More than 87,000 people suffer injuries in truck accidents each year across the United States. Such injuries can be life-changing and costly, and the parties responsible for causing the accident should also be responsible for covering your losses.
To seek compensation for your losses, you must file one or more claims with the insurance companies of liable parties. Insurance companies minimize claim settlements whenever possible. Too often, insurance companies refuse to make reasonable offers to injured truck victims, and your truck accident lawyer might need to escalate the matter.
Following an insurance claim, the next step of the legal process is filing a personal injury lawsuit against the liable parties. You cannot simply file a lawsuit for no reason, as the court will dismiss the case. So, what can you sue for in a truck accident case?
Negligence in Truck Accidents
The cause of action for most truck accident lawsuits is negligence. A negligent party should be liable for the harm they cause, but the injury victim (plaintiff) must prove their negligence before liability attaches.
The elements of negligence that a plaintiff must prove in a lawsuit are:
- The liable party had a duty of care toward the plaintiff
- The party violated the duty of care
- The violation caused injuries
- The plaintiff incurred losses due to their injuries
Most truck accidents focus on proving the cause of the truck crash and the injuries and losses that resulted.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents can happen for many different reasons, but driver negligence and error cause most crashes. Large truck and tractor-trailer drivers commit many errors while operating their huge vehicles, often causing extensive injuries and damage. Below are some of the most common driving errors that lead to accidents.
#1. Violating traffic laws and motor carrier regulations
Traffic laws exist to keep everyone on the road safe. Like anyone else, a commercial driver can violate these safety laws—either intentionally or not.
Some traffic law violations that can lead to truck crashes:
- Improper lane changes or passing
- Not using turn signals
- Following too closely
- Running red lights or stop signs
- Failing to yield
Truck drivers must follow traffic laws and comply with many federal motor carrier regulations to prevent truck accidents.
Violations might include:
- Not conducting pre-trip inspections
- Conspicuity violations
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Driving without a proper CDL or endorsement
- Driving with an undisclosed medical condition
- Not stopping in line with hours of service restrictions
FMCSA regulation violations are often the cause of accidents and can be the basis of a lawsuit.
#2. Distracted Driving
Distracted driving occurs when a truck operator fails to pay sufficient attention to the road in front of them. For example, the driver might be playing with a smartphone to text or send emails. The driver might be programming a GPS device while they should be focusing on the highway.
Passengers can distract drivers, especially if they engage in arguments or interfere with a driver’s duties. When a truck driver turns their head away from the road for one or two seconds, it’s enough time to cause a serious accident.
#3. Intoxicated Driving
Truck drivers who operate their vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can cause serious accidents. Some drivers resort to various drugs to keep them awake for long hours, but they can impair them. These substances might even have the opposite effect and make the driver overly sleepy.
When drivers consume alcohol before they get behind the wheel, they might later experience physical symptoms, such as blurred vision, and they might not react to emergencies quickly enough to avoid a serious collision.
#4. Aggressive Driving
Truck drivers have tight delivery deadlines, and they often get impatient with other drivers on the highway. If someone is driving slower than the truck driver wants to, the trucker might tailgate or otherwise try to intimidate the driver into speeding up or moving over to a different lane.
Aggressive truck driving is extremely dangerous. It can escalate further if the driver engages in road rage, involving intentionally running other vehicles off the road or putting motorists in harm’s way. There is no excuse for truck drivers to become aggressive or raging while driving a semi-truck.
#5. Fatigued driving
The FMCSA sets out strict guidelines for how often truck drivers must rest during and between shifts. Often, drivers feel pressure to make more deliveries during a shift, so they violate hours of service restrictions. In some cases, trucking companies might even encourage drivers to violate these regulations to earn more income for the company.
Fatigue is a serious problem in the trucking industry. Many drivers continue to operate their trucks while tired, whether from exceeding shift limitations, sleep disorders, medication, or other factors. If a truck driver loses focus due to fatigue or falls asleep at the wheel, devastating accidents can result.
#6. Trucking Company Liability
You can hold trucking companies responsible for truck accidents when they engage in:
- Negligent hiring and retention practices
- Negligent supervision
- Failing to train drivers properly
- Failing to comply with motor carrier regulations (including proper cargo loading procedures and weight limits)
In addition, trucking companies can be vicariously liable for the negligence of truck drivers. This means the trucking company is not negligent itself but is responsible for the actions of its employees and agents, including truck drivers who are independent contractors.
It is challenging to know and prove the basis of your truck accident lawsuit, including possible trucking company liability. You want an experienced truck accident lawyer on your side to prepare your lawsuit petition with the proper claims and causes of action.
