We see them all the time on highways as well as local roads: Large commercial vehicles transporting goods and people from one part of the country to another. Our economy would be significantly impacted if there were no semis or tractor-trailers to deliver products like cars, food, and other goods from the manufacturer or producer to the consumer. Likewise, our ability to travel would also be impacted if commercial busses were not available to provide a cheap alternative to air travel or travel using a private vehicle. As much as large commercial vehicles can help us, they can also hurt us. When a large commercial truck or vehicle collides with a passenger car or other person using the roadway, the results are oftentimes deadly.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2013:
- Nearly 4,000 individuals were killed and 95,000 people were injured in truck accidents in the United States;
- Seventy-one percent of people killed in truck accidents were occupants of vehicles other than the truck (17 percent were occupants of the truck and 11 percent of those killed were not occupying any vehicle when they were killed);
- The most common type of collision was a “head-on” collision in which the front of the truck struck the front of the other vehicle. This type of collision accounted for over 60 percent of all large truck crashes;
- There were over 10.5 million large trucks registered in the United States.
The victims and families of truck accident injury victims often experience significant financial hardship in the wake of a truck accident. Medical bills pile up as the injury victim may require several surgeries and/or prolonged hospitalization in order to fully recover. If the truck accident victim has died, the grief of the surviving family members may be profoundly compounded by funeral costs, burial costs, and the loss of that person’s income. The accident injury attorneys at Stern Law, PLLC understands the devastating impact that a truck accident can have and stands ready to help victims and their families hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.
Proving Your Truck Accident Lawsuit
In order to prevail in court in a truck accident lawsuit, you must generally prove two propositions:
- First, that the truck driver engaged in negligent or reckless behavior.
- Secondly, you must establish that the truck driver’s negligent or reckless behavior caused your crash and resulting injuries.
More particularly, this means:
- Negligence: Negligence is sometimes used synonymously with carelessness. Recklessness refers to a state of mind that is something more than mere carelessness but something less than intentional conduct. The injury victim seeking compensation must prove the truck driver behaved in a negligent or reckless manner in order to prevail in his or her case. In other words, the injury victim must show that a reasonable person in the position of the truck driver would not have behaved or operated the truck in the way in which the truck driver behaved or operated his or her truck. Violating well-established and clear traffic laws, driving with an insufficient amount of sleep, driving while intoxicated, driving while distracted, and operating a truck with known mechanical problems are all examples of negligent behavior. Like any legal proposition, you must prove negligence using evidence and testimony of individuals who have knowledge about the negligent behavior.
- Causation: Even if the truck driver behaved in a careless or reckless manner, the injury victim is not entitled to compensation unless this behavior caused the accident and the victim’s injuries. For example, a truck driver cannot be held liable for the injuries of a motorist who crashed into the rear of a truck because he or she was texting while driving, even if the truck driver was eating a sandwich while driving. Sometimes causation can be easy to prove: An eyewitness can testify that he or she saw the truck go through an intersection without stopping for a red light and slamming into a car. In other cases (such as where there are no eyewitnesses available), expert witnesses may be needed to show causation.
Depending on the state in which the accident occurs, injury victims pursuing compensation may also need to be prepared to address what role (if any) their own negligent behavior played in causing the accident. Some jurisdictions will reduce the amount of compensation a truck accident injury victim receives in proportion to the amount of fault attributable to the victim. For example, if a victim is entitled to $100,000 in compensation but the victim is determined to be 25 percent at fault in causing the crash, the victim would only receive $75,000. In other jurisdictions, any fault on the part of the injury victim can operate to completely preclude the injury victim from obtaining compensation whatsoever.
Steps in a Truck Accident Case
Although no two truck accident cases are exactly alike, truck accident cases do generally follow the same progression of events. After a truck accident has occurred and you have filed your truck accident lawsuit, you can expect your case to proceed through the following phases:
- Initial pleadings and responses: In your first legal document, you will set out the basis for your request for compensation and identify the amount of damages (or money) you are seeking. Your pleading must generally set forth enough facts so that the other party – the truck driver, his or her employer, and/or other persons or entities – can defend themselves against your claim. Once your initial pleading is filed, the other party or parties from whom you are seeking compensation will file a responsive pleading with the court. In this document, they will generally deny that they are responsible for your injuries. If they believe they have any cause of action against you – if the truck driver was injured and they believe you are responsible, for instance – they will usually include such claims, too.
