One of the most common types of accidents involving the trailer of a truck is a jackknife accident. A trailer is usually attached to a truck with a hitch that allows for some free movement, rather than being firmly fixed to the truck. The free movement of the trailer helps the driver make turns more easily, but it raises the risk of an accident when a vehicle comes to a sudden stop. When a truck driver uses the emergency brake, the truck slows down sharply, but the trailer continues to be propelled forward through the momentum of its own weight. Eventually, it may swing to the side at a 90-degree angle. This is called “jackknifing” because the truck resembles the handle of a jackknife, and the trailer resembles the blade.
Risk Factors for Jackknife Accidents
Wet road surfaces
Often, a driver could have prevented an emergency that resulted in a jackknife accident by handling their vehicle more carefully. A trucker can reduce the risk of a jackknife accident by leaving an appropriate stopping distance behind the car ahead of them. Stopping distance is critical because it allows a truck to slow down gradually before reaching a full stop. A truck driver executing a turn also may avoid a jackknife accident by applying the brakes in preparation for the turn, rather than after they begin the turn.
Compensation for Jackknife Truck Accidents
The size and weight of a swinging trailer can cause devastating injuries to anyone in a car that it strikes. Victims may suffer spinal cord injuries, brain trauma, broken bones, and damage to internal organs. They can seek compensation for the costs and losses resulting from their injuries. If a victim dies in a jackknife accident, their family members and estate can receive damages through wrongful death and survival claims.
Damages in personal injury claims arising from jackknife accidents may include the costs of past, present, and future medical treatment. A victim also may miss time from work or may no longer be able to work in the same field. This may result in lost income and earning capacity, which also can be compensated. In addition, a victim can seek damages for intangible forms of harm, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress. Putting a dollar figure on non-economic damages can be challenging, but testimony from friends and family members can complement expert testimony and photo and video evidence to show the full impact of the injuries on their life.
Wrongful Death and Survival Damages
Certain family members can recover damages after a fatal truck accident, including their loss of financial support from the victim and the loss of their intangible relationship with the victim. Meanwhile, the estate of the victim may recover compensation for costs such as medical expenses and lost income, as well as pain and suffering in some cases.
Suing a Trucking Company After a Jackknife Accident
The most obvious defendant in a truck accident case may be the truck driver, but often a trucking company is liable as well. For example, a trucking company may have hired an unqualified driver or continued to employ a driver who accumulated a long history of safety violations. Even if the company had no direct responsibility for the accident, it may be held vicariously (indirectly) liable for errors by a driver. This requires showing that the truck driver was an employee of the company and caused the accident while they were on the job.
Trucking companies have far greater assets and insurance than individual drivers, allowing them to pay larger compensation awards. Thus, a truck accident lawyer will aim to bring the company into the litigation if the evidence suggests that it may have been directly or indirectly liable for an accident.