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Jackknife Accidents: 5 Things to Know


Jackknifes are a common accident involving tractor-trailers. Sadly, dozens of people can be gravely injured—some fatally–during a single jackknife accident. At Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C., our Iowa truck accident lawyers meet with families whose lives were tossed upside down after a collision with a big rig. Call our firm as soon as you can. We have offices in Waterloo and Iowa City and can drive out to meet you, if necessary.

1.       Anatomy of a Jackknife Accident

Explained simply, a jackknife accident happens when the tractor on a big rig swings out to the side. Tractor trailers have two parts: the tractor in front and the trailer behind. They are joined at the fifth wheel. This wheel allows the trailer to swing from side to side—hopefully in a controlled manner. If the trailer couldn’t move in this fashion, then a tractor-trailer couldn’t turn a corner.

Unfortunately, various factors will cause the trailer to swing out in an uncontrolled fashion.  Consequently, the trailer can mow down vehicles in adjacent lanes or even strike pedestrians on a sidewalk.

2.       Main Causes of Accidents

A jackknife is an unusual, scary experience. The following are the main causes of a jackknife accident:

  • Cargo shifts. The cargo should be loaded in the trailer to provide balance, but it might shift unexpectedly. For example, straps could snap, causing cargo to shift to one side and leading to a jackknife.
  • Braking errors. A trucker might apply the brakes improperly, causing a jackknife, or the brakes might fail due to wear and tear.
  • Weather conditions. The risk of a jackknife increases when there is snow or ice on the road and a tractor-trailer loses traction.
  • Tire blowouts. A truck can become immediately unstable after a blowout, with the trailer swinging out to the side.
  • Trucker fatigue. A tired driver could nod off for a few seconds. When they wake up, they suddenly yank on the steering wheel to avoid a crash. This sudden movement could lead to a jackknife.
  • Underloaded trucks. A truck with light cargo is at risk of jackknifing during heavy wind.
  • Excessive speed. Driving too fast, especially around a turn, can lead to jackknife accidents.

There are other causes to consider, including a trucking company’s failure to properly train and/or supervise a trucker. These companies have a duty to protect other motorists on the road, but they often cut corners.

3.       Jackknife Injuries

The trucker probably won’t be hurt in the crash. The real risk is that motorists might be struck by the trailer as it swings out to the side without warning. Other motorists could be forced off the road or veer out of the way and go down an embankment.

Other motorists might be run over by the trailer, which is often fatal. Even survivors of these accidents can struggle with:

  • Severe traumatic brain injuries
  • Cervical fractures
  • Spinal column injuries
  • Paralysis
  • Amputation
  • Crush injuries

Less dramatic injuries can include contusions, sprains, strains, or friction burns. Regardless of what you feel, go to receive medical treatment following a crash. Our lawyers know how sometimes minor injuries, like a sore neck, can turn out to be major injuries. The sooner you receive medical treatment, the better your odds of a full recovery.

4.       What to Do after a Jackknife Accident

Many clients can’t do anything after this type of collision. Their cars are destroyed, and they are possibly in so much pain they can’t move. At best, you should call an ambulance to come take you to the hospital if you can reach your cell phone.

Even if badly shaken, other accident victims can move around gingerly. They should call the police to report the crash and, if able, photograph the accident scene. Pictures help those who weren’t there “visualize” the crash.

You might also speak to witnesses. They can provide context for the accident, so request their name and number. Our firm might reach out to hear their version of events.

5.       Fault for a Jackknife

In Iowa, accident victims have a legal right to compensation when someone negligently hurts them. As your truck accident attorneys, our firm can begin finding evidence to use in furtherance of your case.

For example, if a tired trucker caused the accident, we can speak to witnesses who might have seen the trucker yawning uncontrollably after the crash. We might also request data evidence from the truck which shows the trucker had been driving for 16 hours straight in violation of federal regulations.

Similarly, if the truck was loaded improperly, we can uncover that fact by looking at the freight manifest or even inspecting the tractor-trailer. We might also ask questions of the trucker or the trucking company.

The most common parties at fault include:

  • Negligent or reckless truckers
  • Trucking companies
  • Loading companies for failing to secure a load
  • Mechanics for negligent repairs

After identifying fault, we get to work seeking financial compensation for your injuries and other losses. We can seek money to cover medical treatment and car repairs. We can also ask for financial compensation for lost wages/income, as well as pain and suffering. Nobody should expect a trucking company or other business to make a generous settlement offer. Get appropriate legal help with your claim.

Contact Our Legal Team Today

Truck accidents are enormously complex. Trucking companies are never eager to admit their trucker was to blame for speeding or failing to apply the brakes properly. You need a law firm who can negotiate effectively on your behalf. At Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C., we are available for our clients 24/7. If you reach out, we can discuss what happened and provide a sneak peak at possible financial compensation.

Our firm has won countless personal injury cases, including those based on truck accidents. Without the right lawyer by your side, you might overlook important evidence and end up with less compensation than is possible. Contact us today by phone or email. We can answer any questions you might need answers to in a free consultation.