Truck accidents are, no doubt about it, some of the most devastating motor vehicle accidents you are likely to encounter. If nothing else, the average commercial truck is somewhere between 20 and 40 times as heavy as any passenger vehicle it hits. Think about the advantage that weight and mass difference gives the truck driver.
In a no-fault state, your basic economic loss, including medical treatment, will be paid by your own carrier.
If you suffered a serious injury, you may also qualify to sue for pain and suffering and other non-economic injuries. You can only seek this compensation if you have suffered severe injury. We discuss this at greater length below.
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Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents happen for a lot of reasons, but some of the more typical ones are:
- Distracted driving (talking on a cell phone, texting, eating, etc.),
- Speeding or breaking other traffic laws,
- Fatigue or falling asleep at the wheel,
- Poor vehicle maintenance,
- Poor loading.
- Driving under the influence.
- Bad weather or road conditions.
- Pressure to drive unsafely to meet deadlines.
- Poor training.
Any of these may have contributed to your accident. Any one of these may also increase the pool of those who might be liable for the accident.
Truck Industry Regulation
Driving a commercial truck presents hazards to others on the road. Consequently, the government places a heavy regulatory burden on the trucking industry. Most states have rules and regulations in addition to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). Individual municipalities may also have laws and regulations for commercial trucks. The state generally follows the federal rules.
For example, under FMCSA regulations, truck drivers generally may not drive more than 11 hours in a shift after taking at least ten consecutive hours off duty. If they drive for eight cumulative hours, they must also take a 30-minute break. In addition, truck drivers must keep an accurate logbook of their time, including all hours driven and all the breaks they took. These rules combat fatigue, which can lead to accidents.
States have similar regulations to the FMCSA. In addition, truckers are subject to particular driver’s license rules and other rules. Truck accidents nationally have increased by 50 percent since 2009. More than 100,000 people suffer injuries in truck accidents annually, and about 5000 of them die.
Lawsuit Process – Getting Ready
Filing a lawsuit is a process. Yes, there is a point at which you don’t have a lawsuit and one when you do, but it remains a movie, not a snapshot. The following walks you through the steps of that process.
Statute of Limitations
First, you have to know if you’re filing on time. If you suffered an injury in an accident, you should consult an attorney and start the claims process as soon as possible. For example, under New York’s statute of limitations, you only have three years from the date of an accident to file a lawsuit. Additionally, there are many circumstances where your time could be much shorter. Once the statute of limitations has lapsed, the court will dismiss your case if you try to file a lawsuit unless a rare exception applies. It doesn’t matter how strong your case might have been.
While three years may seem like lots of time, you should not procrastinate. Negotiating directly with insurance companies to get compensation will also take far longer than you expect and may delay starting any litigation. The trucking company and its insurance may even purposefully drag this process out.
The sooner you act, the better your case. The trucking company and its representatives will gather evidence and build their case. You must do that too.
You also have to file any no-fault claim with your insurance company within 30 days of the accident. Your attorney can handle meeting all deadlines, which is a good reason you should have one.
Valuing Your Case
Valuing a legal case isn’t easy or exact. The amount of compensation you might receive depends on your specific injuries and how they impact you. But properly valuing a case requires that you get to “maximum medical improvement.” In other words, you have to recover as much as you’re going to.
Some injuries will have long-term or lifelong effects, such as pain, disfigurement, or disability. Others may require ongoing treatment. You can only value your case if you can establish these costs accurately and any effects the injuries will have on you.
Working with various experts, your attorney will estimate the appropriate amount to seek in your case. Based on this number, your attorney can advise you about any settlement offers you receive.
Your damages can fall into three categories:
- Economic damages include compensation for out-of-pocket losses. Such losses may consist of past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and other paid expenses.
- Non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering, diminished quality of life, disfigurement, disability, and impairment. Other damages may include loss of companionship and other benefits of a family relationship lost due to your injuries. These damages are subjective and more difficult to calculate.
- Courts only award punitive damages in extreme cases involving reckless or willful conduct. They do not compensate the victim but punish the at-fault party and deter others. Some states like New York don’t limit damages.
Identifying responsible parties
Truck accidents are often more complex than those involving passenger vehicles because you might hold many potential defendants liable.
