Personal Injury Lawyers Jonesboro, Arkansas

How Semi-Truck Jackknife Accidents Happen in Arkansas

If you’ve been injured by an 18-wheeler, our law firm can help

Heavy trucks pose several unique hazards to other road users, and one of those hazards is the risk of jackknifing. When a trucker loses control over their vehicle, the consequences can be devastating: severe and even fatal injuries to occupants of smaller cars. Trucking companies and drivers need to prioritize safety to reduce the risk of jackknifing, but that’s not always the case in practice.

If you have been injured in a jackknife accident, it’s important to know your rights. Our truck accident attorneys can get to the bottom of what happened and fight to hold the trucking company accountable while you focus on healing.

What is a jackknife truck accident?

Jackknifing occurs when the trailer of a tractor-trailer folds up against the cab, creating a “V” shape that resembles a pocketknife. There are two main scenarios that can lead to jackknifing:

  • If the cab’s tires lock up while the trailer keeps moving, the momentum of the trailer pushes the cab forward, causing the truck to spin out of control.
  • Or, if the trailer’s tires lock up while the cab keeps moving forward, the tail end of the trailer will swing out sideways, again leading to a loss of stability and control.

This is a highly dangerous situation because the trucker can’t maintain control of the vehicle with the cab and trailer out of alignment. A jackknifing truck may block several lanes of traffic, and the swinging trailer can cause devastating damage to smaller vehicles.

What causes a jackknife accident?

There are several reasons why commercial trucks can jackknife, many of which come down to driver inexperience or negligence. Leading causes include:

  • Improper braking: When the brakes are applied improperly, the wheels of the truck may lock and skid. This can occur if the driver applies the brakes too fast, tries to brake while turning, or applies the brakes on a downhill or slippery road surface.
  • Speeding: When a truck travels at excessive speeds, there is less time for the driver to react to hazards, potentially leading to improper braking. Speeding also increases the truck’s momentum, which makes jackknife scenarios more likely.
  • Tailgating: Following other vehicles too closely can force the trucker to slam on the brakes when the car in front slows or stops suddenly. Truck drivers need to be mindful of the greater momentum and stopping distance of their vehicles and maintain a safe following distance behind smaller vehicles.
  • Driving too fast for conditions: In inclement weather, when the road becomes slippery, jackknife wrecks become more common. Truckers need to slow down and prioritize safety when road conditions are poor.
  • Fatigue, impaired driving, and distracted driving: Anything that diverts a trucker’s full attention from the road or impairs their perception and decision-making can increase the risk of a jackknife wreck. Truckers who don’t notice hazards until the last minute may slam on the brakes or brake and swerve, leading to jackknifing.
  • Mechanical issues: A variety of problems with the truck itself can lead to jackknifing. Poorly maintained brakes dramatically increase the risk, as do blown tires and other mechanical issues that can compromise control of the vehicle.
  • Overloading and improper loading: A heavy or unbalanced load can make the trailer less stable, which increases the risk of a jackknife accident.

Who is responsible for a jackknife accident?

Liability (legal responsibility) for a jackknife wreck can be hotly contested, depending on the circumstances. Just because a truck jackknifes does not necessarily mean the truck driver is at fault. Depending on the circumstances, any or all of the following parties can be responsible:

  • Truck driver: Again, most truck wrecks are the result of driver error. A trucker can be held responsible for the accident if they were distracted, speeding, asleep at the wheel, or otherwise negligent.
  • Trucking company: The trucking company could be responsible for failure to properly train and supervise the driver or for pressuring the driver to drive too fast or work through mandatory breaks. The trucking company may also be liable for failure to properly maintain the truck.
  • Truck manufacturer: When jackknifing is caused by mechanical error, the company that manufactured the truck or its components may be legally responsible.
  • Company that loaded the truck: If the cargo was improperly loaded or the load was not balanced, the company that loaded the cargo may be responsible for a jackknife accident. (Note that the driver and the trucking company are also responsible for inspecting the load, so this doesn’t let them off the hook.)
  • Other motorists: In some cases, jackknifing occurs when another vehicle cuts in front of the truck or makes another dangerous maneuver, forcing the trucker to slam on their brakes. In these circumstances, the driver of the other car can be held accountable.

It’s quite common for multiple parties to be responsible for a semi-truck jackknife accident, and each of those parties has their own insurance company protecting their interests. That’s why you need your own advocate to get to the bottom of what happened and hold the responsible party or parties accountable.

How a truck accident attorney can help after a jackknife wreck

Again, when a truck jackknifes, it’s important to find out why. An experienced truck accident attorney can launch a full investigation to understand what factors led to the jackknife crash. Evidence your attorney may review includes:

  • Electronic control module (ECM) or electronic control unit (ECU) data, also known as the “black box” data, which includes the truck’s speed and direction of travel as well as when the brakes were used. This data can reveal what happened in the moments leading up to the crash.
  • Hours of service (HOS) logs, which keep track of mandatory rest breaks and may reveal whether the driver was fatigued or asleep at the wheel.
  • Hiring and supervision records, which may show whether the driver was trained and experienced to handle potential jackknife situations.
  • Maintenance records, which can show when the brakes, tires, and other key components of the truck were inspected or maintained.
  • Witness testimony, including accounts from people who saw the wreck itself and people who saw the driver prior to the accident.
  • Physical evidence from the scene, including skid marks, vehicle damage, and more.

Some of this evidence is the trucking company’s property, so it’s important to have an attorney intervene to have it preserved before it can be destroyed. Other evidence simply disappears with time. The sooner your lawyer can start their investigation, the better.

Based on the results of the investigation, your attorney can identify the responsible parties and build a legal strategy to pursue maximum compensation for the injuries you sustained in the jackknife accident. Often, that involves negotiating a settlement with the at-fault party’s insurance company. However, if they won’t make a fair offer, your attorney can take them to trial and advocate for your interests before a judge and jury.

Throughout the process, your attorney will deal with the trucking company and their insurance company on your behalf while you focus on getting better. Having an experienced advocate in your corner can give you invaluable peace of mind during this challenging time.

Schedule your free consultation with an experienced Arkansas truck accident lawyer

Time is of the essence after a jackknife wreck. The sooner you get an attorney, the sooner they can start investigating the crash and dealing with the trucking company on your behalf. Remember, the trucking companies usually have investigators on the scene within 24 hours to protect their interests. You should do the same.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a jackknife crash in Jonesboro or anywhere in Arkansas, contact McDaniel Law Firm, PLC for a free consultation. There’s no cost and no obligation to hire us, just answers you can trust from an experienced truck accident lawyer.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this article, “How Semi-Truck Jackknife Accidents Happen in Arkansas.”

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