The size and nature of tractor-trailers make them extremely dangerous for anyone traveling the Georgia roadways. Even under the most ideal circumstances, truck accidents can cause serious injuries and tragic fatalities. It is terrifying to think of a monstrous tractor-trailer careening down a highway into oncoming traffic, but that is exactly what can occur when a truck operator loses control of the vehicle. Property is damaged and innocent people are severely injured, or even killed.
In 2015, a Cartersville, Georgia mother was killed when a runaway tractor-trailer struck her and her family. As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the operator of the truck was outside performing a safety inspection when the unattended vehicle began to roll out of the parking lot and down a hill onto the roadway. The truck reportedly pinned the family’s car against a guardrail, killing the mother and severely injuring her husband and children. This is unfortunately not an isolated event. In 2016, a 10-vehicle pileup resulted when a Pennsylvania operator was unable to bring his truck to a stop. As recently as February 2017, an unattended tractor-trailer reportedly rolled out of a Connecticut rest area gas station onto Interstate 95.
Tractor-trailer operators losing control of their vehicles
Tractor-trailer operators have a legal duty to operate their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner. When they lose control of the truck, they are no longer able to meet this duty. Some of the most commonly reported causes of runaway tractor-trailers include:
- Mechanical failure. The size of a tractor-trailer requires exceptional stopping power. The braking systems of large trucks are designed to handle the weight of these vehicles, but these systems may fail. The driver may not be able to stop when driving on an incline or in inclement weather conditions. Braking systems may even fail when the vehicle is parked, allowing it to roll onto a roadway.
- Operator negligence. In some cases, the failure of the brakes is not a mechanical issue, but an operator mistake. An inexperienced or impaired driver may fail to apply the brakes in a timely manner or lose control of the truck while in operation. Operators may also forget to properly engage the truck’s braking system before exiting the vehicle.
- Overweight trailers. An 18-wheeler literally weighs tons. When that truck is overweight, it can take far longer to stop, and attempts to “jam on” the brakes could cause the truck to skid. Loose cargo can also shift, causing the truck to tip over. It can also spill debris onto the roadways, posing dangers for driver around them.
Who is responsible?
When runaway tractor-trailer accidents occur, determining fault largely depends on the specific circumstances of the incident. The vehicle operator may be held liable for improperly handling the truck. If maintenance issues caused the accident, the truck owner or operating company may hold some responsibility for resulting injuries. Under some circumstances, a government entity may even share in the liability, due to improperly maintained roadways or hazardous conditions caused by highway work crews.