Legal Issues in a Tractor-Trailer Crash

More than a hundred thousand crashes involving large trucks colliding with passenger vehicles occur each year.  Tens of thousands of those crashes result in injury.  Thousands more result in death.  While law enforcement and other state agencies determine who is legally responsible for a crash, insurance companies and other parties (negligent drivers, trucking companies, etc.) are often held financially responsible for property damages, medical costs, injuries and fatalities connected with the accident.

Langdon Emison - Truck Accident Lawyers - Missouri Illinois and Nationwide

Because of the complexity of the accidents, the significant medical and continued care costs associated with catastrophic injuries, and the fact that the vast majority of tractor trailers and other large commercial trucks are owned or leased by corporations with their own attorneys, many crashes involving a large truck, semi or tractor-trailer or other large commercial vehicle end up with all parties being represented by attorneys.

Individuals who have been injured (or often their family members in cases involving catastrophic injuries or death) most often seek an attorney or law firm that deals specifically with these kind of accidents.  Large truck crash cases are often complex and attorneys must be competent to thoroughly understand the law and all possible damages, involved, as well as financially able to conduct a proper investigation that allows them to prove negligence in the operation, maintenance and/or design of the truck and win fair compensation for all damages, injuries and losses to their clients.

Investigating a Large Truck Crash

The investigation of a large truck crash involving serious or catastrophic injuries and/or death usually requires a team of professionals in order to be effective.  Investigators must work thoroughly and quickly to obtain direct evidence (photos, interviews, etc.) from the scene, professionally inspect and document all vehicles, as well as obtain the proper police records, inspection reports and other crash-related data.

The speed of the investigation is important because repairs or alterations to the roads and all vehicles involved in the crash may affect the ability to properly prove fault or negligence and assign damages.  Analyzing replaceable or repairable items such as tires and/or the braking system before they are changed may be critical to an investigation.

A thorough investigation is important because important evidence may be found in unexpected areas.  Most investigations will include a review of the truck driver’s log and diaries, but it is also important to collect data from “in-cab” electronics such as a speed governor, lights, emergency equipment, etc.  For more information, please see Attorney Kent Emison’s recent article on Electronic Evidence in Large Truck Crashes.

Attorneys representing the injured (or family members) often oversee a private investigation, relying on their legal knowledge and experience with large truck cases to help them direct the collection of key evidence that might be useful to later prove their case.  Some of the factors that an attorney should consider in their investigation, include:

DRIVER FATIGUE – State and federal regulations allow truck drivers to work a limited number of hours between rest periods and require all drivers to maintain logs of their hours.  In government safety reports, driver fatigue is cited as one of the top two most common causes for large truck crashes.  While most truck drivers and trucking companies obey these rules, they are difficult to enforce and drivers and companies are fined each year for breaking rest rules, deceptive logs or failing to keep proper records.

FAULTY BRAKES – Because of their increased size and weight, large trucks require a significantly greater stopping distance than passenger vehicles.  If a truck’s brakes that have been used repeatedly without repair or replacement or that have been used in even a single, long application can heat up and deteriorate leaving them ineffective.  Many trucks use brakes which are not “self-adjusting” and it is thought that more than 50% of all large trucks on the road, operate with serious brake defects (including out-of-adjustment brakes).

FAULTY UNDERCARRIAGE DESIGN – A truck’s undercarriage should be designed in a way to prevent underride accidents or accidents which occur when another vehicle strikes and slides under the rear end or side of a truck or trailer.  In recent years, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun to require underride performance testing which has led to some improvement, but some trucks still carry this dangerous and often deadly design flaw.

FAULTY CONSPICUITY DESIGN – For more than two decades, safety researches and trucking companies have seen evidence that motorists have a difficult time accurately seeing or judging the speed of large trucks, especially at night.  Studies have shown that enhancing the visibility or “conspicuity” of tractor-trailers would reduce crashes into the side or rear of a trailer by as much as 15%.

ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE – According to federal regulations, all new commercial truck drivers must be drug and alcohol tested before employment with an inter-state carrier and/or shipper.  They must also continue to be tested randomly and after any accident.  As stated before, the vast majority of truck drivers are experienced professionals who make safety a priority and these tests show that passenger vehicle drivers are more likely than truck drivers to be operating under the influence of alcohol.  Substance abuse does remain a problem, however, especially in crashes where researchers have found that as many as 33% of truckers killed tested positive for alcohol and other legal and illegal drugs.


Langdon & Emison

With more than 75 years of combined litigation and practice experience, Langdon & Emison attorneys have the knowledge, experience, skills and resources to hold trucking companies accountable and successfully resolve any trucking accident case. Our founding partners Bob Langdon and Kent Emison are recognized as two of the best trial attorneys in the United States. The firm has successfully obtained eight-figure verdicts and settlements for truck accident victims and their families.

If you have a legal question regarding a large truck crash that has resulted in serious or catastrophic injuries or death, please contact us using our on-site form or by calling or visiting one of our offices.

911 Main Street
Lexington, Missouri 64067

1828 Swift, Suite 333
North Kansas City, MO 64116

110 E. Lockwood, Suite 150
St. Louis, Missouri 63119

* Office visits in St. Louis are by appointment only.