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Truck Accident Glossary Terms

Most people are not around trucks very often. So, they may not be familiar with a lot of the terminology used by truck drivers and shipping companies. Unfortunately, if you have been in a New Jersey or New York truck accident, you will be hearing all sorts of new terminology.

Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., has provided this truck accident law glossary to help you understand some of the words and phrases that may be important for your case. If you have any additional questions about this terminology, please contact us to speak with a lawyer by calling LAW-2000 or submitting our online form.

Air brakes: A special type of brake system used on large commercial vehicles. Air brakes use compressed air to push a piston to apply pressure to brake pads and slow a vehicle.

Alcohol: A substance found in beer, wine, and liquor that impairs one’s judgment and slows reaction times. Commercial drivers should never drink alcohol before driving.

Amputation: The removal or partial removal of a limb.

Axle: A shaft on which wheels rotate.

BAC (blood alcohol concentration): This is the measurement that police use to determine the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream of drivers. Commercial drivers are never allowed to have a BAC higher than .04%.

Bobtail: A bobtail truck is a semi-truck with no trailer attached.

Big rig: An 18-wheeler tractor-trailer.

Blind spot: Areas around a truck where the truck driver has little or no visibility. These areas are dangerous to drive in and are also called no-zones.

Blowout: The sudden loss of air pressure in a tire, leading to an explosion.

Border commercial zone: Areas near the border where Mexican truck drivers are allowed greater freedom of movement.

Bulkhead: A safety wall keeping cargo from spilling into the cab of a truck.

Burn injury: Injuries caused by heat, fire or chemicals.

Cab-over: A type of truck with a flat front. The cab sits over the front axle.

CB radio (citizens’ band): A short-distance radio frequently used by truck drivers and emergency personnel. It is used to convey information about road conditions but can also distract drivers.

Carrier (common carrier): A person or company that transports goods for a fee. The carrier is usually licensed by the government and responsible for any damages that it causes.

Catastrophic injury: Any injury causing paralysis, paraplegia, quadriplegia, the loss of a limb, a brain injury or total disability.

CDL (commercial driver’s license): A license required to drive vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds or which carry hazardous materials. Each state issues its own CDLs. There are minimum requirements set by the federal government.

Commercial vehicle: Vehicles titled or registered to a company are commercial vehicles. Most trucks and construction vehicles are considered commercial. Vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds are always considered commercial.

Comparative fault: A system that allows victims of an accident to recover part of the damages even if they were partially at fault. New York and New Jersey each use a slightly different comparative fault system. There are a few states left that do not allow victims to recover anything if they were even 1% at fault. This is called contributory fault, and it is not used in New York or New Jersey.

Container: Intermodal containers are boxes that can be transferred easily between truck, rail and ocean transportation. They resemble normal trailers, but the box and the chassis are separate parts. They usually come in 20 or 40 foot lengths, but other configurations are possible. Trailers that appear corrugated are typically shipping containers.

Contingency fee arrangement: When Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. takes your personal injury truck accident case, there is almost no risk to you. You do not pay us unless we help you recover payment from the responsible parties by winning a lawsuit or securing a settlement. If we can’t help you, you will never have to pay.

Deemer statute: New Jersey’s Deemer statute treats out-of-state insurance policies as if they were New Jersey insurance policies under certain conditions. For purposes of no-fault insurance cases, any policy issued by a company licensed to issue policies in New Jersey will be treated as a New Jersey policy.

Design defect: A design defect is a problem with the way a product was designed, which makes it dangerous. This means that nearly every copy of the product that the manufacturer produces will be dangerous. This issue comes up in products liability cases. An example would be a defectively designed fuel tank that explodes when hit.

DHS (Department of Homeland Security): Federal government department involved in border control and setting rules for international transportation.

Disc wheel: The type of wheel rim found on most large trucks.

Distracted driver: This is a driver who fails to pay attention to the road. Some common distractions include cell phones, text messaging, CB radios and other passengers.

Dram shop law: Dram shop laws allow a bar to be held responsible for the damage caused by a drunk driver if that driver was served when they were clearly intoxicated.

