An accident with a large truck or commercial vehicle can cause severe injuries and significant damage due to the size and weight disparity of the vehicles involved. Such an incident can undoubtedly feel overwhelming.
The legal journey following a truck accident can feel like a maze of complexities filled with pitfalls. The trucking industry is among the most regulated in the country, adding confusion to the already heavy burden of recovering from physical injuries.
A skilled truck accident lawyer can decipher the laws that govern such incidents, guide you through these complexities, and advocate for your rights.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), around 5,000 fatal accidents involve commercial trucks each year, and well over 100,000 accidents result in injury.
When a collision involves a truck and other vehicles, the occupants of those vehicles are significantly more likely to suffer injury or death due to the disparity between the size and weight of their vehicle and that of the truck.
The vast majority of truck accidents are the result of negligent driving practices exhibited by the truck driver or other road users.
Driving practices that can lead to an accident involving a commercial truck include:
- Speeding: Excessive speed is a major cause of all types of motor vehicle accidents. Speed increases the likelihood of a driver losing control of the vehicle, decreases the time they have to notice and respond to a hazard on the road, and increases the distance the vehicle will travel after applying the brakes. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a loaded tractor-trailer requires up to 40 percent more distance to come to a complete stop after the driver brakes, and this distance increases further depending on the truck's speed.
- Distracted driving: Truck drivers can travel hundreds of miles a day, often through uninteresting terrain. They are not immune to the same distractions as other drivers, including texting and other cell phone use, adjusting vehicle controls, eating, drinking, smoking, and daydreaming. All of these activities draw their focus away from the task of safe driving, leading to accidents.
- Failure to yield the right of way: Truck drivers must follow the general rules of the road, including yielding to other vehicles at red lights and stop signs. Like other drivers, those operating commercial vehicles must ensure there is a sufficient gap in traffic as they change lanes. Commercial trucks have large blind spots on all four sides of the vehicle, making it difficult for a driver to see whether a travel lane is clear before merging or turning.
- Impairment by alcohol or drugs: Commercial drivers operating tractor-trailers and other large trucks must obtain a commercial driver's license. Two requirements of this special license are a reduced impairment limit for operating the vehicle after drinking alcohol and submission to regular drug and alcohol screenings. Despite these requirements, some drivers still overindulge, and others fail to realize the impact of common over-the-counter medications on their ability to operate a vehicle.
- Drowsy driving: The FMCSA explains that fatigue results from physical or mental exertion that can impair a driver's ability to operate a vehicle safely. Thirteen percent of all truck drivers involved in accidents reported feeling tired at the time of the crash.
These are just a few of the many causes of truck collisions. After a truck accident, an experienced personal injury lawyer can investigate your case to determine how the accident occurred and who you can hold liable for causing it.
An Accident With a Commercial Truck Can Affect All Parts of Your Life
Trucks are much larger and heavier than the average passenger vehicle, which can result in more severe damage and injuries in the event of an accident. These are not simple fender-benders. They can involve multiple vehicles, high speeds, and—due to the nature of trucks—sometimes hazardous materials.
Some injuries commonly sustained in truck accidents include traumatic brain injuries, damage to the spine and spinal cord, traumatic limb amputations, broken bones, burns incurred from contact with superheated metal, flames, or caustic chemicals during the crash, internal injuries, and severe lacerations.
Seeking medical treatment for injuries sustained in a truck accident can be a financially devastating proposition. A study from ValuePenguin revealed that the average cost of hospitalization is more than $2,800 a day, and the average duration of a hospital stay is 4.6 days.
Using these figures, a person earning $26.22 per hour would have to work more than 500 hours to pay the bill in full. These costs do not include additional expenses related to medical treatment, such as diagnostic tests, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and follow-up care. The reality that many people are too injured to work after an accident further compounds the problem. Some injuries are permanent, resulting in lost earning capacity for the duration of the sufferer's working years.
