What should I do if I get injured in a trucking accident?
Personal injuries and deaths related to commercial trucking accidents are becoming more commonplace across the United States. Considering most vehicles involved in semi-truck accidents are much smaller than an 18-wheeler or other big truck, it’s no surprise most personal injuries and deaths occur with the occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles.
Adding to the problem is commercial truck drivers have a financial incentive for traveling long distances as quickly as possible. Even with federal laws in place to limit the amount of time behind the wheel, these incentives lure truck drivers into behaviors which increase the chances of having a trucking accident—and your chances for being involved in an accident with a big rig.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety & Highway Loss Data Institute, about 1 in 10 highway deaths occurs in a crash involving a semi-truck. A total of 4,102 people died in large truck crashes in 2017. Seventeen percent of these deaths were truck occupants, 68 percent were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles, and 14 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.
What should I do if I’ve been in an accident with an 18-wheeler truck?
Here are the most important things you should do immediately if you’re involved in an accident with a commercial truck. One of the most important things to keep in mind at this stage is you shouldn’t discuss blame, intentions, or anything else regarding the accident not required by law enforcement until you speak with a trucking law professional.
Get medical help (obviously)
Always seek medical attention for not only yourself but for the truck driver and any passengers from either vehicle if you're able. Nothing is more important than the well-being of everyone involved, so don’t worry about who’s at fault, what you’re going to do about your car, and other things until everyone is safe and stable. Remember to document any medical attention you receive at the accident site and all future medical attention related to your case.
Contact law enforcement
When you’re involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer, the role of law enforcement will play an even more important part in your situation than normal. The extent of damages will most likely be greater because of the large size of trucks so even if there are no obvious injuries, you’ll want a law enforcement officer to assess the damages on site.
While law enforcement is adept at documenting evidence and interviewing witnesses, if you are able to, it’s best to notate everything you can, whether you are considering potential compensation or not. You most likely will have a smartphone with you, so take advantage of this technology for taking notes and especially for recording photographic evidence. Make a point to get a copy of the police report as soon as it’s available to add to your documentation.
Notify your insurance company
If possible, it’s best to contact your insurance carrier right away–preferably from the site of the accident. You can bet the truck driver and other responsible parties’ insurance companies will be on the case quickly, and their goal is to minimize their responsibility, especially financially. Your goal should be to document the things you’ll need so your insurance company and truck accident attorney can counteract, and to ensure you get the compensation you deserve with a settlement offer or lawsuit.
How will my tractor-trailer accident and injuries be evaluated?
After an accident with an 18-wheeler or commercial truck, you may be wondering if you have a legitimate claim for seeking compensation for injuries and other losses. Although there is no way to determine the validity of your case until you meet with a truck accident attorney, there are some common factors that play a role in an accident lawsuit.
Medical expenses for personal injuries
When you're considering legal action in a commercial truck accident, one of the most significant factors is the degree of personal injuries and the resulting medical care. Often times in a truck accident, injuries can be severe. When evaluating injuries for a big rig accident claim, an experienced trucking law attorney will consider your immediate personal injuries and the potential for ongoing medical care and possible long-term disabilities. All these factors will play a big part in determining any settlement amounts.
There are many other factors related to your personal injuries that will be taken into account, from pain and suffering to permanent losses. Loss of limbs, motor function, and many other injury-related factors each play a part in determining settlement amounts. It takes a knowledgeable and experienced truck accident lawyer to be able to put all these factors together and determine the best way to present your case for the most favorable settlement.
Lost wages, present and future
Because tractor-trailer accidents can often cause severe personal injury, there is the possibility that you will be out of work. Any lost wages that are due to personal injury from a trucking accident, your employer will need to present documentation of the normal hours that you worked, the wages associated with your work, and how much time you had to miss due to your injury. This documentation along with the amount of time you lost at work, and your salary, will determine the amount of compensation you receive for this part of your case.
Your truck accident lawyer will determine if the trucking company can be held liable for their employees' negligence if the employee was engaged in work-related activities when the accident occurred. This liability will be in addition to the liability of the truck driver. It's not uncommon in trucking accidents for a trucking company and their insurance company to place total blame on the truck driver, claiming that they are independent contractors. While in some cases this may be true, trucking companies can be held liable for the driver's actions if they lease a truck or placard to the driver. These are the nuances of determining liability that an experienced trucking law attorney can navigate for you. Determining liability alone is just the start, though.
What is the general process of handling a commercial truck accident case?
As all cases are different, so it is impossible to give an exact step-by-step explanation of how your particular accident claim will be handled. But there are some general actions your trucking law attorney will pursue when putting together your case.
It is crucial that immediately after an accident you reach out to an experienced trucking accident lawyer who can launch an investigation to begin preparing for your case. You can be sure that the insurance company representing the trucking company and truck driver will be doing the same. They will be investigating to gather evidence that can be used during their defense and you need to level the playing field. Your attorney can preserve evidence that may otherwise be lost such as data from an electronic onboard recorder. They will also send a spoliation letter to the trucking company and its lawyer to give them notice about the claim being made and preserving certain pieces of evidence.
Once your official lawsuit has been filed, your attorney will begin the process of discovery. The premise of the discovery process is for both sides to share information before going to trial. Discovery ensures your accident claim can proceed smoothly, without parties requiring further information from each other and delaying the process. Your truck accident lawyer will be asking for information that will be critical for building your case and responding to their inquiries as well. The discovery process may include interrogations and depositions of any witnesses to your 18-wheeler accident, as well as the consulting of accident and injury experts.
