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Tow Truck Accidents

tow truck

Tow trucks are a common sight on our roads and highways, and when we're the driver in need of having a flat tire fixed, a car jump-started, or a disabled auto towed, they can be a very welcome sight, indeed. Unfortunately, however, tow trucks -- just like any other type of vehicle on our roads -- can and do become involved in traffic accidents themselves. Given that tow trucks are much larger and heavier than the typical passenger vehicles on our roads, accidents involving tow trucks can significantly greater damage to the other vehicles involved.

Common Elements of Tow Truck Accidents

Due to their size and weight, tow trucks are likely to cause greater damage to lighter-weight passenger cars and pickup trucks when they collide with them than would a smaller vehicle. They have this in common with larger delivery trucks and tractor-trailer trucks -- their greater size makes severe impacts and injuries more likely when collisions occur.

Like other commercial trucks, tow trucks are also likely to be covered by much higher liability insurance coverage than private passenger vehicles. Coverage limits of $1 million or more are common.

This combination of greater insurance coverage, a higher likelihood of serious injury or even death, and a business or corporation as a defendant makes injury claims and lawsuits involving tow truck accidents typically more complex and harder-fought than "run of the mill" claims from accidents between private passenger vehicles. For these reasons, it’s important to seek assistance from a personal injury attorney who has both the experience and resources to deal successfully with the complexities of tow truck accident claims.

Typical Injuries from Tow Truck Accidents

Because large, heavy tow trucks are more likely to cause serious injuries than collisions between lighter-weight vehicles, these types of incidents are more likely to produce injuries such as:

Watch the YouTube Video. See our video that describes how a tow truck accident lawyer may be able to help you with an injury claim:

A Short History of Tow Trucks and Their Evolution

The first vehicles that we would recognize as tow trucks were invented around 1915 - 1920. Motor vehicles were becoming common enough that it was realized that some standard types of recovery vehicles for assisting crashed or disabled autos would be marketable. The earliest tow trucks tended to be of the "hook lift" variety that would literally hook onto one of the disabled vehicle's axles, lift that end of the vehicle off the road, then tow it to a location where it could be repaired.

Tow trucks have evolved over time into several varieties with different purposes:

  • "Boom" tow trucks developed from the earlier "hook lift" trucks and usually have either a short boom and lifting attachment for vehicle towing or a longer, extendable boom and winch system for recovering a vehicle that may have left the roadway or otherwise need to be moved back onto a drivable surface. These types of tow trucks are less common for routine towing of disabled vehicles on the roads because they can harm the axles or drivetrains of certain vehicles.
  • "Underlift" tow trucks use an extendable harness or yoke that goes entirely under one end of a disabled vehicle, picking it up by its frame or an entire axle.
  • "Self-Loader" tow trucks are similar to the underlift version but typically have controls inside the truck that allow the tow truck driver to attach to the vehicle quickly without the operator exiting the tow truck -- for obvious reasons, this type of tow truck is a favorite of the "repo man."
  • "Flatbed" tow trucks have a long, sliding rear flatbed that can be tilted down and slid under one end of the disabled vehicle. Hooks are then attached to the vehicle's frame or axle to winch it onto the flatbed, which is then tilted back to level for transport. This is the most common type of tow truck in current use.
  • "Flatbed and lift" tow trucks actually have a boom and small crane that can lift a vehicle straight up and then place it on the tow truck flatbed. This type is more common in large cities where tight parking situations may make it difficult to retrieve a vehicle with a standard flatbed tow truck.
How to Drive More Safely Around Tow Trucks

Give them a bit of space. Tow truck drivers are hard-working individuals with difficult, dirty, and often dangerous work that puts them at significant risk of injury or death.  Tow trucks are large and heavy compared with passenger vehicles -- although they aren't as heavy and unwieldy as large tractor-trailer rigs, they still don't maneuver as easily or stop as quickly as a passenger car. Especially give some extra room to tow trucks that are actively transporting disabled vehicles. The extra weight of the towed vehicle makes them top-heavy, even less maneuverable, and harder to stop.

If you’re driving behind a tow truck carrying a vehicle, give it some extra room. Although it’s unusual, it’s certainly possible for an improperly secured load to be lost off a tow truck. It’s also possible for improperly secured items on the vehicle being towed to suddenly fly off.

Drivers often have specific obligations toward tow truck drivers who are responding to roadway incidents. California Vehicle Code 21809, for example, states that a driver who is approaching a stationary tow truck that is displaying flashing amber lights shall either change lanes so as not to pass immediately adjacent to the tow truck -- give it an extra lane of space -- or if this is not feasible to slow to a "reasonable and prudent" safe speed has given the conditions.

Some states even treat tow trucks with flashing lights as emergency responders, like police, fire, and ambulance vehicles, and require drivers to yield to them as they approach. If you’re stuck in traffic and see a tow truck approaching with flashing lights, it’s probably a good idea to give them plenty of room to pass – they're probably headed to clean up the accident that has you stuck.

Reach Out to a Tow Truck Accident Lawyer Today

An accident with a tow truck can leave a person with serious injuries, medical expenses, wage losses, and other significant damages. As we described above, insurance claims and lawsuits resulting from tow truck accidents can be more challenging than other types of routine accident claims. 

I'm Ed Smith, a Tow Truck Injury Lawyer in Sacramento. If you or a family member has been injured in a traffic accident involving a tow truck, please give us a call today for free and friendly advice. You can reach us at 916.921.6400 or 800.404.5400, or you can use our online contact form.

We are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

See our client reviews on Avvo, Google, and Yelp and our past cases on our Verdicts and Settlements page.

Photo Attribution: Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

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