Drinking and driving: Consuming alcohol and then driving. This is extremely dangerous, especially when driving a large truck. Federal law does not allow truck drivers to operate a vehicle when their BAC is over .04.

Driver: The person actually driving a vehicle at the time of the accident.

Drowsy driving: This is driving while tired. This is a common problem for truck drivers who have to deal with long hours and tight deadlines. There are many regulations in place to help minimize drowsy driving, but it still occurs frequently.

Drugs: Any substance, other than food, which is ingested into the body. Many drugs, both legal and illegal, can impair reaction times and decision making. The use of certain drugs is illegal while driving a motor vehicle.

Dry-rot: The decaying process of rubber that causes old tires to break apart and blow out.

DUI / DWI: Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is also called driving while intoxicated. This means that the driver exhibits signs of intoxication or is over the legal limit of drugs or alcohol allowed in the bloodstream.

18-wheeler: A standard big-rig tractor trailer truck with 18 wheels.

Employee: Someone who works for a company. Their employer usually controls most of what they do. This is different from an independent contractor who operates on their own. The distinction is important for deciding whether the company who asks a driver to deliver a load is the driver’s employer or not. Usually that company is more likely to be held responsible for an accident if the driver is found to be an employee.

Employment authorization document: A work permit required for foreign citizens who wish to work in the U.S. It is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Expert witness: An expert witness is a person who has large amount of knowledge about a particular subject which is relevant to a NY or NJ truck accident case. Types of expert witnesses frequently utilized by Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., include medical experts, financial experts, biomechanical experts, and accident reconstruction experts.

Explosive: Any material capable of creating an explosion. Trucks carrying explosives need to follow special regulations and display placards indicating the type of explosive material on board. Drivers carrying explosives must have special certifications, and trucking companies need special authorization to ship them.

E-ZPass: An electronic toll collecting system consisting of a transponder in a vehicle and readers at toll collection points. The cost of the toll is automatically debited from the user’s account. Because of the way this system functions, it leaves a record of when a given vehicle was at a certain location. Using these records, a truck accident lawyer can show that a driver was speeding or that the driver had been driving for more than the allowed number of hours in a given day.

Failure to warn: Manufacturers of dangerous products have a duty to warn of those dangers. This is typically done through labels and instruction manuals. When a manufacturer knows that a product presents a danger, but fails to warn of that danger, that manufacturer can be held responsible for damage caused by the product.

Fifth wheel: This is the part of the truck that connects the tractor to the trailer. It is found at the back of the tractor. The kingpin at the front of the trailer fits into the fifth wheel and acts as a pivot. This is what allows a truck to turn, but also allows it to jackknife.

Flammable: Materials that ignite and burn easily are considered flammable. Trucks carrying flammable materials need to display placards indicating the type of materials on board.

FMCSA: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s purpose is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries. This is done through enforcement of regulations, targeting high-risk commercial motor vehicle drivers and carriers, strengthening commercial motor vehicle operating standards and increasing safety awareness.

Grade: The slope of an incline or decline. Certain trucks can only handle certain grades. Drivers also need to switch gears depending on the grade.

Gross vehicle weight (GVW): The total weight of a truck including driver and cargo.

Hands-free device: A phone or other electronic device that can be used without being held. Some hands-free phones work through voice commands. Others simply require limited use of the hands. In both New York and New Jersey, truck drivers are required to use a hands-free device if they want to use a cell phone while driving. 

Hazardous materials / Hazmat: Corrosive, flammable, explosive or toxic materials. Truck drivers need to take special precautions when carrying these materials. Certain materials also require special license endorsements. Drivers must warn they are carrying these materials through the use of special warning placards on their vehicle.

Header-board: A device behind the cab that acts like a retaining wall to keep shifting cargo from entering the cab. This is also known as a bulkhead.

Indemnification: Indemnification means being contractually responsible for damages caused by someone else. In the context of truck accident law, indemnification often occurs through various insurance companies. This can lead to many different parties suing each other.

Independent contractor: An independent contractor is a truck driver operating under his or her own bill of lading and Department of Transportation Number. If a driver is found to be an independent contractor, it will be much harder to recover from the company that hired him.

Insurance: Insurance helps drivers pay for the harms and losses they caused in an accident. New York and New Jersey have very complicated insurance requirements.

