According to the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 115,000 truck accidents occur in the U.S. each year, resulting in around 5,000 deaths and 160,000 injuries. The occupants of other motor vehicles, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians incur most deaths and injuries in truck accidents.
Help Navigating the Legal Process
The NSC also noted that the injuries from truck accidents increased by around 5 percent in the past five years and fatalities increased by about 16 percent. Coinciding with these increases are increases in the number of vehicles and an overall increase in truck-involved crashes. More injuries and fatalities mean more people who need the personal injury claims process to obtain compensation for their injuries.
One of the essential qualities a truck accident lawyer can provide to assist you with your claim is experience. Personal injury lawyers (including those who work on truck accident cases) spend many years obtaining the education they need to offer their clients a firm understanding of the legal process.
Once they have passed the bar exam and have obtained their license to practice law, these lawyers generally work on a legal team to gain real-world experience in the circumstances and setbacks that those injured in accidents often face.
The personal injury claims process features two ways that a claimant can potentially recover compensation:
- Settlement. Contrary to the courtroom dramas you see on television or in the movies, about 95 percent of personal injury claims resolve before trial by settlement. The settlement process often begins when your attorney sends a demand to the at-fault party’s insurance provider for the full value of your claim. The insurance provider can accept the claim and pay it in full or deny the claim and notify the claimant of the reason for the denial. However, they can also offer to settle the claim for less than the total value. If this happens, your attorney can negotiate with the insurance provider to get them to increase the offer to an amount that fairly compensates you for your injury or loss.
- Litigation. Most insurance companies will attempt to avoid litigation, as it is time-consuming, expensive, and places the decisions about who is liable and how much compensation they must pay in the hands of a judge or jury. However, it is crucial to understand that there are no guarantees that an insurance company will make a fair offer, even after settlement negotiations, and a lawsuit provides an important option if you cannot reach a fair settlement. The litigation comes with deadlines, court formalities, and specific procedures that your attorney can help you navigate.
Protecting Your Claim from Insurance Company Tactics
Commercial trucks are extremely large vehicles, both in size and weight. The size discrepancy of trucks compared to other vehicles warrants increased liability insurance.
The federal government regulates the trucking industry through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which puts forth rules to protect the public from serious injuries and fatalities. It also requires truckers and trucking companies to carry is enough insurance to compensate accident victims.
The law set the amount of insurance needed by the owners or operators of commercial vehicles in the 1980s. It has not changed.
These required minimum liability insurance amounts include:
- At least $750,000 in liability coverage for trucks carrying non-hazardous property.
- $5 million in liability coverage for trucks carrying dangerous substances.
- $1 million for trucks carrying oil and certain hazardous materials or waste.
- $5 million for trucks carrying material that is considered radioactive.
Because these policies are so large, insurance companies have a vested interest in reducing or eliminating them by shifting liability for the accident to the claimant or others or taking advantage of the claimant’s unfamiliarity with the legal claims process.
Common insurance company tactics to reduce or eliminate claims include:
- Offering a meager settlement early after the injury to a victim that has not yet filed a claim or had the opportunity to speak with an attorney, let alone have the information needed about their injury to determine if the offer is fair or not. Generally, these offers come with a statement that no more compensation is available. The offer can even include a deadline as further pressure for the victim to accept it.
- Asking the claimant to give a recorded statement. While this generally seems like a reasonable request, these statements often are used against the client to show that their answers varied from how they stated the accident occurred at the scene and can even show that the claimant caused the accident.
- Telling the claimant that there are no non-economic damages available for their claim. Non-economic damages refer to compensation you can obtain for the quality-of-life impacts you incurred due to your injury, including pain and suffering or emotional distress. This compensation is an integral part of your claim, and you have a right to seek those damages.
Your truck accident lawyer will help protect your claim from these tactics by managing communication with the at-fault party’s insurance provider.
Properly Valuing Your Claim
Truck accidents can produce the most severe injuries a person can suffer, including catastrophic injuries—such as those affecting the brain or the spinal cord. They can result in permanent disabilities and affect an individual’s ability to earn an income.
Never accept a settlement offer without speaking with an experienced truck accident lawyer first because these settlements often won’t pay for your injury’s expenses and impacts, let alone what you stand to incur as the injury and its complications continue to require treatment.
Settlements are final. If you fail to agree to an amount that fairly compensates your injury, you cannot go back and seek additional compensation in the future. Further, if the insurance provider fails to offer you a fair settlement, you can file your claim in court as a personal injury lawsuit. However, to do so, you must state the amount you’re seeking from the defendant and have the documentation to prove these expenses.
Your attorney will generally wait to establish the value of your claim until you reach maximum medical improvement, which is the point in your treatment when your doctor determines that further progress in your recovery is unlikely, even with continued treatment. This gives your attorney the best opportunity to determine the full impact of your injury from both a financial and a psychological standpoint.
Every truck accident claim will require evidence to both prove the liability of the at-fault party and prove the expenses the claimant incurred because of the at-fault party’s negligence.
The evidence needed to prove a truck accident claim is more extensive than many personal injury claims, mostly due to federal regulations requiring a higher duty of care from truck drivers. Unfortunately, much of the evidence needed is in the hands of the truck driver or the company they work for, making it difficult to obtain without understanding the process of discovery.
An experienced truck accident attorney is well-versed in the proper way to obtain this evidence and knows what to look for.
Depending on your accident, your attorney will want to examine:
- The truck’s black box, which records the truck’s speed, whether the driver braked before the crash, and other issues that could point to the accident’s cause. Since passing regulations requiring drivers to log their hours of service electronically, all commercial trucks now come with these devices
- Your attorney can use the information gathered from the electronic logging device to show a truck driver’s potential violation of hours of service regulations, which require truck drivers to take regular off-duty brakes to prevent accidents caused by driver fatigue.
- Inspection records. The truck driver must perform a pre-trip inspection to search for issues with the vehicle—such as problems with the tires or brakes—before every trip and provide records to prove they completed this inspection. Additionally, the truck driver (if they own the truck) or the trucking company must also commit to a regular maintenance schedule and retain documentation of all maintenance performed. These are essential documents for your attorney to see if they believe that the accident resulted from a truck maintenance issue.
- Documentation pertaining to the truck driver’s commercial driver’s license and any professional training they obtained to do their job properly, including any policies by the trucking company concerning the driver’s physical fitness to operate the vehicle and results of drug and alcohol screenings performed on a truck driver immediately after an accident. These documents can help build a case in accidents involving fatigue, medical issues, or unqualified drivers.
In addition to this evidence, your attorney will want photos or videos of the accident, eyewitness testimony, and testimony from your doctor about the severity of your injury and your prognosis.
Fighting for You in or out of Court
Hollywood leads people to believe that all legal actions result in courtroom dramas. Most truck accident claims, however, will conclude through negotiated settlements.
Find an attorney with an established track record of obtaining compensation for their clients. A settlement provides both sides with the opportunity to come up with a resolution that all parties can live with. It saves on the costs and time of litigation and helps relieve the burden of the claim on a busy civil court system.
However, because a settlement is such a unique process, your attorney cannot tell you at the start of the claim whether your case will be among the majority settled out of court or whether it will be among the small minority of claims that require litigation. An experienced attorney will address the claim as if it would resolve in the courtroom while simultaneously pursuing a fair settlement.