Commercial truck rollover accidents can cause widespread damage and severe injuries. It's a popular misconception that inclement weather causes most rollovers. But in truth, the weather is a factor in less than 4 percent of truck rollovers. The vast majority of these accidents occur on dry roads and result from careless driving behavior.
In this blog post, we take a close look at truck rollovers. How do they happen? What injuries do they cause? And, perhaps most important, how an experienced truck accident injury lawyer can help truck rollover crash victims secure compensation to help them pay for medical care, unexpected expenses, and the harm they've suffered.
Common Causes of Truck Rollovers
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), commercial trucks—commonly known as tractor-trailers, semi-trucks, or big rigs are 20 to 30 times larger than other vehicles. The standard semi-truck measures about 13.5 feet tall. The size and shape of these vehicles make them difficult to maneuver and potentially unstable in various driving conditions and scenarios.
In particular, commercial trucks have a relatively high center of gravity, making them susceptible to rolling over, according to research published by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (MTRI). Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reflects that roughly 3,000 large truck rollovers happen every year in the United States, making them a leading “first harmful event” in truck crashes.
Still, trucks do not simply roll over on their own. Something has to trigger a rollover crash, and it's usually (albeit not always) a mistake by the truck driver. Here is a look at common causes of rollover accidents involving commercial trucks.
According to research published by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine (AAAM) analyzing the FMCSA's landmark Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS), speed contributes to the cause of nearly half (45 percent) of all rollovers. But that doesn't mean that all trucks that roll over are driving recklessly. Many rollover accidents happen at what might seem like relatively low speeds that are, nonetheless, unsafe for the vehicle characteristics and road conditions.
Specifically, the AAAM researchers found that roughly two-thirds of truck rollover accidents associated with unsafe speeds occur on road curves, mostly highway on-ramps, and off-ramps. Semi-trucks are particularly susceptible to rolling over on curves when compared to straight box-style trucks. Truck drivers may misjudge the safe speed at which their big rig can safely navigate a curve or rely too much on the posted speed limit for a curve, which often reflects the safe speed for passenger vehicles, not large trucks.
Other factors that can make speed contribute to a truck rollover include unbalanced loads that decrease a truck's stability, a driver's failure to account for faulty or ineffective brakes, and road conditions that can limit a truck driver's reaction times, leading to sharp maneuvers that destabilize a truck.
#2. Truck Driver Attention Lapses
A truck driver's failure to pay sufficient attention to the road contributes to about one-quarter of all rollover accidents, according to the AAAM study. In almost half of the rollovers studied in which attention played a contributing role, drivers simply were not observant enough about road conditions, which led them to take emergency maneuvers like swerving or slamming the brakes that increase the risk of a rollover.
Truck driver fatigue also plays an outsized role in attention-related rollover truck crashes. The risks associated with driving while excessively tired are well documented. Fatigue impairs a driver's cognitive functioning, eyesight, and reaction times in the same manner as driving drunk does.
Fatigue is especially common among long-haul truck drivers. FMCSA research has found that about 13 percent of truck drivers involved in accidents report feeling tired at the time of the crash, and that is likely a significant underestimate.
Although federal regulations require truckers to limit their hours behind the wheel, not all truckers follow them, and even those that do fall victim to drowsiness regularly. A tired trucker faces a heightened risk of running off the road or failing to react to road hazards, which can lead to a rollover.
Finally, truck driver distraction commonly contributes to attention-related rollovers. Federal laws prohibit truck drivers from using handheld devices, but many drivers fail to resist the urge to check a device while sitting behind the wheel. Truckers can also get distracted by conversations with passengers.
As with the other factors above, distraction increases the chances of a trucker causing a rollover by failing to respond to road conditions safely.
#3. Vehicle Control Errors
AAAM found that errors by truckers in controlling their big rigs contributed to the cause of about 20 percent of rollover crashes analyzed. Of these, the most common mistakes truckers made behind the wheel that led to a rollover involved steering. Oversteering, understeering, and overcorrecting after an initial error, played the leading roles in triggering a control-related rollover.
Other control-driven mistakes drivers made that led to rollovers included unsafe maneuvers, following other vehicles too closely, downshifting, and braking.
#4. Other Contributing Factors
Numerous other factors can also play a role in causing a rollover, although typically to a far lesser extent than those listed above.
- Inadequate visual search/visibility, such as when drivers fail to look both ways at an intersection or railroad crossing, or do not clear their blind spots before changing lanes or merging.
- Improperly secured loads that cause dangerous losses of stability.
- Mechanical failure like tire blowouts and brake malfunctions.
- Other vehicles that collide with a truck or engage in unsafe maneuvers that lead to a rollover.
- Road/weather conditions, including broken or collapsed pavement, soft road shoulders, high crosswinds, and slick road surfaces.
Who Gets Injured in Rollover Truck Accidents?
