Legally Reviewed by:

Jonathan Rosenfeld

March 2, 2023

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The good news is that tractor-trailer disconnect accidents are relatively rare. The bad news is that, when they do occur, they are incredibly dangerous and pose serious risks to other drivers injured in dropped trailer accidents.

Not only is that a large trailer that is loose on the road, but the cargo may also spill onto the roadway.


How Big Rigs Are Engineered and Designed

Semi-trucks are connected using a device called a fifth wheel. This fifth wheel is reversed onto a trailer to connect to a kingpin. There is a locking device that sits on top of the fifth wheel that connects the two.

Drivers and cargo loaders need to inspect the fifth wheel before they connect the tractor to the trailer. Before they connect the two, they must do the following:

  • Inspect the fifth wheel and ensure that it is mechanically sound and ready for connection
  • Make the trailer ready for connection
  • Position the semi-truck and back it up toward the trailer
  • Connect the airlines to the trailer
  • Perform functional checks before taking off

The truck’s cab provides the engine power to pull the large trailer that is carrying the cargo. The bulk of the truck’s weight is in the trailer that is being pulled. The trailer is far longer than the cab that is pulling it.

The Dangers of Disconnected Trailers

There are two primary ways that a dropped trailer can cause an accident. The first is that the trailer itself can slam into a passenger vehicle.

What makes this accident even worse is that the passenger vehicle driver is not expecting it and will have difficulty avoiding the crash. The detached trailer could end up in oncoming traffic, leading to dangerous head-on crashes.

In some cases, the passenger vehicle driver is able to take some evasive maneuver, but a loose trailer on the road could cause them to lose control of their own vehicle.

Truck Drivers Have Important Tasks and Functions

Truck drivers have a critical role to play when it comes to connecting the trailer to the cab. This is something that drivers must have learned before they can qualify for a commercial driver’s license.

However, the commercial truck driver is tested on this in theory, as opposed to doing it in practice. Many truck drivers who are in a hurry may not perform all the necessary safety checks before they begin their journey.

Causes of Dropped Trailer Truck Accidents

In most cases, it would be the truck driver who was responsible for the dropped trailer because they are the one who both connects the trailer to the cab and operates the vehicle.

The truck driver may be inexperienced or fatigued from working long hours, and they may not exercise the appropriate level of care.

Here are some causes of trailer disconnect accidents:

  • The driver was negligent in operating the vehicle, either by speeding or not checking into their blind spots
  • The driver over or understeered and lost control of the vehicle, causing the cab to separate from the trailer
  • The operator may not have seen a pothole or bump in the road that caused an already unsteady connection to come loose
  • The driver cut corners and did not perform the proper checks when fastening the tractor to the trailer
  • There was a mechanical failure with the fifth wheel, airlines or other key parts that ensure the connection

On the above list, negligent and reckless driving is the most likely cause of dropped trailer accidents. Many truck drivers are in a hurry or do not exercise a reasonable amount of care behind the wheel.

Cargo Loading Is Critical for Tractor Trailers

Another common cause of dropped trailer accidents is errors in loading cargo onto the truck. Tractor trailers are limited to 80,000 pounds.

Overweight tractors are more likely to exert more pull on the cab that is trying to pull it, increasing the chance of vehicle separation.

In addition, according to federal regulations, cargo must be securely tied down and fastened before the driver embarks on their journey. If cargo shifts while the tractor-trailer is on the road, it can cause the trailer to drop.

How a Truck Driver Can Cause Severe Injuries

Chances are that the driver of a passenger vehicle who is involved in a truck accident will suffer serious injuries. Because the truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded, an accident will happen with far more force than if one collided with a smaller vehicle.

There are far more things that can go wrong with a truck than a passenger vehicle. Other drivers depend on truck drivers to do their job with care because they share the road with these large vehicles.

Hazardous Materials Can Make a Dropped Trailer Accident Worse

If the trailer separates from the cab, the cargo in the trailer can spill onto the roadway. This becomes even more dangerous when the truck is carrying hazardous materials.

Every year, over three billion tons of hazardous materials are transported in the U.S., many of them on roadways. Even a single incident of a Hazmat accident can cause serious injuries, both to other drivers and people in the surrounding areas.

Physical Injuries That Negligent Truck Drivers Cause

Drivers of passenger cars will often suffer serious injuries in accidents with tractor-trailers. These injuries can include:

  • Neck and back injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Soft tissue injuries

Suing the Trucking Company for Crashes

In many cases, the truck driver works for a trucking company. Even if they are an independent contractor, a trucking company may be liable for the actions of a truck driver if they have the ability to control and direct the driver.

When a large truck has been involved in an accident with other vehicles, it is the company that would be sued for the collision. These companies have large insurance policies to pay for damages as well as assets that you could go after if the insurance coverage is not enough to pay for your injuries.

