According to the Federal Highway Safety Administration, 30 percent of all work zone accidents involve large trucks. In the last five years, there have been over 1,000 fatalities and 18,000 injuries caused by large trucks in work zones. 65 percent of all truck-related accidents that occurred in work zones happened during the day and they are six times more likely to occur during the week than on the weekend.
It isn’t hard to figure out why. Work zones force traffic to slow down and create narrow pathways for vehicles to navigate. Even some cars aren’t able to navigate these work zones at higher speeds. Add to that the fact that trucks have much larger stopping distances, and you have a recipe for an increase in the number of deaths that occur in work zones.
This has occasionally resulted in lawsuits not only against trucking companies, but also against municipalities, and construction companies.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Involving Work Zones
When it comes to work zones, there are three potential victims. There is the individual driving the truck, another vehicle that they strike, or the workers who are working in the work zone. Each of these individuals can file lawsuits against an allegedly at-fault party, but there is at least one barrier to those who are working on the job.
Since workers’ compensation plays a role in making those injured on the job whole while they are performing their labor, those injured in work zones may not have recourse to sue their employers. That, however, doesn’t prevent them from suing the trucking company or their driver.
On the other hand, truck drivers may have recourse to file suits against the city or county for the inadequate safety protections. In very busy work zones, the city is expected to have their own drivers slow down traffic through the corridor while there are folks working. If a truck driver injures himself, he may be able to argue that the work zone was inadequately maintained.
If another driver (other than the truck driver) is injured in a work zone, they can file a lawsuit against any of the other parties. That includes the truck driver, the trucking company, the construction company, and the city.
The same holds true for those who are killed in work zones. The only notable difference is that instead of an injured party bringing a lawsuit on their own behalf, their family and estate file the lawsuit on behalf of their loved one.
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When Are Truck Drivers to Blame?
Truck drivers and the companies that employ them have a duty of care to ensure that others are safe on the road. This means ensuring that their drivers are fit and trained, performing periodic drug screenings, and making sure that the trucks themselves are roadworthy. These requirements are placed on trucking companies at the federal level. There is a minimum standard getting a CDL and there are mandatory regulations regarding the inspection of trucks prior to leaving for delivery. Truckers are also required to inspect their trucks at the end of every 24-hour period.
In addition to federal regulations, there are best practices for navigating work zones that truck drivers need to be aware of. Since their vehicles often carry loads upwards of 80,000 lbs. and it takes much longer for a truck to stop at high speeds than a car, truckers must be aware of the road conditions and work zones. When an accident occurs, it may be the trucker’s fault if:
- They failed to pay attention to obvious signs;
- They failed to adhere to the instructions of the flagger;
- They failed to leave enough space between themselves and the vehicle in front of them;
- They failed to anticipate a situation in which they needed to brake;
- They did not maintain road awareness while traffic was moving more slowly; and
- They failed to anticipate the need to merge and another car ended up in their blind spot (no-zone).
Where possible, it is best for trucks to avoid work zones entirely.
Most Common Types of Accidents in Work Zones
According to the Federal Highway Safety Administration, the most common type of work zone accidents are rear-end accidents. While these accidents are typically known for being fatal, debris from the collision can fly off and strike workers. Additionally, large trucks have what is known in the industry as “no zones.” These zones account for the massive blind spots that truckers are required to deal with. These include areas directly behind the truck and areas toward the back of the truck on either side that truckers cannot see with their mirrors. Today, blind spot detection technology has reduced the occurrence of these types of accidents, but trucking companies are not required to use this technology.
Side-swipe accidents are infinitely more dangerous when they involve large trucks. While the technology exists to reduce or eliminate what are known as “underride” accidents, not all trucking companies employ this technology. Today, trucking companies must install underride guards in the rear end of large tractor-trailers. However, trucking companies are not required to install underride guards on the sides of their trucks. While you will see some trucking companies installing underride guards, they are not required by law to do so. Because these accidents are often deadly and because these accidents are preventable, those injured by a truck that did not have an underride guard can argue that the trucking company did not employ technology that could have prevented serious injury or fatality. A lack of underride guards has formed the basis of several wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits involving tractor-trailers.
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