The size and weight of commercial trucks mean accidents often result in catastrophic injuries. But are some individuals more at risk of injury than others? In this blog post, McAllen and San Antonio personal injury lawyer Dr. Louis Patino reveals the vulnerable road users worst affected by truck accidents and the legal options available to those who have suffered devastating injuries in a crash.
How Dangerous Are Truck Accidents?
To understand why some accident victims are especially vulnerable in truck accidents, we need to appreciate how dangerous truck accidents are.
Over half a million truck accidents happened in the U.S. in 2021, up 26% compared to 2020. Over four thousand resulted in fatalities, killing 5,788 people in total.
Truck accidents cause various injuries, with the most common including:
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) vary in severity, but even a “minor” concussion can have profound consequences, causing memory loss, dysarthria, and other cognitive impairments besides physical symptoms such as persistent headaches and disorientation.
Spinal Cord Injuries
A truck collision can cause spinal cord injuries, affecting the brain’s ability to transmit messages to other parts of the body. At best, a spinal cord injury can reduce function, while those with severe injuries may be completely paralyzed from the waist or neck down.
The impact of a truck collision can damage vital organs such as the spleen or liver, causing life-threatening ruptures or internal bleeding.
The heavy impact of a truck accident can create fires that cause painful burns, but combustible fires are not the only threat. Long-haul trucks frequently carry hazardous cargo. A crash can cause devastating spillages that lead to chemical burns.
As we’ve seen, many truck accidents are also fatal. Any individual involved in a truck accident is at risk of sustaining these potentially life-altering — or life-ending — injuries, but vulnerable road users are particularly at risk, and the consequences are typically even more devastating.
Who Are Vulnerable Road Users?
Motorists are commonly injured in truck accidents, including truckers and passenger car drivers. But a specific subset of individuals — vulnerable road users — are particularly exposed during a truck accident:
Why Are Motorcyclists Vulnerable to Truck Accidents?
If a passenger car driver can sustain severe injuries in a truck accident, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable. Motorcycles lack a physical protective shell, resulting in riders bearing the brunt of the impact in a crash.
While it’s recommended that riders wear head protection, Texas helmet law requires only young motorcyclists to wear a helmet, leaving motorists at risk of traumatic brain injuries.
Motorcyclists are particularly at risk of sustaining road rash, caused when the impact of a crash propels a rider from their bike and sends them skidding across the rough road surface. Motorcyclists can sustain severe abrasions, lacerations, and friction burns requiring extensive surgery — including painful skin grafts — and may experience permanent scarring or disfigurement, causing significant emotional distress.
Motorcyclists are often injured in truck accidents due to limited visibility. The small size of these vehicles means motorcyclists can sit in a truck driver’s blind spot, but other causes include riders being forced off the road due to improper overtakes and truckers hitting a passing bike when opening the truck door.
Riders can also sustain injuries without direct impact with a truck, such as if they swerve to avoid a collision and skid across the road — potentially into the oncoming traffic.
Why Are Cyclists Vulnerable to Truck Accidents?
Cycling is a popular mode of transport, whether for navigating the city, traversing open country roads, or for recreation. But bicyclists are vulnerable road users at risk of sustaining catastrophic or fatal injuries in truck collisions — even when wearing safety gear like helmets and high-visibility clothing. Like motorcyclists, cyclists must take care not to linger in truck drivers’ blind spots.
One of the top causes of truck accidents involving this group of vulnerable road users is the “right hook” — when a truck makes a right-hand turn directly into a cyclist’s path. Right-hook accidents frequently happen due to “inattentional blindness”, a psychological phenomenon where drivers look for other vehicles but fail to see bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists.
Accidents also occur when a trucker miscalculates the speed of a cyclist, especially if they’re riding an electric or motorized bike, or fails to yield the right of way.
Why Are Pedestrians Vulnerable to Truck Accidents?
Pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users of all, lacking any protection from the tremendous physical force of a truck. As a result, pedestrians are more likely to suffer fatal injuries than any other vulnerable road user.
Truck accidents typically stem from a loss of control. Driver distraction, poor road conditions, and auto defects can all cause a vehicle to snap momentarily, and that’s all it takes. Trucks are complex machinery and require skill and precision to operate. A fully loaded semi-truck weighing eighty thousand pounds traveling at 65 miles per hour takes 525 feet — just under the length of two football fields — to reach a complete stop, meaning pedestrians are still at risk even if a trucker is aware of their presence on the road.
If a trucker is reckless, whether speeding, driving while intoxicated, or falling asleep at the wheel, they might strike a pedestrian at full speed. Sadly, there is little to no chance of a pedestrian surviving such an encounter.
Are Other Road Users Less Vulnerable to Truck Accident Injuries?
If motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users in truck accidents, does this mean that other types of road users are less likely to suffer severe injuries in a truck accident?
Not necessarily. Occupants of smaller vehicles — such as two and four-door passenger cars — frequently sustain minor injuries in truck accidents, but many also suffer incapacitating or fatal injuries because of the comparative size and weight of big rigs and other commercial trucks.
Truck drivers themselves are also not immune from the consequences of a crash. A truck’s cab provides significant protection during a collision with a smaller vehicle, and the overall size and weight of the truck means it typically exerts more force than the impact it absorbs. However, a truck accident can injure anyone involved, and truckers are vulnerable to rollover injuries, where a truck turnover can crush the driver or throw them from the cab and into the road.