Intoxicated: A driver who has ingested drugs or alcohol and is showing signs of impairment is considered intoxicated. Drivers with a certain percentage of alcohol in their bloodstream are also considered intoxicated. Commercial drivers are never allowed to drive with a BAC over .04%.

Jackknife: When a truck’s trailer turns too far towards the tractor, a jackknife accident can occur. This can occur from braking too quickly, from tight turns, or from load-shifting. Jackknifed trucks are dangerous because they block a large portion of the roadway and can crush cars in between the tractor and trailer.

Lashing: The ropes and other devices used to tie cargo down. Improper lashing or defective lashing equipment can lead to load shifting.

Lawsuit: A civil action brought in court. Filing a lawsuit is an important step in recovering damages. It preserves your rights and can lead to a settlement or a trial.

Lessee: The person or company who is currently leasing and using a truck.

Lessor: The person or company who owns a truck and has leased it out to someone else.

LHWCA (The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act): Covers dock workers and certain maritime workers. Workers who are covered by the LHWCA are not covered under normal state workers’ compensation schemes.

Liability insurance: Liability insurance pays for injuries that you cause to others.

Limitation on Lawsuit: Also known as the Verbal Threshold or as the Limited Tort Threshold. In some vehicle accident cases, you may need to prove that your injury classifies as serious to obtain pain and suffering damages. This is known as the Verbal Threshold. It does not apply in New Jersey cases involving commercial vehicles. To meet this requirement in New Jersey, an injury must fit into one of the following categories: Death; Dismemberment or amputation; Loss of a fetus; Significant disfigurement or significant scarring; Displaced fracture; Permanent injury to a body part that will never heal to function normally again.

Loading and unloading doctrine: The loading and unloading doctrine applies when someone is injured loading or unloading a truck. It makes the insurer of the truck liable for most injuries. Normally, this means that the injured party will first sue a shipper, driver, owner or lessor of a truck. The defendant will then make a claim against the insurer for indemnification of their costs.

Load shifting: Load shifting occurs when the cargo on a truck moves during transit or unloading. Load shifting can cause an accident or be caused by an accident. It often occurs due to improper lashing or defective packaging materials.

Log book: Tractor-trailer drivers are required to keep a log book of their hours and miles. Because of regulations intended to prevent accidents, truck drivers are only allowed to work a limited number of hours per day and per week. Unfortunately, in order to meet deadlines, some truck drivers have been known to falsify their log books with reduced hours. Log books can be used as evidence to prove a driver was in violation of regulations.

Lost wages: Lost wages are a type of damages awarded in a lawsuit to compensate you if you are unable to work. They are determined by figuring out how much money you would have likely earned if you were able to work.

Manufacturer: A manufacturer is the company that produces a product. It may be possible to sue and recover damages from a manufacturer if they produced a defective part which caused some or all of your injuries. Some truck parts that are frequently found to be defective include fuel tanks and tires.

Manufacturing defect: A manufacturing defect is a problem with a copy of a product that makes it dangerous for its intended use. This problem can be limited to one specific item or a batch of those items, but usually does not occur in all copies that were produced. An error or issue in the manufacturing process is what causes the product to become dangerous. This is different than a design defect which is a problem with the design of the product itself.

Mechanic: A mechanic is a person who fixes trucks or equipment. They may be employed by a common carrier or another company.

Medical expenses: When you are injured, you may need medical care. Most of your medical care will generally be covered by your own no-fault insurance plan. Make sure to keep records of all of your medical expenses.

NAFTA: The North American Free Trade Agreement eases restrictions on Mexican and Canadian trucks and drivers coming into the United States.

Negligence: Negligence is the failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonably prudent person should exercise in a similar situation. In order to be found negligent, you must have a legal duty to do something and fail to satisfy that duty.

Negligent hiring: When a trucking company hires a driver who does not meet the requirements to drive a commercial vehicle or hires a driver with a pattern of past problems, it may be possible to hold them responsible for the actions of their driver.

NIED (Negligent infliction of emotional distress): This occurs when you suffer emotional or physical trauma from witnessing the death or injury of a family member. The rules for awarding NIED damages are extremely complex and may require you to have been close enough to the accident to fear injury.

