“Heavy truck” is a classification of trucks that includes the largest and heaviest vehicles allowed on public roads in the United States. They can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and are also sometimes referred to a Class 8 vehicles. So-called “eighteen wheelers” or “tractor-trailer combinations” are a type of heavy truck as are dump trucks, cement mixers and tanker trucks. These vehicles are common on U.S. roadways and account for a disproportionate share of deaths and injuries every year.
One of the problems with heavy trucks is that they lag significantly behind the automotive industry with respect to safety innovation. Largely because the heavy truck industry has been successful in lobbying efforts to ensure that federal safety regulations don’t apply to their products, heavy trucks are exempt from many of the safety standards that apply to passenger vehicles. As a result, heavy truck manufacturers simply have not kept up with safety innovations that we take for granted in passenger cars.
The absence of meaningful regulation has resulted, with a few minor exceptions, in heavy trucks being built in essentially the same way now that they have been built for over 50 years. For example, heavy trucks do not have to pass crash tests so they are designed with large, aluminum, fuel tanks mounted outside the frame rails that are largely unprotected – where they are susceptible to impacts with other vehicles, Jersey barriers, road debris or other components of the truck itself. Another factor is that battery boxes are often placed directly next to large, aluminum, unguarded fuel tanks creating a high risk of fire and explosion. There are approximately 260 fatal crashes involving a heavy truck fire every year which equates to about 22 per month or 5 per week!
Additionally, cab structures are very weak when compared to the overall size and weight of heavy trucks. Airbags are virtually nonexistent in heavy trucks. All of these factors together create a dangerous design for many heavy trucks that all too often results in unnecessary death and destruction to occupants of heavy trucks and even to occupants of other vehicles that come into contact with heavy trucks.
At McCartney Stucky LLC, our attorneys work hard to hold heavy truck manufacturers responsible when their design decisions cause unnecessary injury and death. Founding partners Terry McCartney and Chris Stucky are widely considered among the very best plaintiffs’ attorneys in the specialized field of heavy truck crashworthiness litigation. Their wealth of experience and industry knowledge in this area creates a distinct advantage for clients injured by a defective heavy truck.
McCartney Stucky LLC is regularly asked to investigate claims on behalf of truck drivers and their families for injuries and deaths suffered because of defects in these heavy trucks. If, after careful evaluation and analysis by highly qualified experts, we conclude that the manufacturer of a heavy truck is to blame for the damages to our client, we are prepared to hold that manufacturer accountable for its actions.
Common Heavy Truck Defects
Many heavy trucks, because modern day regulations have not addressed them, have the same defective designs and equipment that have existed for decades. Some of the common defects include:
- Post-Collision Fuel Fed Fires: Often times when a heavy truck is involved in a collision the immediate aftermath is a massive diesel fed fire. Heavy trucks are designed to be on the road for hundreds of miles at a time. Accordingly, they are equipped with massive fuel tanks which are placed on the outside of the truck without guarding or protection. As a result, the fuel tanks are extremely vulnerable to damage in collisions which often leads to fires which inflict devastating consequences on the truck occupants as well as the occupants of any passenger cars near the truck at the time of the crash. In addition to the risk of the fuel tanks being impacted directly by another vehicle, heavy truck fuel tanks are also vulnerable to puncture by other truck components which are not properly crashworthy. In frontal impacts fuel tanks are regularly punctured by battery boxes, cab entry steps, steering components or even the front steer axle itself which is often dislodged in frontal impacts. If you or a loved one is injured in an event involving a heavy truck and a fire, it is imperative that you contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible so that the cause of the fire can be identified and evidence can be preserved.
