If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a truck, then chances are that you are probably in need of help. Approximately 60% of all fatal road accidents involve a large commercial truck, semi-truck, big rig, or 18 wheeler of some kind. As such, dealing with this kind of accident can be especially complicated and intense, particularly if there are serious injuries involved. This page is designed to help you understand how proceeding with a personal injury lawsuit in this scenario is likely to proceed and the steps you may have to undertake.
First of all, it is important to note that when you are involved in this kind of case and pursuing damages, it is most likely that you will be filing a claim against the trucking company that own the vehicle involved in the crash rather than the individual driver that was operating it. As such, you are much more likely to needs to services of an experienced personal liability attorney, as dealing with a large company is a much more complicated undertaking than your average vehicular accident. It is possible or even likely that the trucking company will attempt to refute your claim and deny any fault or liability after a crash with one of their vehicles. They have the resources and team in place to immediately investigate any accident that occurs with one of their vehicles, taking statements and collecting evidence in an effort to minimize any potential you have for a damages claim. Meanwhile, the police will likely start their own investigation into the accident. With all of these parties investigating the accident, it is important that you have your own team in place to make sure that your interests are protected.
Usually, the carrier or owner of the truck is seen as responsible for any incidents that occur with the truck under the doctrine of respondent/superior, where carriers are required to make certain that all of their drivers are acting in compliance with any and all safety rules that apply to them. These rules are numerous and detailed, including obligations to maintain and inspect their vehicles on a regular basis, ensure that their goods are loaded in safe and responsible ways, and that they are doing everything to ensure that their own driving is free of excessive fatigue. Carriers are also responsible for determining the competency of any drivers they hire, obtaining the necessary background information in order to ascertain that their driver is appropriately credentialed. Any carrier that fails to keep these records is liable for action from private citizens as well as federal agencies and mandated fines.
After knowing who exactly you may be petitioning for economic and non-economic damages, there are a whole range of other questions that quickly arise. Below, we have gather information on a few of the main things you will need to know if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself or a loved one the victim of an accident with a large commercial truck.
What Kinds of Truck Accident Lawsuits Are There?
In general, there are three main types of personal injury lawsuits that can be pressed against truck carriers after a major accident with one of their vehicles. These can include:
- Negligence: A claim of negligence could be based on any number of factors, including but not limited to the driver having limited experience, how the truck was loaded, a driver’s failure to obey traffic laws, the presence of a commercial truck on a narrow road, or even a driver’s failure to stop at weigh stations as they are required to by law. Your team will have to prove that the truck driver had a duty of care to others on the road, that they failed to fulfill that duty, and that this failure is what caused the accident and, consequently, your injuries.
- Product Liability: Sometimes, a defect in the truck or one of its parts can play a direct role in the cause of your accident. In these cases, you may also have a claim against the product manufacturers. These cases usually require the analysis and testimony of experts in order to prove that the part in question has been defective since its manufacture.
- Wrongful Death: It is an unfortunate result of the physics at play when a large truck hits a smaller car that often, not all of the people in the car survive. In these cases, surviving loved ones may be eligible to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. While any money obtained could never make up for your loss, it could help to ease the financial burden that your family is now suffering under.
What Kind of Compensation Could I Recover?
When you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a truck, then there are two main types of compensation for which you may be eligible. The first, called economic damages, attempt to compensate an injured victim for the monetary costs that have accrued in your life since the accident occurred. These could include:
- Repayment of any current or potential future medical bills that are obtained as a result of treating the injuries you received in your accident, including emergency room bills, doctor visits, the cost of needed surgeries, and other long term treatments.
- Reimbursement for any lost wages if your injuries are extensive enough to prevent you working from a significant period of time.
- Compensation for any loss of future earning capacity if your life is so significantly impacted by your injuries that it is likely to negatively impact your future income.