No-fault insurance: This is a special type of insurance required in New Jersey and New York. When someone is injured in a vehicle accident, their own insurance company pays most of their medical expenses. This applies even if you were not driving at the time. There are some restrictions on suing the person or company who injured you in states with no-fault insurance.

Non-pecuniary damages: These damages compensate for pain, suffering and other injuries that do not cause actual monetary loss. This can be contrasted with medical costs, funeral costs, lost wages and other damages which cost you money.

No-zone: Blind spots on a tractor-trailer are often called no-zones. These areas, located on the sides, front and back of the truck are particularly dangerous for cars to drive in.

Off-wheel accidents: These accidents can occur when a wheel falls off of a truck and rolls or bounces down a road. This can occur for many reasons, including manufacturing defects and poor maintenance.

Open trailer: A trailer that is not enclosed on all sides. Open trailers are used to haul lumber, wire, machines and raw materials. When an open trailer’s load shifts or comes loose, it can spill or fly into the roadway.

Operating authority: This is authority granted by the federal Department of Transportation to certain types of goods in certain areas. Special permissions are needed for foreign companies or to carry hazardous materials.

Out-of-state driver: Drivers and trucks based out of another state are still subject to NJ and NY laws. They can generally be sued in NJ and NY courts.

Overworked driver: Drivers who work too many hours can become fatigued, delaying their reaction time and impairing decision making. Your NJ truck accident lawyer may try to prove that a truck driver violated restrictions on working too many hours.

Owner-operator: When someone owns a truck and also drives it, they are considered an owner-operator. This is different than most large companies with a fleet of trucks. It can be harder to make an owner-operator pay for damages because they often have fewer resources.

Pain and suffering damages: These damages are meant to compensate you for physical pain and mental anguish resulting from an accident.

Pallet: Also called a skid, these are transportation devices that support goods during shipping. They are usually made from wood and are designed to be lifted by forklifts, hand-trucks and other devices. They are also easily strapped together or to restraints. Rotten or defective pallets can lead to load-shifting as well as injuries while loading or unloading a truck.

Passenger: Someone who is riding in a vehicle but not driving it.

Pecuniary damages: Damages for out-of-pocket expenses and other monetary expenses. Pecuniary damages include funeral expenses, medical bills, lost wages and repair bills.

Private carrier: A company who transports their own goods. Many large big-box stores transport their own goods as do some franchise restaurants.

Products liability: An area of law dealing with defective products which cause injury when used in an intended or foreseeable way.

Punitive damages: These damages are awarded to punish the defendant and to set an example. The purpose of punitive damages is to prevent others from acting in a reckless or dangerous way. Punitive damages are only allowed under very limited circumstances.

Recovery: When you bring a lawsuit, any money you are awarded at trial or receive in a settlement is called a recovery.

Reefer: A refrigerated trailer, usually for shipping food.

Road hours: Hours a commercial driver spends driving. These hours are limited by a series of federal regulations. Drivers who work too much can become fatigued. Fatigued drivers are a frequent cause of New Jersey truck accidents.

Rolling tires: This is another name for a tire blowout. When a tire breaks or rolls off of a truck wheel, it can roll or bounce down a road, often causing serious injury.

Serious injury: In some vehicle accident cases, you may need to prove that your injury classifies as serious to obtain pain and suffering damages. This is known as the Verbal Threshold or the Limitation on Lawsuit option. It does not apply in New Jersey cases involving commercial vehicles. In New Jersey, it is important to know that these thresholds do not apply in cases involving trucks and other commercial vehicles. All claimants are considered to be at zero-threshold.

Settlement: An agreement reached between parties, usually before and instead of trial. When the parties involved in a lawsuit can predict its likely outcome, it is often in their best interest to settle ahead of time and reduce their legal costs.

Shipper: This is the company that actually pays to send the goods on a truck from one place to another.

Social host law: A law that sometimes holds people responsible for damages caused by a guest who was served alcohol in the host’s home. This law can be complicated and may apply differently in New Jersey and New York.

Speeding: Driving faster than posted speed limits is both illegal and dangerous. The faster a truck driver is going, the harder it is to stop or avoid collisions.

