Tractor-Trailers: Dangerous Behemoths of the Highway


Personal Injury Attorneys Blog
Virginia Truck Crash Lawyers

Thousands of tractor-trailers and other large commercial freight vehicles fill American roadways every day. Commercial trucks account for over 13 percent of the nation’s registered vehicles and transport around 71 percent of our freight (measured by weight). The benefits of the trucking industry are undeniable. In 2017, over $40 billion were paid by commercial trucks in federal and state highway-user taxes.

Unfortunately, there are also notable drawbacks in an environment where large trucks prove so ubiquitous. Tractor-trailers and similar vehicles can cause tremendous damage to people and property alike. In Virginia, over 5,000 commercial vehicle accidents injured more than 1,000 Virginians in one recent year.

Accidents with large trucks—regardless of which type—involve some marked differences from accidents with standard passenger vehicles. Commercial truck collisions involve larger insurance policies, increased property damage, and more serious injuries.

What Is a Tractor-Trailer?

Tractor-trailers are tractor and semitrailer combinations. The American Trucking Association defines the components as follows:

  • A tractor is “a truck designed primarily to pull a semitrailer by means of a fifth wheel mounted over the rear axle.”
  • A semitrailer is designed as “a truck trailer support at the rear by its own wheels and at the front by a fifth wheel mounted to a tractor or dolly.”

These vehicles are essentially large trucks in two parts. The front of the truck is the tractor, which pulls the trailer behind it. The drivers are seated in the tractor portion of the truck. The long trailer component that follows the tractor provides the space for holding cargo.

Tractor-trailers are often referred to as “eighteen-wheelers.” The typical tractor-trailer features ten wheels beneath their tractors and eight wheels under their trailers. While some commercial trucks are equipped with sixteen wheels, most commonly, tractor-trailers are rigged with 18 wheels.

Common Causes of Tractor-Trailer Accidents

Many accidents that involve large trucks can be traced back to the same handful of causes. Unfortunately, the nature of the trucking industry presents ample opportunities for mistakes. Trucking companies that send drivers out in improperly maintained trucks or push drivers past their physical limits are particularly problematic.

Some of the most notable and common causes of tractor-trailer accidents include:

  • Poor truck maintenance | Many trucking companies operate fleets with hundreds or thousands of vehicles. Sometimes, even though it should never happen, a truck may be overlooked. Other companies may opt to try to evade maintenance requirements or cut corners during the process. Nevertheless, most tractor-trailers are driven thousands of miles per week, which necessitates frequent and rigorous maintenance. When proper maintenance fails to occur, the risk of an accident increases for everyone on the roadways.
  • Driver error | Tractor-trailer drivers are susceptible to making the same mistakes as drivers operating passenger vehicles. A distracted or aggressive driver, for instance, poses risk regardless of the vehicle they are operating. Many tractor-trailer operators are also pushed to work beyond legal operating limits. With inadequate sleep, they may become drowsy increasing the risk of an accident.
  • Improperly loaded cargo | Improperly loaded cargo can cause instability that decreases a truck driver’s ability to safely handle the vehicle. Tractor-trailers are often loaded with tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of cargo. Cargo must be loaded carefully and secured properly each time the trailer is loaded. Improper loading can cause the truck’s contents to spill onto the road. Some trucks may even lose balance and tip over due to improper loading.

Working With Your Attorney

The best way to increase your likelihood of receiving ample compensation is to hire a qualified personal injury lawyer. An attorney will help explain the intricacies of the legal process. Without an experienced trucking accident attorney by your side, insurance agents will target you attempting to settle for less compensation than you deserve.

The right attorney will do more than just clarify complex legal concepts. You must seek a law firm that truly cares for your wellbeing that is dedicated to helping you obtain maximum compensation. The best attorneys will spend adequate time planning and anticipating the process. Of course, the legal process doesn’t always proceed as planned. However, decades of experience navigating the legal system will enable your attorney to handle any unexpected changes in the plan.

Recoverable Damages After a Tractor-Trailer Accident

Few situations are more terrifying than the thought of a 40-ton tractor-trailer hurtling towards your vehicle from across the roadway. Unfortunately, head-on collisions between passenger vehicles and large commercial trucks happen more often than we want to believe. Not only head-on collisions, but a myriad of other types of crashes regularly occur, too.

Perhaps worse, is the thought of surviving a traumatic collision only to be wronged by the American justice system. After sustaining physical and mental trauma in a tractor-trailers accident, victims deserve to receive the compensation that they seek.

Your personal injury attorney will help you paint a clear picture of the damages you deserve to be compensated for. There’s no way to guarantee that any given victim will receive a specific amount of compensation. Every case presents its own unique circumstances and plays out a little differently.

Most tractor-trailer accident victims, at the very least, pursue damages to cover medical costs. Victims may be entitled to compensation for past, present, and even future medical bills. Medical costs may include surgery, medical transport, and mental health services bills.

How an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help

Tractor-trailer accidents leave devastating impacts on victims and their families. But a team of experienced personal injury attorneys committed to serving clients with empathy and compassion throughout the legal process can pursue fair compensation for you or your loved one.

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