Your Legal Options If You’re Injured by a Truck Driver

  • Commercial truck or semi crashes often cause serious injuries and deaths. Because of the size of these vehicles and the high speeds they may travel, they deliver tremendous energy into whatever and whoever may be in their way. As in any vehicle accident, a personal injury lawsuit may be appropriate if negligence caused injuries or deaths of people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

     

    An injured party can take actions to protect his or her rights

     

    If you’ve been injured or a loved one was seriously injured or killed in an accident involving a commercial vehicle or semi tractor and you believe that the driver of the vehicle caused the crash, you have many options.  DO NOT DELAY – THE TRUCKING COMPANY HAD THEIR PEOPLE INVESTIGATING THE CRASH AND PRESERVING THE EVIDENCE THEY WANT STARTING WITHIN MINUTES OF THE CRASH!

     

    After a crash with a Commercial Motor Vehicle, most large trucking companies require their driver to call their dispatch immediately after the crash.  Sometimes this call is made BEFORE 911 is called and nearly always before the police arrive.   Dispatch will immediately notify the “claims” department for the trucking company and a company representative is often sent to the crash seen.  In many serious crashes involving Commercial Motor vehicles or Semi tractors, an attorney for the trucking company is sent to the crash seen as well.  The trucking company representative and the attorney for the trucking company are at the scene to protect the interest of the trucking company.  They are not at the scene to protect the interest of those injured in other vehicles involved in the crash!

     

    • You could represent yourself and contact the parties involved. Given the complexity of these cases and the multiple insurance companies involved, taking this route can take a tremendous amount of time and could result in you obtaining much less information than what you may receive with the help of someone who has conducted this type of investigation previously.
    • You can wait on the police report and rely on the officer’s investigation. This may take several weeks, or up to a year or more for them to complete their investigation. The police are typically only looking for violations of a State or Federal statutes or regulations to determine if charges should be filed.  The police will not assist you in pursuing any claim.  You also have no idea what experience the investigating officer has in handling a commercial motor vehicle crash.
    • You can rely on your insurance company to complete their investigation. Again this may take several months.  Because they typically rely on any police report and they are only concerned with recovering any money they may owe under your policy, your insurance company will not pursue any claim for your personal injuries.
    • If you retain an attorney who is experienced with handling Commercial Motor Vehicle and Semi crashes, he or she will have qualified experts to investigate the accident, gather the relevant facts and present a demand to the insurance companies involved. Often negotiations will result in a settlement that compensates the victim for the harm suffered. The vast majority of vehicle accident claims are resolved through negotiations, not a trial. However, proper compensation will not be received if your attorney is not prepared or willing to take your case to trial if that is necessary to obtain full compensation.
    • A lawsuit could be filed against the responsible parties. The litigation process could proceed to trial or the lawsuit could be resolved through negotiation or ADR before a trial takes place. If all else fails, the dispute could be resolved through a trial. If there is a legal basis to do so, the party on the losing end of the judgment could appeal it. Without successful negotiations, a commercial truck accident case involving serious injuries or a death could take years before there is a final outcome.

     

    Negligence is the basis for most personal injury claims involving commercial trucks

     

    Unless there is evidence that the truck driver intentionally struck you, a legal claim to recover damages would be based on the legal theory of negligence. In this type of legal claim the plaintiff (the party filing the lawsuit) has the burden of proving it’s more likely than not that ...

     

    • The defendant (the party being sued) owed the plaintiff a legal duty, generally that of reasonable care under the circumstances,
    • The defendant breached that duty and failed to use reasonable care,
    • That breach is the responsible cause of the accident,
    • The plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the accident,
    • Because of those injuries the plaintiff suffered damages (a way to measure the harm done in dollars), and
    • Under the law, the defendant has a legal obligation to pay damages to compensate the plaintiff due to the injuries and economic harm suffered as a result of the accident.

     

    In commercial truck accident cases, the duty to drive reasonably under the circumstances can be breached if the driver is going too fast for conditions, driving over the speed limit, distracted or fatigued, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or tailgating. The truck or trailer may be unsafe if it’s not maintained properly, resulting in a part failure that impacts the handling of the vehicle.

     

    Cases involving commercial truck accidents are often complex

     

    Most vehicle accident claims involve state laws, but those involving commercial trucks may also include issues related to federal laws and regulations. They regulate drivers, trucks, trailers and the insurance required to legally operate across state lines.

     

    Most passenger vehicle accident cases are relatively simple in that the person driving the car is often its owner, so the defendant is one party. In commercial trucking cases, there could be many defendants.

     

    • The driver may own the truck, it may be leased, the driver may be employed by the trucking company or he may be an independent contractor hired by the trucking company.
    • If the accident was caused by a mechanical problem, it may have been the truck’s owner doing repairs or the owner may have contracted out the repair work to another company.
    • If a part failed, causing the accident, the companies manufacturing, distributing and selling the part could be defendants.
    • If there was something wrong with a trailer, it may be owned by another company that hired the trucking company to haul it from place to place.
    • If a shipper improperly loaded the trailer and that caused the problem, the shipper may be a defendant.
    • All these defendants should have insurance policies to cover the damages caused by the accident, so there may be multiple insurance companies and law firms representing the defendants.

     

    Any personal injury claim involving a vehicle accident needs to be based on facts. How did the accident happen? Why? Law enforcement, often state police, investigate commercial truck accidents. Attorneys representing plaintiffs and insurance companies will do their own investigation. Experts in accident reconstruction may be hired to piece together the facts and do their own testing to come up with opinions on what happened and why.  The trucking company has been preserving the evidence they need from moments after the crash. 

     

    When these reports are done, decisions can be made as to whether mistakes were made, negligence was committed and a party faces legal liability for the accident. If there are disputes on liability, these experts may testify at trial to defend their opinions and explain how they were reached.

     

    If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, with the help of an attorney you can seek compensation for your injuries. It may take time and may not be as simple or easy as you may like, but there are many options you can consider to protect your interests and those of your family. If negligence occurred, responsible parties should be held accountable, so you don’t have to be left suffering physically, emotionally and financially.

     

    Michael Stephenson is a partner in the law firm of McNeely Stephenson based in Shelbyville, Indiana. He has handled commercial motor vehicle cases and car accident cases in numerous states throughout the United States. He protects the rights and interests of those injured in accidents involving commercial trucks. The firm uses highly qualified experts that specialize in investigating commercial motor vehicle crashes that can investigate this type of case.