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Street Sweeper Accidents

Street sweepers, sometimes referred to as “street cleaners,” play an essential role in keeping cities clean, functional, and attractive. Although active sweeping should only be conducted at 5 to 15 miles per hour, vehicles that are not actively sweeping can travel at up to 65 miles per hour. Unfortunately, even at low speeds, street sweepers pose a significant danger to those around them.

Need to Know:

  • If you’re a driver sharing the roadway with a street sweeper, keeping your distance, staying alert, and avoiding blind spots is the best way to prevent accidents
  • A client of Block O’Toole & Murphy received $1.5 million after pursuing legal action against the driver of a street sweeper who hit his car
  • Injuries from street sweeper accidents can range from mild to severe, sometimes not manifesting in symptoms for weeks or even months

With most sweeping vehicles weighing around 20,000 pounds, rollovers and collisions are a serious threat. If you or a loved one has suffered in the aftermath of a street sweeper accident, you are aware of the danger that lies in the path of street-sweeping vehicles.

In This Article:

Common Causes of Street Sweeper Accidents

When dealing with massive vehicles, such as bulldozers, dump trucks, etc., danger is always looming. However, the fact that street sweepers must share the road with drivers and pedestrians creates a significant threat to the average commuter. Although some hazards are more common than others, street sweeper accidents can result from a wide range of circumstances.

Some of the most common causes of street sweeper accidents include:

Negligent or Reckless Driving

As with any traffic accident, negligent driving can play a role. After all, those who drive street sweepers are on the job, and they are motivated to get their job done as quickly as possible. One of the most common types of street sweeper accidents occurs when the driver turns corners too quickly, resulting in a rollover. Not only could a rollover seriously injure the driver, but they could also crush any vehicle or pedestrian that may be to their left. Additionally, a rollover could cause the cars following the street sweeper to collide with it or the vehicles around them.

Driver Fatigue

Street sweeping vehicles are operated on a schedule that frequently changes, often to the detriment of the driver’s sleep schedule. Like semi-truck drivers, street sweepers often show up to work dangerously fatigued. Fatigue can cause dizziness, whole-body tiredness, impaired coordination, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. Symptoms such as these contribute to drivers’ poor judgment and slowed reaction time, which can be deadly when operating a vehicle.

Poor Visibility

Like most large vehicles, street sweepers have blind spots. When a pedestrian or vehicle enters the range of a street sweeper’s blind spot, it may cause a serious accident. Although newer models of street sweepers are equipped with a rear-view camera to prevent accidents, they do not entirely prevent collisions caused by blind spots.

High Traffic

When slow-moving vehicles are on the roadway, it is not uncommon for traffic to become slightly congested. As drivers become impatient, they may try to pass the street sweeper. Haphazard passing can easily cause a traffic accident.

Distracted Driving

An operator may use their phone on the job to make professional or personal texts or calls. The driver could be pressured to stay productive, so they skip their break and eat lunch while driving. On other occasions, street sweeper drivers may use a digital device to navigate while driving. Whatever the reason may be, distracted driving is unacceptable. The distractions that a driver participates in could cause a fatal lack of focus.

Loud Noise

Anyone who has been near an operating street sweeper knows that they are very loud vehicles. This noise is caused by the engine’s sound and by the loud spraying, blowing, brushing, and vacuuming during operation. If another driver or pedestrian shouts or honks to get the driver’s attention before disaster strikes, their cries for help aren’t likely to be heard. This problem is worsened by operators who wear earplugs or headphones while driving.

Lack of Maintenance or Inspection

Street sweepers must be regularly inspected for worn and malfunctioning equipment. If an inspection reveals that maintenance is required, the vehicle must be taken in to be maintained. Whether it be out of ignorance, laziness, or frugality, failing to maintain a street sweeper can cause a serious accident.