In most truck accidents, non-trucker road users—motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians—suffer the bulk of the injuries. But rollovers can be the exception to that rule. According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, a truck driver involved in a single-vehicle rollover truck accident has a 110 percent higher risk of suffering severe or fatal injuries than a trucker in a non-rollover crash.
Still, a rollover can certainly cause harm to other road users. This is particularly true if the rollover happened after an initial collision between the truck and another motor vehicle, or if a rollover happens in heavy traffic or in road conditions that make it difficult for other motorists to avoid colliding with the rolled truck.
For example, a rollover can cause severe harm to individuals other than the truck driver if:
- A truck rolls onto vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians in other travel lanes, trapping the vehicle beneath them;
- A truck rolls in front of oncoming traffic, and other drivers are unable to stop before colliding with the truck;
- A truck transporting hazardous liquids or gasses rolls and spills its cargo onto other vehicles or the road, leading to a fire, explosion, or toxic release.
- A truck carrying rolls over and spills cargo onto the road, creating a risk of collisions or loss of control for other drivers.
Seeking Compensation For Truck Rollover Injuries and Losses
If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a truck rollover accident, you may have the right to take legal action seeking financial compensation from the party at fault for causing you harm. A skilled truck accident injury attorney can help. Here is an overview of how seeking compensation for truck rollover accident-related injuries and losses works.
Who can receive compensation?
Generally speaking, anyone who sustained injuries or lost a loved one in a truck rollover, if someone else's carelessness or recklessness caused the accident, can seek compensation through legal action.
This can include:
- The truck driver, occupants of other motor vehicles, motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians who suffered injuries in connection with the truck rollover;
- The surviving spouse or family member(s) of someone who died in a truck rollover accident.
The most reliable way to find out if you have the right to seek financial compensation for injuries and losses you suffered because of a truck rollover accident is to speak with a skilled truck crash lawyer as soon as possible.
Who owes compensation for a rollover, and who pays it?
Generally speaking, the individual or entity whose unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions contributed to the cause of a rollover accident will owe damages to the crash victims.
This may include:
- A truck driver whose mistakes behind the wheel caused a rollover;
- The truck driver's employer, especially if that employer sent the driver out on the road in an unsafe vehicle or without giving the driver proper training;
- The owner or operator of the truck that crashed, if different from the driver or driver's employer;
- The owner of the cargo in the truck that crashed, if an unsafe feature of the load or how it was secured contributed to the cause of the rollover;
- The manufacturer of the truck or its parts, if defects in the truck or its parts made it dangerous to operate and led to a rollover crash;
- A truck maintenance contractor, if it unreasonably failed to perform repairs or upkeep on the truck necessary to keep it in safe working order;
- Other motorists whose dangerous actions while sharing the road with a truck triggered a rollover; and
- Government agencies if they unreasonably fail to build and maintain public infrastructure like roads and bridges, making it unsafe for truck travel.
The parties above, and anyone else at-fault or legally responsible for an accident, owes damages. But they do not always bear the burden of paying those damages. Instead, that obligation often falls on insurance companies who sell liability insurance policies to those parties. More often than not, the at-fault party's insurance carrier, not the party, pays monetary damages to rollover crash victims.
What kind of compensation can rollover crash victims get?
Every rollover accident differs, and so does the type and amount of compensation a crash victim might receive. Numerous factors, including the nature and extent of a victim's injuries and losses, the strength of the victim's case, and the financial resources available to pay damages, can affect the outcome of a truck rollover injury claim.
In general, however, a typical lawsuit or insurance claim seeking financial compensation for injuries and losses sustained in a rollover can reasonably demand payment for:
- Medical expenses relating to treating rollover crash-related injuries and subsequent health complications flowing from them;
- Other costs incurred because of the accident and the injuries it inflicts, such as the expense of replacing damaged property or of hiring help with daily activities while recovering from injuries;
- Lost income resulting from the crash and its injuries, typically when a crash victim misses work temporarily or permanently;
- Pain and suffering, which include compensation for the wide range of challenges, inconveniences, and overall losses of quality of life when someone gets hurt in a rollover crash.
- Sometimes, punitive damages to punish the at-fault party for extreme or outrageous conduct that led to a truck rollover.
Experienced truck accident injury lawyers can help crash victims explore and evaluate the potential types and amounts of damages they may recover by taking legal action.
The Importance of Hiring a Truck Accident Lawyer
Rollover truck accidents can cause widespread damage and severe injury. Often, a rollover truck accident will injure multiple victims and saddle multiple parties with liability to pay everyone monetary damages. That makes rollovers an especially complicated motor vehicle accident claim for everyone involved.
Victims of a rollover accident need a skilled truck lawyer to investigate the case and obtain compensation for their injuries and losses.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries or a tragic loss in a rollover truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident injury lawyer right away to protect your rights.