Tow Truck Accidents
Tow trucks and tow truck operators can be a saving grace after an auto accident or an untimely breakdown. However, that doesn’t mean they’re free from involvement in traffic crashes. Unfortunately, tow truck accidents are all too common around the U.S.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a tow truck accident, it’s important to seek the advice of a qualified truck accident lawyer to understand your legal rights and options. Like other big trucks on the road, tow trucks can do serious damage when they collide with other vehicles or lose their cargo. These accidents can also cause severe injuries to tow truck operators, other motorists and passengers, and vulnerable road users like pedestrians.
Types of Tow Truck Accidents
A tow truck is a type of commercial truck, so some accidents involving tow trucks are the same as other commercial truck accidents. For example, a tow truck and another vehicle on the road can collide, causing damage and injuries to any party.
However, tow trucks are also a type of emergency vehicle. They arrive at the scene of accidents or breakdowns to haul away damaged vehicles. Tow truck drivers provide roadside assistance, so they have to get out of the truck to attach equipment to the damaged vehicle and ensure the hauling equipment is secure. That puts tow truck drivers at risk of being struck by other vehicles on the road.
Some common types of tow truck accidents include:
- A collision between a vehicle and the tow truck
- A collision between a vehicle and the vehicle being hauled behind a tow truck, not on its bed
- A roll-away cargo collision where the vehicle being hauled falls off the truck
- A tow truck driver being struck by another vehicle
- A pedestrian or cyclist getting struck by a tow truck or unsecured cargo
Common Causes of Tow Truck Accidents
Usually, truck accidents involve a truck driver and another road user, such as another driver, a motorcyclist, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian. Either party may be at fault. However, in some tow truck accidents, another road user may not be involved at all.
Accidents the Tow Truck Driver May Cause
You can hold a tow truck driver at fault for an accident when they:
- Drive distracted: Like other motorists, some tow truck drivers may eat, drink, operate a mobile device, do paperwork, or otherwise try to multitask while driving.
- Drive drowsy: Tow truck drivers respond to calls at all times of day and night, so shifts can be long. Working the night shift can contribute to driver fatigue as well. If they go to work without adequate sleep, they may be more likely to make a mistake while operating the truck and its equipment. Their ability to respond to road hazards and changing conditions may not be as sharp as it would be if they were well-rested.
- Perform improper driving maneuvers: Forgetting to check blind spots, not using turn signals, making wide or sharp turns, and doing other incorrect maneuvers in a tow truck can cause an accident.
- Fail to obey traffic laws: Tow truck drivers may miss stopping signs or red lights, speed, or otherwise not follow the rules of the road, all of which can lead to an accident.
- Improperly load their cargo: Unsecured cargo can lead to vehicles rolling off the bed of the truck or disconnecting from the hook. Tow truck drivers can also overload the truck by hauling a vehicle that’s too heavy, which can make operating the vehicle harder and even lead to roll-away accidents.
Other Causes of Tow Truck Accidents
Third parties, those who are not directly involved in the incident, can also be at fault for a tow truck accident.
Here are some other common causes of tow truck accidents:
- Lack of training: The standards for training tow truck drivers can vary from company to company. Tow truck drivers who do not have adequate training or the proper license to operate a tow truck may be more likely to make costly and dangerous mistakes that cause accidents. For example, they may not know how to safely attach hauling equipment and secure vehicles.
- Poor hiring practices: A tow truck company may also fail to verify a candidate’s experience and skills in operating a towing vehicle. If the employee does not have the qualifications to operate the vehicle safely, this inexperience can lead to an accident.
- Equipment failure: Towing equipment can fail when there’s a lack of maintenance. The towing company could be liable for any accidents involving equipment they failed to fix, maintain, or inspect regularly. In other cases, a tow truck manufacturer may be liable for malfunctions or poorly made equipment that causes an accident.
- Road maintenance issue: Potholes, debris, poor road design, and other road defects can cause collisions. A tow truck may blow out a tire when hitting a pothole and collided with another vehicle. Alternatively, another vehicle may swerve to miss the defect and collide with a tow truck. The municipality in charge of that roadway may be liable.
Factors That Can Increase the Likelihood of Tow Truck Accidents
Many other factors that are outside the control of any involved parties can also contribute to tow truck accidents.
These may include:
- Poor judgment in bad weather: Snow, rain, fog, ice, and other conditions can increase the chances of a tow truck accident. They can decrease visibility and make it harder to break and turn safely. Both of which can affect a driver’s ability to see a tow truck driver offering roadside assistance and avoid collisions.
