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Jackknife Accidents

If you've ever driven on the Georgia interstates, then you are probably familiar with how many trucks traverse our state's roadways every day. Trucking is vital to the American economy, as it is the primary method by which goods are delivered. However, trucks are very large and often temperamental vehicles, and getting into an accident with a truck can often cause severe injuries or even death. One of the most common types of truck accidents is a jackknife accident, which we will explore below.

The personal injury attorneys at Slappey and Sadd have extensive experience representing victims who have been involved in all kinds of accidents, including jackknife accidents. If you suffered an injury in a truck jackknife accident, you probably have a lot of questions to ask, so speaking with an attorney might be a good idea. A personal injury can apprise you of all of your options. Our attorneys have handled many cases of truck accidents and can help you through this process.

Fatal Trucking Accidents are on the Rise

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were 4,311 large trucks and buses involved in fatal accidents in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). This represents an 8% increase from 2014. From 2014 to 2015, large truck and bus fatalities per 100 million miles traveled by all motor vehicles increased by 1.7%. Although these numbers seem high, they are actually lower than the 21st-century peak of 5,231 deaths, which occurred in 2005. Still, there has been a steady increase in the number of fatal truck and bus crashes from 2009 to the present.

What Causes Trucks to Jackknife?

Trucks are made of two separate parts-a cab, where the driver sits and controls the vehicle, and a trailer, which carries the truck's cargo. These two parts are connected, but they are also capable of acting independently. A jackknife incident occurs when the two parts of a truck get out of sync, causing the components to fold in upon themselves. When this happens, the trailer swings out away from the cab and can hit anything in its path.

Most jackknife accidents are the result of a loss of traction, which has to do with how a truck's tires grip the road. The more static friction there is between the truck's tires and the surface of the road it is driving on, the better the traction. Several conditions, such as improper braking, slick roads, and over-correcting turns can decrease the amount of friction between a truck's tires and the road, which can cause the tires to skid rather than roll. If a truck driver hits the brakes in these conditions, it can cause the wheels of the trailer to lock and skid without enough traction to stop. When that happens, the loss of traction will allow the trailer to swing sideways out of control into a jackknife.

Conditions that Increase the Likelihood of a Jackknife Accident

There are several environmental factors that can increase the likelihood that a truck will jackknife. These include:

  • Roads that are slippery due to rain or ice
  • Roads that have a speed limit of 55 miles per hour or more
  • Curvy roads
  • Unstable loads in the trailer of the truck
  • Empty trailers
  • Poor lighting conditions
  • Tire blowouts
Jackknife Accidents are Often Caused by Driver Error

While there are certain environmental conditions that can make jackknife accidents more likely, many jackknife accidents are also due to driver error. Even though truckers are generally better drivers than the average motorist on the road, they still make mistakes. Some of the most common driver behaviors that can cause jackknife accidents include:

  • Abrupt steering maneuvers: Abrupt steering maneuvers include taking a curve at too sharp of an angle, changing lanes too suddenly, or overcorrecting when the truck has drifted out of its lane.
  • Over-braking: As detailed above, slamming on the truck's brakes at certain inopportune times can cause the wheels of the trailer to lock and skid, which can often cause the truck to jackknife.
  • Driving at excessive speeds: Trucks that are traveling over 55 miles per hour are much more difficult to maneuver than trucks traveling at lower rates of speed. If a truck driver suddenly hits his brakes while going above 55 miles per hour, the likelihood drastically increases that the heavy trailer he is pulling will swing out of control.
  • Fatigue: Truck drivers often work long hours, and fatigue is a constant threat. Drivers who are fatigued can often fall asleep at the wheel, misjudge gaps, and ignore signs of impending dangers. If a driver nods off for a moment and then realizes what has happened, he will often overcorrect, which can cause the truck to jackknife.
  • Failing to watch blind spots: Blind spots around trucks are much larger than blind spots around ordinary vehicles. Jackknife accidents can occur if a truck driver is not paying attention to his blind spots, attempts to change lanes, sees a car in his path at the last minute, and swerves back into his original lane.
Liability for Jackknife Accidents

Liability for jackknife accidents is similar to liability for all other types of car accidents, especially if the accident was caused by driver error. The most common legal theory underlying liability in trucking accidents is negligence. A plaintiff in a negligent action must prove four things:

  1. The defendant truck driver owed the plaintiff a duty of care
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care by engaging in unsafe driving behaviors
  3. The defendant's breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries, and
  4. The plaintiff suffered actual harm

The duty of care, in this case, would be the duty to prevent injuries to other drivers on the road.

Potentially liable parties in any truck accident case include the truck driver himself, the trucking company he works for, a mechanic who performed maintenance on the truck, the manufacturer of a component part of the truck, or even the shipper who loaded their goods into the truck's trailer.

Contact an Atlanta, Georgia Jackknife Accident Attorney

If you have suffered injuries in a jackknife accident, you may be able to recover through a personal injury action. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Smyrna, Decatur, and Marietta.

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