According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over two million rear-end accidents occur across the United States each year. Rear-end collisions are the most common type of traffic accident, accounting for approximately 30 percent of all crashes.
Many vehicle drivers and occupants walk away from these preventable car accidents without injury, or only suffer minor injuries. More serious personal injuries frequently happen, however, when a large truck strikes a smaller vehicle from behind.
Commercial trucks weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded. These heavy trucks inflict a massive force upon impact when an accident occurs. Trucks that rear-end passenger vehicles cause serious property damage, injuries, and fatalities, especially when the collision occurs at high speeds.
Below we discuss rear-end traffic collisions involving semi-trucks: why they occur, the types of damage they cause, who may be liable in your personal injury case, and what you should do if a semi driver strikes your vehicle from behind.
Common Causes of Rear-End Accidents Involving Semi-Trucks
Traffic researchers have spent years studying rear-end collisions. Findings have revealed that some common driver characteristics and behaviors lead to this type of collision. These include:
According to the NHTSA, over 85 percent of all rear-end traffic collisions are a consequence of distracted driving. The most common distractions are eating and drinking while driving, daydreaming, and cell phone use.
The federal government regulates cell phone use in the interstate trucking industry, and limits drivers to using hands-free devices. Yet, some drivers ignore those rules, and even those who follow them can easily succumb to other distractions, leading to deadly accidents.
Inexperienced semi drivers are more likely to cause an accident with a vehicle driving in front of them than those with experience. Research from the NHTSA reveals that as age increases, the likelihood of a driver causing a collision from behind decreases. Age and driving experience, in other words, are highly correlated.
Older truckers, in particular, have more experience and know how to handle their big rigs. They have a good feel for how their trucks react in critical situations, such as when a motorist slams on the brakes in front of a big rig on the highway.
In and of itself, speeding does not cause rear-end accidents, but speed is often a contributing factor.
Trucks that exceed posted speed limits or drive too fast for road conditions often cannot stop in time to avoid a crash. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a loaded semi traveling 65 miles per hour needs two football fields to come to a complete stop.
Following Too Closely
Most drivers assume that tailgating or following another vehicle too closely is the most common cause of rear-end accidents. It’s true that tailgating can lead to accidents, which are especially dangerous when commercial trucks are involved. However, the NHTSA reports that drivers were maintaining a safe following distance in most rear-end accident investigations.
Common Injuries in Semi-Truck Rear-End Accidents
A rear-end accident caused by a large truck can inflict severe personal injuries. Drivers and occupants of passenger cars who are struck from behind by a semi may experience life-altering injuries and the costly medical bills that come with them.
Neck and Back Injuries
The force of impact in a crash involving a tractor-trailer sends a violent jolt through the passenger cabin of the car struck from behind. In that impact, occupants of the vehicle the semi strikes frequently sustain serious neck and back injuries, the result of their bodies absorbing extreme forces and contorting in unnatural positions.
Semi-truck accident victims frequently suffer herniated discs and fractured vertebrae, for example. Broken pieces of bone from fractured vertebrae can get lodged in a person’s spinal cord and cause dangerous, sometimes permanent spinal cord injuries leading to paralysis.
Soft Tissue Injuries
The force of a collision involving a semi can also cause massive damage to the soft tissue of the occupants of the vehicle the semi strikes. Severe tears to muscles, ligaments, and tendons often require surgical repair and can lead to long-lasting limitations on range of motion, as well as to chronic pain.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Accident victims face the risk of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a blow or jolt to the head. A TBI occurs when the force of an impact causes the brain to twist, deform, or shift inside the skull, damaging brain tissue, blood vessels, and nerves.
TBI victims often must cope with long-term impairments, which can include:
- Difficulties with cognitive functions such as reasoning and memory
- Struggles with senses and sensations
- Challenges with speaking and expressing ideas
- Changes in personality including aggression and difficulty with impulse control
Who Is at Fault for a Rear-End Collision Involving a Semi-Truck?
