After getting into an accident with a large commercial tractor trailer, you’ll likely be balancing car repairs, medical procedures and calls with insurance agents. You shouldn’t have to handle the situation alone – which is why we’re here to help.
Below are some of the most common questions we get from clients and our legal advice on how to handle the situation.
What should I do if I’ve been hit by a truck?
At The Scene
Call 911 so the police or highway patrol can be dispatched to the scene of the accident. Besides the immediate need for medical attention, you want to make sure that the police document the accident, collect evidence and prepare a report. A collision between a normal passenger vehicle and a fully-loaded commercial truck often results in devastating damage to the smaller car. In these types of serious crashes, the police will often measure skid marks, document gouge marks in the pavement caused by the impact, photograph the scene and download the vital electronic data stored on the truck’s internal black box. All of this will help you prove who was at fault.
In The Following Days
To help establish fault, contact a lawyer who has experience dealing with these types of cases immediately. While the police often do an outstanding job in preserving and collecting evidence, we have found that they can often miss crucial pieces of information. Police reports can often take as long as two months to be complete, which can delay your case. We have the ability to send accident reconstructionists out to the scene to preserve evidence and document what happened. It’s important to get ahead of the curve and start preserving all possible evidence.
What is my case worth?
This is one of the questions we get most often. The answer depends on three factors:
- Who was at fault;
- What are your injuries or damages;
- How much insurance is available.
The defendant may try to blame you for the accident. If they can confuse a jury into believing that the accident was your fault, they have the ability to not pay a dime. In our experience handling commercial truck cases, the driver has even more incentive to lie and try to blame you: They have a C-class commercial truck driver’s license that could be jeopardized if they are found at fault and work for an employer who might not be too happy if they’re driving recklessly. Their livelihood could depend on whether they are able to shift the blame to you.
If fault is in dispute, the defendant may accept partial responsibility for the accident but also blame the injured victim. In these cases, the amount of money they’re willing to pay will be reduced by whatever fault they believe the plaintiff bears in the accident. For example, if they think the injured party has sustained one million dollars in damages but is 50 percent at fault, they may only be willing to pay $500,000 or half of what the case is really worth. Fault can be one of the biggest factors affecting the value of a case.
A jury is allowed to award a plaintiff money for both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages cover financial loss you have incurred; it usually consists of medical bills, lost wages, funeral bills and pharmacy expenses. You can collect for past damages as well as damages you will incur in the future.
Non-economic damages include compensation for your pain and suffering, mental anguish and how this accident affected your life.
Economic damages are usually straightforward: what was the bill? Non-economic damages are a bit more difficult to assess. While there is no magic formula or algorithm that will determine the value of a case, there are some general guidelines that can help you figure out what it’s worth, including the following guidelines:
- The cost of your past medical bills.
If you get rear-ended by an 18-wheeler and get examined in the emergency room and do not have any injuries, you will have a truck accident claim that’s worth less than someone who spent a month in the hospital ICU on a ventilator and has a half-million-dollar medical bill. It’s important to remember that you damages equate to your medical bill or what insurance pays for, not your out-of-pocket co-pay.
- Future expected medical care.
If a health professional believes that there is no expectation that you will need any care in the future, then your case will have less value than someone who is paralyzed and needs a lifetime of medical care and adaptive devices.
- Loss in wages.
A person who was a construction foreman making $90,000 a year and can no longer work will have a wage loss component to his damages that a retired or unemployed person may not have.
The bottom line? The more damage incurred, involved the greater the potential value of your case.
Truck accident lawyers are often constrained by what insurance is available.
Every state sets a minimum amount of insurance that all truck drivers must carry; current law requires $25,000 of collision per person in Missouri and $20,000 in Illinois. Most states protect the personal property of a married couple that is owned jointly and limit assets that can be attached, such as a primary residence. The reality is that you’re often limited by what insurance is available. Fortunately, most commercial trucks carry fairly significant insurance policies to protect the companies that they work for. Many people don’t realize that it’s often possible to make an insurance claim under your own policy.
Sorting through what insurance is applicable to an accident can be confusing. There are things such as Uninsured Motorist, Underinsured Motorist and Med Pay policies that can allow you to recover much more than you may expect. It’s vital to speak to an attorney with experience in navigating these treacherous insurance issues.
How can I get compensation after a truck accident?
If you’ve been involved in an accident with a large commercial vehicle, chances are that you’ll receive a call from an insurance adjuster representing the driver and trucking company.
The adjuster will normally ask for your permission to record the conversation so that they can investigate the claim and cover the following topics:
- How did the accident happen;
- Were you seriously injured;
- What repairs does your vehicle need?
Many times, this conversation is critical in terms of liability. As an attorney, I’ve seen many cases where my client has spoken to the insurance adjuster and given a recorded statement before I got involved in the case. The insurance adjuster then takes something my client says and tries to use it to shift the blame on them.
It’s perfectly fine to speak to the adjuster about the details of getting your car fixed quickly, but refrain from talking about how the accident occurred or any injuries unless your attorney is on the line and part of the conversation. To receive fair compensation, get an attorney involved who can represent your interests with the insurance company.
While your car can get repaired quickly, a bodily injury claim may take longer. Your attorney cannot and should not begin negotiating a settlement on your injury claim until you are completely done with treatment and released by your doctor; failing to wait may mean you’ll make a demand for settlement without knowing the full extent of your damages. You need to finish treatment so your attorney can put together all your medical records and bills to submit them to the defendant’s insurance company with a demand for settlement.
Then, the insurance company will review the demand and analyze it in terms of liability (who was at fault) and whether the amount demanded is reasonable given the plaintiff’s injuries. This usually leads to a back-and-forth negotiation between your attorney and the insurance adjuster. If the two sides cannot agree on a fair settlement amount, then you need to be prepared to file your lawsuit and hold the defendant accountable for their actions in a court of law where a judge or jury will determine what your damages are. This will prolong the process and can be frustrating for a victim who just wants to get on with their life, but is often the only way to get fair compensation for your injuries.
When should I hire a truck accident lawyer?
As soon as possible.
Immediately following an accident, you should be focused on your medical care. However, quickly working with an experienced lawyer is crucial for a successful outcome. There’s often valuable evidence that must be collected: The electronic data on a semi-truck’s black box will get recorded over the moment that truck drives away, skid marks may disappear in the rain and witnesses may begin to forget crucial details if you wait too long to contact them.
You also don’t want to be in a situation where the defendant’s insurance company has already taken a recorded statement from you without an attorney present. Many people don’t want to hire an attorney – either because they don’t think of themselves as the type of person that sues or they think they can manage the case independently and save on attorney’s fees. Don’t hesitate to ask to be compensated for the damages caused by a reckless driver. An experienced lawyer will maximize the value of your case and make sure you receive the money you deserve.