not receive adequate rest before heading out on the road, putting them at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. Truckers can come across slow-moving passenger car drivers or ones that cut in close on them, construction zones, and traffic congestion. Truckers’ alertness is key to minimizing the chances of a crash occurring when these situations emerge.
The factors listed above are only a few examples of incidents that can cause a trucker to lose control of their 18-wheeler or crash into others with significant force, thus leaving passenger car drivers that they share the road with vulnerable to getting hurt.
What Legal Options Can Injured Motorists Pursue After a Truck Accident?
Many injured motorists often find themselves confused when they delve deeper into Pennsylvania insurance laws and discover that this state is a choice no-fault insurance state. Most motorists would assume that the only compensation they could recover post-crash to pay their medical bills would be the personal injury protection (PIP) coverage that the state requires them to have. However, that’s not entirely the case.
You may be able to recover additional compensation by filing a bodily injury claim against the trucker’s insurance carrier if your injury-related costs exceed the limits of your PIP insurance coverage. You may also be eligible to file a claim against the fleet company that employed the trucker who struck you, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crash. Three instances in which you might have a valid reason for suing a trucking company include:
- Inadequately maintaining and operating trucks: Truckers sometimes own and operate their own trucks. Other times, their employer owns them, and they merely hire a tractor-trailer operator to do the driving. The onus may fall, at least in part, on the fleet company to ensure the truck’s safety if they own it. You may be able to hold the trucking company liable if poor maintenance seems to be responsible for the crash.
- Failing to enforce regulations: There are regulatory requirements that all truckers and trucking companies must abide by. These include requiring pre-trip inspections, mandatory rest periods, randomly testing truckers for drug and alcohol use, and ensuring that the truck doesn’t exceed certain weight limits. You might hold a fleet company at least partially liable for any injuries you suffered in a truck accident if they failed to do their part in enforcing these rules.
- Inadequate employee screenings: Trucking companies should thoroughly vet their employees before hiring them. This vetting process may include verifying that the tractor-trailer operator has a valid commercial driver’s license or performing a criminal background check. It may also include verifying that the trucker has successfully passed their U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) physical and has any necessary insurance. You might be able to hold a fleet company liable for any injuries that you suffered in a crash if they didn’t do their due diligence on this end.
Trucking companies’ insurance policies often have higher coverage for injury limits than those belonging to individual truckers. It may be possible for you to tap into your PIP coverage and also the trucker’s bodily injury and fleet company’s liability policy when you’ve suffered injuries in a Pennsylvania trucking accident.
It may even be possible to hold a manufacturer liable following a truck accident, if you can prove that an auto part or system failed to perform as it should have.
Is It Challenging to Pursue a Truck Accident Lawsuit?
If you research what steps you should take following a Philadelphia accident, you’ll often see a few pieces of advice mentioned, including to:
- Summon the police
- Seek immediate medical attention
- Be careful who you speak to when insurance adjusters start calling
- Take pictures of your vehicle and injuries, if possible
You should also petition the trucker or fleet company to preserve any evidence, such as travel logs and maintenance records. Why? These may aid you in sorting out liability. For example, you may find out that a trucker or the fleet company employing them didn’t:
- Perform their pre-trip inspection
- Take as long of a rest break as they should have
- Perform regular maintenance on the truck
Those records may also capture how the trucker drove further or longer than they lawfully could during their shift.
While these records may aid you in determining whether a trucker or their employer was negligent, that’s not everything that could go wrong, resulting in a crash. A trucker could have been tired, distracted, intoxicated, or otherwise recklessly operating their 18-wheeler when the collision occurred. Poor truck manufacturing could have resulted in equipment failure, contributing to the crash.
If you’ve suffered serious injuries in such a crash, then you’ll likely need to recover compensation to pay your current and future medical bills. Our Shrager & Sachs truck accident attorneys will know what evidence to preserve and how to determine liability before you pursue truck accident litigation. Our personal injury lawyers can give you feedback on whether insurance covers truck accident injuries like yours after reviewing the details of your case.