The aftermath of a semi-truck accident can be a blur of confusion, worry, and anguish. You are most likely focusing on the immediate consequences - a wrecked vehicle, often serious injuries, maybe even wrongful death. On top of all that, trucking accidents differ significantly from other vehicle crashes, adding layers of complexity to the situation. Before taking any steps, it helps to understand the nature of these accidents and the different factors you are dealing with. This isn't a process you have to figure out on your own. An experienced truck accident lawyer can be your advocate every step of the way. In the meantime, here are three things to know about semi-truck accident cases that may help.
Semi Truck Accident Cases Are More Complex
The legal principle in all personal injury cases is the same. In every case, you must prove that the defendant was negligent to be legally entitled to financial compensation. Although the endpoint is the same, how you get there may be different depending on the case.
In car accident cases, you often look strictly at the driver’s actions that may have caused the accident. You have an individual driver of a relatively small passenger car, and you might have some witnesses to the accident. There might not be much more evidence necessary than that to prove what happened in the case.
In semi-truck accident cases, there are far more factors at play. While you are still aiming to prove negligence, there are many more factors to consider. Not only do you have the usual ways of proving negligence, such as witness testimony and pictures of the scene of the accident, but you also have many more data points that can help prove your case. These pieces of evidence can also increase the amount of your financial compensation.
Commercial trucks are far larger, and many more things can go wrong.
For example, here are some potential causes of semi-truck accidents:
- Distracted truck drivers not paying attention
- Fatigued truck drivers violating hours of service rules
- Cargo improperly loaded onto the truck, causing the truck to roll over
- Improperly maintained trucks, where a key part fails
- Speeding truck drivers trying to make up time to reach their destination on time.
In a semi-truck accident case, your lawyer looks at the bigger picture to prove negligence and possibly show that the trucking company has a history of non-compliance. If you file a lawsuit in court, your attorney can seek a broad range of documents and information in the discovery process.
First, your lawyer will request information regarding this specific truck and the driver involved in the crash, including:
- The black box data from the period Immediately before the truck accident
- This particular truck driver’s employment and driving record
- Drug and alcohol testing results for this driver, both during the course of their employment and directly after this crash (trucking companies have a legal obligation to test a driver for drugs and alcohol very shortly after a crash that involve towing)
- The truck’s maintenance and inspection records
- Information that shows when the truck was in operation and whether the driver followed hours-of-service regulations
In addition, your lawyer may also request information about the trucking company in general and its business practices. You are looking to show that there was a pattern of breaking federal regulations that can persuade a jury to order punitive damages.
Beyond the truck driver’s possible negligence, there can be a number of other causes at play. For example, the cargo loaders may have been careless in improperly loading cargo, such that it caused the truck to roll over. The employees responsible for maintenance and inspections might not have done their job properly and sent a truck out on the road that was not roadworthy.
Finally, there is the additional element that the problem might have been with the truck itself. Semi-trucks are very complicated machines because they must safely haul tens of thousands of pounds. Even a failure of a small part can cause a catastrophic accident. If the truck itself was to blame for the accident, you can file a product liability lawsuit against the company that made either the truck or the part. These lawsuits can be very complex and require scientific evidence. Meanwhile, the company that made the truck will vigorously fight the lawsuit because they might be on the hook for a large amount of damages.
In sum, truck accidents require far more specialized legal experience and more extensive investigation. It can take some time to learn the exact cause of the crash.
Damages May Exceed Those in Car Accident Cases
There is no such thing as a motor vehicle crash that is not dangerous. When two steel vehicles collide at any rate of speed, there is always a possibility that one or more people can suffer injuries. This fact is true in passenger car accident cases and even more in truck accidents.
In truck accidents, there is a vehicle that may weigh up to 80,000 pounds involved in the crash. Truck accidents unleash a tremendous amount of force on the passenger car involved in the accident. The truck driver may not have been able to stop in time to avoid hitting the car. In addition, a passenger car driver is not expecting a truck to either hit them or veer in their direction, so they cannot take effective evasive action.
It is uncommon for a motorist or their passenger to walk away from a truck accident completely unscathed. On average, their injuries tend to be much more serious because of the above-mentioned factors.
Here are some common injuries that people may suffer in a truck accident:
- Broken bones
- Neck and back injuries
- Severe cuts and lacerations
- Internal injuries
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
When the physical injuries are worse, the financial compensation will be much higher. Your settlement check largely depends on the extent of your physical injuries. The intangible damages will also be higher when you are more badly hurt.
