According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Corpus Christi area alone saw 394 crashes involving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in a recent year, causing two deaths, nine serious injuries, and 24 non-incapacitating injuries. While these might seem like relatively low figures, remember, that is in our county alone. In a recent year, 4,136 people died across the U.S. in collisions involving large trucks, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety/Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS/HLDI). Recently, the number of CMV-related crash fatalities rose 51 percent in the span of a decade.
If you or a loved one have been involved in an accident due to a truck rollover, call a Corpus Christi trucking accident attorney at The Patel Firm PLLC to discuss your options.
Danger and Frequency
The CMV category includes big rigs like 18-wheelers and tractor-trailers that can pose a grave danger to other vehicles, particularly smaller ones. According to the IIHS/HLDI, 67 percent of fatal CMV crash victims are in cars, and 15 percent are riding motorcycles, bicycles, or walking.
The danger to other drivers or pedestrians stems, in part, from the much greater size of big rigs, which can weigh up to 30 times more than an average-sized passenger car. But, it can also arise from some types of accidents that affect large CMVs more than other vehicles. One of the most dangerous of these is the truck rollover.
As the term implies, a rollover occurs when a truck rolls over. Whether complete or partial, truck rollovers are one of the most serious types of truck accidents. Rollovers are particularly dangerous to truck occupants; 45 percent of truck occupant fatalities stem from this one type of accident alone. On average, CMV accidents are fatal to truck occupants 17 percent of the time.
Rollovers can be dangerous to other people on the highways as well. Rollovers can occur suddenly and without warning so that drivers cannot get out of the truck’s way. A truck can spread across several lanes of traffic, increasing the chances of hitting multiple vehicles. It also increases the chances that the other vehicles will hit additional vehicles, as drivers attempt to avoid the truck and resulting traffic.
Rollovers can also cause a truck’s cargo to fly out of the truck, creating potential obstacles in the road. If the cargo is flammable, a rollover can cause fires or dangerous conditions on the roadway.
How often do rollovers occur? TxDOT does not compile CMV accident causes so specifically. However, the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS), a national review of accidents by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), has indicated that rollovers cause about 9 percent of all large truck accidents.
Rollovers: What Causes Them?
Multiple factors cause or contribute to rollovers.
High Center of Gravity
First, any vehicles with high centers of gravity have a stronger propensity to roll over or tip than others. Big rigs and tractor-trailers exhibit some of the highest centers of gravity on the road. But, a high center of gravity will not, generally, cause a rollover by itself.
Speed is the single largest causal factor in rollovers, accounting for 45 percent—far more than the 22 percent average of all truck crashes caused by speeding. Some of these speeding cases are purely due to going over the speed limit. But, a greater percentage stems from traveling too fast for conditions, such as a failure to account for weather, intersection conditions, the grade of a ramp, or worn tire tread or brakes.
Specifically, the first cause of speeding-influenced rollovers stems from traveling too fast on curves, such as those on highway ramps.
The second was failing to adjust appropriately to the truck’s weight, height, or stability. Truck size and load are significant factors in how fast trucks can safely travel and, perhaps even more importantly, how safely they can come to a stop.
The third cause within the speeding category was not adjusting properly for “known bad brakes.”
Lack of Attention
The LTCCS found that the second most common cause of truck rollovers was due to a lack of attention. This factor causes 10 percent of rollovers, versus over 8 percent of all truck collisions. However, both of these figures are smaller than the number of overall vehicle accidents caused by lack of attention. So, the authors of the LTCCS review have hypothesized that truck drivers on long hauls over straight stretches, outside of cities, feel that less attention is required.
While “lack of attention” is the term given, the LTCCS study actually found that nearly a third of rollovers in this category have resulted from sleep deprivation, drivers literally falling asleep at the wheel or driving with impaired judgment, reaction time, and reflexes due to drowsy or fatigued driving.
Drowsy driving poses dangers for all vehicle drivers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that 44,000 injuries and 800 fatalities stem from drowsy driving across all vehicle classes annually. But, the CDC points to big rig drivers as especially at risk for drowsy driving.
Why? Truck companies must, by U.S. law, restrict driver hours of service to 11 hours before a break, and after 10 straight hours off. This restriction may not totally eliminate fatigue. After all, drivers can still experience drowsiness after 11 hours. After 14 consecutive hours, drivers are required to stop.
In addition, not all companies or drivers may obey Federal law. Some companies schedule deliveries in such a way that drivers may not have the ability to meet them without violating the hour restrictions.
Roughly 6 percent of “lack of attention” accidents stem from distracted driving. We all know that distracted driving can be a danger on America’s roads. Drivers can stop paying sufficient attention because they are looking for something in the truck, daydreaming, or even sipping coffee.
Loss of Control
The third most common rollover cause is failure to retain control over the truck’s motion. Roughly half of these types of rollovers stem from over- or understeering, and about 40 percent result from overcorrections. The other accidents in this category stem from failing to keep the truck the correct distance from other vehicles, maneuvering between other vehicles, downshifting, and braking.
