After you sustain injuries in a truck accident, you may need to go to court to pursue compensation for your damages. This scenario usually happens if the at-fault party is uninsured or underinsured. Sometimes, you must file a lawsuit if the at-fault party’s insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement.
While most truck accident cases settle out of court, some cases do require a judge or jury to intervene. With an experienced truck accident attorney in your corner, you can present a strong case and recover the compensation you deserve.
Let’s look closely at going to court after a trucking accident and what to expect.
When You Need to Go to Court After a Truck Accident
You can usually settle a trucking accident case out of court. However, sometimes, it’s impossible to recover fair damages without filing a lawsuit. Here are a few common situations where this can happen.
The Insurance Company Refuses to Offer a Fair Settlement
Negotiations with the insurance company are the most delicate and complex step in a trucking accident claim. Insurance adjusters have extensive experience with these negotiations and use special tactics to pressure victims into accepting a low settlement.
If you have an experienced lawyer by your side, your lawyer will protect you against these tactics. Insurance companies will do everything they can to avoid a high settlement, so they will likely offer you a low amount and may not budge in negotiations. You can take the case to court when negotiations come to a dead-end. In the courtroom, the judge decides what amount to award.
Remember that during court proceedings, the insurance company can offer a settlement at any time. If you agree to the new figure, the case will not proceed to trial.
The At-Fault Party Is Uninsured
Several parties may be responsible for covering personal injury damages in truck accident cases, including:
- Trucking company: If the truck driver is on duty at the time of the crash, their employer is responsible for covering damages. You must negotiate with the trucking company’s insurance adjusters in such cases.
- Truck driver: If the truck driver isn’t on the clock at the time of the accident, they are responsible for covering the damages. In this case, you must file a claim with the driver’s insurance company.
- Manufacturer: If the truck accident happened because the truck malfunctioned, the manufacturer may be responsible. In this case, you must file a claim with the manufacturer’s insurance company.
- Other people on the road: A third party may be fully or partially responsible for the accident. It can be a jaywalking pedestrian or an irresponsible driver. In these cases, you must file a claim with their insurance companies.
- Government: In rare situations, you may sue the government for an accident. This scenario can happen if the government’s negligent actions (failure to put up traffic signs or fix a pothole) caused the accident.
If any at-fault parties are uninsured, you can’t file a claim with their insurance company. An alternative is to file a lawsuit against them directly. Such cases can settle before trial if the party offers a fair settlement.
The At-Fault Party Doesn’t Carry Enough insurance
If your damages exceed the at-fault party’s insurance limit, you must go to court to recover the rest.
For example, in California, the minimum liability insurance for drivers is:
- $15,000 in case of injury or death of one person involved in the accident
- $30,000 in case of injury or death of more than one person
- $5,000 for property damage
Accordingly, if you want to recover more than $15,000, you must file a lawsuit. Trucking companies have sizable insurance policy limits. So, if the truck driver is on duty when they caused your accident, you aren’t likely to face the underinsurance problem.
However, if the driver or other traffic participants are liable, you may need to take the case to court.
Proving Negligence in Court
Whether you are trying to receive a settlement from the insurance company or proceed to court, proving negligence is key.
To establish negligence, you must demonstrate:
- Legal duty of care: The truck driver and other people on the road have a legal duty of care to each other. This duty involves acting reasonably to prevent harm.
- Breach of the legal duty of care: If the truck driver failed to act reasonably and, for example, ran a red light before crashing into your car, they breached the legal duty of care.
- Injuries: To prove your right to compensation due to someone’s negligence, you must demonstrate injuries. For example, the truck driver ran a red light, hit your vehicle, and you suffered severe lacerations.
- Damages: You must also demonstrate that injuries led to specific damages. For example, your severe lacerations required a lengthy hospital stay, surgeries, and long-term recovery. All this generated high medical bills and caused you to miss work.
The judge will carefully review all the evidence to conclude whether negligence occurred. It’s important to provide extensive proof. Otherwise, you may not be able to recover any compensation.
If you have a good injury lawyer working on your case, they can help you collect needed evidence and present it to the judge. Without legal advice, it’s easy to miss important evidence or even present evidence that hurts your case.
Evidence to Present in Court
If you prove negligence in a trucking accident, you can seek several types of damages. To prove your right to compensation, you must provide evidence to back each of them.
Economic damages are monetary losses you sustained due to the accident. They include medical expenses, lost wages, and the like.
