Most people have seen a tractor-trailer spread across several lanes of traffic due to a jackknife. There are multiple dangers when this type of accident happens. Traffic in each direction can be backed up for hours while the police and others help anyone who is injured or killed at the site. The driver can be killed when his/her truck jackknifes or rolls over, especially if the truck collides with another vehicle. Cargo from the tractor can spill, causing even more havoc. Other drivers can be hurt as they attempt to avoid the tractor-trailer.
Most jackknife accidents are due to negligence. In some cases, the jackknife may be due to trucking companies that force their drivers to speed or drive while they are tired. The jackknife is often due to taking curves too fast, failing to understand that trucks have a different center of gravity than cars, speeding, or other reasons.
What is a truck jackknife accident?
A jackknife accident involves the trailer and the cab. The cab of the truck and the trailer are normally linked by a hitch. A jackknife accident usually occurs when the trailer and the cab fail to travel at the same rate of speed – causing the trailer to swing out from the cab. When a jackknife happens, the cab ends up at a sharp angle (often a 90-degree angle or greater) from the trailer. Essentially, when a trailer skids or slides out of control, the weight of the trailer can force the tractor to spin around.
When this happens, the driver normally cannot steer the vehicle because the cab and trailer can no longer travel in unison. There is also the danger that a jackknife accident can cause a truck to tip or roll over.
What are the causes of truck jackknife accidents?
Truck jackknife accidents often occur in curves, when a driver brakes too hard, or when the roads are slick or wet. Jackknife accidents can also happen if a trailer is just partially full, instead of empty or completely full, because the ability of the trailer to gain traction isn’t evenly distributed across the truck. Tractor-trailers with lighter loads are more inclined to jackknife, while tractor-trailers with heavier loads are more likely to roll over.
Driver error is the usual cause of jackknife accidents. Jackknife accidents occur:
- At high speeds. It’s much tougher to stop at higher speeds.
- By failing to brake properly. Truck drivers should never slam on their brakes. It’s better to extend the braking distance as far as possible by keeping a safe distance away and driving slower. It’s also generally better to brake before entering a curve than to brake once you enter the curve. Braking while going downhill in a curve is especially like to cause a tractor-trailer to jackknife. Truck drivers should also try to avoid braking and swerving at the same time. Try to use the regular brakes instead of the engine brake or a retarder to stop the truck.
- In skids. Truck drivers should try to avoid skidding as much as they can.
- When either the tractor or trailer isn’t properly maintained. A faulty suspension, worn tire, or poorly-function brakes can all cause a jackknife accident.
- In curves. Many roads in Richmond and throughout Virginia curve and wind. Curves are a major reason tractors and trailers travel in different directions causing a jackknife.
- Inclement weather. When it rains, truck drivers need to understand the safest way to brake. The drivers need to slow down, use their headlights, and take other precautions.
- Lack of training. Trucking companies should be sure their drivers, especially new and young drivers, are trained on how to avoid jackknife accidents and what to do if a truck begins to skid.
Other causes of truck jackknife accidents include defective truck parts, failure to inspect the truck’s tires and brakes, driver fatigue, distracted driving, and driving while intoxicated.
It’s not just tractor-trailers that can jackknife. Any vehicle that carries another vehicle can jackknife. These vehicles include a truck or car that is pulling a camper, vehicles carrying moving/storage trailers, trucks that carry landscaping equipment, and towing anything that has wheels attached to it.
Some devices that may help reduce the risk of a jackknife accident or help the driver respond during a jackknife are anti-lock brakes and electronic brakes that shift the pressure to the rear brakes when a truck brakes too hard. Another possible alternative is an electromagnetic brake. These devices/strategies may help but may carry their own set of dangers.
Who is liable for a truck jackknife accident?
When trucks jackknife in the Richmond area, the driver is usually responsible for the accident and any subsequent accidents that occur as vehicles tried to avoid the jackknifed vehicle. Other possible defendants, depending on how the accident happened and many other factors, could include:
- The truck driver’s employer. Generally, employers are responsible for the conduct of their employees.
- The owner of the truck if different than the driver. Owners may be liable if the owner was aware, for example, that the driver lacked the necessary skills to brake safely.
- Other trucking companies. Truck brokers, the companies that requested the delivery, and other businesses may be liable if the truck was loaded improperly, they pressured the driver to speed or drive aggressively to make strict deadlines, or for other reasons.
- The manufacturers of truck parts. These companies may be liable if one of their parts was defective and the defect caused the truck to jackknife.
Jackknife accidents may involve multiple victims as well as multiple defendants, because sudden jackknife crashes force anyone near the tractor-trailer to slam on their brakes to hopefully avoid the tractor-trailer or any spilled contacts. Often these other drivers don’t have enough time to respond.
Based in Richmond, Phelan Petty has been fighting for personal injury victims for nearly 20 years. We understand the unique challenges involved with jackknife accidents, including showing how the accident and your injuries happened. We demand compensation for all your economic and non-economic damages. Please call us or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We represent truck accident victims across Virginia.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.