Every day, thousands of 18-wheelers haul loads from point to point to keep products moving across America. They drive at all times of day and all times of the night. So, it is not uncommon for an 18-wheeler to arrive at a destination late at night and have to pull into an unloading area in the dark. Unfortunately, truck loading areas are not always well designed or well lit. As a result, the 18-wheeler may be “stranded” blocking traffic lanes for an indefinite about of time before it can pull in to unload. When this happens, the truck driver and the receiving company have an obligation to the motoring public to make sure that the trucks are visible or “conspicuous” while blocking the roadway.
The Legal Concept of Conspicuity
Conspicuity, or the ability to be seen, is a legal concept that is not just isolated to accidents with 18-wheeler trucks. The legal concept of conspicuity applies in premise liability cases as well–where the duty to protect the public requires a visible warning to be given. This concept is really an extension of knowledge. If you are conducting your business in such a way that you create a danger to the public that you are aware of and they may not be, you have a duty to remedy that dangerous condition or give a conspicuous warning so that the public has a reasonable opportunity to avoid the danger.
The Typical Vehicle Lights are Not Enough for Trucks
All vehicles are required to maintain headlamps, running lights, and turn signals both to the front and the rear of the vehicle. Setting flashers can help prevent a driver from having a rear-end accident with an 18-wheeler left sitting on a dark unlighted roadway. But these lights become virtually useless if the truck is turning across a roadway in the dark to unload. It is even worse when the truck is backing across lanes of traffic to get into a loading area facing the right direction. A driver approaching an 18-wheeler from the side in the dark will simply have no reaction time if there is nothing on the side of the truck to warn motorists.
If a truck driver and/or the company receiving the load are aware that trucks will have to move perpendicular to traffic lanes to get their trucks to the unloading point, they have a duty to check that the truck is conspicuous while it is in this position. Obviously, the safest way to protect against side underride accidents in these situations is to put up lighting in the area. However, if it is a public roadway being blocked, this may not always be an option.
There are a number of reflective devices that can be added to the side of a truck to help it be “more visible.” These range from reflective tape to mountable reflectors similar to that on a bicycle. However, reflectors only show up when another vehicle’s lights reflect off of them. Whether or not these will be effective may depend largely on how well-lit the area is. While these may not be failsafe, they are an inexpensive addition that may prevent a serious accident from occurring.
Who Has the Duty?
Anytime an accident occurs involving an inconspicuous 1-wheeler, the are many potentially liable parties whose negligence must be explored. The parties that must be explored include the trucking company that owns the vehicle, the dispatching company, the company that owns the property where loading/unloading was to occur, the company that owns the product being hauled, and the manufacturer of the truck and trailer itself. Federal laws impose a number of duties upon all parties involved that range from simple duties to inspect to making independent contractor drivers “statutory employees” of the companies they drive for. If you find yourself involved in such an accident, it is wise to speak to an experienced truck accident attorney to determine whether you may have a case based on conspicuity factors. Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., Injury & Accident Lawyers is a law firm that has been fighting for truck accident victims’ justice since 1979. Call us for a free consultation.