Improperly Trained Driver

Street sweepers are extremely complicated vehicles requiring thorough training. Simply driving the vehicle would require the operator to be trained due to its massive size and many blind spots. On top of this, the driver also must oversee and operate the primary function of the vehicle: cleaning. An untrained street sweeper operator is almost certain to cause chaos and harm.

Poor Weather

Street sweepers are often operated in the early morning and late into the night when fog is more likely to obstruct the view of those who share the road. Seasonal weather hazards also play a factor in street sweeper accidents. Of the approximately 5,891,000 vehicle collisions each year, 21% are weather-related. As with all drivers, street sweeper operators must be even more cautious during inclement weather. Additionally, those who manage street sweeper operations are responsible for deciding when it is too cold to operate street sweepers, as the water the vehicle sprays may freeze on the road and create hazardous driving conditions for those on the road.

Manufacturer Error

Street sweepers are made of countless parts that must be produced and assembled correctly. If any of these parts are defective, it could result in a serious malfunction.

Injuries from Street Sweeper Accidents

Street sweepers are highly effective vehicles that are made to get the job done. They are designed to be very large, powerful machinery to do this. While this power and size typically benefit the public, it can devastate individuals and families when disaster strikes. When street sweeper accidents occur, some of the most common injuries include:

  • Bone fractures
  • Loss of limbs
  • Musculoskeletal damage
  • Crushed limbs
  • Soft tissue damage
  • Full or partial paralysis
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Fatal injury

As horrific as this list may be, it is sadly not comprehensive. The injuries resulting from street sweeper accidents can range widely in nature and severity. Unfortunately, the damages do not end with just physical harm.

Victims are often temporarily or even permanently out of work, burdened by the loss of income and hefty medical bills. Financial hardship often creates strain within relationships, furthering the victim’s stress. As with any severe accident, mental health challenges may arise, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. An accident involving a street sweeper can disturb or destroy the fabric of even the strongest of families.

Street Sweeper Safety Tips

Nobody wants to be involved in an accident, let alone an accident involving a street sweeper. To prevent catastrophic injuries and damages like the ones listed above, a few precautions can be taken when you’re in the presence of a street sweeper.

As a pedestrian or driver, here are actions you can take to avoid a street sweeper collision:

Avoid Street sweeper Blind Spots: As previously mentioned, street sweepers possess many blind spots due to their enormous size. While newer models are equipped with rear-view cameras, the average person cannot tell if a street sweeper operator is using a rear-view camera. For the safety of yourself and those around you, you should do your best to avoid the driver’s blind spots.

Keep a Safe Distance: Whether you are a pedestrian or fellow driver, maintaining a safe distance from a street sweeper (especially when actively sweeping) is best practice. It would be best if you stayed at least 10 feet away from the sweeper.

Maintain Focus: As always, maintaining focus while driving is the best way to prevent an accident – especially when sharing the road with large vehicles. This also applies to pedestrians; when crossing the street, remain alert so as not to put yourself in harm’s way.

Who Is Responsible for Injuries and Other Damages After a Street Sweeper Accident?

Company liability due to vicarious responsibility: It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that only experienced, knowledgeable, and well-trained employees are getting behind the wheel. When employers fail to ensure that their street sweeper operators are qualified to operate the vehicle, they can be held liable for the damage that the employee causes. In the case of street sweepers, the liable party could be a city, an equipment rental company, a contractor, or even a subcontractor.

Company liability due to general negligence: Even the most skilled drivers can be at the wheel of an accident when employers fail to maintain the vehicle. As with any piece of heavy machinery, street sweepers require routine maintenance to function safely; it is the owner’s responsibility to guarantee that a vehicle is properly maintained. If they fail to do so, employers can be held responsible if it is determined that an accident was caused due to their general negligence.

Driver liability: Street sweepers are complex vehicles that require the expertise of a knowledgeable, competent operator. However, even the most well-trained and experienced drivers can make mistakes while driving. Unfortunately, even the smallest mistakes can spell disaster when operating a street sweeper. In some cases, the vehicle’s driver could be held responsible for damages if it could be determined that they behaved recklessly.

