Know your legal rights and responsibilities following a semi-truck wreck in the Bluegrass State
If you're traveling within or through Kentucky, you're likely on 1 of 5 major interstate routes: Interstate 24, Interstate 64, Interstate 65, Interstate 71, or Interstate 75. It's likely that whether you're traveling these highways or another route, you're going to be sharing the road with trucks large and small.
While every road trip comes with the potential for an accident, you're likely to fare worse if you're traveling by car and are in a collision with a large truck.
Kentucky truck accident statistics
In 2019, there were 10,650 truck accidents in Kentucky, accounting for 4.41% of all vehicle accidents in the Commonwealth that year. Of those, there were 105 vehicles involved in fatal crashes—or 9% of the total number of deadly crashes.
What these data show is that truck wrecks have a statistically higher fatality rate.
There are 178,523 commercial trucks registered in Kentucky. For the purposes of these statistics, a "truck" is defined as a vehicle that weighs 10,000 pounds or more.
Types of truck accidents
There are a few common ways that truck crashes tend to happen, though each accident is unique and not every crash fits into one of these categories. However, understanding how a truck accident is likely to happen can help you to avoid being involved in one.
A tire blowout happens if there's a cut or break in the tire, or a small puncture that causes the tire to gradually lose air over time.
Tire failure could be caused by:
- Wear and tear
- Air leakage
- Defective manufacturing
- Lack of general maintenance
- Unbalanced cargo load
- Dangerous road conditions
Underride crashes happen when a passenger car collides with a truck from the rear or side and slides underneath the truck. Since the truck is much higher than a typical car, the front or top of the car can get crushed. This is one of the main causes of truck accident fatalities and severe injuries.
Underride truck accidents are often caused by:
- Improper maneuvers or lane changes
- A truck that stops too fast, leading to a rear-end collision
- Inconsistent speed
- Truck driver fails to signal when turning
A jackknife is when the driver loses control of the movement of the trailer and the trailer and cab fold at the joint.
This could be caused by:
- Equipment malfunction
- Locked wheels
- Brake failure
- Weather conditions
- Loose cargo
- Incorrect maneuvering
Most of us have passed a truck rollover on the highway — they're unfortunately quite common and can be tragic.
Most rollovers are caused by:
- Sudden swerves or lane changes
- Improper cargo loading
- Dangerous roads or weather conditions
- Maintenance failures
- Driver error, including fatigue, distraction, or improper training
A hazmat truck accident is its own category. It can happen the same way any other truck accident would — a jackknife, rollover, blowout, etc. — but the consequences are more severe. "Hazmat" means "hazardous materials," which could be anything that might create a health hazard or environmental crisis.
Hazmat crashes could also include something that's not inherently harmful, but that would create a dangerous condition. For instance, if a truck overturns and spills milk all over the road, it's not toxic but would make the road unexpectedly slippery.
A hazmat accident is one situation when a truck accident might cause injury to someone who isn't directly involved. If the truck is carrying a substance that could cause illness if it becomes airborne, or if it could pollute soil or water if spilled, there could be people who could be injured just by being in close proximity to the crash.
* Fatal collisions: 3 defective brakes, 1 tire failure, 2 other
Source: Kentucky State Police crash facts
Common causes of truck accidents
There are many different ways these types of truck accidents could happen. Here are some of the most common causes of Kentucky truck accidents:
Being a truck driver isn't an easy job. In fact, it's pretty tough. Trucking companies have demanding schedules and high expectations for delivering goods on time.
Although there are strict regulations for how many hours a truck driver is permitted to drive consecutively, how many hours of sleep are required, and how many breaks they must take, some companies and drivers will "cut corners" and drivers will sometimes get less than the required amount of sleep in order to make a delivery on time.
This can lead to drivers falling asleep while driving, or being so drowsy that they could be less alert or focused when behind the wheel of a truck.
Distracted driving is any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off the task of driving. It could be texting, eating, or almost any activity that isn't driving.
Alcohol and drugs
In Kentucky — as in every state — it's against the law to drive after consuming alcohol or using other drugs. For most drivers, it is illegal to operate a vehicle if your BAC is 0.08 or higher. But for commercial truck drivers with a CDL, it is against the law to drive with any measurable or detectable quantity of alcohol.
It’s important to note that these causes of truck accidents — specifically, distracted driving and alcohol or drugs — are not always caused by the truck driver. A truck accident is just as easily caused by the passenger car driver as by the truck driver.
Speeding and overtaking
Since truck drivers are often on tight deadlines, it's tempting to push their limits (or exceed speed limits) and drive faster than vehicles that size are designed to travel. A truck can't stop very fast, so if there's a sudden obstacle or hazard ahead, a truck accident can happen if the driver can't brake fast enough to bring the truck to a full stop in time.
Poor training and maintenance
It is the responsibility of the owner of the truck or trucking company to provide sufficient training and vehicle maintenance. Truck drivers must be trained specifically for the size and style of vehicle they're driving since a big rig handles very differently from a passenger car.
There are also certain regulations for routine maintenance that a trucking company must follow. Some maintenance should be done before every trip, while other things should be checked at specific intervals.
Improper cargo loading
Cargo loading is very important because it affects the truck's center of gravity and balance. If the cargo isn't loaded correctly, it increases the risk that the truck could tip over.
