What do you do after a semi truck accident?

Semi-truck accidents can be terrifying, especially if you’re in a much smaller passenger vehicle. Unfortunately, people in smaller vehicles are much more likely to suffer serious injuries in a collision than a truck driver due to the large truck’s size and weight. If you’ve been hurt in a semi-truck accident, you may be facing months of recovery, medical bills, and missed time at work – not to mention the pain and discomfort of your injuries. You may have questions about how to handle the expenses during this difficult time. The best way to find out the options for your particular situation is to speak with a North Carolina truck accident lawyer who offers free consultations. Until then, here are some general questions people may have about truck accidents:

What Do You Do After A Semi-Truck Accident?

There are several steps you can take if you are conscious and able to think somewhat clearly. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If you’ve been seriously injured, you may not be able to think about anything except how much pain you’re in. Sometimes all you can do is call 911 and wait for help.

But if you’re able, try to move your vehicle out of the roadway and turn on your hazard lights to warn other drivers. Even if you’re not injured, you should still call 911 to report the crash. It’s also a good idea to let the paramedics check you out – sometimes, the shock of the crash can prevent people from noticing the pain from their injuries right away. If you do start to experience pain, later on, even a few days after the crash, see your doctor and let them know about your recent accident. You could have injuries you weren’t aware of yet that need treatment.

As you call 911, take a look around the scene. Given its size, the truck should be pretty visible. In most cases, the driver will get out and come check on you. (At least they should.) They may also be trying to get their truck to a safe place off the road, as well as setting out cones and turning on hazard lights to prevent another crash.

You should exchange contact and insurance information with the driver and ask for their trucking company’s name and contact info, as well as their driver’s license number. If they are an independent contractor or owner/operator, they will probably have their own insurance. Either way, try to get an insurance policy number if you can. While doing this, keep scanning the scene to see if there appear to be any witnesses around. If you are able to get out of your vehicle safely, try to introduce yourself to the witnesses and ask for their contact info. If not, write down their descriptions.

Next, take out your phone and capture images of any damage to your car, as well as the rest of the scene, including wherever the truck ended up. Sometimes this may be helpful later. If you were hurt, be sure to get pictures of your injuries.

While waiting for the police to arrive, go over the events that just happened in your head so you can clearly explain them to the officers. If you noticed the truck driver ignoring a traffic law, such as running a red light, be sure to mention it to the officer.

If you believe the truck driver was at fault, you can file a claim with the driver’s or trucking company’s insurance carrier. However, you don’t have to do this yourself or on the day of the accident. It’s a good idea to wait until you get a copy of the police report and have the chance to speak with an attorney before filing your claim. 

If you file a claim on your own, be wary of speaking with the insurance adjuster. They may call and say they just want to ask a few questions. It’s important to understand that when an insurance adjuster calls you, their goal is to reduce the company’s costs as much as possible. Typically they do this by looking for any excuse to say that the accident wasn’t the policy holder’s fault and therefore isn’t their responsibility.

This is an especially big problem with accidents in North Carolina, where strict contributory negligence laws mean that if the insurance carrier convinces the court the accident was even one percent your fault, they won’t have to pay a dime! Worse, they know that sometimes they may not have to prove anything in court. In some cases, they deny the claim on the grounds of the victim sharing fault, and the victim believes there’s nothing they can do about it. They are then left to deal with the bills on their own, while the insurance company has another great quarter.

If your claim is denied due to assertions that you contributed to the crash or for any other reason, don’t assume there’s nothing you can do. In many cases, a personal injury attorney may be able to refute the insurance carrier’s claims or argue that your claim should be covered. Often they can negotiate with the insurer and reach a settlement without having to go to court, although this is sometimes necessary. When you receive a claim denial, don’t do anything until you have a chance to speak with a lawyer about your accident.

What Happens When A Semi Jackknifes?

Semi-trucks consist of two pieces: A cab and a detachable trailer. Because the trailer is a separate component, it swings out when the cab turns. Sometimes, it only swings out at a slight angle, then corrects. But in other cases, the trailer swings until it is perpendicular to the cab or close to it. Because this makes the truck look like an open pocket knife, this situation is called “jackknifing.”

Jackknife accidents are extremely dangerous, as the large trailer is no longer confined to one lane and can wipe out most other vehicles in its path. There is also a risk of the trailer tipping over while this happens, crushing other cars beneath it. Very few jackknife accidents end without serious injuries, and when they do, it’s usually because the truck was on a deserted stretch of road and there was no one around to be hurt.

