If you or a loved one has recently suffered injuries in a truck accident, you probably don’t want to keep thinking about how that accident has changed your life. On the other hand, if you’re working on your own, you probably can’t stop thinking about how that accident has changed your life. Why not let an experienced truck accident lawyer help you get through this terrible time.
Truck Accidents Are Different
Truck accidents are not at all the same as car-to-car accidents. First, the size differential between the average 4,000-pound passenger vehicle and a big-rig truck, which can, when fully loaded, exceed 80,000 pounds, gives the real survival advantage to the truck.
When a truck hits a car, the impact strikes the car with tremendous force, and its passengers are thrown around inside the vehicle or even ejected from it. Further, trucks often carry hazardous materials, and an accident can easily result in fires and explosions, significantly increasing the risk of severe injury.
The other way truck accidents differ is that they seldom represent only one potential defendant. Commercial trucks have owners; their drivers have employers. As you’ll see below, who might be liable is a complicated question and one of the biggest reasons you may want to hire a lawyer.
What Is Negligence?
If you suffered injuries in a truck accident, it is most likely that the other driver was negligent. The basic elements of negligence are duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Let’s look at these a little more closely, as your truck accident lawyer will do.
Duty – Duty is usually not difficult to allege and prove since the privilege of driving comes with a built-in duty to treat all other users of the roadways with care. For truck drivers holding Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs), that standard is even higher because of the inherent claim to greater competency implied by the license.
Breach of Duty – Anything the at-fault driver did that indicated a failure to observe the required standard of care is evidence of the breach of duty. Breaches of the duty of care include a driver who failed to observe a traffic sign or signal or drove while distracted, tired, or under the influence.
Causation – Causation usually requires proving two different things. First, you must prove that, but for the at-fault party’s careless conduct, the injury would not have occurred. Second, you must also show that the injuries you received were directly caused by or a foreseeable consequence of the at-fault driver’s breach. The first is “cause in fact,” while the second is a proximate or legal cause. You must show both to recover damages.
Damages – A personal injury lawsuit aims to give you financial compensation to make you whole from injuries suffered at the hands of the at-fault party. Thus, you must show that you suffered injuries for which financial compensation will make you whole.
No-Fault Auto Insurance
Some states have no-fault insurance laws instead of fault-based insurance. However, no-fault auto insurance law does permit you to sue other at-fault parties under certain conditions. For example, New York permits you to sue another driver under its no-fault insurance law if you sustained a serious injury in the accident.
Under the New York insurance laws, a serious injury results in:
- Significant disfiguring
- A fracture
- Loss of a fetus (miscarriage)
- Permanent loss of use of a bodily organ, member, function, or system
- A significant limitation of the use of a bodily function or system
- A medically determined non-permanent injury or impairment that prevents you from performing substantially all of the material acts constituting your usual and customary daily activities for 90 out of the 180 days immediately following the accident
Typical Injuries & Damages
Truck accidents feature a lot of similar injuries. Most of those who die are occupants of the vehicle the truck hit, as are most injured victims.
Common injuries in a truck accident include:
- Spine and Neck Injuries – The most devastating back and neck injuries occur when fractures in the vertebrae cause damage to the spinal cord. A bruise or tear in the spinal cord interrupts communication from the brain to the body below the injury site. Temporary or permanent loss of sensation or paralysis from the point of injury down may result.
- Head Injuries – Head and brain injuries are some of the most common injuries in truck accidents. People in the passenger vehicle get tossed around, and the truck may crush them. Skull fractures are frequent, and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are typical injuries. Even a seemingly mild brain trauma can cause potentially fatal complications. A “mild” TBI only relates to the initial symptoms – not the overall prognosis. TBIs that medical professionals initially say are mild can still result in serious and lasting complications. If you are diagnosed with any TBI, watch for complications or lingering effects.
- Burns and Scarring – Explosions and fires are common in truck accidents because of the severity of the impact and because trucks often carry hazardous materials. These incidents can lead to severe burns. Burns are hard and painful to treat, with infection a frequent occurrence. They may require multiple surgeries and long-term hospitalization with high pain levels and loss of mobility. Moreover, permanent scarring can induce emotional and mood disorders, requiring long-term treatment.
- Fractures – Bones may fracture so badly they require pins, plates, or even amputation. Breaks can cause nerve damage or infections (if the bone pierces the skin). In the ribcage, broken bones can damage internal organs and cause fatal internal bleeding.
- Lacerations – Lacerations may sound minor, but broken glass, pieces of metal, the car itself, or debris from the truck can all cause severe cuts and punctures. Passengers ejected from the vehicle can be dragged along the pavement, causing severe abrasions and tears, especially to facial skin.