- Roof Crush Claims: Consistent with other safety technologies, heavy truck roof strength requirements lag way behind the standards for passenger cars, which themselves are not sufficient to adequately protect occupants in rollover events. In 2016, approximately 5% of fatal crashes involving heavy trucks cited roll overs as the first harmful event. That works out to two-hundred crashes per year where someone is killed because of a heavy truck rollover. Based on our experience here at McCartney Stucky, we are confident most of those awful and senseless deaths could have been prevented by a stronger roof structure. Unfortunately, stronger roofs often add weight, which has long been used by heavy truck manufacturers as the excuse to avoid improving safety. At McCartney Stucky we hold truck manufacturers responsible for their unsafe design decisions and seek justice for those injured by them. If you or someone you love is injured or killed in a heavy truck rollover event, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
- Underride: Underride is exactly what it sounds like; in underride crashes a passenger car ends up under the structure of the heavy truck. This occurs in multiple impact locations due to the height disparity between trucks and passenger cars. The results are devastating. Heavy structural components of the heavy truck or the trailer behind it enter the cab of the passenger vehicle endangering those inside. If you or someone you love is injured or killed in a crash with a heavy truck, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at McCartney Stucky together with qualified safety experts can quickly identify whether the crash involved vehicle underride.
- There are three primary types of underride crashes: rear, side and front.
- Rear underride occurs when a passenger car impacts the back of a semi- trailer pulled by a heavy truck. The structures of the trailer either shear the top of the passenger vehicle off or enter the occupant compartment of the passenger vehicle. In these crashes if the occupants of the car survive the initial impact they are often trapped underneath the truck, inaccessible to emergency personnel. Surprisingly, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) actually enacted regulations intended to address rear underride. Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 223 requires trailers to be equipped with a rear guard meant to mitigate the consequences of rear underride. Unfortunately, the current standards are insufficient. CMVSS 223 is intended to protect occupants of passenger cars which impact the rear of a trailer at approximately 35 mph. 74% of fatal crashes into the rear of trailers occur at speeds beyond 35 mph. NHTSA’s required guards only protect a quarter of the people injured in rear underride crashes. This is unacceptable and truck/trailer manufacturers know this and must be held accountable.
- Side underride crashes are similar to rear underride crashes in that both involve a passenger car impacting a tall trailer resulting in the passenger car running under the trailer which causes intrusion into the passenger car’s occupant compartment. The injuries and deaths that result from these crashes are senseless and can be prevented by existing technology. However, the lobbying efforts of the trucking industry and truck manufacturers alike have prevented this valuable technology from being mandated by the NHTSA. Side underride guard technology is available but truck operators and manufacturers refuse to pay for the equipment or the added weight despite the many lives that could be saved.
- Front underride occurs in frontal collisions between heavy trucks and passenger cars. Passenger cars are designed with something called a “crumple zone” which is meant to absorb the forces of a frontal impact before they reach the occupant compartment. Because of the height mismatch between heavy trucks and passenger cars, in a frontal collision with a heavy truck, the passenger car’s crumple zone is not engaged. The front of the passenger car instead goes underneath the truck and the heavy structures of the truck such as the bumper, front grill and even the tires enter the occupant compartment of the car impacting those inside. Front underride is a phenomenon the trucking industry and truck manufacturers have known about for decades. Front Underride Protection Devices are required on heavy trucks sold in other parts of the world including Europe, Australia, Russia and India. Nonetheless, the vast majority of all trucks in America occupy roads and highways without protection for this known danger. In addition to the massive consequences for the passenger car in the initial impact, front underride can also lead to other impacts. In frontal collisions where underride occurs, the steering axle of the truck is often disabled. If the truck, often operating at highway speeds, is not slowed by the initial impact it becomes an uncontrollable 80,000 pound projectile on a public highway wrecking everything in its path. If you or someone you know is injured or killed in a frontal collision with a heavy truck, contact an experienced attorney at once.
- Failure to Equip Cases: Failure to equip cases stem from a manufacturer’s failure or delay in outfitting a heavy truck with important safety equipment or technology already existing in the industry. Some common claims include lack of electronic stability control, lack of adequate restraint systems or airbags, and failure to equip modern collision avoidance technology such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning, or adaptive cruise control. In all heavy truck cases it is important to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible so that the truck, its components, and the information they hold can be preserved and analyzed.