Last year, commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) were involved in 37,515 crashes across Texas, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. A total of 611 people were killed and 4,880 suffered non-incapacitating injuries. Roughly 1,367 injuries were suspected to be serious.
In Bexar County alone, there were 2,420 CMV-involved accidents—an astonishing average of 186 per month in just one Texas county. Fourteen people were killed in these truck crashes, 27 people were seriously injured, and 203 suffered non-incapacitating injuries.
Accidents with CMVs can be extremely serious because the category includes the largest vehicle on the road, the big rig. These can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds and are wide as well as heavy. They are much heavier and larger than a car, so the potential damage to car occupants in an accident is great.
One of the most dangerous large truck accidents is the rear-end collision. For all vehicles, these are one of the most common types of accidents, making up roughly 28 percent of all collisions according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While rear-end crashes between cars can be serious, they can also be relatively harmless fender-benders. But that’s not true of rear-end truck accidents.
Why a Rear-End Accident With a Truck Is so Dangerous
Large commercial trucks sit higher off the ground than other vehicles, in addition to being heavier, wider, and longer. If you rear-end one, you can end up underneath the truck partially or entirely. This accident type has a specific name: an underride accident.
Underride accidents are common enough that trucks are supposed to have a safety guard installed to prevent cars from going beneath the truck. However, some trucking companies have not complied with that requirement. Others have installed them incorrectly, so they do not actually prevent underride accidents or sit too high and shatter a car’s windshield instead of impacting the car’s front bumper in the case of an accident.
Approximately five people were killed in underride accidents in Texas in 2015, the last year for which statistics are available. Nationally, 250 people were killed in underride accidents that same year.
Underride accidents are especially dangerous because the car’s top can be sliced open, rendering the car’s occupants completely vulnerable. In addition, all the safety features installed in cars, such as airbags, seatbelts, and crumple zones simply don’t work in an underride accident because they aren’t activated by the point of impact or they don’t protect the parts of your body affected. Some people are decapitated by the underride, or lose limbs. Sadly, many underride accidents are fatal. Others lead to catastrophic injuries, in which the victim may not walk or speak for the rest of their lives.
If a CMV is smaller than a big rig and your vehicle is larger than a standard car (such as an SUV), you may not end up under the CMV during a rear-end collision. But even if it’s a standard rear-end accident, a collision with a truck can be much more serious than a collision with a vehicle that is more similar in size and weight to your own.
Finally, if a truck rear-ends you, the accident can also be fatal and catastrophic, due to the truck’s size and weight. Trucks can crush a smaller vehicle in the event of a rear-end collision.
What Kind of Injuries Happen in Rear-End Collisions with Trucks?
Potential injuries in a rear-end or underride accident with a truck include, but are not limited to:
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Spinal cord injuries;
- Skull fractures;
- Back injuries;
- Broken bones;
- Loss of limbs;
- Lacerations; and
- Severe head injuries.
Who Is at Fault in Rear-End Truck Accidents?
As a general rule, rear-end accidents are usually considered the fault of the driver in back. Drivers are expected to maintain enough space between their vehicles and the vehicle in front of them that they can stop if that vehicle stops—even if the stop is abrupt.
However, rear-end accidents can occur for all kinds of reasons. Determining fault requires full knowledge of what happened. Drivers are responsible for an accident if they are negligent; that is, if they don’t exercise the duty of care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in the same circumstances. For drivers, that means following all laws and basic safe driving principles. It means avoiding distracted driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances that can impair driving.
Other parties are also potentially responsible for truck accidents, as well. What if a truck’s brake lights didn’t work, so it didn’t indicate that the truck was slowing down, for instance? For trucking companies, the duty of care includes regularly inspecting, maintaining, and repairing their trucks. It means hiring drivers licensed with a commercial driver’s license and making sure drivers are trained appropriately.
What if your own brakes don’t work and cause a rear-end crash with the truck ahead of you? In that case, a car or brake manufacturer could be negligent in their duty of care to make sure their products are safe and free of defects.
In some cases, road conditions can cause accidents. If poor road conditions such as potholes or poor roadway design contribute to or cause an accident, the entity responsible for maintenance or repair might be negligent. These can be state or local governments or private companies.
In all of these cases, the negligent parties are liable for injuries that are directly caused by the accident.
What Happens if Someone Else Is Liable?
Texas is a fault state for vehicle accidents. This means that the negligent party’s insurance company is responsible for paying injured people for damages stemming from accident-related injuries.
These damages can include:
- Medical bills, both current and future;
- Wages lost from work, both current and future; and
- Pain and suffering.
Usually, the negligent party’s insurance company pays these damages. If they do not, or the settlement is very inadequate for the injuries sustained, injured parties can bring a personal injury lawsuit in civil court for these damages.
Determining the causes of any commercial truck accident can be very complicated, however. First, many different parties can be responsible for a truck accident—more than in accidents involving other types of vehicles. The driver, trucking company, companies responsible for maintenance and repair, firm responsible for loading and securing the cargo, and the truck’s owner are all potential candidates. A professional investigation is often necessary to determine fault in a truck accident.
If you have questions about truck accidents, contact a lawyer today for answers and ideas for how to move forward.