How Do Accidents With Parked 18-Wheelers Work?
When an 18-wheeler is parked on the shoulder of a roadway or stopped in a lane of traffic, this can lead to a particularly devastating type of accident that can result in long-term, disabling injuries and, in many instances, fatalities. The disparity in mass between an automobile and a commercial truck is so great that, when a car hits an 18-wheeler, it's like smashing into a brick wall. When a semi-truck is parked outside of legally designated areas, a dangerous situation is made even worse when it's nighttime and the trailer is poorly illuminated. In this article, we'll explain the limited circumstances under which 18-wheelers are allowed to stop on the side of the road and the safety protocol they must follow when doing so. We'll also talk a bit about dealing with trucking companies and getting the most value out of your case.
Questions Answered On This Page:
- When is it legal and illegal for an 18-wheeler to stop on the side of the road?
- Is the trucking company liable if you hit a parked 18-wheeler?
- Is it legal for 18-wheelers to park on residential streets?
- What are the rules for 18-wheeler trucks parking on the shoulder of a highway?
What makes commercial trucks liable for accidents?
To put it in simple terms, the only way a parked or stopped 18-wheeler can be considered liable (or partially liable) for an accident is if they've negligently parked and that was a contributing factor in the accident. So how do you know if an 18-wheeler parked or stopped in a negligent fashion? Here's an example: A semi-truck pulls over onto the shoulder of a highway, but the trailer is still jutting out into traffic. If another car crashed into the trailer, then it's likely that the semi-truck driver would be found at least partially liable for the accident, since his vehicle was parked in an inherently dangerous manner that clearly contributed to an accident. However, the key term is contribute, because there are some situations where an 18-wheeler can be illegally parked, but not contribute to an accident.
For example, if an 18-wheeler truck was parked in a "compact car only" spot, that's clearly illegal, but doesn't create an obviously dangerous situation the way our previous example did.
Examples of parked or stopped 18-wheelers causing accidents
Here are the most common situations we've handled in our past cases:
- Though they are not supposed to, sometimes 18-wheelers simply stop in the middle of the road and park. While this is sometimes done for other reasons, it's also undeniably true that semi-trucks sometimes break down and can't keep driving. When this happens and a driver has to stop their vehicle in a prohibited location as a result, the law requires that many safety protocols go into effect. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's regulations, when an 18-wheeler becomes disabled and is parked on the shoulder of a roadway and/or a lane of traffic, the driver of the truck is required to set out either flares or triangular orange reflectors at intervals of 50 feet, in order to warn other motorists that a disabled 18-wheeler is in or near their path well ahead of time. However, there are many truck drivers who ignore these requirements and simply choose not to set out these warning devices. Other times, their employer fails to provide the devices. When these precaution aren't taken, someone can easily crash into the rear of the truck, either seriously injuring or killing the occupants.
- Another very dangerous scenario is when an 18-wheeler is moving extremely slowly on a roadway -- particularly at night. Many motorists mistakenly believe that the truck is moving much faster than it actually is, because the lights on the truck create an illusion. When an accident takes place due to a vehicle hitting a slowly moving 18-wheeler, the question then becomes, was the truck rolling slowly from a complete stop? If that is the case, then the truck driver may have failed to yield the right of way. If the truck was slowly rolling because it was suffering some sort of mechanical defect, then the driver of that truck has violated federal requirements by not getting off of the road and setting flares or triangular warning reflectors. Either way, the driver of that truck has committed an act of negligence.
- The truck might also be disabled and in the road because of a prior accident. This is actually quite common. We've litigated many cases where, for example, a truck was driving too fast and flipped over or spun out at a turn. When motorists came along on the same stretch of roadway after the accident, it's often the case that they don't have time to stop and crash into the disabled truck. The law holds every person or company to account for the results of such accidents.
- There are some roads that 18-wheelers aren't allowed to be on at all, which means they can't park on them, either. This includes places like residential areas and any roadway where posted signs indicate that semi-trucks are prohibited. Often times, there is a weight limit for vehicles that serves essentially the same purpose.
- Just like any other vehicle, 18-wheelers are allowed to park on the shoulder of a highway or use the emergency lane, but they're only allowed to do so if there's an actual emergency. For example, a trucker can't simply pull over onto the shoulder to eat a snack or take a nap -- and if someone crashed into the back of his tractor-trailer as he was doing so, a jury would likely find the trucker at least partially at fault for the accident.
