Accidents involving trucks and cars are generally bad for the car and its occupants. The average passenger car weighs no more than 4,000 pounds, while a fully loaded big rig truck can exceed 80,000 pounds. That twenty-fold differential means the accident will go badly for the car even if all other things are equal.
Truck accidents are complicated, with often severe injuries and complex chains of liability. Big rig truck accidents in a collision with a passenger vehicle will result in death in three out of four cases. Nearly one-third of all fatal crashes involve trucks. Most of these injuries and fatalities happen to occupants of the struck passenger vehicle.
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All too often, you will see lists of tasks to complete at the scene of an accident.
Mainly, you can undertake the steps listed here after you leave the scene, depending on how severe your condition is after the collision. But it is best if you took some of these steps as soon as practicable after the accident. Timing is entirely dependent on your physical and mental condition. No one expects you to walk around seriously injured, conducting interviews and taking photos of the accident scene.
Call the police
Usually, you will make this call to 911 – don’t leave the scene of the accident until the officers arrive and release you. Many state laws require contacting the police after injury, death, or property damage over $1,000.
Seek medical attention
If the accident is severe, the officers at the scene are likely to summon emergency medical personnel. It’s best to accept whatever medical care the officers offer you at the scene. If no medical personnel come to the location, you should personally seek medical care as soon as possible after the accident. Follow whatever instructions your doctors give you, and be sure to complete any treatment given.
Truck accidents often result in severe and life-threatening injuries, particularly for the occupants of a passenger vehicle struck by a large commercial truck. Your injuries may not be immediately apparent. Some, such as internal bleeding or traumatic brain injury, can take time to manifest but are also highly dangerous. By seeking immediate medical help, you reduce the risk of worsening or missed injuries that become more serious. Make sure to request all available documentation from the healthcare facility before leaving.
If you can take pictures with your phone, try to document as much of the scene as possible. Don’t forget to include any damage to all the vehicles, skid marks, license plates, and anything else you think might be relevant.
Anything you can collect at the scene will preserve details and prevent disputes later. If you aren’t physically capable of doing so, try to get someone to help you.
Again, if you are well enough, exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver(s) involved. If possible, you’ll also want to get contact information for any potential witnesses.
Remember that the officers at the scene are probably getting witness statements, statements from the parties (including you), sketches of the scene, and contact information for the police report. The report may include the officer’s opinion about who was at fault and a notation of any citations issued at the scene.
You or your attorney should get a copy of the accident report containing this information at some point after the accident.
The law requires that you exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver(s) in an accident. If you can, ask the truck driver for their name, insurance information, address, name of the trucking company, and the number of the truck.
Confirm the Employment Status of the Truck Driver
Trucking companies are liable for the negligent actions of their employees, including their drivers. Once you can prove that the trucking company employed the driver, you will have access to the significant insurance limits of the company. The law deems most truck drivers holding CDL licenses employees of the trucking company, even if they lease their trucks.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Most policies (and state laws) require you to report accidents within a certain time. File whatever reports and forms your insurance company expects from you. If they instruct you to do so, get an appraisal; they may specify a vendor for this purpose.
You may wish to get help from an attorney in filing your claim. Assistance from an attorney can determine the success or failure of your claim.
File Required Accident Reports
Many states require that you file an accident report within ten days of the accident if any individual’s property sustained damage of more than $1,000. You must also report within ten days if someone was injured or killed in the accident. If you fail to timely file your report, the state may suspend your driver’s license.
If the accident only involved property damage, you must exchange license, insurance, and registration information with the involved drivers and file the Report of Motor Vehicle Account (MV-104)
If someone suffered injuries or died, you must immediately notify the police and file the MV-104.
If a parked vehicle or other property was damaged or a domestic animal was injured, you must locate the owner or contact the police.
Remember, it is a crime under state laws to leave the scene of an accident that involves an injury or death.
You should also be aware that states like New York have a DMV Accident Reexamination Program. If you have been in three or more reportable accidents within 18 months, the DMV may contact you to come in for an interview and possible eye, written, or road tests. Reportable accidents cause death or injury or damage over $1,000 to the property of one person.
Don’t Talk or Post About Your Accident.