Spinal cord injury: A serious type of injury that can result in paralysis, disability, and severe pain. The spine, also called the backbone, runs from the base of the head down the back. Damages to the spinal column can cause problems with nerves and mobility.

Spoliation: After an accident, evidence quickly begins to degrade, change, and disappear. Sometimes evidence is intentionally mishandled or negligently handled. This is known as spoliation of evidence.

Statute of limitations (SOL): Each state has its own time limit for filing every type of lawsuit. These limits are known as statutes of limitations. They are often extended for minors under 18 years old. You have two years to file your truck accident injury case under New Jersey’s statute of limitations. Minors under 18 years old at the time of an accident will have until their 20th birthday to file a case. In New York, you will have three years to file a tractor-trailer accident case except in cases of wrongful death, in which you will only have two years. In truck accident cases in New York, a minor will usually be given until his or her 21st birthday to file. Failure to file on time usually prevents any type of recovery in New Jersey courts.

Tailgating: Driving too close to the car or truck in front of you. It is important to leave enough space between vehicles to react in case a car slows or changes lanes. Also, truck drivers may not be able to see drivers who are close behind them or even sometimes cars that are too close in front of them.

TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit): Shipping containers are counted in TEUs. One standard 40-foot intermodal container is 2 TEUs.

Texting while driving: This is an extremely dangerous activity that takes a driver’s attention off the road.

It is illegal in New Jersey and New York.

Third-party lawsuit: A lawsuit by an employee against a company other than his or her employer for an injury incurred while working.

Tractor-trailer: A standard 18-wheeler truck. The cab where the driver sits and the back where the cargo is held are two separate parts that can detach.

Traffic camera: Cameras used to monitor traffic patterns or issue tickets for violations. They can sometimes be used to prove that a truck driver was violating regulations or speed restrictions. In other cases, they can be used to show that a driver has been on the road too long.

TBI (traumatic brain injury): Serious brain injuries can lead to disabilities or death. There are often physical, cognitive, developmental, and emotional effects when a brain is injured in a truck accident.

Tread-burn: Worn treads on a tire can lead to a tire breaking or blowing out. Broken tires present a serious danger to any car traveling behind that tire.

Tread separation: When the metal and rubber portions of a tire separate, causing a tire to blow out.

Trial: A formal court proceeding to determine fault. Trials usually involve judges, a jury, experts and witnesses.

Trip recorder: Like a black box in an airplane, a trip recorder keeps track of important information such as speed and time of a trip.

Truck: This is a vehicle usually used to transport goods. There are many types of trucks. Many commercial trucks are 18-wheelers, also known as tractor-trailers. Other types of trucks are car carriers, construction vehicles and box trucks.

Under-inflation: When a tire is not inflated to the correct pressure, it can cause extra friction. This causes a tire to become hot and melt or break apart. Tire debris is a major problem on the highways of New York and New Jersey.

Verbal Threshold: Also known as the Limitation on Lawsuit Threshold or as the Limited Tort Threshold.

In some vehicle accident cases, you may need to prove that your injury classifies as serious to obtain pain and suffering damages. This is known as the Verbal Threshold. It does not apply in New Jersey cases involving commercial vehicles.

Wheel-end: A part of the truck wheel that needs to be maintained. Failure to maintain truck wheels can lead to wheel-off accidents.

Work visa: A document required in order for a foreign worker to drive a truck in the United States.

Workers’ compensation (workman’s comp): Statewide statutory schemes which help workers who are injured on the job. Workers are granted a portion of their wages but are usually not allowed to sue their employer. Most truck drivers and warehouse workers are covered by workers’ compensation. Different rules apply to some dockworkers and longshoremen.

Wreck: This is another name for an accident.

Wrongful death: When a family member is killed in a tractor trailer accident in NY or NJ, the estate or family may be able to recover damages including medical bills and funeral costs as well as lost wages.

Zero-threshold: Allows one to sue for all injuries, including non-permanent injuries. All people involved in trucking accidents are deemed zero-threshold by law.

Zone of danger: A tractor trailer has many blind spots. A car traveling in these blind spots is said to be in the zone of danger. These dangerous areas occur on all four sides of a truck.