How Vulnerable Road Users Can Protect Themselves from a Truck Accident
Truck drivers owe other motorists and pedestrians a duty of care. Many truckers exercise care on the roads by maintaining a sizeable gap to other vehicles and being vigilant at city center crosswalks and other areas of high pedestrian activity.
While there’s no way to fully negate the risk of being injured in a truck accident, there are several steps vulnerable road users can take to stay safe.
How Can Motorcyclists Protect Themselves?
Preventive measures can go a long way toward minimizing the risk of injury. Motorcyclists can protect themselves by:
- Staying out of a truck’s blind spots.
- Using lights and wearing reflective clothing.
- Maintaining a safe distance from trucks ahead.
- Wearing a helmet and protective gear to minimize injuries if an accident should occur.
How Can Cyclists Protect Themselves?
Cyclists need to take care of themselves day and night. Follow these safety guidelines to reduce your risk of injury:
- Adhere to traffic laws, such as maintaining the right speed, being mindful of lane markings, and pausing at stop signs.
- Make use of bike lanes if available.
- Invest in reflective clothing and install reflectors and lights, especially if you cycle in the evening.
- Use hand signals to express your intentions on the road.
- Don’t skimp on protective gear — high-quality helmets, knee protectors, shoes, and gloves offer more protection and can make the difference between life and death.
- Maintain a safe distance to avoid getting caught in a truck’s blind spot.
- Take extra care when approaching intersections, and never assume a trucker will yield the right of way — many accidents occur when a driver accelerates, assuming you will stay put.
How Can Pedestrians Protect Themselves?
Pedestrians must take more care than anyone else to protect themselves from being struck by a truck. Pedestrians should:
- Use sidewalks and crosswalks to stay out of traffic lanes.
- Always look both ways before crossing.
- Stay alert, especially when near roads with high-speed traffic.
- Consider backing away when you see a truck approaching, even if the driver appears to be in control.
- Be vigilant at intersections and obey traffic signals.
- Consider wearing bright, reflective clothing, especially at night and on country roads with limited artificial light.
What Compensation Options Are Available for Vulnerable Road Users after a Truck Accident?
You may be entitled to compensation if you’re injured in a truck accident that wasn’t your fault. Vulnerable road users are more likely to sustain severe injuries requiring lengthy — even lifelong — treatment and rehabilitation, and the families of those who lose a loved one in a truck accident endure devastation and heartbreak. Sadly, both scenarios are common and carry a significant financial burden. Surgery, rehabilitation, therapy, adaptive devices, and mobility devices are costly, while a wrongful death can leave a family struggling to afford a funeral and settle their loved one’s estate.
Fortunately, you have several options for recovering the compensation you’re rightfully owed after a truck accident.
File an Insurance Claim
If you’re a motorist with auto insurance, you might choose to claim against your insurance after an accident. Texas is a fault state, meaning the person or party that caused the accident is liable for your damages. However, through a process called insurance subrogation, you can file a claim with your insurer to receive compensation. Your insurer will then seek reimbursement from the at-fault party’s insurance provider.
You should inform your insurance company about your accident as soon as possible and check your policy to understand any limitations, how it will affect your coverage, and how long you have to claim.
If you take this route, consider consulting a personal injury lawyer to ensure you receive the compensation you’re owed. If you receive a payout and your insurer is reimbursed accordingly, the claim is resolved according to the law, and you cannot pursue legal action to recover additional damages if your injuries later worsen.
An alternative is to file a claim with the responsible party’s insurance company. To do this, you must first identify who is liable for your injuries. Truck accidents are often complex, and multiple parties may be responsible. For example, if you’re hit by a fatigued trucker, the driver can be liable, but so too can the trucker’s employer if they incentivized their employee to work longer hours or failed to take reasonable steps to prevent them from violating federal hours of service regulations.
If you sustained injuries after being struck by unsecured cargo, the truck driver, trucking company, and the cargo company responsible for loading the truck might share liability. What may seem like a straightforward case of fault can quickly become complicated, especially if each party disputes liability.
Then, once you’ve identified the responsible party, you must gather evidence proving their fault and that your injuries resulted from their negligence.
A personal injury lawyer can be a valuable ally. Our Texas truck accident lawyer can identify the best party to pursue for compensation, gather evidence of their liability, and negotiate a fair settlement with their insurance company.
File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Your third option to secure compensation is to file a lawsuit. Negotiations can fail if the insurance company denies liability or refuses to make a fair offer.
It can also be the case that your damages — how much your losses and suffering are worth in monetary terms — exceed the at-fault party’s insurance coverage, especially as vulnerable road users often sustain severe injuries and deserve significant compensation.
A lawsuit is a formal legal action and is the first step to going to court to recover compensation. Most cases do not reach this stage and settle before a trial date is set, but it’s wise to prepare for a potential court battle.
It’s essential to hire experienced legal representation if you wish to sue. A dedicated truck accident lawyer will build a strong and persuasive case to present to a jury, aiming to secure maximum compensation for the harm you’ve suffered.
Call 855-LAW-NINJA to book a free, no-obligation case review and see if you have a claim. You can also send us a confidential message via our contact page, visit us at our McAllen or San Antonio office, or let us know where you are, and we can come to you. We serve the entire Rio Grande Valley, including Hidalgo and Edinburg; San Antonio, Converse, and the surrounding cities in Central Texas; and as far north as Midland-Odessa.