Jackknife Accidents

Jackknifing occurs when the trailer swings to one side toward the truck cab, forming an angle or "V" shape resembling the handle and blade of a pocket knife. Much like the sharp blade of a jackknife, a freely swinging tractor-trailer can be devastating to whatever is in its path.

Jackknife truck accidents develop suddenly and are usually caused by the sudden application of the truck's brakes. A common type of collision involving tractor-trailers, a jackknife accident poses a serious risk to nearby motorists, who often do not have time to react to the accident or are incapable of doing so due to other traffic.

At Block O'Toole & Murphy, we have a history of top results in serious vehicle accident cases. If you or a loved one has been injured in a jackknife accident, we encourage you to fill out our free case review form. Our lawyers will evaluate your case, at no cost to you, to determine if you are eligible to collect financial compensation.

Causes of Jackknife Accidents

Jackknife accidents occur when a tractor-trailer's drive wheels lock as the vehicle nears a slippery spot. The trailer continues forward, causing the truck driver to lose control of the vehicle as the trailer swings out to one side. During this situation, the truck driver has three braking options, as explained below.

  • The truck driver can lock the steering axle brakes, causing the rig to continue forward regardless of wheel angle.
  • The truck driver can lock the drive axles.
  • The truck driver can lock the trailer axles and give up directional control of the vehicle.

At Block O'Toole & Murphy, our auto accident lawyers understand that the driver's actions at this moment have a great effect on the outcome. Locking the steering axles provides the most desirable outcome; while the driver will lose their ability to steer, the truck and trailer will travel a straight path. Locking the drive axles is the least desirable action, as this commonly results in jackknifing. When the driver locks the drive axles or otherwise negligently operates their vehicle, they may be held accountable if another motorist is injured because of their action.

Aside from sudden braking, jackknife accidents can also be caused by downshifting, engine retarders, brake failure, taking a curve too quickly or accelerating on a low friction surface.

Who Is Liable For Jackknife Accidents?

Every accident is unique, and it takes a thorough investigation to determine the exact cause of a specific accident and assign fault appropriately. Some parties who are commonly named in truck accident claims include:

  • The truck driver: Truckers can prevent jackknifing by keeping a safe following distance, avoiding deceleration at turns or bends and steadily applying pressure to the brakes over the longest distance possible.
  • Other drivers: If another motorist made an error that caused the truck driver to respond quickly and jackknife, they may be assigned some share of liability. It is important to gather the names and insurance information of everyone involved in the accident to identify anyone who may be responsible.
  • The trucking company: While truck drivers are ultimately in control of their own behavior on the road, they are typically trained and supervised by employers. If a trucking company failed to do everything possible to prevent an accident - say, by hiring unsafe drivers or failing to properly maintain the truck's safety equipment - they may be legally responsible for accidents.
  • Government entities: Sometimes, motor vehicle accidents are caused by recurrent road defects, in which case the state or municipal agency responsible for maintaining the road may be liable.

The Trucking Company Is Already Building Its Case

The nature of jackknife accidents often results in multicar pileups and many vehicles being affected. The scene of a jackknife accident can be chaotic. Amidst that chaos, the trucking and insurance companies are often already at work. While the people affected are alerting their loved ones and seeking medical treatment, the companies involved may be sending accident reconstructionists, claims adjusters and other employees to the scene. These resources allow the trucking and insurance companies to "get ahead" of accident claims and begin developing a strategy to pay out as little as possible.

It is essential that those affected by jackknifing accidents and other collisions with large trucks level the playing field. The best way to protect your rights is to retain a personal injury firm you trust as soon as possible after the accident. Your attorney will likely go to work immediately to collect all relevant evidence, including:

  • "Black box" data and in-cab recordings
  • Cellphone records
  • Contents of the cab
  • Engine control data
  • Marks or fluid on the road that can be used to reconstruct the accident
  • Witness reports

Speak To An Attorney Today

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a jackknife accident, we may be able to recover compensation on your behalf by proving that the truck driver's negligence directly led to the crash. To speak with us today about your claim, please fill out the contact form on this page and a member of our firm will respond to you promptly. You may also call our office at 212-736-5300.

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