The second kind of compensation, usually called non-economic damages, is a bit more abstract. They attempt to quantify the more intangible, psychological cost of being in a serious accident. Depending on the details surrounding your case, these damages could include:
- Compensation for the physical pain and suffering you are going through as a direct result of the accident. The extent and seriousness of your injuries, the length of time that you are expected to suffer, and the seriousness of the pain are all relevant when pursuing this kind of compensation.
- Damages that attempt to quantify the mental anguish that you are suffering as a result of the accident. Often, serious car accidents can lead to long term emotional distress, trauma, and continued psychological distress that can all seriously damage the quality of your day to day life.
- In certain cases, the spouse of the victim of an accident can pursue compensation for loss of consortium, which means that they are seeking damages that repay their family for the altered state of their marriage. If the intimacy, companionship, or comfort of their marriage has been significantly impacted by the fallout of their spouse’s accident, then they may be eligible to receive damages.
What should I do if I am in an accident with a semi-truck or 18-wheeler?
Due to the size disparity between a big rig truck and an average car, any incident involving a collision is likely to result in serious injuries and significant property damage. If you are unfortunate enough to have this happen to you, there are a few steps you can take to make certain that you are protecting your long term interests and increasing your potential future ability to collect personal injury damages in the future. They include:
- Reporting the accident to authorities and your insurance immediately in order to get officials on the scene and investigating the case.
- Being honest but cautious about the details you reveal about the accident, since there will likely be several parties trying to establish that you are partially or completely at fault for the accident.
- Seeking medical attention immediately in order to establish a detailed and thorough medical history that will be essential in your personal injury case should you choose to file one
- Promptly filing both a police report and your insurance claim, getting the entire legal process underway as quickly as possible
- Potentially hiring a lawyer to handle the details of your case, including the giving of any formal recorded statements to interested parties.
The first actions you take after a major accident are critical when you are trying to figure out your eventual next steps. Following this list of practical advice can help to minimize the stress and turmoil that you may be subjected to later in the legal process.
What can I expect if I attempt to take legal action?
Collecting damages from large companies and corporations can be a long and tricky battle, but in the case of an accident with a truck or trailer, it is one of the ways to gain some kind of compensation for the extreme injuries and financial burden that you may now be suffering under. However, you must be prepared for the possibility that the companies will attempt to lessen their liability. Often, their strategy for lessening their own liability is to attempt to place the fault for the accident on the victim’s shoulders. The large size and lack of maneuverability inherent in most semi-trucks and 18 wheelers means that if other drivers on the road do not observe specific rules of the road, then drivers in these large and unwieldy vehicles will have a limited chance to respond to the situation.
Some of the driving actions that trucking companies will often cite as liable behavior around their trucks include unsafe passing practices, driving under the influence of any kind of drugs or alcohol, following a truck too closely to allow for appropriate stopping time, or improperly merging in front of a truck. These and other actions can open you up to both unsafe situations as well as future legal concerns. During a personal injury lawsuit, you will likely have to establish that you did not perform any action which could have caused the action and that instead, it was the driver of the truck that was at fault and therefore his employer is liable for the pursuant damages.
During legal proceedings, it is likely that you will be asked to provide any documents that are relevant to the case at hand, as well as provide a detailed on the record statement that the defendants can use in future negotiations and potentially in trial. Additionally, you may be required to attend a medical examination with a doctor of the defendant’s choosing, who will likely be inclined to minimize the severity of your injuries in order to further the agenda of their employers. As the trial date approaches, you will likely be asked to attend a mediation session. It is at this kind of session that the vast majority of cases are resolved, but if that does not happen, your case will proceed to trial. With each and every accident with a truck being so unique, it is hard to pin down an exact timeline for any case you may wish to pursue. For this reason, if you think you may want to take legal action, it is in your best interest to begin that process as soon as possible.
Large trucks and trailers are, without a doubt, one of the most deadly hazards on our roads today. On average, about 5,000 large trucks are involved in accidents every year. These accidents are usually more serious than other auto incidents, more commonly resulting in serious injuries or even unfortunate deaths. If you or a loved one has suffered as the result of a collision with a truck, seriously considering your legal options is the best way to protect your future interests.
