An 18 wheeler is a special type of commercial vehicle that consists of a tractor, a trailer, and of course, typically has 18 wheels. These large vehicles are also sometimes referred to as “big rigs”, “semi-trucks”, or “tractor trailers”. Thus, an 18 wheeler accident is a vehicle accident that involves a large commercial truck.
18 wheeler accidents can be extremely dangerous due to the size and nature of such vehicles. For instance, the average 18 wheeler weighs roughly 35,000 pounds, not including cargo weight. Assuming that the vehicle is legally loaded, an 18 wheeler carrying cargo can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. In contrast, the average car weighs only around 5,000 pounds.
This means that a fully loaded 18 wheeler generally weighs 16 times more than a standard car in the United States.
Additionally, the size and weight of an eighteen wheeler makes it much more difficult to stop these vehicles, even if they are traveling at the legal speed limit. They also require longer braking distances than most other types of vehicles on the road. As such, 18 wheeler accidents can result in major property damage and severe injuries that could potentially be life-altering.
Therefore, it may be in your best interest to consult a local personal injury attorney if you have been injured in an 18 wheeler accident.
Are 18 Wheeler Accidents More Dangerous than Other Types of Vehicle Accidents?
While all vehicle accidents have the potential to cause catastrophic damages, 18 wheeler accidents are particularly more dangerous than other types of vehicle accidents. As previously mentioned, the sheer weight and size of these trucks makes it easier to cause serious damage not only to property, but also to the other lighter vehicles surrounding them on the road.
It is not hard to imagine the extensive amount of damage that these vehicles can cause when compared to the average car, If one factors in:
- The size and weight of an 18 wheeler;
- The speed it was traveling at;
- The distance required to brake;
- Whether there was cargo loaded in the trailer or not;
- The weather or road conditions at the time of the accident; and
- The capabilities of the individual driving the truck.
For example, eighteen wheeler accidents can cause smaller vehicles to flip over. The truck can crush or roll over other cars itself, and may involve multiple vehicles or toxic chemical spills. The tractor and trailer parts of the truck can also jackknife.
Thus, 18 wheeler accidents are generally more dangerous than other types of vehicle accidents simply because of their design and the number of factors that could go wrong when operating such a large commercial vehicle.
What are Some Common 18 Wheeler Accident Injuries?
As discussed above, the accidents that stem from collisions involving an 18 wheeler could potentially be life-altering, depending on the circumstances of the accident. Again, 18 wheelers are massive and thus can cause severe injuries to the drivers and occupants of not only those parties involved in the accident, but also to the parties in the surrounding vehicles. As such, some common 18 wheeler injuries that can result from a trucking accident include:
- Head, neck and/or back injuries (e.g., whiplash);
- Traumatic brain or spine injuries (e.g., brain damage or paralysis);
- Seatbelt injuries;
- Broken bones;
- Internal organ injuries;
- Injuries from fires or explosions due to the accident (e.g., burns); and/or
- Injuries associated with exposure to chemicals or toxic substances (e.g., gasoline or if the 18 wheeler is carrying dangerous chemicals).
What are Common Causes of 18 Wheeler Accidents ?
There are a number of factors that could cause an 18 wheeler to crash. From an animal leaping into the roadway to one of its 18 tires blowing out, the possibilities are endless. Generally speaking, however, some of the most common causes of 18 wheeler accidents tend to involve the following reasons:
- Unsecured cargo or overloaded cargo that surpasses the legal weight limit;
- Dangerous road or weather conditions (e.g., ice, rain, potholes, oil spills, etc.);
- Driver error, such as speeding, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, distracted driving (e.g., daydreaming, texting, etc.), fatigue, ignoring road signs, or improper training to operate a commercial vehicle;
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications;
- Improper truck maintenance;
- Defective truck part or equipment (e.g., tractor and trailer parts do not lock together properly); and/or
- Various mechanical issues (e.g., engine problems, hood flies up, etc.).
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the federal agency charged with regulating the trucking industry, speeding is the number one cause of most commercial truck accidents on the above list.
Who Can Be Held Liable for an 18 Wheeler Accident?
One of the main differences between 18 wheeler accidents and standard car accidents is that there are several parties who potentially could be held legally responsible for an 18 wheeler accident, depending on the facts surrounding an incident. Some parties who can be held liable for an 18 wheeler accident may include:
- The driver of the 18 wheeler: First and foremost, the drive of the truck will most likely be at fault if they were negligent in causing the accident. For instance, if the driver was speeding, voluntarily intoxicated while driving, falling asleep, daydreaming, or driving in a manner that suggested carelessness or negligence, then they can be held liable for causing the truck accident.
- The business that employs the truck driver: Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, the employer of the truck driver may be held responsible for the accident due to the nature of their agency relationship. Alternatively, the business could be held liable for negligence if they were careless in hiring the truck driver (e.g., did not perform a full background check on the driver).
- The manufacturer of the 18 wheeler or its parts: The manufacturer of the eighteen wheeler itself or the company that manufacturers the parts of the truck can be held responsible for defective parts.
- The freight company: In some cases, the freight company or the owners of the freight company may be liable if they overloaded the 18 wheeler with too much cargo or did not secure the cargo in the proper manner.
- Various parties: Some other parties who can be held liable for an 18 wheeler accident include companies that perform maintenance on the truck, mechanics, truck owners, and the drivers and/or owners of the other vehicles involved in the truck accident.
Are There Any Legal Remedies Available for an 18 Wheeler Accident?
There are a number of legal remedies available to those who have suffered harm as a result of an 18 wheeler accident. The most common remedy that an injured person can recover in these types of cases are monetary damages awards. For instance, a prevailing plaintiff may receive both economic damages and noneconomic damages.
Some examples of economic damages include:
- Costs of current and future medical treatment for injuries sustained in the truck accident;
- Lost wages or opportunities for missing work;
- Replacement or repairs of a motor vehicle;
- Loss of future earnings if a victim is permanently disabled; and
- Funds to pay for medical equipment or necessary changes to accommodate a person in their home.
On the other hand, noneconomic damages may be awarded to pay for things like pain and suffering, damage to one’s reputation, disfigurement, emotional distress, reduction of quality of life, loss of consortium, and so forth (in other words, expenses that are difficult to appraise or put a price tag on).
In rare cases, a plaintiff may also receive punitive damages if the cause of the accident was particularly shocking (e.g., the truck driver was driving while under the influence, which led to multiple deaths in the accident).
Finally, drivers who are found liable for causing the accident could also lose their jobs, have their commercial licenses suspended or revoked, and lose personal driving privileges.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with an 18 Wheeler Accident Lawsuit?
Lawsuits that arise from 18 wheeler accidents are much more complicated than those for standard car accidents. While many of the same standards of negligence apply in such lawsuits, there are separate regulations governing commercial vehicles as well as special licensing requirements.
18 wheeler accident lawsuits also require different forms of evidence than car accident lawsuits and often involve multiple parties, many of which have powerful insurance companies backing them. Therefore, if you have been involved in an 18 wheeler accident, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a local personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
An experienced personal injury attorney will already be familiar with the laws concerning commercial truck accidents and will be equipped with the legal skills needed to argue against large insurance companies.
Additionally, your attorney can help ensure that your interests are well-represented in court and will fight hard to recover any legal remedies that you deserve. Your lawyer can also provide assistance in reaching a settlement agreement, or alternatively, can attend other forms of dispute resolution meetings, like arbitration hearings.