Manufacturer liability: Manufacturer liability applies when the street sweeper manufacturer fails to build the vehicle properly. Suppose faulty parts caused the accident. In that case, the manufacturer could be held responsible for any damages the victim(s) incurred.

Other parties: Roadways, especially those in major cities, are shared by various actors, including pedestrians and motorists. Other parties could be held liable based on the circumstances.

Determining liability can sometimes be simple and straightforward, but it is usually an intricate, multi-faceted process requiring an attorney’s expertise. Before ruling out the liability of another party, be sure to consult a lawyer.

What to Do After a Street Sweeper Accident

In the aftermath of a street sweeper accident, you should ensure the danger has subsided. Once the environment is no longer dangerous, move away from the site of the incident and toward a safe area. From that point, you can call the authorities and have a team of first responders dispatched to the scene. Then, proceed with the following steps:

  1. Seek Medical Attention: Once medical professionals arrive, inform them of any pain and abnormalities you may be experiencing. If they recommend going to the hospital, you should accept this offer along with any recommended treatment or imaging. In the immediate moments following an accident, it is common for pain to be delayed until later on. Seeking immediate medical treatment is not only the best thing for your well-being but also beneficial to your case should you decide to move forward with a lawsuit.
  2. File a Police Report: Police will likely show up at the scene of the accident. Be sure to file a formal police report with them and offer as much detail as possible regarding your account of the accident. Any available witnesses are also encouraged to share their recollections of the incident, which will help to diffuse any possible confusion about liability in the future.
  3. Seek Legal Counsel: Many people leave the scene of an accident believing that filing a personal injury lawsuit isn’t an option under their circumstances. Some believe their injuries aren’t severe enough, while others believe that liability will not be able to be determined. Sadly, many victims walk away from an accident in physical pain and financial turmoil without seeking the compensation they deserve. If you’re unsure of the viability of your case, we urge you to seek legal counsel immediately. Don’t hesitate to consult an attorney and learn about moving forward with a personal injury lawsuit.

Case Study: $1.5 Million for Client Who Was Hit by a New York City Street Sweeper While Driving

Our client, a 43-year-old man, was driving his Jeep in the Bronx before pulling over to the right curb to adjust some items in his car. Once adjusted, he began to pull back out into the road; as he made his way into the roadway, he was suddenly hit by a street sweeper. The street sweeper was actively cleaning the road at the time of the accident.

Our client had a history of chronic lower back pain and numbness in his hands prior to the accident, but he was left with further pain in his lower back, neck, and left knee. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed injuries in those areas as a result of the collision. A failed physical therapy program left our client with no choice but to undergo surgeries on his left knee, cervical spine, and lumbar spine.

The driver of the street sweeper had a different account of events. He claimed that our client had actually been driving in the middle lane just before the accident and had cut off the street sweeper by suddenly moving into the right lane, thus causing the accident. Following this account, the City of New York contended that the case should be dismissed due to the heightened reckless standard that applies to street sweepers as they are actually sweeping. The case escalated to the Court of Appeals, which ruled that a trial by jury was necessary to determine fault in the case.

Firm Partners Stephen J. Murphy and David L. Scher, along with associate attorney Christina Mercado, worked to settle the case prior to trial for $1,500,000.

Legal Help for Street Sweeper Accidents

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a street sweeper accident, you deserve to recover maximum compensation under the law. Speaking with an attorney could be the first step on your road to financial recovery.

At Block O’Toole & Murphy, our experienced and knowledgeable lawyers are prepared to go up against the legal teams and insurance companies that defend negligent street sweeper operators and owners. We have recovered well over $1.5 billion in compensation for our clients. 

Don’t wait to move forward with your personal injury case. To schedule a free consultation, fill out our online contact form or call 212-736-5300 – justice is on the other end of the line. Our firm serves New York and New Jersey.

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