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Fault for large truck collisions can lie with many parties

Large truck crashes can happen for many reasons. The outcome, though, is often the same: a horrific aftermath that leads to catastrophic and even fatal injuries for unfortunate motorists.

While responsibility for an accident sometimes lies only with the driver of the large truck, other parties can play a role that may not be obvious at first glance. For example, in some cases, the actions or inactions of the trucking company that operated the large truck may have contributed to the accident; in some cases, a defect or failure in the large truck may have led to the accident; and in some cases, the company that loaded the cargo may have played a role. Too many injuries and too many fatalities occur in large truck wrecks.

More than 5,000 died in 2019

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 159,000 people sustained injuries and an additional 5,005 people were killed in collisions involving large trucks. Perhaps most critical, however, is that the data reinforces the unfortunate trend that when a motorist is involved in an accident with a large truck, it is almost always the motorist in the smaller vehicle that is killed.

Of the 5,005 people killed in accidents involving large trucks in 2019, 82% of the individuals that were killed were in the smaller vehicle. With only 16 such fatalities in 2019, South Dakota recorded some of the fewest such deaths in the country. In contrast, our neighbors of Wyoming and North Dakota, both of which have fewer residents, had more fatalities with 39 and 21 respectively.

Drivers and loading companies

Oftentimes, motorists wonder who is responsible for these crashes. Every crash is different and requires detailed analysis; however, fault for large truck crashes may lie with any or all of the following:

  • Truck drivers:  An inexperienced truck driver may cause unintended danger on the road. Also, it should be kept in mind that truck drivers often work long hours and have tight deadlines to deliver their cargo, which can sometimes result in the drivers being fatigued. Other drivers may ignore traffic laws, subscribe to distracted driving, or in the worst case, decide to get on the road while impaired by alcohol or controlled substances.
  • Transportation companies:  Trucking companies have separate obligations when it comes to hiring drivers. For example, if they are a commercial motor carrier, they must:  (i) have the prospective driver complete and sign a written application; (ii) investigate the prospective driver’s prior safety history (and document doing so); (iii) secure copies of the prospective driver’s motor vehicle record from each State in which he/she has held a license in the past 3 years (and secure updated information annually); (iv) require the prospective driver to list all motor vehicle violations during the prior 12 month period; (v) have the prospective driver complete a road test; (vi) have the prospective driver pass a medical examination; and (vii) inquire regarding any previous pre-employment drug or alcohol test. Then, once hired, the trucking companies needs to ensure that the driver receives proper and thorough training. If a trucking company fails to adhere to such processes when putting a driver on the road or fails to properly train the driver, the result can be an unqualified driver operating a large truck which can, in turn, often lead to serious accidents.
  • Truck maintenance companies:  A trucking company is only as good as its individual trucks and trailers, which must be in tip-top shape and operating condition. Properly running and safe trucks and trailers are the product of (i) routine inspection and maintenance and (ii) maintenance and repairs performed by qualified mechanics. Failures in these regards typically result in a failure while the truck is on the road—and the result is often catastrophic.
  • Truck manufacturers:  Although truck manufacturers strive to produce safe trucks (and parts for trucks), a defective design or manufacture of a truck component can also be an underlying cause of an accident involving a large truck.
  • Cargo-loading companies:  Typically, trucks are loaded and unloaded by third parties.  If a trailer is loaded improperly, the contents may shift during transport, which, in turn, can affect the driver’s ability to control the tractor-trailer or, in some cases, result in the trailer overturning.

The odds of injury or death in a large truck collision are far greater for drivers and passengers of other smaller vehicles. And, sadly, most of these wrecks are preventable.