Truck accidents of any type have the potential to cause fatalities, serious injuries, and widespread damage. Rollovers can take a particularly heavy toll. In this blog post, we explore large truck rollover accidents: how and why they happen, the damage they can cause, and how a lawyer can help you if a rollover causes harm to you or a loved one.
Truck Rollover Dangers
Trucks that roll over create particular dangers for motorists, bystanders, and even first responders. Although not an exclusive list, here are three of the biggest hazards created truck rollover accidents:
- Massive, uncontrolled impact. A rollover, by definition, is a truck completely out of control. Fully-loaded, a truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. A truck with that much size and weight tumbling on its side inflicts catastrophic forces when it collides with other (usually smaller) vehicles, or with road features like bridge abutments and overpasses.
- Widespread damage and debris. A truck that rolls over frequently leaves a wide swath of destruction. It will often block multiple lanes of traffic, creating a large obstacle that can lead to secondary collisions between other vehicles. Debris from the collision, too, can pose extreme hazards for other motorists and bystanders.
- Spilled cargo. Trucks that roll over frequently spill their cargo, which itself can become a major hazard to motorists and anyone else near the roadway. Cargo can obstruct the road and lead to crashes. It can make the road surface slick or otherwise unsafe. Most of all, cargo consisting of toxic or flammable materials can spill or leak, leading to dangerous toxic exposure, fire, and explosions that can injure anyone nearby, including first responders.
By no means are these the only dangers created by truck rollovers, of course. No matter what rollover-related danger led to an accident that harmed you or a loved one, contact an experienced truck accident injury attorney for help seeking the compensation you deserve.
How Common Are Rollovers?
Nationally, approximately 9 percent of large truck accidents are rollovers, according to a 2008 study of large truck rollover crashes. The higher a vehicle’s center-of-gravity, the greater the danger of a rollover. Commercial trucks, of course, have the highest centers of gravity on the road.
However, rollovers cause a much higher number of deaths than that figure would suggest. 48 percent of truck driver deaths occur because of rollovers, making them the deadliest of risks for truckers.
Why Do Rollovers Happen?
Rollovers stem from factors that happen either alone or in combination. They can include the following.
Excessive speed causes 45 percent of rollovers. That does not only mean driving faster than the posted speed limit. In fact, more frequently, rollovers happen because a truck travels at an unsafe speed for road conditions or features. Studies have shown that many rollovers happen when a trucker drives too fast on sharp curves, particularly highway on and off ramps. Rollovers also occur when a driver fails to match his speed to the truck’s weight, height, or stability. A heavy truck traveling at highway speed is not nearly as maneuverable as a passenger vehicle. Often, it cannot safely swerve or reduce speed to avoid a road hazard, and if a trucker tries to do so, the truck can roll.
Truck driver inattention and impairment also cause a significant number of rollover crashes. Truckers lose focus from safe truck operations in a variety of ways.
- Fatigue represents perhaps the single most dangerous contributing factor to rollovers and other large truck accidents. An excessively fatigued truck driver experiences the same degree of motor and cognitive impairment as a drunk truck driver, which leads (among other things) to drivers misjudging speed and distance, a major contributor to rollovers. Frighteningly, a majority of long-haul truck drivers report having driven while too tired. Some even report driving fatigued every day. Regulations aim to combat fatigue by limiting the number of hours truckers can spend behind the wheel without a break, the length of their workdays, and the number of hours they work in a week. Still, even drivers who follow these rules (and that is not always the case) can end up working irregular hours under tight deadlines that leave them extremely drowsy behind the wheel. Truckers also have relatively poor health and nutrition, another major contributor to fatigue.
- Distraction plagues truck drivers the same as it does all motorists. Smartphone and GPS screens draw truckers’ attention from the road. Truckers take their hands off the wheel to hold a phone or eat. Truckers daydream, just like the rest of us. Any of these distractions can prove fatal. A moment’s inattention leads to a trucker failing to control speed, or reacting just a little too late to a road hazard. Rollovers and other tragic truck accidents follow.
- Alcohol and drug use. Statistics show that truckers drive drunk far less often than passenger vehicle drivers. That’s a good thing. However, use and abuse of drugs—legal and illegal—takes a heavy toll on truck drivers. Truckers have been known to take stimulants to stay awake and alert behind the wheel. Truck drivers in poor health take prescription medications with potentially dangerous side effects. Even over-the-counter pain and cold medications can take the edge off of a truck driver’s situational awareness, increasing the likelihood of a misjudgment that leads to a rollover.
Unexpected Loss of Control
A sudden, unforeseen loss of control can easily lead to a rollover. Three factors, in particular, can cause this sort of hazard.
First, truckers hauling cargo must take care to secure their loads. A load that shifts unexpectedly can throw off the truck’s balance, leading to an over-correction by the driver, leading to a rollover.
