California Big-Rig Trucking Accident Lawyer
The Scarlett Law Group are National Trial Lawyers based in San Francisco, California with outstanding results in cases involving automobile accidents, airplane crashes, traumatic brain injury, head injury, personal injury, catastrophic personal injuries, mass torts, medical malpractice , professional negligence, class actions, civil rights, environmental disasters and wrongful death.
Large trucks, commonly referred to as "big rigs",
"semi-trucks" or "tractor trailer" trucks typically weigh 80,000 pounds
and range from about 67 to 75 feet in length. Despite that large trucks
represent only 3% of all the registered vehicles on the road, they
account for over 25% of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple vehicle accidents .
The tremendous difference in size and weight between
passenger vehicles and large trucks make visualization of catastrophic
injury easy. However, more so than the difference in size and weight
between passenger vehicles and large trucks are at issue. For example,
it will take a 40 ton 18-wheeler driving at 65 miles an hour and
additional 100 feet to stop than were it traveling at 55 miles an hour.
Given this, it is not surprising that typical big rig accidents usually
involve rear-end collisions. Jack-knifed trailers, right hand squeeze,
and break failure are also common accidents involving large trucks.
The Role of Bio-Mechanical Evidence and Recreation in Injury Trials
In the past 50 years, thousand of motorists and
truck drivers have been killed and/or injured in large trucking
accidents primarily resulting from driver error and negligent
maintenance by trucking companies. Unsafe driving, over-sized loads and
other acts of negligence have put the public as well as truck operators
California is one of only approximately 10 states
which impose a slower speed limit for large trucks and commercial
vehicles. Approximately 7% of all of the vehicle miles driven in the
nation are done so by large truck drivers. Federal crash statistics
have shown that at least 20% of large trucking accidents are due to
excessive speed. This is especially so when coupled with problems
resulting from excessive speed and braking.
Nonetheless, while mechanical failures, reckless
driving and improper driver training account for many of the crashes,
the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) reports
that driver fatigue is responsible for between 30% and 40% of all big
rig crashes and is the probable cause in over 30% of the crashes that
resulted in the truck drivers death.
Much like the tragic frequency of traumatic brain injury
in this country, in every 16 minutes of every day another person in the
United States will be injured or killed in a trucking-related accident.
It is not surprising that at least one-third of the injured suffer
catastrophic harm and damage. In 2003 alone, over 450,000 large trucks
were involved in crashes. In a survey done that year, almost 20% of
truckers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at least once in the
previous three-month period.
However, each year about 600 large truck occupants
are killed and about 30,000 are injured in highway crashes according to
data collected by NHTSA. (This compares to approximately 5000 deaths
resulting to passengers in smaller vehicles involved with large trucks
and over 140,000 injuries per year to individuals operating smaller
vehicles involved with accidents with large trucks.)
Clearly, in multiple vehicle crashes, smaller
vehicles and their occupants are at a vast disadvantage when a large
truck is involved. Nonetheless, large truck safety should involve
safety to big rig drivers and their occupants as well as safety to
In 2004 alone, an estimated 200,000 new trucks had
been registered to operate on United States roads. One would hope that
the registration of "newer" vehicles would result in safer trucks. This
is not necessarily the case however. In many instances, the cabs of
large trucks are designed to do little more than keep out wind and
rain. Relatively minor crashes, especially those not involving other
vehicles, can and do often result in catastrophic injuries to truck
operators and passengers. There is a dearth of federal regulation or
efforts by truck manufacturers or trucker trade unions to provide
rudimentary safety measures to protect truck drivers. Doors should stay
shut, windshields should not pop out, and some type of safety cage,
ought to be, but isn't normally available.
Newly registered trucks and ever expanding fleets of
trucks results in greater competition. Drivers are under increased
pressure to deliver faster in order to remain competitive. While
regulations state that a big-rig operator can only "drive" for 10 hours
per day, and must have 8 hours off for each 10 hours of driving, there
is also load/unload time, often involving hours of physical labor. It
is no wonder that truckers admit to falling asleep at the wheel. Many
times the truckers' 10 hours of driving begins after hours of physical
labor getting the load ready to go.