- Defenses: Once the pleadings have been filed and (in some cases) before any responsive pleadings have been filed, one or both parties may ask the court to render a verdict in their favor if it is clear that one party is entitled to this. For example, if an injury victim files his or her lawsuit beyond a certain time limit, the other party may bring this to the court’s attention and that party would be entitled to have the lawsuit dismissed. Some of these defenses must be raised at the outset of the lawsuit or else the party who would otherwise be entitled to raise the defense will be considered to have “waived” (or given up) that defense.
- Discovery: Discovery is the formal process wherein each party exchanges information in their possession that is pertinent to the case. This means that the truck driver and/or his or her employer may ask for your medical records. You may ask the driver and/or his or her employer for his or her employment record and other information in his or her personnel file. During the discovery phase, individuals like you, the truck driver, your treating physician(s), and/or expert witnesses may be “deposed” – placed under oath and asked questions about the accident. This is usually done as a way of preventing a potential witness from saying one thing about the accident out of court and then attempting to change his or her story in court.
- Pretrial: If the parties have not settled their case, the lawsuit will proceed to the pretrial phase next. In this phase, if it appears from the evidence and testimony obtained during discovery that one party is entitled to a judgment in their favor, that party will file a motion with the court requesting such. If such motion is denied (or if one is not filed), the parties will make preparations for trial by discussing with the court what evidence they anticipate on presenting and any legal challenges they might have to the intended evidence of the other party.
- Trial: At trial, the truck accident injury victim bears the burden of establishing negligence and causation. The victim must prove these elements by a “preponderance of the evidence” – that is, by a sufficient amount of evidence that shows it is more likely than not true that the truck driver acted negligently or recklessly and that this negligent or reckless conduct caused the victim’s injuries. If the other party has any claims against the victim, then the other party must prove these claims using the same standard. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge or jury will render a decision.
- Appeal: If either party is dissatisfied with the resolution of the trial, that party may be able to appeal the judgment rendered by the judge or jury to an appellate court. The appellate court examines the evidence and testimony introduced and trial and decides whether the trial court made any legal errors that impacted the outcome of the trial. If the appellate court finds such errors, the appellate court may order that a new trial be conducted.
Common Challenges in Truck Accident Cases
Unlike car crashes or motorcycle crashes, crashes involving large commercial trucks often involve unique evidence that must be quickly identified and preserved. If this evidence is not quickly preserved through appropriate legal requests, important evidence about how the crash occurred and whether the truck driver’s employer or others knew or should have known about the likelihood of a crash may be irretrievably lost.
Some of this evidence includes:
- The driver’s logbook and medical information: Individuals who drive certain commercial vehicles must pass additional tests and medical exams that other drivers do not. They must also maintain this certification and keep a detailed logbook about the amount of time they spend each day traveling and resting. The results of medical exams and driving exams, along with the driver’s own logbook, can quickly “disappear” after a truck accident has occurred. Even though truck drivers must maintain their logbook and certifications in their vehicle at all times, a driver and/or his employer can easily claim that the certifications and/or logbook in the truck at the time of the crash have been lost. Losing this evidence can be devastating to a case: A logbook, if properly maintained, can tell an injury attorney whether the driver was adhering to federal and state rules regarding how long a driver can operate a truck in a given day. Losing the certifications means that the attorney may have no way of determining whether the driver was actually properly certified to operate the truck at the time of the crash.
- The truck’s “black box”: Like most modern passenger vehicles, most commercial trucks and busses are equipped with a “black box” computer that records certain important information about the truck and its operation just before a crash. This black box can, for example, tell a properly-trained individual the speed of the truck in the moments before the crash, whether the driver applied the brakes before the crash, and other important information that can help engineers and other experts “reconstruct” the crash. Like the driver’s logbook and certification, however, the “black box” can disappear if steps are not taken to properly preserve it for later use. The black box is usually removed quickly from the truck by the truck’s owner, so prompt action is needed.
