The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that 2,000 injury-sustaining crashes are caused by jackknife accidents each year, resulting in approximately 200 fatalities annually. Semi trucks can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds when fully (and legally) loaded; illegally loaded trailers can weigh even more. If a driver makes a sudden move, the immense mass of a trailer might result in a jackknife accident. These types of accidents are often severe and can result in serious injuries and/or fatalities.
If you or someone you love has sustained serious injuries in a jackknife accident, Nebraska law entitles you to seek damages for your injuries in court. Call the skilled legal team at the Robert Pahlke Law Group at (308) 633-4444 for a free consultation and to determine your eligibility for compensation.
What Is a Jackknife Accident?
The trailers of 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and other similar heavy trucks aren’t structurally attached to the trucks. The FMCSA and others in the industry refer to these types of vehicles as articulated vehicles. In an articulated vehicle, the trailer and truck are connected by a hitch that lies underneath the forward end of a trailer, which allows drivers to remove the trailer from their truck for unloading. This hitch is a moveable joint that serves as a pivot point for turning. In a jackknife accident, the hitch acts as a hinge. The massive trailer keeps moving and pivots on the hinge, swinging around towards the cab of the truck. When the truck maneuvers in this way, it resembles a pocket knife, hence the name jackknife accident.
Causes of Jackknife Accidents
Some of the most common causes of jackknife accidents include:
- Improper braking. Most semi-trucks have complex air brake systems and an engine brake, also called a Jake brake. Truck drivers shouldn’t apply their brakes too quickly or use their Jake brakes on icy or snowy roads. Doing so may result in a skid that can lead to a jackknife.
- Speeding. The size and weight of a semi-truck, especially when loaded, make speeding a dangerous maneuver. In the event that drivers need to stop quickly, they are less likely to be able to control their truck if they are speeding. The faster a semi is traveling, the more stopping distance it requires. While speeding isn’t always a direct cause of a jackknife, it often contributes indirectly.
- Distracted driving. Truck drivers might be distracted by adjusting their radios, eating, using a cell phone, and other things. Federal law prohibits truckers from cell phone usage, unless it is a hands-free device, but these distractions still happen regularly. A truck driver who has his eyes, hands, or mind off of the road for any length of time might be forced to hit the brakes suddenly, which can result in a jackknife.
- Fatigued driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the trucking industry, including rules about hours of service and mandatory rest for truckers. Even when following the letter of the law, many semi drivers have long days and drive at odd hours, resulting in fatigue. Tricks such as rolling down the window, drinking coffee, and turning up the radio don’t reduce fatigue and might even be more dangerous in the long run. If a driver quickly snaps awake or collides with something, a jackknife can occur.
- Turns and curves. Slight turns and curves aren’t incredibly dangerous, but steep curves require a driver’s complete control and careful attention. When drivers take steep turns and curves too quickly, they have a high risk of jackknifing their truck.
- Improper loading. Tractor trailers have a distinctive structure that provides a few sweet spots for safety—this means that empty trucks and overloaded trucks have the most risk of jackknifing. The comparatively light weight of an empty truck might cause the trailer to more easily jackknife. Additionally, overloading a truck messes with the recommended center of gravity, making it more difficult to control the truck for the driver, which increases the risk of a jackknife accident. Loads that haven’t been properly secured also alter a truck’s center of gravity when they slide around, which can create additional control issues.
- Ignoring inclement weather. Truck drivers work hard to meet consumer demands and transport goods across the country. Their demanding schedules motivate them to reach their pick-up and drop-off locations as quickly as possible. This often means driving in inclement weather; heavy rain and snow are especially dangerous for semi-trucks. When companies force their drivers to ignore inclement weather or drivers make that choice on their own, they are at risk for a jackknife accident.
- Oversteering/understeering. Sometimes, truck drivers don’t steer well, or they over-correct when they steer. If they turn too far, they might jackknife their trailer. Steering issues might happen as a result of distracted or fatigued driving; they might also occur when truckers are driving on curves and reacting too aggressively.
- Defective truck or defective truck part. Times exist when a jackknife accident might be the responsibility of a third party because of a defective tractor trailer or a defective truck part. Two common examples include tire blowouts and coupling device failures. When tire blowouts occur because of defective truck tires, it might cause the driver to lose control, which may result in a jackknife accident. The assembly that serves as the joint or hinge where the tractor and trailer meet is called a coupling device. If the assembly or a part within the assembly is defective, a truck is at high risk for a jackknife accident.
- Other motorists. Other motorists who are driving under the influence, driving while distracted, driving while fatigued, or breaking a variety of other traffic regulations might cause a jackknife accident, especially if they cut off or collide with a semi-truck, forcing them to hit their brakes abruptly.
Dangers of Jackknife Accidents
When a semi-truck jackknifes, drivers and passengers in nearby motor vehicles are at risk of suffering catastrophic injury or death. As the trailer swings forward, vehicles that are driving alongside the truck might be pinned and crushed against the cab. Vehicles that are following a truck when it jackknifes are suddenly faced with a wall across the highway made by the side of the trailer; they might run into the trailer or sustain an injury in a rear-end collision when other vehicles strike them from behind. Jackknife truck accidents are among the most dangerous type of truck accidents, and they frequently injure or kill multiple accident victims.
Seeking Compensation After a Jackknife Accident
If you have been injured, or if a loved one died, as a result of a jackknife accident, Nebraska law entitles you to seek compensation for damages related to the injury or death. Nebraska, like other states, only awards punitive damages in extreme cases of negligence or intentional harm. Most awards are compensatory in nature and meant to aid a victim in recovering economic and non-economic losses related to the injury. Court awards will vary from case to case, but here are some of the most common compensatory damages that you might recover from a personal injury suit:
- Medical expenses, including ambulance and emergency services, hospital stays, radiology, surgery, doctor visits, medication, and more
- Future medical expenses in the case of severe or catastrophic injuries that have a long recovery time or require lifetime around-the-clock care
- Lost wages and benefits from missing work due to an injury
- Future lost wages when an injury prevents a victim from returning to his or her former job or requires a career change
- Rehabilitation and recovery costs that include physical therapy and assistive devices, such as prosthetic limbs, walkers, canes, wheelchairs, and more
- Home modification costs for any changes victims must make to their homes as a result of an injury, such as installing handrails, building a wheelchair ramp, etc.
- Replacement service costs for things such as lawn care, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and other activities that a victim cannot do because of an injury
- Non-economic costs, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, scarring and disfigurement, and others that might be applicable
If you have lost a loved one in a jackknife accident and need to file a wrongful death claim, you should contact an experienced Nebraska attorney as soon as possible. You might be able to recover funeral and burial expenses and non-economic losses specific to your case; your attorney will advise you on the best path for your individual situation.
Contact Us Today
At the Robert Pahlke Law Group, our Nebraska personal injury attorneys are dedicated to helping our clients get the best possible outcome for their cases. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a trucking accident, contact us immediately so that we can help you through this difficult time. Most jackknife accidents are a result of poor driving and negligence, which may entitle you to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result in your case, with our help, you may be able to recover compensation for the full cost of your accident. Call the Robert Pahlke Law Group today at (308) 633-4444, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team and to determine your eligibility to recover compensation.