Not only is there greater physical damage, but there is also usually more money available to pay for them. Federal law requires companies transporting items commercially to have an insurance policy of at least $750,000. In fact, most truck insurance policies start at $1 million of coverage. Trucking companies want to protect their own business, and they usually have much more than that in available insurance. If they do not, they are putting their continued existence at risk. A jury can very easily hit a trucking company with a verdict that exceeds its maximum policy limit. In that case, the trucking company is responsible for paying any overage in the damages.
Your truck accident damages will include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages for time missed from work or any decrease in your earnings potential
- Pain and suffering for both the physical discomfort and emotional harm from the accident
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Permanent scars or disfigurement
- Embarrassment and humiliation
Your damages can also be larger because the jury can hit the defendant with punitive damages. This type of damages is very rare in a standard car accident case, but it is more likely when your lawyer has uncovered evidence of a trucking company behaving badly.
Punitive damages make truck accident verdicts nuclear. A nuclear verdict is either grossly disproportionate to the actual damages or is worth more than $10 million. There is far more misconduct that a trucking company can be responsible for because the problems can go far beyond just the individual driver. Company-wide issues may make the entire trucking fleet more dangerous. In that case, the jury might punish the trucking company in a verdict that only bears some relation to the actual damages that the accident victim suffered.
A Settlement Is a Likely Outcome
Most truck accident cases will settle without a trial. Although a jury is the ultimate decision maker in a truck accident case, it is very rare that your case will get that far. To understand why a settlement is the most likely outcome, you need to know a little more about how truck accident cases work.
The insurance company may be the gatekeeper for the claim. As mentioned above, trucking companies have large insurance policies to protect themselves from liability. Trucking companies and insurance providers know what can happen if their case reaches the jury. They have seen firsthand how many of their competitors have faced nuclear verdicts. Some trucking companies even went out of business because of liability incurred in a single accident.
The further your truck accident case goes in court, the more information your attorney may get in the discovery process. You may learn of evidence that shows the trucking company has a culture of non-compliance with federal regulations. The more evidence you can put in front of the jury, the worse the legal position the trucking company may find itself in.
Insurance carriers and trucking companies may not want to end up in front of a jury because they know that a hostile and angry jury can issue a large punitive damages verdict.
As you can see, the insurance and the trucking company are incentivized to settle the case. From your standpoint, you may also have the impetus to reach a settlement agreement. Your case might drag on if you go to court, and you may find yourself needing the money sooner. That is not to say that you should accept a below-value settlement offer, but there may be reasons why you want to settle as well.
You take on some risk when your case goes to a jury. Just like the trucking company can get hit with a massive verdict, you might also lose your case. You do not have to worry about assessing this risk, however. Your lawyer will always advise you of your possible chances at trial and whether it is a wise move.
Even if a settlement seems completely out of reach at the start of your case, you should be patient. Insurance companies and claimants almost always start the case out very far apart. Your lawyer may threaten a lawsuit, or they may even actually file a case in court. Still, this does not foreclose possible settlement negotiations while the case is pending. Over time, the differences in both positions will narrow, and the parties may move towards a settlement.
You may still reach a settlement even if you go through the discovery process. This is often when defendants will get serious about settling the case, knowing the evidence the plaintiff has obtained. Although it may take a considerable amount of time, the overwhelming chances are that your case will end in a settlement. However, you should not take a bad deal just for the sake of reaching a settlement. Always heed the advice of your truck accident attorney regarding any settlement offer.
Seek Help From a Truck Accident Attorney Immediately
You need a personal injury attorney for any type of motor vehicle accident case. It goes without saying that you should have one in a truck accident case when the stakes are much higher. When there is a lot of money on the line, the insurance company will double their efforts to keep you from getting what you legally deserve. You will need to fight even more in a truck accident case because you can be certain that an insurance company will not want to write a multimillion-dollar check.
You should not try to handle a truck accident case on your own because you will cost yourself money. If you accept a below-value settlement, you may run out of money when you need it the most. Hiring an experienced truck accident lawyer is an investment in your financial future and one that will not cost you money upfront.
The complexities of a truck accident case demand that you get legal counsel from someone who knows how these cases work. If a truck accident injured you, call a truck accident lawyer right away.