Kentucky law requires all drivers to operate their vehicles with caution so as to avoid causing accidents. Colliding with another vehicle usually constitutes a clear violation of that legal duty, which is why, in the vast majority of rear-end accidents, the driver of the trailing vehicle usually bears the blame for the collision.
Exceptions to this rule do exist, however. Examples of when a semi-truck driver might not bear all of the blame for for rear-ending another vehicle can include:
- The driver of the lead vehicle has a mechanical failure or emergency but does not pull over or use their hazard lights.
- The lead vehicle has malfunctioning or broken tail lights, brake lights, or turn signals.
- The driver of the lead vehicle suddenly goes in reverse.
- The driver of the lead vehicle makes a sudden stop to turn and decides not to make the turn.
Anyone injured in a rear-end crash involving a semi-truck should always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney, even drivers who believe they might bear some of the blame for the crash.
In many cases, drivers blame themselves far more harshly than the law does. Chances are that if a commercial vehicle rear-ended your vehicle, you have legal rights to recover damages.
Do I Sue the Truck Driver or the Trucking Company? Legal Liability for Semi-Truck Rear-End Accidents
Legal liability for an accident involving a semi-truck varies from case-to-case. That is why you need an experienced injury attorney on your side to investigate the accident and the parties to determine who owes you money damages for your injuries and losses.
Every truck accident has its own unique facts and circumstances. Generally speaking, however, the parties who may have legal liability to you for your injuries might include:
- The truck driver who failed to bring the truck that collided with your car to a safe stop;
- The truck driver’s employer, who typically will have legal and financial responsibility for the actions of its employee;
- The owner of the truck, if different from the trucker or employer, if a failure to maintain the truck, or to ensure the trucker had adequate training or credentials, led to the rear-end accident;
- A truck equipment manufacturer, if the truck failed to stop before colliding with the vehicle in front of it because of a dangerous defect in one of its parts or systems;
- A government agency or contractor, if it failed to fix or warn drivers about a preventable, unreasonably dangerous condition on the road that led to the collision.
As we said, every accident involving a commercial vehicle has its own unique features. The most reliable way to determine who may have legal liability to you for injuries and losses you suffered in an accident is to hire an experienced, knowledgeable attorney to represent you in taking legal action for compensation.
What to Do if You Have Been Injured in a Rear-end Collision Involving a Semi-truck
If you have been injured in a trucking accident, you should do the following:
- Call 911
- Seek medical treatment
- If possible, gather photo evidence and contact information for eyewitnesses
- Seek the help of an experienced attorney at a law firm specializing in truck accidents
If a semi-truck collides with your vehicle from behind, immediately call 911 to ensure ambulance services, emergency services, and law enforcement come to the scene of the accident.
Then, seek medical treatment. Let an EMT examine you at the scene, go to the emergency room via ambulance, if recommended, and always follow up with your regular doctor or at an urgent care clinic within 24 hours.
A physician can examine you for common accident injuries and ensure they are documented in your medical record. Even seemingly minor symptoms like headaches or stomach pain could indicate a serious issue that could be potentially dangerous if left untreated.
Within reason (and only if you can do so safely), it can also benefit you to take photos of the accident scene including non-vehicle and vehicle property damage, any visible injuries, and any identifying information on the tractor-trailer, such as company name and logo or license plates. Also, collect contact information for any eyewitnesses.
Finally, contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible. You may have valuable rights to seek compensation by taking legal action, but your time to do so can be short. The sooner you have an attorney working for you, the better your chance of recovering the compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses.
The skilled truck accident lawyers at David Bryant Law have extensive experience representing truck crash victims and fighting to recover damages for their injuries. Contact us today online or at (502) 540-1221 to for a free consultation and case evaluation to discuss your rear-end truck accident case, your injury claim, and how we may help.