Jackknifing Accidents: Causes and Liability

A jackknifing accident occurs when the trailer part of a semi-truck folds onto the tractor part. The size and weight of semi-trucks mean such accidents can cause catastrophic injuries and damages. Below are potential causes of jackknifing accidents. You can use the knowledge to investigate and prove your claim if you are the victim of a jackknifing accident.

Faulty Brakes

A faulty brake system can cause a truck’s brakes to lock up when the driver attempts to brake hard. With the axles thus locked up, the trailer won’t travel in the direction it should, and the friction can force the trailer to one side of the tractor. Such an accident might occur if a pedestrian darts in front of the semi-truck and the driver steps on the brake.

The owner of the semi-truck, which can be the trucking company or a leasing company, is liable for the damages in case of brake failure. The law requires all truck owners to maintain their vehicles and keep them safe for the road at all times.

Poor Weather Conditions

Weather contributes to a variety of car accidents, including jackknifing. For example, snowfall and rainfall can make a road surface too slippery for safe driving or stopping. A semi-truck can jackknife if the tractor and its trailer experience different traction between their respective tires and the road.

Note that the law expects all drivers to drive safely with respect to the prevailing weather. For example, speeding increases the risk of jackknifing on a slippery road. Thus, you shouldn’t assume that the weather (and not the driver) caused the accident. Find out if the driver’s actions contributed to the accident.

Dangerous Loading

The weight and loading of cargo affects the risk of jackknifing. For example, some of the trailer’s parts will be heavier than others if the loader doesn’t distribute the cargo evenly. Such a trailer will move around once the truck is on the road, increasing the risk of jackknifing.

Jackknifing can also occur due to overloading. In such a case, the braking force might not be enough to stop the trailer safely.


Collisions with other objects, such as other cars or roadside objects, can also cause jackknifing accidents. For example, a trailer might continue to move for a short time after a truck loses control and hits another car. The stopping delay (between the tractor and its trailer) might cause the vehicle to jackknife.

Driver Error

Driving errors are common causes of accidents, including jackknifing accidents. Below are some driving errors that can cause a tractor-trailer to jackknife.

Improper Braking

Gradual braking allows a trailer to lose its momentum and safely stop without pushing to one side of the truck. Sudden braking can cause the trailer to continue moving a few seconds after the tractor has come to a stop. The result might be a jackknifing accident, even in a semi-truck with good brakes.

Extremely Sharp Turns

Small vehicles have a small turning radius — bigger vehicles have a big turning radius. Thus, a tractor might execute a tighter turn than a trailer, leaving the trailer to jackknife. An inexperienced driver is more likely to make such a mistake than an experienced one.


Overcompensation applies if a driver goes overboard when executing an evasive or safety maneuver. For example, a truck driver might swerve too far into the next lane while avoiding a pothole. The sudden and extreme maneuver might cause the vehicle to jackknife.

Experienced accident lawyers know how to investigate the causes of auto accidents, which is necessary for compensation. Contact the Jaklitsch Law Group for help with your truck accident case. We will talk to witnesses, commission post-accident reconstruction, and track down relevant footage to help you prove your case.


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