Second, strong crosswinds can cause a similar unexpected loss of balance. Third, a trucker can lose control of a rig on a slick or uneven road surface, particularly in changeable weather.
Parties at Fault for a Rollover Crash
The factors above that contribute to a rollover crash suggest that the truck driver’s actions almost always play a central role. That would suggest that truckers are to blame for most rollovers, and that they should face legal liability for the harm a crash causes.
Often, that is true. However, experienced truck accident injury attorneys know that a trucker’s mistakes or poor decisions represent just the tip of the iceberg in determining who bears blame for a truck rollover. Rather than stopping at blaming a truck driver, lawyers will often dig deeper into the facts and circumstances leading up to the crash, to figure out whether other people’s or companies’ decisions or actions contributed to the truck rolling over. After all, truckers rarely operate their rigs alone, without the involvement of others who have a commercial interest in their vehicles or cargo.
All of those parties could face liability for creating conditions that made a rollover more likely. For example:
- Trucking companies can share a lot of the blame for a rollover for many reasons. First, if the trucker works for the company as an employee, then by law the company may well have liability for all of his actions, good and bad, behind the wheel. Second, the mechanical condition of a truck can contribute to the trucker’s ability to control it. If a trucking company sends equipment out on the road in an unsafe condition, then it should share the blame if that condition leads to a rollover. Third, a trucking company has a responsibility to make sure it does not push its drivers too hard, does not send unqualified drivers on a run, and does not otherwise create working conditions that make it likely the driver will become excessively fatigued, or use stimulants, or become distracted behind the wheel. Companies that fail to take these steps to ensure the suitability and safety of their drivers can share blame for a rollover, too.
- Shipping companies have a special obligation to pack and secure cargo loaded onto or into trucks to ensure the cardo does not shift, spill, or leak in transit. Any company that fails to take appropriate steps to secure cargo can face legal liability for injuries caused by any accident that results from a shifting, spilling, or leading load.
- Truck maintenance companies hired to keep a trucking fleet in working order face liability for a rollover if any failure to maintain a truck leads to the crash. For example, trucks need functioning brakes to maintain their speed. A maintenance company that fails to service truck brakes, leading to a scenario in which a trucker cannot control the speed of his rig when entering a sharp curve, should shoulder some of the blame for the ensuing rollover accident.
- Truck and truck-part manufacturers, like all manufacturers of products, have an obligation to avoid selling any product that is unreasonably dangerous for use as intended. If, for example, a truck tire maker ships a batch of tires containing a defect that makes them prone to blow or shred under normal truck operating conditions, then the manufacturer may bear liability for any harm done by a rollover caused by the sudden loss of control in a tire-blowout.
These are merely examples. Every rollover crash has its own contributing factors, so the parties at fault will differ from one accident to the next. The important thing to understand is that working with an experienced truck accident lawyer is the most reliable way to identify all parties with potential legal liability for a crash. By identifying those parties, lawyers give their clients the best possible chance to recover all of the compensation they deserve for their rollover crash injuries.
Recourse for Rollover Injuries
As we have discussed, a rollover can cause widespread damage, catastrophic injuries, and fatalities. With the help of an experienced truck accident injury attorney, victims of these crashes can often seek compensation from anyone whose actions or decisions led to the rollover, such as the parties described above.
The avenues available for seeking compensation often depend upon how the accident and injury occurred, and who is to blame. For example:
- Motorists injured in a truck rollover in no-fault states like New York or New Jersey typically must first file claims with their own no-fault insurance policies to pay for their own injuries and other expenses related to the accident. If, however, injuries qualify as serious under a no-fault law, then injured motorists may also have the right to seek compensation from at fault parties.
- Bystanders injured in a truck rollover or its aftermath may not have recourse to a no fault auto insurance policy. They may instead have the ability to seek compensation from at fault parties no matter the severity of their injuries.
- Workers injured in connection with a truck rollover may have recourse first to their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy, and may also have the ability to seek compensation from at fault parties.
Again, every truck rollover has its own unique circumstances. As the bullet points above suggest, different victims of a rollover can have different rights for seeking and obtaining compensation for their injuries. Speaking with an experienced truck accident injury attorney is the best way to determine your rights in connection with injuries you suffered in a rollover crash.
Why You Should Seek Legal Help for Rollover Crash Injuries
Rollovers cause widespread destruction, severe injuries, and tragic deaths. They also tend to involve significant legal complications, because of the extent of the damage and the number of parties typically involved.
Victims of rollover accidents need experienced, diligent legal representation to ensure they recover the compensation they deserve for their injuries. The sooner victims seek legal advice, the better.
Truck accidents tend to trigger a pile-on of lawyers and insurance companies, as injured parties seek compensation and parties with potential liability seek to point the blame at anyone other than themselves. Accident victims who wait to protect their legal rights can find themselves at the back of the line when the time comes to pay damages.
After a rollover accident harms you, do not wait to get help. Contact an experienced truck accident injury lawyer right away for a free case evaluation.