There are several common causes of jackknife incidents:

  • Speeding. This is always a bad idea, but it’s especially dangerous for a semi-truck driver to speed. On average, a fully-loaded tractor-trailer weighs around 80,000 pounds, sometimes more. Even at 60 MPH, it takes about 335 feet for a semi to come to a complete stop (longer if the truck has air brakes). That’s slightly longer than the length of a football field. When a truck is going very fast, and the driver applies the brakes, sometimes the cab slows faster than the trailer, increasing the risk of jackknifing (especially if the driver is also attempting to turn or is traveling on a road that curves).
  • Improperly loaded cargo. The cargo inside a trailer is supposed to be evenly distributed, so there isn’t too much weight on top or on one side. When the load isn’t balanced, the trailer is more likely to lean to one side, which may lead to jackknifing or the trailer flipping.
  • Operator error. This can take different forms, from tired driving to simple inexperience. If the trucking company hires drivers who aren’t well-trained, they may be liable. An inexperienced driver, for example, may not realize the difficulty of driving a semi up a particularly steep and winding road until it’s too late. Fatigued driving can increase the risk of all kinds of accidents, jackknifing included, which is why there are federal regulations in place regarding how many continuous hours truck drivers can work. Unfortunately, sometimes unscrupulous trucking companies encourage drivers to find ways around their time tracking requirements.
  • Poor weather. Wet or icy conditions also increase the risk of a jackknife accident, especially if the driver fails to slow down and proceed more carefully.

How Many Accidents Are Caused By Semi Trucks?

On average, there are around 500,000 truck accidents in the US each year. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, there were 4,119 fatalities in large truck accidents in 2019, and the overall rate of deaths in truck crashes has been climbing since 2019. However, not all truck accidents are caused by the truck driver. In some cases, the passenger vehicle may have caused the crash by violating the truck’s right of way or cutting in front of the truck. We can’t stress this enough – don’t cut off a semi-truck!

Motorists should always remember that truck drivers have limited visibility due to the trailer blocking much of the road behind them and sitting high up in the cab. Keep in mind that if you can’t see the driver or their mirrors, they probably have no idea you’re there. For this reason, it’s a good idea to give semi-trucks a wide berth. If you have to pass a semi, do so quickly and allow extra space if you are getting back over into the lane in front of them.

Can I Sue For Being Hit By A Semi Truck?

You can sue for any kind of accident. Will your lawsuit be successful? This depends on the details of the crash. If there is a reasonable amount of evidence that the truck driver or another party was responsible for the crash, you will probably have a strong case. But it’s important to remember what we talked about earlier – contributory negligence statutes. If the trucking company or their insurance carrier claims that you somehow contributed to the accident, you and your attorney will need to discuss strategies for refuting this claim. This may involve presenting evidence, taking testimony from witnesses, or further investigating the accident.

The other thing to remember is that most accident cases are settled out of court. Once you’ve secured an attorney, they will probably begin by negotiating with the truck driver’s or trucking company’s insurance carrier. In many cases, they can work out a settlement that covers your expenses without having to sue anyone. Truck drivers are required to carry $750,000 – $1,000,000 in combined liability coverage (property damage plus injuries/medical costs), so only in rare cases will you run into issues with policy limits.

In some situations, the insurance company may not blame you but may still maintain that the truck driver was not at fault. Sometimes they may be right, and you may have the option to sue a third party. For example, if the freight was improperly loaded by employees of a third party company not covered by the trucking company’s insurance, and this was the real cause of the accident, your lawyer might suggest filing a lawsuit against the third party or their insurance carrier. Depending on the situation, there may be other liable parties, such as the trucking company or a manufacturer of a defective part that led to the crash.

What Happens If A Semi Hits Your Car?

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against any car or smaller passenger vehicle struck by a semi-truck. The risk of serious injury or death is very high for the car driver and relatively low for the truck driver. Only about 16 percent of truck crash fatalities are truck drivers, while another 67 percent are people in passenger vehicles, and another 15 percent are bicyclists, motorcyclists, or pedestrians. Common injuries include:

  • Broken bones, dislocated joints and soft tissue injuries.
  • Head injuries may include concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Neck and spine injuries frequently lead to chronic pain, permanent paralysis, or both.
  • Internal bleeding or injuries, which may require surgery.
  • Anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health issues from the trauma of the accident.

Any of these injuries can take days, weeks, or months to recover from. Some may also lead to permanent scarring, disability, or other difficulties. Medical bills can add up quickly, even if you have health insurance. If you’ve been injured because of a truck accident, please seek legal advice as soon as you can to protect your rights.

What Happens If I Hit An 18 Wheeler?

A collision with a semi-truck is just as dangerous if the accident is your fault. Your car is still much smaller than the truck, and you’re just as likely to suffer serious injuries. The difference is that you won’t be able to collect damages if it can be proven that the crash was your fault, and you’ll be stuck with your own medical bills. You might also be sued for property damage to the truck and the truck driver’s injuries if they suffered any. (Fortunately, your car is unlikely to do serious damage to a truck or its occupants, so this only happens in rare cases.)

Are you completely out of luck? Options for collecting from others based on fault will not be available. But how well do you know what your own insurance policy covers? If you’ve purchased the right type of coverage, your insurance carrier may cover some of your expenses. However, if you caused an accident with a very large and visible truck, your insurance company will probably

 raise your rates.

Again, we recommend driving defensively, obeying all traffic laws, and giving semi-trucks plenty of room. Doing these things can reduce the risk of hitting an 18 wheeler.

If you’ve been hurt in a truck accident or otherwise injured due to another party’s negligence, please contact Auger and Auger Accident and Injury Lawyers online or call 828-222-7649 for a free consultation. We’ll be glad to review your case and explain your options for seeking compensation.