Accidents with a commercial truck or trailer are by nature more likely to be medically and financially devastating to the party in the other vehicle. What’s more, these accidents often involve large companies with substantial resources to help them avoid paying out more than absolutely necessary for any accidents that their drivers might have while on the road. If you or a loved one experience a collision with a major truck or trailer, then there are a few key questions that can help you know what your next steps should be and what to expect over the coming months.
- How long do I have to decide whether or not to pursue legal action after my accident?
Generally in Utah, 4 years. However, there are variations in these statutes when certain parties are involved. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer will be well-versed in the intricacies of these time limits and be able to make sure that you make the best decision possible in an appropriate length of time.
- How cooperative should I be with the investigation undertaken by the trucking company and the insurance?
ANSWER: It is important to know that when dealing with an accident where larger companies are involved, you are not on equal footing. As they are likely prepped to deal with these incidents on a fairly regular basis, they have built a team of resources to help them lessen their liability in each and every case they have to face. Without proper representation, it could be very short sighted to agree to give any recorded statements or release any medical or employment records.
- Who is a potential defendant in a truck accident case?
ANSWER: Any person or entity that is shown to have fault in the accident can be sued after a major accident with a truck or trailer. This could potentially include the driver, the company that owns the truck and employs the driver, the manufacturer for the truck or trailer, and any other person or party that may have been involved. Of course, this also means that you need to make sure that your own potential for liability is as low as possible.
- Who is a potential plaintiff for a truck accident case?
ANSWER: Anyone who has been seriously injured after a collision with a truck may be eligible to sue so long as another party was at fault for the accident. Proving the fault of the other party will be your team’s main priority, which is why you want a strong legal team on your side. Additionally, if you have a loved one who has died as a result of an accident with a commercial vehicle, then you and your family may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim against the responsible parties.
- What are some common causes of truck accidents?
ANSWER: There may be multiple different reasons that a truck accident occurs, and some or all of these may contribute to the defendant’s overall liability in a legal sense. Some of these causes include a lack of training, overloaded or poorly loaded trucks, speeding, an overly fatigued driver, or unsafe and out of date safety systems, reflectors, lights, and other precautionary tools. All of these and more can play a factor in the occurrence of a truck accident.
- Are trucking companies regulated by the government?
ANSWER: Yes, the federal government has established a long list of formal rules and regulations for any commercial motor vehicle as well as for the companies that own and operate them. By establishing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, our government is attempting to address the serious harm that trucks can put onto our highways and roads. If a driver or a company fails to meet the standards set into place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, then they are certainly opening themselves up to serious liability claims.
- Is investigation an important part of a truck accident case?
ANSWER: Investigation is essential when dealing with a truck accident case. After an accident of this kind, it is likely that both the company that owns the truck as well as the police will conduct investigations into the events surrounding the accident. As such, it is equally important to have resources that are fighting to protect your rights by doing their own investigation as much as possible. This preserves evidence and helps to begin a case that argues for your own lack of liability in the situation while simultaneously building a case against the other party.
- What kinds of evidence can be gathered in order to find fault with the truck driver or the company that owns the truck?
ANSWER: Due to the regulations put into place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the documentation that a driver has to complete is voluminous and extremely specific in nature, not to mention tightly regulated. This paperwork can be very helpful in trying to determine whether or not the driver was negligent. It can include the driver’s license of the driver in question, truck inspection reports, repair bills, maintenance logs, and driver logs for the months preceding the incident.
- Do I have to have an attorney to litigate my truck accident case?
ANSWER: Truck accidents in particular can be very complex and difficult to deal with. Having a team of experienced professionals on your side can alleviate the burden you are under while still pursuing the reparations to which you are rightly entitled. You are certainly under no obligation to hire a personal injury attorney for this kind of case, but generally speaking, it always feels good to know that you have people on your side, looking out for your own interests.