The Process of Seeking Compensation for the Harm Caused by a Negligent Truck Driver
Broadly speaking, after a truck accident that party caused, you may seek compensation for your injuries, damages, and any other losses incurred. You could achieve this through an insurance claim or, in certain cases, a personal injury lawsuit. The specifics of your case, however, will ultimately dictate the best course of action.
Legal issues that arise from truck accidents can be intricate and multifaceted. Determining liability, for instance, can be complex due to the multiple parties involved. These could include the truck driver, trucking company, vehicle manufacturer, or other road users.
The nature and severity of your injuries often call for detailed analyses and negotiations over medical costs, loss of earnings, and other damages. Addressing these issues requires a good understanding of the law and how it applies to your specific circumstances.
Considering the complexity of your case, your lawyer can provide invaluable guidance in navigating these legal issues. They can determine potential parties at fault, assist in understanding the extent of your claim, and represent your interests in discussions with the insurance company.
A lawyer can dissect the specifics of your case and consider every aspect of your ordeal. They can lessen the legal burden, allowing you to focus on healing and recovery.
This evidence includes:
- Data from the truck's black box, including information about the truck's speed at the time of the accident and whether the driver applied the brakes.
- The driver's electronic logbook, which demonstrates they comply with the FMCSA's hours of service regulations that are in place to reduce incidences of drowsy driving by requiring drivers to take regular breaks and only work a certain amount of hours in a daily or weekly period.
- Footage from the truck's in-cab camera that can reveal driver distraction, drowsiness, or other risky behaviors.
- The results of drug and alcohol testing that the driver had to submit to after the accident.
- The driver's personnel records, including their driving history, training, and proof of their commercial motor vehicle qualifications.
This unique evidence grows more difficult to obtain as time passes, particularly the black box, logbook, and in-cab camera footage. A truck accident lawyer can seek action through the court to preserve this information for your claim.
Determining Liability in a Truck Accident Case
You must prove liability in a successful truck accident claim.
To prove liability, your lawyer must produce evidence and documentation to show:
- The at-fault driver had a duty to take reasonable actions to avoid harming others while operating a vehicle on a public roadway. For truck drivers, this duty includes a license to operate a well-maintained vehicle while following state traffic laws. Other requirements include ensuring that they are physically able to handle the rigors of the job and submitting to regular physical exams and drug screenings.
- The driver breached their duty of care. The breach refers to actions the driver took that were contrary to the notion of protecting others from harm.
- This breach resulted in an accident that caused property damage and/or physical injuries.
In addition to providing liability, your lawyer should provide the necessary documentation to justify the claim's value.
How Insurance Companies Make It Difficult to Obtain the Compensation You Need
Insurance companies are in the business of selling premiums, not paying out on claims made as a result of their insured's liability. While they have a legal obligation to resolve claims, they often seek to limit the payout amount. They try to protect their own financial interests by exploiting a claimant's lack of legal knowledge as they attempt to navigate the process without a lawyer.
Even with an attorney representing the case, insurers will regularly dispute liability or the claim's value, requiring the lawyer to leverage their experience and legal understanding to affect a successful outcome for their client.
When an insurance company receives a claim pertaining to injuries from a truck accident, it can either accept or deny the claim or make an offer to settle out-of-court for less than its established value. It is impossible to know how the insurance company will handle the claim, so it is important to have an attorney working on the case who has experience in negotiating settlements and litigation.
How Long You Have to File a Truck Accident Claim
The time you have to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for injuries sustained in a truck accident depends on the state where the incident took place. All states have a statute of limitations for personal injury claims. The clock usually begins ticking on this timeline as soon as the accident occurs, and the deadline is generally one to five years later, depending on the state where the accident occurred. Some circumstances allow you to toll (extend) a statute of limitations.
In most cases, however, if you fail to file a lawsuit before this deadline passes, you cannot use the civil court system as you pursue compensation for your injuries. Also, there is no obligation for the insurance company to resolve the claim.
Your personal injury law firm is aware of this timeline and can manage your case to meet this important deadline. This keeps your option for filing a lawsuit open if the at-fault party's insurance company fails to offer a fair settlement on the claim.