Common Causes of Jackknifed Truck Accidents

A jackknifed truck occurs when the trailer pivots and creates a sharp angle between it and the cab of a semi-truck. Seeing a jackknifed truck on the highway is scary, and a reminder of the potential severity of a truck accident.

Jackknifed truck accidents are almost always caused by poor truck handling. A semi-truck is designed to carry enormous loads—up to 80,000 pounds. They have a unique weight balance and structure that is intended to make them stable, even with thousands of pounds of freight. But when a truck is not handled properly, a catastrophic accident can result.

Jackknifed trucks are often the result of skidding and aggressive braking. But a more important question is: what caused the truck to skid, or required the driver to brake aggressively in the first place?

When analyzing the causes of a skidding truck or a driver who needed to brake suddenly, it becomes clear that a jackknifed truck is often caused by a driver who does not take adequate care when navigating challenging driving conditions, such as curvy roads or bad weather conditions, because the truck was not carrying enough weight, or because the load shifted which caused the truck to become unstable.

What Causes a Truck to Jackknife?

A semi-truck is made up of two parts. The tractor, also known as the semi-truck, is the front part where the driver sits and where the engine is located. The trailer is the long bed in the back that holds the load.

When the trailer swerves away from the tractor and forms a roughly 90-degree angle, the truck is said to have “jackknifed” because the truck resembles a pocket knife, or jackknife, with the blade being pushed back into the handle.

A jackknifed truck is a serious accident that can result in catastrophic injuries to other drivers.

Driver Errors Cause Jackknifed Trucks

When an 18-wheeler is involved in a serious collision, such as a jackknife accident, the driver often bears most of the blame. Common causes of a jackknifed truck accident include:

  • At speeds of more than 55 mph, a semi-truck has a higher chance of skidding, and skidding can lead to a jackknife accident. If a driver loses control of a truck at a high speed, the truck may start to skid, which can lead to a jackknifed accident.
  • Braking Improperly. If a truck driver does not follow proper braking procedures, the axels may lock up causing the cab to slow down while the trailer keeps moving. This can cause the rig to fold in a jackknife accident.
  • Steering Poorly. If a driver turns too quickly or too far, such as during a lane change, when driving around a curve, or in reaction to another car on the road, a jackknife accident may occur.
  • Poorly Secured Cargo. If a driver or someone else in the supply chain failed to properly secure the cargo, the cargo may shift while the semi-truck is underway. The shifting weight can disrupt the balance of the trailer and cause the semi to jackknife.

Improper Maintenance Leads to Jackknife Accidents

Because of the large loads a semi-truck carries, it is critically important that truck braking systems are properly maintained. A poorly maintained braking system makes it more difficult to stop a semi-truck. A poorly maintained braking system is also more likely to malfunction, which can cause the driver to brake harder than necessary and lock up the drive axles while the trailer keeps moving forward. The result is a jackknife accident.

Inexperienced and Poorly Trained Drivers Cause Jackknife Accidents

Because of the lack of qualified truck drivers, many trucking companies have streamlined the training process so drivers can get behind the wheel as quickly as possible. But unfortunately, no amount of training can make up for experience. As a result, many poorly trained and inexperienced drivers are involved in serious crashes, many of which are jackknifed trucks.

Holding Drivers and Trucking Companies Responsible

While truck drivers often bear most of the blame for causing a jackknifed truck accident, there may be other factors at play. If negligent maintenance, a driver who was behind schedule, or poorly loaded cargo caused the trucking accident, the trucking company, shippers, brokers, maintenance providers, and others may be partially liable. An experienced truck accident injury attorney can identify the parties that helped cause the trucking accident and hold them accountable for the harm they caused.

Robenalt Law: Justice for People Injured in a Trucking Accident

If you were catastrophically injured or someone you love was killed in a jackknifed truck or other trucking accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Victims of trucking accidents and their families may be entitled to compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Emotional trauma
  • Past and future medical care

The experienced trucking accident injury lawyers at Robenalt Law can help by analyzing your claim, negotiating with the insurance companies for the truck driver and other companies that caused the accident and, if necessary, represent you in court.

Learn more about how our lawyers fight for justice on behalf of people who were injured or killed in a trucking accident and get answers to Frequently Asked Questions. With an office based in Westlake, Ohio, we invite you to contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing trucking companies and other corporate defendants and insurance companies at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help people who have been catastrophically injured or killed in trucking accidents.