In commercial trucking accidents, it's likely that parties involved in your case will agree to mediation. Mediating a dispute may provide a valuable alternative to a trial, or at least be a viable first option before resorting to litigation. This is a process outside of court where both parties and lawyers will participate in a meeting conducted by a neutral third party called a mediator. Successfully mediating your commercial truck accident case is typically quicker, less expensive and can often result in a better outcome for both parties as opposed to going to trial with a lawsuit.
If your trucking law attorney is unable to reach a satisfactory settlement through mediation, the next step is to take the lawsuit to trial. A personal injury trial can be complicated, and the presentation of all the evidence can be pretty in-depth. But there are some common elements you can expect.
Your personal injury trial will likely consist of six main phases:
- Choosing a Jury
- Opening Statements
- Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instruction
- Jury Deliberation and Verdict
Most states require that a 12-person jury in a personal injury case unanimously find for the plaintiff or the defendant, although some states allow for verdicts based on a majority as low as 9 to 3. If the jury fails to reach a unanimous or majority verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial after which the case may be dismissed, or the trial may start over again from the jury selection stage.
How long should my personal injury case take?
There is no reliable estimate regarding how long a commercial trucking accident case may take from beginning to end, as it depends on the specific circumstances of your case. The time needed to resolve your case could be a few months, a year, or longer. Ongoing medical care, the potential for permanent disability and other factors can drag a case out for some time. Even if your case doesn't go to trial, there is still a considerable amount of time needed for investigation and negotiations.
If your case does end up in court, this could add months or more, as the trial itself and any potential appeals could require extensive time. Your truck accident attorney understands that your particular accident case may take a long time to resolve and they will be prepared to represent you until they have done all they can to get you your rightful compensation.
How much is my commercial truck accident case worth?
The compensation you receive from your semi-truck accident case is determined by the financial and non-financial losses related to any damages that were involved. This includes economic damages such as past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages and any other losses or potential losses. Potential losses and damages also include non-economic factors, such as your pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, as well as punitive damages. The potential amount of compensation will be unique to your case, and your trucking law attorney will do everything possible to ensure the value of your claim will be maximized for the largest settlement.
While determining the value of your claim is a complicated and lengthy process, there are some precedents that will give you a ballpark idea of claim values:
Broken bones not requiring surgery
These cases typically range in value from $50,000 to $150,000. The variance in value depends on which bones were broken, how many bones were broken and the potential for long-term negative impact. A broken rib doesn’t require significant medical care and typically won't cause ongoing disabilities, so an injury like this would usually be on the low end. A broken leg could result in substantially higher compensation because this type of injury can severely disrupt your quality of life now and in the future.
Broken bones requiring surgery
These cases typically are valued in the multi-six figure range. Naturally, if the surgery is minimally invasive or is an inexpensive surgery with low recuperation time, then the value of the case may be significantly less. If for instance, the injured party has sustained numerous broken bones including compound fractures necessitating multiple surgeries the value of the case could approach seven figures.
Back or neck injuries requiring surgery
These types of injuries are typically valued in the multiple six-figure ranges, but can also be multi-million-dollar cases if you become paralyzed or have a permanent disability. The seriousness of these injuries and the increased potential for long-term issues can significantly impact your life, so your truck accident lawyer will work diligently to get you the compensation you deserve.
Brain injuries can range from short-term cognitive problems to long-term disabilities. Even minor brain injuries can result in jury verdicts into the seven-figure range, and catastrophic brain injuries can result in jury verdicts of millions of dollars.
It's not uncommon for juries to award millions of dollars in wrongful death cases involving commercial trucks. The amount of the award in these types of cases will depend on a variety of factors, from the salary of the victim to the surviving members of their family and the financial support they've lost.
Again, these figures are based on precedents from other personal injury cases and may not be typical of your specific situation.
How can a truck accident lawyer help me with my personal injuries?
More often than not, if you suffer personal injury as the result of an accident with a big rig, you’re going to need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. A truck accident lawyer will be the one person you can be assured has your best interests at heart. Considering your insurance company, and certainly the truck driver's insurance provider, will be handling your accident with a semi-truck in a way which benefits them the most, having someone who is an expert in personal injuries and truck accidents on your side is indispensable.
Dealing with powerful insurance companies that have corporate legal teams on retainer is not something you want to handle on your own. These company attorneys know all about how to resolve cases and claims which result in a positive outcome for their clients and your truck accident attorney will do the same for you. An experienced personal injury lawyer has handled many cases comparable to your case, so they know what to expect from how insurance companies protect their assets to how the courts will view your case.
A truck accident lawyer will guide you through the entire process of your case and correspond with insurance companies and other parties involved on your behalf. They will help you make the big decisions like when to accept a claim offer and when to file suit. Your personal injury lawyer will assist you with all aspects of your accident claim with the ultimate goal of securing a fair amount of compensation for any personal injuries, loss of income, loss of property, and other losses. Your attorney will not only help you get the compensation you deserve currently, but will also make sure you are protected from future losses that may result from your accident.
Trucking law attorneys will review any notes, photographs, or other evidence you have compiled along with the official police report. Then they will use technology, professional experience, and other tools to examine your accident and gather more information and evidence to prepare a case for you that will have the best chance of success.
In the end, your personal injury lawyer will fight for everything you rightfully deserve.