A semi-truck accident can be far more complex than a car crash because of the number of potential parties involved—not to mention the size of the rig
You're on I-94, traveling east from Eau Claire to Madison. You're listening to music, enjoying the scenery, and eager to reach your destination.
Suddenly, an 18-wheeler Mack truck comes barrelling down from behind you, and you can practically see the trailer swaying in the wind. You're in the right lane, but it seems like the truck is bearing down on you too fast and it's signaling that it's about to get off at the nearest exit, so you decide to move to the left and get out of its way.
But as the truck comes alongside you and turns onto the exit ramp, it takes the turn too sharply and overturns.
What if you or one of your passengers are seriously injured as a result?
Wisconsin has a handful of laws regarding truck accident injuries and damage. In this article, we'll give an overview of these laws, as well as some advice on how to recover compensation for your losses. But first, let's take a quick look at the numbers so that you understand how big of a problem truck accidents are in the Badger State.
Wisconsin truck accident statistics
Here’s a look at the number of truck accidents and injuries in Wisconsin between 2015 and 2019:
Types of truck accidents
There are practically an infinite number of ways a truck accident can happen. No one can anticipate exactly how an accident could or would occur. However, being familiar with the most common types of truck collisions might help you to be better prepared and potentially avoid being injured (or worse) in a Wisconsin truck accident.
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. When a tire blows out, it could cause the truck to swerve into the path of another vehicle, tire debris could hit another car's windshield, or the airborne tire debris could cause a car to swerve and hit another car.
Tire failure could be caused by:
- Wear and tear
- Air leakage
- Defective manufacturing
- Lack of general maintenance
- Unbalanced cargo load
- Dangerous road conditions
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 seen a truck rolled over on its side on the highway — they're unfortunately quite common and can be tragic. The scenario described above, where a truck driver approached an exit ramp too quickly, is an example of a rollover accident.
Most truck 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 are injured just by being in close proximity to the crash.
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
Wisconsin truck accident liability (fault) and damages
If you are involved in a Wisconsin truck accident, where do you turn to be compensated for costs related to your injuries?
The purpose of personal injury law is to provide money to a plaintiff (injured person) to cover the expenses of an accident caused by another person or company.
After a truck accident, you can recover costs for expenses that include:
- Medical treatment (like doctor or hospital visits; diagnostic testing; prescription medications; assistive devices, orthotics, and prosthetics; surgery; etc.)
- Ongoing physical and rehabilitative therapies
- Lost wages and loss of future earning capacity
But where do you turn if you're entitled to recover damages (costs)?
There are 2 ways to receive compensation for a Wisconsin truck accident:
- Personal injury lawsuit
Wisconsin is an at-fault state, which means that the person or entity responsible for causing the accident is required to pay for the costs associated with the plaintiff's injury.
The difficulty in a Wisconsin truck accident can be determining who is the liable party.
When you're involved in a car accident, there's usually 2 drivers involved (or maybe more if it's a multiple-car accident). That doesn't mean that assessing liability is easy in a car accident case, because sometimes there are disputes over who caused the accident and whether one or both drivers are liable. While you might need to negotiate liability with another driver for a car accident, it's often a matter of figuring out which driver was liable and for how much.
However, in a truck accident, it can be more difficult to figure out who the liable party is because it's not always obvious.
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 (Ford, Toyota, Tesla, etc.). If a part fails, you know who's responsible. But a truck may consist of parts from several manufacturers, so it could take some work to figure out what company is responsible for the defective part (or parts) in question.
To complicate things further, consider this:
Even if you're sure you were not at fault in a truck accident, the other parties might dispute among themselves who was at fault. Each of these parties (trucking company, shipper, etc.) could have their own insurance and their insurers might argue with each other about who was liable... because no one wants to pay the expenses. That can complicate things for you and delay the process of being able to recover costs.
This is when you should call a Wisconsin truck accident lawyer.
Your lawyer can retain accident reconstruction experts, obtain records relating to the ownership and management of the truck, and discover other information and evidence to determine who you can sue (if necessary) or where to file an insurance claim to recover compensation for your accident.
Wisconsin modified comparative fault rule
If a plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident, their damage award would be reduced by the amount for which they are at fault.
In Wisconsin, if the plaintiff is 51% or more liable for the accident, they cannot recover any damages.
Even if the accident was caused by the truck or truck driver, if you could have avoided the accident and didn't, you could be partially responsible. For instance, if you were following too closely, changing lanes unsafely, or doing something else that could have contributed to the accident (or you could have avoided it but didn't), then your recovery amount would be reduced according to your percentage of fault.
Common causes of truck accidents
There are many different ways truck accidents can happen. Here are some of the most common causes of Wisconsin truck wrecks:
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 fewer 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 are less alert or less 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. This is a concern for both truck drivers and car drivers.
Alcohol and drugs
It's against the law to drive after consuming alcohol or using other drugs. Drugs and alcohol can impair judgment, dull reflexes, and result in unsafe driving.
Speeding and overtaking
Since truck drivers may face 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 (such as stopped traffic), a truck accident can happen if the driver can't brake fast enough to bring the truck to a 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 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.
How can a Wisconsin truck accident lawyer help?
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, are unable to work temporarily or permanently, or you have future expenses to think about, then it's important to talk to an attorney who can be sure that you're receiving the correct amount.
You can find out more information about truck accidents in the Enjuris truck accident guide and our free downloadable e-book, complete with printable worksheets for organizing your claim, injury journals, checklists, and more.
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