Remember, the insurance company can use anything you say against you later. Don’t apologize; don’t post on social media; don’t say anything you don’t have to say. Your Facebook posts can come back to haunt you.
Never talk to the other driver’s insurance company—let your lawyer do that for you. You are generally not required to make a recorded statement with the other side’s insurance company and certainly should not do so without consulting your attorney first.
Don’t Accept the First Settlement Offer.
The trucking company will likely have lawyers, and its insurance company will definitely have lawyers skilled in aggressive defensive tactics. They may try to focus blame on you and will undoubtedly try to pressure you into accepting a quick, lowball settlement.
Insurance companies are profit-making entities. They make money by taking in more money in premiums than they pay out in benefits. Thus, their attorneys and claims adjusters are under tremendous pressure to settle every case as cheaply as possible. They know that if you suffered injuries in the accident, you probably have a lot more money going out than coming in and will try to take advantage of that financial pressure.
If the insurance company continues to make unreasonable settlement offers or refuses to discuss a settlement, you may need to file a lawsuit. This possibility is one reason retaining an attorney is a good idea. Once you have an attorney, the insurance company knows that litigation is possible. This will factor into the settlement offers they make.
Contact a Truck Accident Attorney
In any kind of accident, you will get the best service from an attorney experienced in cases like yours. So, you will want to seek out a skilled truck accident attorney. The earlier in the process you retain counsel, the better off you will be. Your knowledgeable truck accident attorney can review the police report and work with investigators and experts to help decide who is liable.
The truck accident attorney you retain can also perform many already mentioned tasks. They can work with the police to obtain accident reports. They can also file any necessary reports with the state and the formal claim with your insurance company. In all of these documents, the attorney will understand what language to use and how to present your case in the best light.
Your attorney will also take on the task of dealing with the trucking company’s lawyers and the insurance company. At a time when your mental and physical health is at a low ebb, you are not the best one to be trying to negotiate with them or fend off their aggressive moves. Your attorney will have a great deal of experience handling these tactics and can relieve you of the burden of doing so.
After investigating your accident and identifying potentially liable parties, your attorney will draft a demand letter to each insurance company.
The letter will include:
- A list of your injuries and property damage.
- Your possible causes of action.
- The amount you will be willing to settle for.
Each insurance company may accept your offer, deny it, or make a counteroffer.
Can I Afford an Attorney?
The short answer is yes, you can. The American legal system allows lawyers to take certain cases on a contingency basis. Under a contingency fee agreement, you will pay no legal fees unless your case ends up in your favor. Resolved in your favor means that you either won your case in court or settled the case in a satisfactory amount. At that point, you will pay your attorney’s fees with a percentage of your award.
The American Bar Association has created ethical standards that protect individuals from being unfairly treated in contingency fee agreements. Your agreement must be in writing and may not require an unreasonable fee or unreasonable payments for expenses.
The agreement must also state expressly how both parties will manage payment for expenses and costs in your case. It may also provide for different percentages depending on the stage of your case when you get a settlement or award.
Virtually all truck accident lawyers will provide an initial consultation and case evaluation at no cost to you. This step is essential for various reasons. First, the attorney can give you a realistic assessment of your likelihood of success in your case and some prediction of the range of recovery you might expect.
This meeting also allows you to question the attorney and determine whether they are someone you will be comfortable working with for the life of your case. You will want to know about the attorney’s credentials and experience in cases like yours and whether their offices have sufficient staff to handle your case well.
You can ask friends and family for referrals to attorneys. If that doesn’t work, often your local city, county, or state bar association can make suggestions for attorneys in the field you need who practice near you.
Let Someone Else Carry the Burden
While you can choose to represent yourself in an injury claim, it is seldom ever a good idea to do so. The insurance company has legions of adjusters and lawyers whose job is to pay out as little as possible.
Suppose you or a loved one have suffered injuries in an accident involving a large commercial truck. In that case, you are probably at a point in life where fighting with insurance company lawyers and claims adjusters is not what you want to do.
You should concentrate on your physical and mental well-being and let an experienced warrior in the insurance battles handle your claim. Contact a skilled and experienced commercial truck accident attorney who will handle your case for you and seek the total compensation you deserve. Never wait to protect your rights today.