Unfortunately, when a 2000 pound automobile is
involved in an accident with an 80,000 pound tractor-trailer, even the
best of passenger vehicle design may not prevent catastrophic injury
The Scarlett Law Group has been
involved in big rig accidents resulting from improper maintenance,
braking problems, driver error, jack-knife, lane change error/blind
spot, as well as fatigue. Despite that the resulting harm to passenger
vehicle and occupants is easily seen, The Scarlett Law Group routinely
utilizes the services of biomechanical engineers and accident
reconstructionists, as well as safety specialist, mechanics and others
in order to convincingly establish their clients' cases.
Even given the dramatic proportional difference
between passenger vehicle and big-rig, accidents involving alleged
operator error or mechanical error in semi-tractor-trailers are
generally vigorously defended. It is not uncommon for the defense to
point to driver error on the part of the passenger vehicle operator.
Did he or she cut in front of the truck? Did he or she operate their
passenger vehicle in a blind spot for an inordinate amount of time? Was
improper passing technique utilized by the passenger vehicle?
While liability for many vehicular/trucking
collisions is clear, accident reconstruction and workup of the
biomechanics of injury are nonetheless required in the proper trial
presentation in virtually all such cases. The Scarlett Law Group works
with top experts in the world on this subject.
For example, many are surprised to learn that most
SUVs and pickup trucks maintain a rigid bumper system which clearly can
result in much greater injury to occupants in even low speed impact
The presence or absence of motor vehicle bumper
damage is usually thought to be an important consideration when
estimating the severity of a low speed, or minimal damage collision.
There are, however, several types of bumpers. Most passenger car
bumpers contain elements designed to dissipate the impact energy, such
as shock absorber-like isolators, foam cores or lattice cores. A number
of studies have provided insight into analyzing collisions involving
these kinds of bumpers.
A rigid bumper system, such as contained on most SUV
and pickup trucks, typically consist of a steel bumper beam attached to
the vehicle frame either directly or by mounting brackets. Rigid
bumpers are common on pickup trucks, vans, and sport utility vehicles.
In one study, full-scale impact testing was selected
as a method of investigating the performance of rigid bumper systems
during low-speed collisions. A vehicle-to-vehicle test is clearly the
best facsimile of the actual collision. However, barrier impacts are
widely used in mandatory standards compliant tests, and the relative
ease of conducting a barrier test makes it an attractive alternative to
a vehicle-to-vehicle test when assessing the behavior of a rigid bumper.
In at least one study, comparison was made between
the damage produced in barrier and vehicle-to-vehicle test of a similar
severity to assess the viability of barrier testing when analyzing
real-world collisions involving rigid bumpers. The Scarlett Law Group,
together with its experts, maintains constant review of all literature
in this area, and when re-enactment, via computerized projection or
actual vehicle reenactment is performed for forensic purposes, The
Scarlett Law Group and its expert chooses the most viable option
For example, in one study 5 pickup trucks were
subjected to barrier impacts and vehicle-to-vehicle impacts on both
their front and rear bumpers. Prior to each test, replacement bumpers
and mounting hardware were installed by a local auto body shop.
The vehicles tested included a 1980 Ford F-150
Pickup, a 1981 GMC C-1500 Pickup, a 1983 Toyota Half-Ton Pickup, a 1983
Chevrolet S-10 Pickup, a 1984 Ford Ranger, and a 1993 Ford Crown
Victoria. Original equipment manufactured parts were used for all of
Speed, damage, and high-speed video were recorded for each test. Impact force was recorded for the barrier test.
A Macinnis Engineering Associates "fifth wheel" was
attached to each test vehicle to measure speed during the collisions.
Collected at 256Hz, this device provides speed resolution of about
The barrier was equipped with two uni-axial lode cells to measure impact force. This data was collected at 256Hz.
All test vehicles were weighted axe-by-axel using an 11kN load cell with a resolution of 10N.
Video of the bumper impacts was recorded using an
omniSpeed HS motion capture system and high speed digital cameras.
