Getting behind the wheel and on the road is something many of us do every day. As we commute to work, bring children to sports practice, and run the errands of everyday life, it is usually without a second thought. For many Americans, driving is a second nature. But unfortunately, the roads are not as safe as we’d like to believe.
Car accidents happen all the time, and for many different reasons. Many result in serious injuries requiring medical attention. Sometimes, car accidents can even result in death.
Sometimes car accidents occur between two or more passenger vehicles or motorcycles. Sometimes they involve a commercial semi-truck. Because of the size of commercial trucks, these accidents differ in many ways from other car accidents. And should you ever be in an accident with a semi-truck, you need to know your rights. Luckily, we have lawyers that can help you.
Navigating the complicated insurance system as you recover from your injuries, while simultaneously dealing with the semi-truck’s insurance and legal team can be daunting. You need to know your options and your rights, which is what you’ll learn in this article.
Keep reading to learn about semi-truck accidents versus car accidents. Understand what makes semi-truck accidents completely different from typical car accidents. And see what your options are in the wake of an accident.
A semi-truck, or semi-trailer truck, is a large vehicle used to carry freight, and is classified as a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). These are driven by licensed truck drivers with a commercial driver’s license. Semi-trucks are very large and haul cargo long distances, through states and across the country. These trucks can carry two or three trailers behind a truck, depending on state laws. Every state has their own laws for semi-trucks, which apply to roads other than interstates.
The federal government regulates the other roads — the interstate highway system, the vast network of highways that spread across the continental US. These roads are frequented by semi-trucks hauling freight across long distances. Federal law determines the legal weight limits of semi-trucks of these roads.
For semi-trucks with one axle, the federal weight limit is 20,000 pounds. For semi-trucks on a tandem, it’s 34,000. The total weight limit for any combination of truck and trailer is 80,000 pounds, a considerable size when compared to a 3,000 pound sedan.
Semi-trucks on roads other than interstate highways are subject to state laws, which differ from state to state. For example, in South Dakota, a semi-truck can get away with driving a massive 170,000 pound load. South Dakota has no gross weight limit, but its drivers have to follow bridge formulas for safe driving and get special permits for trucks over 80,000 pounds.
In Michigan, thanks to old grandfathered laws allowing heavy truck weights, eight axle trailers can top out at 164,000 pounds. In Minnesota, on paved and unpaved roads, semi-trucks must weigh under 80,000 pounds. This limit can vary somewhat depending on the time of the year or with a special permit. Nevertheless, semi-trucks across all states are extremely heavy.
Now that you’re familiar with the extreme size and weight that semi-trucks can reach, consider the size of your typical consumer motor vehicle. While the average size of a vehicle on the road is about 4,000 pounds, some vehicles can be as small as 2,500 pounds, such as the compact Honda Fit.
When a standard consumer vehicle weighing about 4,000 pounds has a collision with a semi-truck that can weigh twenty times as much, the entire accident differs greatly from a consumer-on-consumer auto accident.
Unfortunately, these accidents tend to be much more serious in nature. And they’re more common than we’d like to think. Of all the fatal car crashes that occurred in 2018, 11 percent occurred in large truck crashes.
Of those fatal crashes, over 4,000 individuals passed away in crashes with a large truck. The majority of these deaths — 82 percent — were drivers of passenger vehicles, including cars and motorcycles, while 16 percent of these deaths were the semi-truck drivers.
Accidents happen all the time. In fact, over 4 million Americans required medical attention for serious injuries due to car crashes last year. There are a number of reasons why an accident occurs on any given day.
Common causes include impaired drivers, such as those driving while drunk or under the influence. Distracted drivers on their phones, applying makeup, or eating also account for many crashes. Other causes of car crashes include speeding, driving recklessly, animal crossings in the road, and more.
For semi-trucks, there are a few factors unique to these vehicles that can cause crashes.
For one, these massive vehicles take much longer to come to a stop. But when they have to stop suddenly, it’s not like a typical vehicle. Due to the massive weight of the cargo and truck, it takes a semi-truck 20-40 percent further to come to a stop compared to a typical vehicle.
This distance grows even greater under inclimate weather conditions, including snow, ice, and rain. It also takes longer to stop a semi-truck if the brakes are in need of maintenance.
Another factor in semi-truck accidents is fatigue of the truck driver. Truck drivers have to drive long distances by themselves. They work long stretches of time, up to eleven hours, and sometimes even longer.
When tired or overworked, truck drivers can make mistakes behind the wheel that lead to an accident. Driver fatigue is unfortunately very common — one study found that 13 percent of commercial vehicle drivers were said to be fatigued at the time of their accident.
If you are injured in a typical auto accident, with two non-commercial vehicles, you would file an auto accident injury insurance claim with your car insurance. This is to help you pay for medical bills associated with the injuries from the accident.
Should you be out of work due to your injuries, there’s also coverage in your insurance policy for wage loss. In Minnesota, you can also get assistance paying for services around the house which you are unable to do.
But if you are injured in an accident with a semi-truck, it’s entirely different.
Commercial truck drivers are backed by large insurance policies through their employers. These policies are bigger so they can cover the increased damage done by these massive vehicles. These insurance policies can be worth millions — which means that the insurance adjusters fight hard on these cases and try to place fault on you, so they don’t have to pay out as much.
Insurance companies need to be profitable — so they make the process complicated and difficult on purpose so they can pay you the least amount possible. This means that you can be underpaid or denied benefits and left to pay your medical costs alone, which means you’ll miss out on the care you need on your car accident injuries.
Most individuals aren’t too familiar with the process of filing a large insurance claim — let alone from a semi-truck accident. Fortunately, there are resources you can rely on to make the process easier, and more effective.
As you recover from the shock of an accident and serious medical injuries, you can try to navigate the insurance process on your own. But that risks leaving benefits unclaimed or underpaid. You’ll be facing the semi-truck’s team of lawyers, investigators, and insurance adjusters alone.
Instead, consider partnering with a personal injury attorney. An attorney experienced in personal injury, auto accidents, and semi-truck accidents, can advocate for your rights, assist you with complicated paperwork, and help you understand your options.
Experienced personal injury attorneys have typically handled hundreds, if not thousands, of cases like yours. They can make estimates as to the strength and value of your claim from a consultation. And they can help you understand what benefits are available to you.
Fortunately, since 1975, both the rate of passenger vehicle occupant deaths and the rate of large truck occupant deaths have declined. Improvements in vehicle technology, safety measures on the roads, and protocols in truck driving are behind this drop in fatalities.
But we still have a long way to go in terms of road safety — and until then, semi-trucks prove a danger in auto accidents. Should you have an accident with a semi-truck, you don’t have to go it alone. You’re entitled to compensation to help you with medical bills, lost wages, and more.
Weston Law Office helps people in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the greater Twin Cities suburbs get the compensation they need following a tragic fatal auto accident. Contact us today about how we can help you pursue a wrongful death case. Consultations are 100% free — the only risk is not getting the compensation to which you’re entitled.