- Lastly, truck accident victims can be the 18-wheeler driver themselves. Trucks legally parked on the side of the road can be "sitting ducks" for cars or other 18-wheelers, even if the parked truck has employed proper warning procedures. One common example of this is where an 18-wheeler is broken down on the side of the road, but another trucker or motorist veers off the street and hits them. The other motorist is perhaps sleepy, intoxicated, or distracted by a cell phone. Truckers and their families have the right to sue those negligent motorists for their losses. It's less common that commercial truckers are the victims of these kinds of wrecks, but it does happen and truckers injured or killed in this situation do have the same rights as anyone else.
On a related note, if an 18-wheeler is hauling hazardous materials, the FMCSA states that they must be parked at least 5 feet from any major thoroughfare. You can read the verbiage from the FMCSA below:
§ 397.7: Parking.
- (a) A motor vehicle which contains Division 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 materials must not be parked under any of the following circumstances--
- (1) On or within 5 feet of the traveled portion of a public street or highway;
- (2) On private property (including premises of fueling or eating facility) without the knowledge and consent of the person who is in charge of the property and who is aware of the nature of the hazardous materials the vehicle contains; or
- (3) Within 300 feet of a bridge, tunnel, dwelling, or place where people work, congregate, or assemble, except for brief periods when the necessities of operation require the vehicle to be parked and make it impracticable to park the vehicle in any other place.
- (b) A motor vehicle which contains hazardous materials other than Division 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 materials must not be parked on or within five feet of the traveled portion of public street or highway except for brief periods when the necessities of operation require the vehicle to be parked and make it impracticable to park the vehicle in any other place.
Citation: [59 FR 63925, Dec. 12, 1994]
Why Trucking Companies Don't Want to Compensate Accident Victims
Trucking companies and their insurance providers are not "required" to compensate you after an accident, even if the 18-wheeler was parked illegally. It surprises some people to know that even if the police investigators decide that the trucker was responsible for the accident that hurt you or took your loved one, there is no automatic payment system in place. It may seem outrageous, but the trucking company is under no direct duty to so much as offer you an apology. That's why we have the court system: it allows the question to be litigated by an objective judge and jury so that these companies can be held accountable and everyone's rights are protected.
For further reading on this subject, read our article: Do trucking companies have to compensate me?
Even in a case where the truck driver knows he is 100 percent at fault, the defendant trucking company will still fight your claim in court in an effort to save as much money as it possibly can. Here's why: when the driver of a car strikes a parked or stopped 18-wheeler, it's possible that the car's driver will at least bear some modicum of liability. For example, if the driver of the car was texting or intoxicated, then a jury would likely decide that the driver bears some responsibility for what happened to them. As a result, you can be certain that the trucking company will litigate the case in the hopes of finding every shred of evidence with which to dispute your claim that their driver was at fault.
The bottom line is that, more so than with just about any other kind of case, the defendant will pull out all the stops to deflect the blame onto you.
Compensation Available In Parked 18-Wheeler Accidents
If you have suffered an injury in an accident caused by the driver of an 18-wheeler, your attorney can help you obtain compensation for the financial losses (known as "damages" in legal terms) that you have incurred due to the collision. These damages can come in the form of medical bills, repair expenses, lost wages, and many more.
If you have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one due to another party's negligence, you can seek both wrongful death damages and survival claim damages. Wrongful death damages can be sought by the family of the deceased to cover expenses such as funeral bills and property damage, and to also provide restitution for pain and suffering and other less tangible forms of damages. Survival claim damages can be sought by a family member on behalf of the lost loved one, and pursue compensation for losses the deceased endured from the time of their injury until their death. These include medical bills, lost wages, damages for pain and suffering, and more.
However, because these kinds of cases offer the trucking company ample opportunity to mount a defense, you will need an experienced attorney to have any reasonable chance of winning. You will encounter incredibly powerful opposition that will work feverishly to either make sure you get as little as possible, or even nothing at all, for the suffering you have experienced.
Please give us a call at (855) 326-0000 (toll free) for a confidential and free consultation. We will walk you through all the aspects of your case, give you our honest opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of your claim, and let you know how we may be able to help.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- Here are the most common fact patterns in trucking accident cases.
- Get the most out of your case: Learn about the different kinds of insurance policies trucking companies use
- How Do Accidents Involving Tow Trucks Work?