- Other documents and communications: In some truck accident cases (such as where the driver is employed by a company and is not an independent contractor), determining all of the responsible parties who contributed to a crash may require the injury victim and his or her attorney to obtain internal communications from the driver’s employer. These communications – office memos and e-mails, for instance – can reveal whether the employer knew or should have known that the driver was not capable of safely driving the vehicle. Personnel records from the employer may show any past violations by the driver or any safety concerns that the employer may have had about the driver. This evidence can be crucial to prevailing in cases where there is reason to believe the employer is responsible in some way for the driver’s actions.
Preserving this evidence takes prompt and targeted action. It is not enough for an injury victim to tell the truck driver and his or her employer orally not to get rid of anything pertaining to the crash. What is needed in most cases is a written communication to the truck driver and/or his or her employer identifying what evidence the victim believes is in the possession of the driver and/or his or her employer coupled with notification that this evidence should be preserved.
Settling with the Truck Driver or Trucking Company
Attorneys representing the insurance companies that insure trucking companies and their drivers often aggressively pursue truck accident injury victims and attempt to get them to settle their claims against the truck driver and/or trucking company. By offering a lump sum of cash (in most cases), these attorneys hope truck accident victims will agree not to pursue legal action against the truck driver and/or trucking company. These settlement offers, however, are not usually large enough to adequately compensate the truck accident victim for all of the losses he or she experienced. Before you decide to accept a trucking company’s settlement offer, you should have the Attorney Ken Stern of Stern Law, PLLC review your settlement offer with you. Our accident injury law firm can help you understand the legal rights you are giving up by agreeing to the settlement as well as provide you with an understanding of the compensation to which you may be entitled if you pursued further legal action.
Decades of Experience Helping Truck Accident Victims
Truck accident victims and their families are often left devastated and dazed by a truck accident. The physical and mental pain are compounded by the financial pressures these individuals face. Stern Law, PLLC understands this and is committed to helping our truck accident clients obtain the financial compensation they need quickly. Our priority is in helping our clients navigate the often-confusing legal system as efficiently as possible so that they can begin to rebuild their lives after a truck accident.
Contact Stern Law, PLLC today if you or a loved one have been injured in a trucking accident. We offer a free Truck Accident Case Analysis and Strategy Session. You can call the firm at (844) 808-7529, or you can complete our firm’s online contact form for prompt and timely assistance. Do not delay: Contact the Stern Law, PLLC right away following a truck accident and let us help you get the monetary damages you need.
Answers To Your Frequently Asked Questions About Your Truck Wreck Case
I feel I don’t need an attorney because the truck company offered me a settlement right away. What benefit is there to hiring an attorney?
Insurance companies that represent truckers and/or trucking companies have one goal in mind: To settle your case as quickly as possible and for as little money as possible. The amount offered to you by the trucking company may represent a mere fraction of the expenses and losses you will experience as a result of your injuries. This, unfortunately, does not concern the truck company or its insurance carrier. Before you agree to accept a settlement, visit with an experienced attorney who can help you better understand what compensation you will need moving forward.
The driver’s driving record is very relevant, especially when determining whether suit should be brought against the driver’s employer. If a truck driver’s driving record is replete with traffic violations, his or her employer will likely need to have a very compelling reason as to why they decided to hire him or her and what precautions they took to ensure this dangerous driver did not endanger others. In a similar vein, a clean driving record can be used by the driver and his or her employer to suggest that the employer had no reason to suspect the driver was in need of additional training and supervision.
I was taken from the scene of the crash directly to the hospital. I know many attorneys recommend that I take pictures of the accident scene and obtain information from witnesses at the accident scene. What can I do?
First, rest assured that your health is of the utmost importance. While you may have missed out on an opportunity to collect valuable information for your truck accident lawsuit, all is not lost. You should (1) first, write down everything you remember about the crash in as much detail as possible. (2) Next, contact the local law enforcement agency (or have a friend or family member contact the agency on your behalf) and request a copy of the accident report. Oftentimes important information like the names and addresses of the other driver(s) involved and witnesses present at the scene will be contained in these reports. (3) Lastly, contact an attorney as soon as possible. A resourceful attorney will usually have methods whereby he or she can obtain the information you were not able to at the scene. However, the effectiveness of these resources usually diminishes with the passage of time. In other words, the longer you wait before contacting an attorney, the less likely it is that he or she will be able to help you find the information necessary to presenting a compelling truck accident lawsuit case.