What You Should Know About Rollover Tractor-Trailer Accidents

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As the hub of the transportation industry in the United States, Midwestern roadways are traveled by thousands of freight-bearing vehicles each day. Their sheer size, along with the laws of physics, put tractor-trailers and other large trucks at risk for potential rollover accidents.

In a 2015 study, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that more than 3,850 people died on U.S. roadways as a result of accidents involving large trucks, a number that had gradually increased over a 10-year period. The Bloomberg company reported that truck rollover accidents, in particular, are responsible for more than half of all driver fatalities, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that trucking accidents are the leading cause of job-related deaths.

Tractor-trailers are vulnerable to rollover accidents due to their high center of gravity and unstable loads, with 69 percent of rollover accidents involving this type of vehicle. Traveling on curved roadways like entrance and exit ramps invites particular risk, as the centrifugal force placed on the truck causes it to lean away from the direction of the curve.

Nine percent of all large truck crashes involve rollovers, where part of the vehicle crosses the longitudinal axis, causing it to topple onto its side. A 2002 study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimated that over a two-year period, 141,000 large trucks were involved in fatal or injury-causing crashes nationally. Thirteen thousand of those crashes involved rollover accidents, which were found to be the deadliest type of large truck crash.

Causes

The direct cause of any rollover accident is any action that allows one side of the vehicle to drop or rise suddenly, such as turning too quickly. In the same 2002 study, coined the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS), the FMCSA sought to uncover the most common causes of large truck rollover accidents and find solutions for prevention.

The study found that almost half of all rollover accidents were the result of either driver error or vehicle-related problems. Speeding, distracted driving or inattention, and overly aggressive or reckless steering contributed to these accidents, which were almost always preventable.

Vehicle-related issues that frequently caused rollover accidents included unsafe loading of the vehicle, such as trucks with loads that were badly distributed or unsecured, causing them to be top-heavy or to shift during transport. Poorly maintained brakes or suspension systems and underinflated tires were also cited as causes.

The LTCCS identified the following conditions as the most frequently cited causes of rollover accidents:

  • Speed- The number one contributor to rollover accidents is speed, particularly the driver’s failure to adjust their speed to plan for curves in the road. Two out of three speed-related rollovers were on entrance or exit ramps.

Forty-five percent of rollover crashes involved excess speed, with 23 percent of those attributed to traveling too fast for the road conditions at the time of the accident. Speed-related rollovers occur when the front wheels of the truck turn the vehicle more quickly than the cargo it’s carrying. The faster the truck is traveling, the greater the difference.

Freight-bearing vehicles typically operate on Interstates with higher speed limits, so they are susceptible to speed-related rollovers. Failing to abide by the speed limit, feeling hurried or rushed, and road rage have all been identified as causes of speed-related rollover accidents.

  • Distractions or inattention- Distractions from the road are the second-leading cause of rollover accidents due to driver error. Sleep deprivation, a common occupational hazard for truck drivers, accounts for one-third of all attention-related rollover accidents.

These crashes occur when a driver becomes drowsy or falls asleep and his or her truck drifts off of the roadway. A sudden change in direction causes instability to the vehicle when the driver overcorrects in an attempt to bring it back into the lane.

Other common distractions include those from passengers, cell phones, CBs, or radios.

  • Loss of control- Oversteering or not steering enough to stay in the lane, followed by abrupt counter-steering in an attempt to correct, can result in a rollover accident.

Failure to maintain a safe driving distance and errors in downshifting and braking are also examples of loss of control of the vehicle.

  • Visual search errors- Many rollover accidents involving large trucks are the result of the driver not adequately visualizing surrounding hazards. In the case of lane changes or intersection crossings, the driver may fail to look in the right place at the right time to avoid collisions.

Maintaining focus only on the immediate road ahead or overfocusing on the rearview mirror can result in an inadequate amount of time for the driver to appropriately apply his or her brakes before impact occurs.

  • Load & driver conditions- The conditions under which a freight-bearing vehicle is loaded prior to hitting the road can determine the success or failure of the trip. Height, weight, and stability should be carefully inspected before setting out to ensure that freight is secured and within the limits of the truck’s capacity and capabilities.

In many rollover accidents, shifting freight is responsible for changing the center of gravity of the truck. Had freight not shifted, the truck would have otherwise remained upright. Loading conditions are the responsibility of the driver or freight company.

A driver’s mental and physical state prior to a run are also factors in rollover accident prevention. Fatigue, drowsiness, recklessness, and anger can result in drifting or overly aggressive driving habits.