Who Could Be Responsible if I Am Injured in a Rollover?
If you are injured in a truck rollover, the one who caused the accident that led to your injuries is generally held responsible.
However, establishing who or what was responsible for a truck rollover is far from simple. Why? Well, truck accidents of any type can result from multiple errors by multiple parties. Rollovers can be even more complicated.
Let’s take the most common cause of rollovers, speeding, or going too fast for conditions. A driver could operate the CMV too fast for conditions due to poor judgment, of course, or pressure to deliver cargo at a certain date. But, a truck can also travel too fast (or not slow down despite the driver’s efforts) due to poor brakes, an excessively heavy truckload, or multiple other factors. Poor brake maintenance and repair itself can point to multiple potential culprits, and so can overly-heavy loads.
The FMCSA requires truck companies to perform periodic inspections, maintenance, and repair of trucks. If brakes are defective or not repaired properly, truck companies or subcontractors charged with inspection, maintenance, and repair may bear responsibility.
Obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL), which CMV drivers are required to possess, requires specific instruction and training in operating a truck’s air brakes. These are very different from brakes on other vehicles. If the driver is not appropriately licensed, for instance, both the driver and the parties charged with checking that drivers are licensed may be held responsible. Truck companies, owners, or subcontractors are all potentially responsible.
If the brakes are worn because of defective manufacture, the manufacturer could bear responsibility.
If the truck is carrying too heavy a load or an unbalanced load that contributed to the rollover, the responsible parties may include trucking companies or subcontractors hired to load and secure the cargo.
The bottom line is this: all parties who contribute to the safe operation of a truck often have what the law terms a “duty of care” to the public. Drivers should drive safely. Truck companies should hire qualified people, help ensure that trucks are safe, and follow applicable laws and regulations. Subcontractors should appropriately perform the duties they are hired to perform and follow applicable laws and regulations. Failure to do these things could breach the duty of care and a court may deem the responsible party negligent.
Negligent parties are frequently held liable for injuries and harm resulting from accidents caused by their negligence.
Potentially responsible parties for a rollover include:
- The truck’s driver
- Other vehicle drivers
- The truck’s owner
- The trucking company
- The maintenance or repair companies
- Companies that load or secure the cargo
- Manufacturers of parts and equipment
How Do I Determine Who Is Responsible for My Injuries and Get Them to Compensate Me?
Due to the relatively high number of potentially responsible parties in rollovers, they almost always require investigation to determine who or what bore responsibility, and what degree of responsibility each had, if more than one party contributed.
Injured people may find it difficult and complicated to track down the responsible party or parties. While everyone in an accident should stop and exchange contact and insurance information after the accident, only the driver is present. The driver may not bear responsibility at all, or may just bear a portion of the blame. Finding the results of any investigation and the insurance information for potentially responsible parties may pose a challenge due to the complicated nature of the accident.
To top that off, each of the potentially responsible parties frequently use different insurance carriers with separate policies and provisions. You may be required to know this information to obtain some justice for your injuries, as you may wish to bring a third-party claim against the insurance carrier or a personal injury suit against the responsible party.
Frankly, the best method of finding out the at-fault parties is to consult an experienced truck accident attorney. They are familiar with truck accident investigations, know what questions to ask, and can search for available evidence about the causes of the accident.
For example, they could request records of the trip, which could show how long the driver drove without stopping. They could request inspection, maintenance, and repair records, which can indicate the condition of the truck. They could contact any eyewitnesses, and ask for police report information, relevant camera surveillance footage, or GPS tracking information.
Experienced attorneys could navigate through multiple insurance lines and provisions. An insurance company, all by itself, may not give you the best settlement for your injuries. An attorney could help secure solid evidence of the causes of your injuries and recommended treatment, and negotiate on your behalf.
Insurance companies often use techniques intended to reduce claims. Insurance companies are in the business of making a profit. As a result, they may be more likely to deny, delay, or minimize your claim.
Insurance adjusters may deploy multiple techniques. One of these potential techniques involves disputing the evidence, particularly if it is open to competing interpretations. Did you delay seeing a physician after the accident, for example, or not fully follow the treatment recommendation for your injuries? You may have put off a doctor’s visit because you were scared, or failed to follow the treatment recommendations because they were expensive. The insurance company could try to make it seem like your injuries were not that severe or painful.
An attorney could help ensure that the evidence is as solid and unambiguous as possible. For example, they may urge you to keep all records of your treatment and follow all treatment recommendations. They can work to get you a better settlement.
What Damage Compensation Could I Receive After a Rollover?
Injured people may seek compensation for:
- Medical bills, both current and future
- Lost wages, medical treatment costs, and recuperation costs, both current and future
- Loss of future earning capacity, if your injuries make you unable to work in your previous position
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
If you need more information, contact an experienced truck accident attorney who can answer your questions and help you decide whether you have a case for seeking compensation.