For example, a trucking company can be indirectly liable for an employee truck driver’s negligent conduct. In addition, if a trucking company is subject to FMCSA regulations that no longer distinguish between “employee” and “independent contractor” drivers, the company may always be liable. A trucking company can also be directly liable for in cases such as negligent hiring, training, supervising, or maintenance.
Multiple defendants can complicate your case quickly.
Depending on what caused your accident, other potential defendants might include:
- The truck owner
- The loaders
- The cargo owner
- The manufacturer of the truck or its parts
- The designer of the truck or its parts
- The maintenance company
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Elements of personal injury claim
To win a truck accident lawsuit, you have to prove four “elements” of your claim:
First, you have to prove that the defendant had a duty to you. All drivers have a duty to others on the road to drive safely and obey traffic laws. Trucking companies also must carefully hire and train their drivers and maintain their vehicles.
Once you’ve proven there was a duty, you have to show that someone breached their duty of care. The critical question is whether the at-fault party did something they shouldn’t have or failed to do something they should have done.
A breach of duty isn’t enough. You must show that you wouldn’t have received your injury if it weren’t for the defendants’ act or failure to act.
Finally, you must establish the damages you suffered due to the defendant’s breach of duty. The compensation you seek may include medical bills and lost wages. You may also seek pain and suffering. In rare cases, the court may also award punitive damages.
Filing Complaint and Serving
The Complaint lays out the facts supporting each element of your claim, including the defendant’s acts, your injuries, and the compensation you’re seeking. Your attorney prepares and files the Complaint on your behalf, officially beginning your lawsuit. You must also deliver a copy of the Complaint to the defendant and an official notice of the suit called a Summons.
Answer and Counterclaims
Once the defendant receives the Complaint, they have to file an official Answer. In their Answer, they must admit or deny every allegation in the Complaint and make any counterclaims or defenses. If they don’t deny a claim, the law says they have admitted it.
After filing the Complaint and Answer, the parties engage in discovery. This process exchanges information through questions under oath, testimony under oath, and document production. It narrows down the issues in your case. Often, the discovery makes the likely winner or loser so clear that a settlement occurs.
If the parties don’t settle during discovery, the case will proceed to trial. However, the parties can still settle any time before the case goes to the jury. As the trial progresses, liability will continue to be made clear.
Qualifying to Sue for Pain and Suffering
Some states are no-fault auto insurance states, so people injured in truck accidents are covered for medical bills and expenses up to the amount of their Personal Insurance Protection policies without having to bring a lawsuit or prove who was at fault. However, you can seek compensation for pain and suffering if you meet the legal rules set by state insurance law.
To recover money for pain and suffering after a car crash, you must first prove that your injuries are serious. Your truck accident attorneys can determine this issue for you.
Under the law, a serious injury results in:
- Significant disfigurement
- A fracture
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system
- Permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member
- A significant limitation of use of a bodily function or system; or
- A medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature that prevents you from performing substantially all of the material acts that constitute your usual and customary daily activities for not less than 90 days during the 180 days immediately following the injury or impairment.
Settlements and mediation
Your attorney will continue to negotiate with the other side throughout the lawsuit process, attempting to settle the case out of court.
The parties can settle through direct negotiation or choose mediation. Mediation is a process where a neutral third-party mediator helps plaintiffs and defendants settle their cases. Mediators have usually retired from being judges, lawyers, or other court personnel.
Both sides in a lawsuit usually prefer to settle because it helps avoid the lengthy, expensive, and uncertain trial process. But defendants always try to pay out as little as possible, and sometimes they may not offer a fair settlement, especially early in the process.
Never rush settlement negotiations. Your attorney can be a great help in guiding you away from an inadequate settlement.
Never accept a settlement offer until you consult an attorney. You need a skilled negotiator on your side to get the best possible outcome. Your attorney will review all the evidence and engage the right experts to confirm a fair value for your case. If you can’t reach a fair settlement, your attorney should be prepared and willing to go to trial.
Personal injury laws are complicated, and making mistakes can be costly as insurance companies are out to pay out as little as they can. There are many deadlines to file for no-fault and other documents, and the statute of limitations to keep in mind.
If you or a loved one were in a truck crash and suffered significant damage or severe injuries, or you lost a loved one to a truck accident, an attorney can fight for a fair settlement to cover your pain and suffering.
Making mistakes in these cases can be costly because they make it easy for an insurance company to lowball your offer. Contact a truck accident lawyer to help.