Common Truck Accident Injuries
A truck accident lawsuit tries to obtain damages for your injuries and losses. Once you prove liability – or if liability is not in dispute – you still must prove the injuries you suffered and the damages you deserve. This requires a different set of evidence than the liability question.
Victims of truck accidents can sustain extremely serious injuries that can derail their lives, including:
- Soft tissue injuries
- Traumatic brain and head injuries
- Internal injuries
- Spinal cord damage and paralysis
- Burn injuries
If you suffered injuries in a truck accident, always:
- Seek emergency medical care at a local hospital emergency room or urgent care facility and follow through with any medical treatment that the emergency room or urgent care staff recommends
- Continue treatment for your injuries, and do not discharge yourself from a particular medical facility.
- Avoid lengthy gaps in treatment.
- Follow all doctor’s orders, including those to refrain from work or other activities.
You must prove your injuries and that they stemmed from the truck accident. Getting a diagnosis of all medical conditions right after the crash can provide official records of what you suffered.
These injuries can lead to different losses, both economic and non-economic.
Such losses can include:
- Medical bills – You can recover damages for all your medical expenses, including emergency treatment, diagnostic testing, hospitalization, surgical procedures, medical equipment, medication, rehabilitation centers, therapy, and more.
- Future medical expenses – If you need ongoing care after your case is over, you can seek compensation for the estimated costs of your future medical expenses.
- Lost income – Many injuries require you to take time off work, and you can recover financially for any income you lost during this time.
- Future lost earnings – If you cannot return to your previous job – or any job – due to the effects of your injuries, you can seek compensation for the estimated earnings you will lose during your working life.
- Non-economic losses – These do not stem from financial losses but instead include pain and suffering, mental trauma, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent disabilities and disfigurement, and more.
Providing evidence to support all of these losses is complicated, and you want the right truck accident attorney standing up for the compensation you deserve.
The Deadline for Filing a Truck Accident Lawsuit
You must know the deadlines for filing a lawsuit in your jurisdiction. State laws vary regarding statutes of limitations for injury cases, but some states, like California, only allow two years to prepare and initiate a truck accident lawsuit.
Before your attorney can file the case, they need to gather evidence, investigate liability, determine the value of your losses, and try to obtain an insurance settlement. This all takes time, so you want to hire a lawyer to start on your case immediately after you discover you have injuries.
Will My Truck Accident Lawsuit Go All the Way to Trial?
Most truck accident lawsuits do not go to a civil jury trial. In fact, many of these motor vehicle accident cases settle long before the case ever gets to court. Once the accident victim’s lawyer submits a settlement demand package to the insurance company, the parties can begin negotiating.
Although initial settlement offers from insurance companies are usually not very high, the accident victim’s lawyer can continue negotiating with the insurance company adjuster, and the adjuster will likely raise their offer. In some instances, an accident victim’s lawyer might need to go ahead and file a lawsuit in court to light a fire under the insurance company’s feet, so to speak, and get them to take the case seriously. Simply by filing a lawsuit, the insurance company adjuster might increase their offer. If they don’t, the accident victim’s lawyer can litigate the case in court.
Throughout the litigation process, the insurance company might increase its offer, and you can resolve the matter by accepting a settlement at any time. However, the parties will typically need to engage in the discovery process. This is especially true if the trucking company’s insurer is disputing fault or liability for the accident.
The accident victim, through their lawyer, might need to answer written questions called interrogatories about how the accident happened, their injuries, and any permanent after-effects of the accident. Likewise, the defense attorney might want to take the accident victim’s discovery deposition to find out more about their case, their injuries, and their medical treatment.
If the case does not settle during litigation, the parties can take the case to a civil jury trial in court. However, you might pursue alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in your truck accident case. First, the parties might take the case to a neutral mediator to facilitate settlement discussions. Likewise, the parties might present evidence to an arbitrator to resolve the case.
Your trusted truck accident attorney can help you decide whether you should accept a pending settlement offer, litigate your case, settle during pre-trial litigation, or take the matter to trial or an alternative dispute resolution proceeding. When it comes to litigation, you want a lawyer who does not shy away from trial in cases where the insurance company refuses to offer favorable settlement compensation for your losses.
Get the Legal Process Started as Soon as Possible
While not every truck accident case requires a lawsuit, filing a case in court is necessary for some victims to receive fair compensation. You want to hire a lawyer who knows what you can sue for in a truck accident case and how to prove liability and damages.
Never wait to get a truck accident attorney working on your case. Investigations happen fast, and your lawyer needs to ensure the trucking company preserves all relevant evidence you might use to support your claim. Seek a free consultation with a truck accident law firm immediately to best protect your rights.