Accident reconstruction experts understand complex events surrounding tow truck accidents.
When the injuries are catastrophic, or in the wake of a fatality, these men and women frequently called leverage their mastery of physics and vehicle dynamics to assist lawyers, insurance companies, fleet safety managers, and law enforcement in providing evidence in motor vehicle crashes.
This scientific approach as to how and why an accident occurred is valuable evidence in tow truck accident claims and litigation.
The Victims In a Tow Truck Accident
Truck accidents, especially those involving tow trucks, have multiple possible victims. Impounding, recovering, or transporting a vehicle leaves the driver of the tow truck vulnerable to injury.
Stopping on the side of a roadway to assist another vehicle in distress is, in itself, highly dangerous. Additionally, defective equipment on the rig can and often does cause serious physical injuries to the driver. The National Institute for Occupational Safety And Health (NIOSH) reports the death rate for tow truck drivers is significantly higher (15 percent) than other industries, and the non-fatal injury rate was double.
Tow truck drivers are prone to:
- Back and neck injury
- Musculoskeletal injuries
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Strains and sprains
- Crush type injury
- Internal organ damage
- Traumatic amputation
Because tow truck drivers make their living on the side of the road, they live in daily danger.
Additionally, first responders to accident scenes are always in danger when working around a tow truck. The following example appears in a recent article published by a law enforcement agency:
A Port Hueneme, CA, police officer responded to a three-vehicle accident. As the officer was working the crash, she was critically injured after a minivan being winched onto a flatbed carrier somehow detached and rolled down the carrier’s deck, pinning her underneath another vehicle.
On the flip side, tow truck drivers are often the cause of motor vehicle accidents aggressive driving, speeding, combined with the sheer size and weight of the rig makes these vehicles dangerous, and often deadly highway traveling companions.
Common Reasons Why Tow Truck Accidents Occur
Holding a commercial driver’s license does not guarantee a tow truck driver has better than average driving skills. For the most part, driver error causes tow truck accidents. Failure to obey posted speed limits or to obey traffic signals and stop signs can prove fatal.
Eating while driving, or dealing with navigational systems are distractions that may ultimately cause a catastrophic highway accident. Weather-related issues and mechanical failures remain high on the list of truck accident causes.
Other reasons include:
- Traffic safety violations
- Distracted driving
- Driver fatigue
- Untrained drivers
- Improperly secured vehicles
- Poor truck maintenance
- Equipment failure
- Impaired drivers
- The position of the tow truck on the roadway
The Many Types of Tow Trucks
The first tow truck came into existence over 100 years ago. In 1916, a Tennessee mechanic named Earnest Holmes Sr. invented the Holmes 485 tow truck after spending hours with a handful of men trying to rescue a friend’s Ford Motel T from a creek bed with ropes and blocks.
Tow trucks have evolved, and today they vary in size, equipment, design, and capability. While a small flatbed tow truck can pull up one vehicle onto the back of the bed, larger ones can accommodate multiple vehicles. Although the law mandates expertise and proper licensure for tow truck drivers, accidents still happen.
#1. Hook and chain truck
A hook and chain is the most common type of tow truck. This type of vehicle uses chains hooked around the disabled car’s axle and lifts the car with a hydraulic pulley while the back wheels remain on the ground. This is often the best option when the vehicle in question is totaled.
#2. Wheel-lift tow truck
In this tow truck, the chains, attached to a device that looks like a yoke, slide up under the car. Again, while the front end lifts, the rear wheels remain on the ground.
#3. Heavy-duty tow trucks
Also known as integrated tow trucks, this type of vehicle is sturdier than most, and has an extra axle for support. Designed to handle large commercial motor vehicles, such as buses, due to their power and stability.
#4. Flatbed tow truck
A flatbed is exactly as it sounds. A substantial flatbed, equipped with hydraulics, allows it to reach ground level so the disabled vehicle can be driven up and onto the flatbed.
#5. Rollback tow truck
A rollback is almost the same basic design as the flatbed. In this case, the bed moves back and then tilts, allowing the rear end to lower onto the ground, and the bed becomes a ramp for loading the vehicle.
#6. Boom truck
A boom truck looks like a crane with a hydraulic system called a boom. The powerful hydraulic arm uses a winch to pull the car into the proper position.