Video data were recorded at 250 frames per second, using a shutter
speed of 1/1000.
First, the front and rear barrier impacts were
conducted with all vehicles, followed by front and rear impacts with
the rear and front bumpers, respectively, of the 1993 Ford Crown
Victoria 4-door sedan.
The test vehicles were pulled into impact by a speed
control electronic winch and a steel cable attached to the
undercarriage. Just prior to impact, the winch was turned off, so the
vehicle coasted into contact.
The barrier consisted of a horizontal steel beam
with a rectangular cross-section attached by two lode cells to a rigid
frame. The frame was bolted to a concrete floor. The height of the
impact beam was adjusted so that the center of the beam was
approximately level with mid-height of the bumper.
A 1993 Ford Crown Victoria was used for
vehicle-to-vehicle collusions with the pickup trucks. In each of rear
bumper test, a stationary pickup truck with a struck by the front of
the Crown Victoria. The Crown Victoria was towed to the required speed
by the electric winch, and released just before impact. For each front
bumper test, the pickup truck was towed into the rear of the stationary
Crown Victoria in a similar manner.
The striking vehicle impact speed for each
vehicle-to-vehicle test was selected so that the speed change
experienced by the pickup truck would nearly match the speed change
observed in the corresponding barrier test. Coefficients of resolution
were predicted using approved methodology.
The striking and target vehicle bumper heights matched in all tests.
The differences between the damage caused in the
vehicle and barrier test was found to be generally attributable to the
difference in the shape of the barrier and the Crown Victoria's
bumpers. The Crown Victoria's bumpers were curved and these curvatures
resulted in non-uniform loading of the bumper beam and the mounting
brackets. In many of the tests the horizontal curvature caused greater
deformation between the bumper mounts than the barrier test.
The bumper damage was similar in vehicle and barrier
tests if the bumper mounts buckled. The exception was the Toyota rear
bumper, which rotated in opposite directions in vehicle and barrier
tests, though with about equal magnitude. However, if the bumper mounts
did not fail, or if the bumper was mounted directly to the frame rails,
then bumper damage was different in the vehicle and barrier test. In
these cases, the bumper beams tended to bow between the unyielding
mounts and when contacted by the rounded vehicle bumper, while they
remained flat after the barrier impact.
The test data presented in this study established
that both front and rear bumpers of five pickup trucks sustained at
least localized damage when subject ed to nominal 8km/h speed changes
in collisions with a fixed barrier or another vehicle. Full-sized
pickup trucks sustained less bumper damage than compact trucks for
equivalent speed changes, though there was variation in compact truck
performance. Nonetheless, given the rigid nature of the bumper itself,
little damage to the bumper did not equate to the forces subject to the
occupants of the vehicles itself. In fact, through utilization of
appropriate biomechanical testing, it was determined that the absence
of bumper damage on a rigidly mounted bumper did not in any way rule
out the probability of serious injury, including brain injury, to the
Accordingly, by utilizing appropriate experts, and by staying abreast of current literature, The Scarlett Law Group is able to educate juries as to why serious injuries occur with seemingly little property damage.
Even in cases involving significant property damage,
for example where the Jaws of Life has been utilized in order to
extricate the occupants of a vehicle, biomechanical analysis must still
occur. Whether the collision involves a large truck, a school bus, a
pickup truck, or a small sedan, The Scarlett Law Group, and its team of
experts, stand ready to assist you in your time of need.
In any large truck/passenger car accident, even
though you, or your loved one, have been seriously injured, do not
expect that your conduct will not be scrutinized by the defense. By
reconstructing the accident, and by employing appropriate
bio-mechanical specialists, The Scarlett Law Group
eliminates and eradicates misplaced defense arguments. If you, or a
loved one, have been in an accident involving a tractor trailer or a
large truck, The Scarlett Law Group has the expertise to assist you through your difficult times.
If you or someone you know has been injured
as the result of a trucking accident,
you need the assistance of The Scarlett Law Group.
today to speak with a California Personal Injury Attorney.