Kentucky truck accident liability
The key to recovering damages (costs) for a Kentucky truck accident is often determining who is liable, or at fault.
However, Kentucky is a no-fault jurisdiction.
If you're in any kind of vehicle collision, you would turn first to your own insurance to cover your expenses. Your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy is intended to cover costs for your medical treatment, lost wages, and other expenses.
That's fine if the accident only results in minor injuries and treatment, but a truck accident often leads to severe injuries. If your injuries aren't completely covered by your own insurance, you would need to either pursue compensation from the defendant's insurance company or file a lawsuit.
In order to do either of those things, you need to know who's liable... and sometimes that's not so straightforward in a truck accident.
If you're in a collision with another car, there are only 2 parties: you and the other driver (and perhaps your insurance companies). If your PIP insurance covers all of your injuries, fault is not an issue. However, if PIP isn't enough to cover your damages, you will need to determine who is at fault.
In a truck accident, there could be several defendants. The possibilities include (but are not limited to):
- Truck driver
- Trucking company
- Insurance company for the truck driver or trucking company
- Truck owner
- Shipper (that loaded cargo)
- Manufacturer of truck parts that failed or caused the accident
You likely won't know who's liable at first. Determining fault will probably require a thorough crash scene investigation, assessment of the vehicles, and a set of relevant documents from a variety of parties (like the shipper that loaded the truck, the driver's employer, and perhaps manufacturing logs for the truck).
Even determining what manufacturer is responsible for a defective part can be a challenge. When general consumers buy a passenger car, all of its parts are typically manufactured by the same company and if a part fails, you know who's responsible. But a truck can consist of parts from several manufacturers, so it could take some work to figure out what company is responsible for what parts.
Kentucky pure comparative negligence rule
Each state follows 1 of 4 rules with regard to how courts handle damages if a plaintiff is partially liable for an accident.
Partial liability means that you didn't necessarily cause the accident, but you might have contributed to it. The court could also find that if you had reacted differently to a situation, you might have avoided the accident or prevented it from happening.
Here's an example of how a plaintiff might share liability in a truck accident:
Driver Donna was following traffic laws and driving responsibly on a Kentucky highway in her sedan. Trucker Toby was behind the wheel of a large truck carrying thousands of pounds of cargo. Toby was on a tight deadline; he'd gotten snarled in some nasty weather overnight and had to slow down, so he was making up time because he didn't want his company to penalize him for delivering a load late. Toby was also an inexperienced driver; he'd been a truck driver for only about 6 months.
As Toby was about to exit the highway, he turned on his right signal blinker and prepared to slow down for the exit ramp.
However, even though Toby slowed down, he was still traveling too fast for a truck that size. His inexperience, possibly combined with insufficient training, and the time pressure to deliver on time, resulted in his taking the turn too quickly. The cargo load shifted because of the truck's speed on the ramp and the trailer overturned. Toby had been driving in the left-hand lane of a double-lane exit ramp.
At the same moment, Donna was approaching the rear of the truck. Thinking such a large truck might require several maneuvers to make the exit, she thought she might scoot around and "beat" the truck so that she could get ahead. When the truck rolled, it crushed Donna's car alongside it. Donna survived but was seriously injured and sued.
After a complicated lawsuit, the court found that both Toby and his employer (the trucking company) were liable. Toby was at fault because he was driving too fast to negotiate the turn. His employer had some responsibility for shortfalls in his training. Together, they shared 80% of the liability.
However, Donna was 20% liable for her own injuries because was negligent in trying to pass the truck on the right and in its blind spot.
Donna is awarded $800,000 in damages for her injuries. Of that amount, she receives$640,000 because her damage award is reduced by 20% for her portion of liability.
Kentucky's pure comparative negligence system requires that a plaintiff's damages are reduced by their percentage of fault for an accident or injury.
Damages for a Kentucky truck accident
There are specific costs you can recover from a truck accident lawsuit. The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to recover the money you spent as a result of the accident — in other words, to leave you in the same financial position you'd be in if the accident hadn't happened.
Damages after a truck accident include:
- Medical expenses, including doctor and hospital visits, surgeries, outpatient procedures, prescription medications, etc.
- Costs for adaptive devices
- Costs for property damage (like repair or replacement of your vehicle)
- Compensation for assistance with daily activities (like child care, personal aide, etc.)
- Lost wages (past and future)
- Ongoing treatment like physical or occupational therapy
- Pain and suffering, for PTSD and other emotional distress caused by the crash
- Funeral and burial expenses, if the crash resulted in the death of your loved one
An experienced truck accident lawyer can help maximize your recovery by working with accountants, actuaries, and medical experts to ensure that your future expenses are covered to the greatest extent possible.
If you're suing a trucking company, manufacturer, or shipper, you're likely going up against a huge company with a team of lawyers who just want your case to "disappear". They might make you an offer that sounds like a lot of money to try to get you to settle quickly. But if you have serious injuries, will be unable to work temporarily or permanently, or will have future expenses to cover, you need an attorney who can be sure that you're receiving the correct amount. Never accept a settlement without consulting a lawyer first.
You can look for a Kentucky truck accident lawyer in the Enjuris law firm directory.
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more