Evidence to prove these damages includes:
- Medical bills
- Doctor’s reports
- W-2 forms
- Pay stubs
If you haven’t started collecting this evidence yet, it’s important to do it as soon as possible. With time, such evidence may be harder to find and gather.
Non-economic damages are damages that hurt your quality of life. Proving them can be more complicated.
Evidence may include:
- Photos and videos of your life before the accident
- Photos and videos of your injuries
- Testimony of your friends and family
- Expert witness testimony
If you prove that you suffered non-economic damages, your payout can increase dramatically.
Wrongful Death Damages
If your loved one died in a truck accident, you can seek wrongful death damages that include funeral costs, loss of inheritance, loss of emotional support, and much more.
Evidence for these damages includes:
- Bill and receipts for pre-death treatment (if applicable)
- Funeral and burial bills and receipts
- Witness testimony
- Autopsy report
- Financial records
- Police report
Proving wrongful death and related damages also involves proving negligence. Work with an experienced attorney to ensure you have all the right evidence to present in court.
In some cases, the judge may decide to punish the at-fault party further and award punitive damages. The court determines the amount of these damages according to the circumstances of the accident.
If you can provide evidence that demonstrates the at-fault party’s outrageous behavior, you may recover sizable punitive damages.
Statute of Limitations
If you decide to go to court, don’t delay the process. You only have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit. The law regulating this time is called the Statute of Limitations.
In California, the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is two years from the accident or one year after you reasonably discover the injury. If you sue the government, you only have six months to file the first claim.
The judge can dismiss the case immediately when the two years are over. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you have or how negligent the at-fault party is. If the time is up, you don’t have the right to sue. While some exceptions exist, it doesn’t make sense to wait.
What to Expect in Court
Once you file a lawsuit, the court proceedings begin. The longest part of the personal injury case is the discovery period. During this period, both parties gather evidence, speak to witnesses, get expert witness testimony, and exchange information.
A case can settle during discovery if one party realizes that the other has sufficient evidence to win the case. If you disagree on a settlement, the case proceeds to trial.
During the trial:
- Attorneys vet the jury
- Each side presents an opening statement
- Each party presents the evidence
- Attorneys proceed with closing arguments
- The jury makes a decision
In trucking accidents, trials are rarely time-consuming. Many can take less than a day. After the trial, the judge awards damages. If any side is unhappy with the decision, they can file an appeal.
When your trucking accident case goes to court, you must work hard to convince the judge and jury of your right to compensation. If you are still recovering from your injuries, handling legal action is ill-advised.
Victims of trucking accidents are usually in a delicate emotional and physical state. Facing a team of the at-fault party’s attorneys can be hard. That’s why many people decide to hire truck accident lawyers.
Do You Need a Lawyer When Going to Court After a Trucking Accident?
California law doesn’t obligate victims to hire lawyers when filing a personal injury lawsuit. However, going to court without one can hinder your chances of winning the case.
Trucking companies usually have teams of high-profile attorneys working on their side. Facing them in court alone generally means losing the case. With an experienced truck accident attorney on your side, you have a stronger chance of getting the money you deserve.
An attorney can:
- Investigate to identify responsible parties, learn about their insurance limits, and determine which claims to file.
- Collect all the necessary evidence and present it in court
- Handle negotiations that arise after the case begins
- Take the case to trial
Many personal injury lawyers are excellent negotiators. However, they may not have sufficient experience with going to court. That’s why it’s important to choose a firm with relevant experience and case portfolios.
Is Going to Court Complicated?
Going to court involves various legal nuances that you or your attorney must navigate. For legal professionals, going to court is routine work. They know how to present your case to maximize your chances of winning.
Just because the insurance company refuses to settle or the uninsured driver avoids payments, you don’t need to give up on your right to compensation.
If you sustained injuries due to someone else’s negligent actions, it’s important to fight for your money. If you don’t have the experience, time, or opportunity to handle legal proceedings on your own, consider hiring an attorney.
Should You Go to Court After a Truck Accident?
Only a small percentage of truck accident cases end up in court. However, going to court is sometimes the only way to recover damages. Court proceedings are often time-consuming and complicated. However, avoiding court altogether could leave you without compensation.
If the insurance company doesn’t want to settle, or the at-fault party is uninsured or underinsured, consider taking the case to court. Many reliable truck accident attorneys offer free initial consultations. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer to learn how to proceed.