- Wrongful Death – Death is a common result of a truck accident. If someone dies in a truck accident, the victim’s estate can seek all the damages that the victim might have recovered in a personal injury suit, as well as the long-term losses suffered by the survivors.
Damages typically recovered in a truck accident case include:
- Medical expenses – doctor and hospital charges, surgery, medications, and procedures
- Assistive or adaptive equipment and devices
- Daily living assistance services
- Lost wages (past and future)
- Property damage to your vehicle
- Pain and suffering
- Funeral and burial expenses if death resulted
Damages break down into economic and non-economic damages. Most of the damages in the bullet list above are economic damages.
Economic damages are generally objective and easily ascertainable from paid invoices, pay stubs, and other financial documentation.
Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, are more subjective and more difficult to prove. Further, under New York’s no-fault insurance, a plaintiff who meets the serious injury standard that permits a suit must prove economic damages to seek non-economic damages.
Punitive damages are available in most states but are extremely difficult to obtain. Punitive damages require reckless disregard for others’ safety or intentionally wrongful conduct.
Who Might Be Liable?
Truck crashes often involve commercial vehicles. And a commercial vehicle means you’re going to have difficulty finding out who might be liable for your injuries. The liable party won’t just be the at-fault driver who hit you with a truck.
Other parties who might be liable include the trucking company for which the driver worked, the company or companies that owned the truck and the trailer, the company that did the maintenance on the truck, and the company or companies that made the truck and its parts. You may also sue governmental unit defendants if road construction or road conditions at least partially caused the accident.
Clearly, this isn’t a case of just picking up your phone and calling the other guy’s insurance company. An experienced truck accident lawyer will have gone through this process before. They will know whom you can hold liable and why and how to derive the potential defendants from the facts and circumstances of your case.
Insurance Company Tactics
Truck accidents feature complex negotiations based on the simple fact that you’re negotiating with many people simultaneously. The ways the insurance companies will respond also make the negotiating harder.
Insurance companies make the most profit when they pay the least out in claims. Insurance claims adjusters and insurance company lawyers know this. That’s why their first settlement offer will be the lowest amount they think you might accept. Your truck accident lawyer knows this too, which is why they will advise you to turn down that first lowball offer.
Sharing the Burden
Your skilled truck accident lawyer knows how this process works. They’ve been down this road many times and can help you understand what to do and when.
You’re at one of the lowest points in your life. The money is going out in rivers and coming in in trickles. You’re in pain, confused, and unsure how long you can handle the stress of fighting with these lawyers and claims adjusters. Remember, you don’t have to. A knowledgeable truck accident lawyer can take all of this off your plate and let you focus on the business of healing your physical and mental wounds.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?
Each state has a statute of limitations that restricts your time to file a lawsuit. For instance, New York law allows three years from the date of your accident for you to file a lawsuit. Wrongful death has its own two year statute. There are very few exceptions to these limits (medical malpractice and municipal cases on the same facts).
If you have allowed the time limit to expire and file suit anyhow, the defendant will file a motion to dismiss your case based on that expiration, and the court will dismiss your case. At that point, you have no further opportunity to seek compensation for your injuries. Remember that if the other side knows that the deadline has passed, you will be unlikely to negotiate a settlement from them because you have lost all power in the case.
Three years may seem like a lot of time, but given settlement negotiations, finding the parties, gathering documents and witness statements, and planning your case, it isn’t much time at all. A truck accident lawyer can help you avoid missing this crucial deadline.
Can I Afford a Lawyer?
Yes, you can afford a lawyer. There are two systems of paying for attorneys in civil litigation. One, known as the English system, says that whoever loses a lawsuit pays everyone’s legal fees and costs. As you might imagine, that slows down the race to the courthouse. On the other hand, we use the American system, which permits contingency fee arrangements.
You only have to pay a contingent fee if your attorney obtains a successful conclusion of your dispute for you. In other words, you only pay attorney’s fees if you win. If you do win, your attorney will receive a percentage of the award or settlement amount.
You and your attorney must sign a written contingency fee arrangement that specifies the percentage the attorney will receive, and if that percentage will change at particular points in the dispute. It must also address expenses, which differ from fees, and whether they will come from the net or gross of the attorney fee percentage.
Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today
As you’ve seen, truck accidents are far more complicated than car accidents. And suing under no-fault auto insurance laws is also complex. At this painful time in your life, contact an experienced and skilled truck accident lawyer. They will be happy to meet with you for a usually no-fee initial consultation and case evaluation.
Let a truck accident lawyer return some of your peace of mind to you today. It is the best step you can take to recover both physically and financially.