Suing Another Company for a Mechanical Failure

If the dropped trailer was caused by a defect in the truck itself, you can sue the company that manufactured the truck in a product liability case. You would need to prove that there was a design, manufacturing, or marketing defect that caused the truck accident.

You may also be able to sue the company that was responsible for the maintenance of the truck if the trucking company decided to outsource this function. Your lawyer would investigate the crash to help determine who may have been responsible for it.

A Personal Injury Lawyer Will Investigate What Happened

Trailers should never break loose from the tractors that carry them. Usually, the fact that this type of semi-truck accident happened should be proof enough that someone did something wrong. However, before you file a personal injury claim, you should know what caused the dropped trailer accident.

Experienced truck accident lawyers investigate tractor-trailer accidents, so you have the facts necessary to prove that someone else was responsible for your serious injuries. You should always have the proof necessary to put yourself in the best position to receive financial compensation after your collision. Before you file a lawsuit, you need to know the facts and the proper defendant to file the case against.

Damages in Truck Accidents

Victims of truck accidents have a legal right to be paid for all of the damages that they have suffered, whether they are direct economic costs or non-economic.

Here are the different categories of damages that you can recover in a personal injury case:

  • The full cost of your medical bills and expenses
  • Lost wages for the time that you could not work or any reduction in your earning capacity
  • Property damages to your car
  • Pain and suffering for the experience of the accident that you had to endure
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

A dropped trailer accident can be fatal. If your loved one was killed in one of these crashes, your family can recover wrongful death damages to pay them for what they have lost in the accident, including:

  • The wages that the family member would have earned had they been able to continue working
  • The grief and trauma that comes from tragically losing a loved one
  • The loss of a close and loving relationship with the deceased family member

There are a number of ways that you can pursue financial compensation after you have been injured in a truck crash. The first step is to consult an experienced attorney who will advise you on the best way to go after the trucking company.

Here are your two primary options:

  • You can file a claim against the trucking company’s insurance policy and negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. You would actually need to deal with the insurance company (through your truck accident lawyer) and counter them when they try to pay you less than you legally deserve for your damages.
  • You can file a lawsuit in court, and a jury would eventually decide liability and your financial compensation. Even if you took your case to court, it is not a guarantee that your lawsuit would go to trial. Most personal injury cases will settle before they reach a jury.

An experienced truck accident attorney would review the specifics of your own case before advising you about what to do. We provide our clients with legal representation to meet their own specific needs. We know how to deal with insurance companies who try to penny-pinch and shortchange you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to some questions that we are frequently asked about truck accident lawsuits:

How Long Will My Truck Accident Case Take?

It depends on your particular case. The important thing to know is that the legal process takes time to work through from start to finish, especially when you are dealing with a large amount of money. You should take the time to obtain the best possible legal result and the most amount of money for the injuries that you have suffered. Some truck accident cases could take months, while others could take years.

What Should I Do if the Insurance Company Has Offered Me a Settlement?

In most cases, your truck accident claim or lawsuit will end in a settlement agreement. That does not mean that the first settlement offer (or subsequent ones after that) is enough to fairly pay you for your damages. A personal injury attorney will review the offer to see if it pays you enough. If not, you could either make your own counteroffer or take the case to court. When you are dealing with an insurance company, you need a healthy degree of skepticism because the reality may be far different from what they are telling you.

How Much Will a Truck Accident Attorney Cost Me?

Truck accident lawyers do not work for free. At the same time, they will work for free if they are not able to help you receive financial compensation for your truck accident. Not only is the initial consultation free, but you also do not need to pay us anything until you win. Then, we are paid from the proceeds of your settlement or jury award. There is no risk to you in hiring an attorney, and you are likely to do far better financially with a lawyer than if you try to handle your case by yourself.

Truck Accident Attorneys Offering Free Consultations

If you or a loved one have been injured in a truck accident, we can help you file a personal injury claim for your injuries.

Our lawyers will fight for you to obtain maximum compensation for your truck accident injuries. The first step is to call us today for a free consultation, where we will discuss your case and advise you of your legal options.

To schedule your case evaluation, contact us today online or call us at (888) 424-5757. We will work to hold the trucking company responsible for what they did to you.

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Jonathan Rosenfeld was professionally objective, timely, and knowledgeable. Also, his advice was extremely effective regarding my case. In addition, Jonathan was understanding and patient pertaining to any of my questions or concerns. I was very happy with the end result and I highly recommend Jonathan Rosenfeld.

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Jonathan did a great job helping my family navigate through a lengthy lawsuit involving my grandmother's death in a nursing home. Through every step of the case, Jonathan kept my family informed of the progression of the case. Although our case eventually settled at a mediation, I really was impressed at how well prepared Jonathan was to take the case to trial.

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