  • Other motorists- The actions of other motorists on the road can set events in motion for a rollover accident to occur. In some cases, a truck is struck by another vehicle. Ongoing or passing vehicles that encroach on a large truck’s lane can make it nearly impossible for that driver to avoid striking the offending vehicle without corrective maneuvers that increase the risk of a rollover.

In the case of other motorists entering the road from entrances or intersections, a driver may attempt to avoid collision, only to end up with a truck on its side anyway.

  • Mechanical & vehicle failures- Even the most conscientious freight company or truck driver may inspect a vehicle and find it to be sound, only to later experience a blown tire or mechanical failure. Where visual cues like flaws or bubbles can’t be seen upon inspection, these types of accidents are difficult to prevent.

Brake failure that occurs on long downgrades can be avoided with regular and thorough inspection of brake components and methodical attention to routine maintenance. The same can be said of failures due to faulty steering mechanisms and axels.

Prevention

According to the results of the LTCCS, the actions of other motorists and vehicle failures play a relatively small part in large truck rollover accidents. Instead, the report recommended that prevention efforts be focused on improving training for drivers seeking a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), particularly those who will operate a tractor-trailer truck.

The use of video and rollover simulations give drivers the opportunity to recognize high-risk situations and experience the consequences of their actions without the risk of injury. By recreating a vehicle’s response to speed, steering, and load conditions, drivers can practice safer reactions to common scenarios they will encounter on the road.

The use of sensor-activated warning signs on roadways, responsible for detecting when a truck is approaching an on or off ramp in an unsafe manner, could also prevent a certain percentage of rollover accidents. The addition of clearly posted signs on freeway exits imposing lower speed limits for large trucks and devices installed inside of trucks that can alert drivers of dangerous load conditions are costly, but effective preventative tools as well.

Injuries/Consequences

Injuries sustained as the result of a large truck rollover accident can be life-changing. While some people are able to walk away with minor scrapes, cuts, and broken bones, brain, head, neck and back injuries are common outcomes of rollover accidents.

Whiplash, dislocated discs, and spinal cord injury and paralysis, as well as traumatic brain injuries can be career-ending and alter lives forever. These, along with burns and internal injuries to organs like the liver, kidneys, and spleen can lead to surgical interventions, long hospital stays, and months of rehabilitation.

Death is the most serious outcome of a rollover accident, all the more devastating when these types of crashes can largely be avoided with the proper safety precautions in place.

Take Action

For individuals who have been gravely injured in a rollover accident, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately to determine the extent of injuries sustained and to begin treatment. While medical interventions are costly, and patients may be worried about accumulating medical debt, having a record of injuries and treatment is important to determining damages and future compensation.

Financial compensation can’t change the outcome of a rollover accident, but it can help with medical bills, lost wages, rehabilitation and other expenses accrued as a result of the crash. The liability for rollover accidents caused by driver error may lie with a negligent driver or the trucking company that employs them, or with another motorist who is found responsible for the collision.

In cases where the negligent action is due to unsafe loading practices or neglectful vehicle maintenance, the freight or shipping company or other third party responsible for cargo violations or truck upkeep may be liable.

If defective mechanical equipment is to blame for a rollover accident, a manufacturer, distributor or retailer could be the responsible party in any legal proceedings involving their vehicle components or defective products.

What to Look For

When considering legal action after a rollover accident, consult an attorney who specializes in personal injury law. An expert in the field will know what evidence to gather to determine fault, an essential first step to receiving compensation.

Gathering police reports, crash video footage, witness accounts, and accident reconstruction reports can be time-consuming, but they’re necessary for building a strong case. A trusted personal injury lawyer will help with these tasks and deal with insurance companies, allowing the client to focus on healing and recovery.

Some things to consider when hiring a personal injury attorney:

  • Successful litigation is dependent upon the familiarity an attorney has in personal injury law. Find an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases with a background of successful litigation in that area.
  • Avoid attorneys who solicit business from claimants directly after an accident. So-called “ambulance chasing” is an unethical practice, one that a professional personal injury attorney will avoid.
  • Request a consultation with any potential personal injury attorney before hiring him or her to determine if that individual is a good fit. A seasoned litigator will be frank about whether or not a client has a case.
  • Discuss fee payment expectations. Some personal injury attorneys agree to take a case for a percentage of the verdict settlement. It’s important to understand the fee agreement up front.

Reach Out to Our Firm Today

The long-term consequences of large truck rollover accidents can be devastating to an individual and his or her family. Hiring an attorney who will fight for fair compensation for the physical and monetary damages sustained in a collision can ease the financial burden caused by someone else’s negligence.

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