- Visibility: When it’s dark at night and/or there’s little to no lighting on the roadway, visibility becomes a big issue that can increase the likelihood of a tow truck accident where an operator is struck by a vehicle. Tow trucks must have adequate lighting to ensure other road users can see them providing roadside assistance.
- Traffic: Accidents are more likely on busy roads and intersections, which means tow trucks regularly frequent these roads, too. Heavy moving traffic and bumper-to-bumper traffic can increase the chances of any type of tow truck accident.
- Speed on the road: High-speed roads may mean more people who don’t obey the Move Over laws.
Tow Truck Drivers Suffer Injuries in Tow Truck Accidents
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), tractor-trailer drivers which include tow truck drivers have one of the highest injury rates of all occupations in the U.S. Another report found an average of 3.5 cases of injuries or work-related illnesses per 100 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.
Like other truck accidents, tow truck drivers can suffer from auto accident injuries such as bruises and cuts, whiplash, concussions, as well as neck and back injuries.
But when a tow truck driver is struck by another vehicle while securing a vehicle on the road, they’re more likely to suffer more serious injuries, including:
- Crush injuries
- Internal injuries
- Severe spinal cord injuries
When a tow truck driver is injured while operating hauling equipment, finger amputation is one common injury among drivers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Operator Fatalities Are Too Common
A report from roadside service provider AAA says that, on average, 24 emergency responders—including tow truck drivers—are struck and killed by vehicles while working the roadside every year. That’s about one person every other week.
OSHA reports multiple fatal accidents that killed tow truck drivers and other roadside assistance providers over the past several years. The most common cause of these fatal tow truck accidents was a passing vehicle striking the operator. Being pinned between towing equipment and the cargo also contributes to these accidents.
Other Road Users Suffer Injuries in Tow Truck Accidents
Tow trucks are still large trucks that are bigger than many other vehicles on the road.
When a smaller vehicle collides with a tow truck, the driver and passengers in the vehicle can suffer minor and severe injuries, including:
- Whiplash and concussions
- Fractures and tissue damage
- Cuts and bruises
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Neck and back injuries
- Internal tissue damage and organ injuries
The most serious tow truck accidents can be fatal for drivers and passengers in these vehicles.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists involved in tow truck accidents are more likely to experience the most severe injuries because they are more vulnerable. Fatalities are even more common when they are struck by a tow truck or unsecured cargo.
Laws That Protect Tow Truck Drivers and Other Emergency Responders
Move Over laws require drivers to take additional precautions when passing emergency vehicles stopped along a roadway.
While requirements vary from state to state, drivers generally must:
- Temporarily change lanes into an available lane away from the emergency vehicle, OR
- Slow down when passing an emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road if changing lanes is not possible
All 50 states and the District of Columbia passed some sort of Move Over law that requires drivers to do their part in keeping emergency responders safe on the road. However, many road users aren’t aware of their state’s Move Over laws.
That same AAA survey report reviewed the public perception of Move Over laws in the U.S. Nearly one-quarter of survey respondents didn’t know such a law existed in their state. Some people may also not realize that tow trucks may count as authorized emergency vehicles and share the ranks with fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars.
Are Tow Truck Accidents Likely to Decrease?
The AAA report also found that nearly half of the drivers who do not follow Move Over laws also did not think that maintaining speed and staying in their lane was hazardous for tow truck drivers and other roadside emergency responders. This could demonstrate that they believe staying in their lane while passing by is enough to protect these vulnerable road users, though it often isn’t.
A majority of respondents in each age group said that they did change lanes or slow down when passing a stopped emergency vehicle. However, young drivers ages 16 to 18 were the least likely to abide by Move Over laws, meaning the newest drivers on the road still have a lot to learn about proper road safety but shouldn’t have to learn it the hard way.
You May Want to Hire a Lawyer to Help With Your Tow Truck Accident Case
After suffering an injury in a tow truck accident, you may be entitled to go after compensation for your losses. However, between going to the doctor and taking the time to heal, recovering your damages can seem almost implausible. That’s where an attorney can come in.
While you get better, your truck accident lawyer can:
- Gather various forms of evidence
- Identify the negligent party
- Take on all communication with those involved in your case
- Assess all of your losses
- Negotiate a settlement that accounts for all your damages
- Meet all deadlines
- Keep you up to date on the progress of your case
- Present your case in a trial, if needed
After reading this list of services, it’s easy to feel uneasy about enlisting representation due to the costs. However, many personal injury law firms take tow truck accident cases on a contingency fee basis. In other words, they do not charge any upfront, retainer, hourly, or out-of-pocket fees. Instead, they receive payment from a portion of your settlement or court award. Your attorney only gets paid if you do.
You can contact a law firm today to find out more about how they can help you. Many of them give free case reviews to prospective clients.