The Varied Types Of Tow Truck Accidents
There are many types of possible tow truck crashes. Some of the most common scenarios include:
It happens more often than one might think. When two vehicles, traveling in the same direction, come close enough to each other to make contact. Driver distraction, or swerving while trying to avoid debris in the road is a typical cause of a sideswipe. Disabled vehicles are usually on the right side of the road when they can’t get far enough on the shoulder, the tow truck and its driver are in jeopardy.
Inattentive drivers, impaired motorists, or speeding drivers may not see a stopped tow truck. Conversely, the tow truck may not be far enough off the road to allow for safe passing. Either scenario is a potential cause of a rear-end accident.
Serious injuries are likely when two vehicles hit each other head to head. Sir Isaac Newton’s laws tell us a body in motion remains in motion resulting in personal injury from blunt force trauma caused by seat belts, airbags, and hard metal objects. Some expected injuries in a head-on accident may include broken ribs, a punctured lung, internal organ damage, facial scarring, whiplash, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury.
Additional types of tow truck accidents include:
- Blindspot accidents
- T-bone accidents
The Impact of Tow Truck Accidents
Tow truck accidents are potentially lethal, and almost always result in severe personal injury and substantial property damage. The consequences of these catastrophic physical injuries often leave a victim with permanent scarring and disfigurement, life-long disabilities, neurological deficits, and paralysis.
Injured parties have a legal right to seek compensation for the physical, financial, and emotional consequences of any accident caused by someone else’s negligence. Whether the victim is a motorist whom a tow truck struck, a first responder to an accident scene injured because of the tow truck, or a tow truck operator harmed because of mechanical defect or failure, a truck accident attorney can seek fair and just compensation for them.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit against the person or entity responsible for the accident can be both complicated and time-consuming. Our laws are fair and just, but the legal system is not always user-friendly.
The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim varies by state. For example, the statute of limitations in California is two years from the date of injury. While it is true that most tow trucks are privately owned and operated, government agencies, such as the Department Of Transportation, Department Of Public Works, or local police and fire departments may have their own rescue vehicles. If a government-owned tow truck caused an accident with injuries or property damage, plaintiffs must initiate claims in six months.
California has a move-over law requiring vehicles to change lanes (if safe to do so) or at least slow down when approaching emergency response vehicles on the side of the road. The flashing amber lights are a warning compliance could help save a life. The California Department Of Transportation reports a failure to move over may result in a fine and points on a driving record.
What is Compensable in a Tow Truck Accident?
Compensation for current and future medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional stress may be possible following a tow truck accident.
A truck accident claim may seek compensation for:
- Current medical expenses
- The anticipated cost of future healthcare-related expenses
- Assistive devices and necessary home modifications
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Mental health services
- Lost wages
- Possible vocational training
- Loss of future earnings or earning capacity
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
If the tow truck accident resulted in a fatal injury, qualified family members may initiate a wrongful death claim for:
- Burial and funeral expenses,
- Financial compensation for the deceased’s projected income
- Loss of pension and insurance
- Loss of support and/or companionship
Those with a legal right to begin a wrongful death claim are a surviving spouse, a domestic partner as allowed by California Family code 297(b), children, grandchildren (if no surviving children,) anyone who can show they were financially dependent on deceased. If no surviving person(s) is in the legal hierarchy, anyone who could inherit from the estate, such as a parent or siblings
, can bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
An attorney with an extensive background in wrongful death claims needs to handle this tricky area of law.
How Can a Truck Accident Lawyer Help?
A truck accident attorney can obtain valuable evidence and pursue compensation for injured parties, whether a truck operator, an emergency services worker, a bystander, or an unsuspecting motorist.
The discovery process remains the same. Federal law mandates tow truck fleet owners to maintain up-to-date vehicle maintenance records and incident reports. These records should contain the maintenance date, any problems found, and details of the specific repairs.
Although equipment manufacturers are responsible for producing safe products, the trucking company is directly responsible for maintaining the integrity of brakes, tires, electrical systems, and warning systems. In addition, you may hold a fleet owner responsible for injuries and damages to persons or property if the employee they hired was unfit to drive a tow truck.
This may include:
- Documented evidence of impaired driving
- History of road rage
- A medical history incompatible with safe driving
An experienced tow truck accident attorney will request and review pertinent evidence in a personal injury claim.
This may include:
- The tow truck company’s driver logs
- Black box data
- Surveillance camera footage
- Dashcam footage
- Photos and videos of the accident
- Medical records of the plaintiff
- Medical records of the defendant
- Police report
- The tow truck driver’s driving history
- Cell phone records
- Witness statements