What to Expect During Your Truck Accident Lawsuit
Clients often ask truck accident attorneys to explain what will happen when during a personal injury lawsuit. Trucking accident lawsuits differ, but most follow a common general timeline. An experienced truck accident attorney may offer a better sense of what happens in your local courts.
Preparing a truck accident lawsuit
(Time period: from truck accident attorney’s hiring date to before the statute of limitations expires)
Your California truck accident attorney will:
- interview you
- get the basic facts about the truck crash from the accident report and other sources
- seek facts that can be obtained without the cooperation of other parties
- determine who should be sued
- possibly begin consulting expert witnesses
- determine what general damage figure is appropriate for your injuries
Filing the truck accident lawsuit
(Time period: usually one month to several months)
As the party injured in a truck crash, you are the plaintiff. You seek a remedy such as money damages. Your California truck accident attorney will file a complaint stating the known or suspected factual allegations being made. From these, your truck accident attorney will derive causes of action, which are different grounds for the court to find that a legal remedy is appropriate. The truck accident complaint must clearly allege what happened and why it is a problem. Your truck accident attorney will serve the complaint with a summons that informs the truck accident defendant about the pertinent facts of the lawsuit: who is suing, in what court, and by what date a reply is required.
After a set amount of time, usually weeks, the truck accident defendant’s answer is due. The truck accident defendant’s lawyer will admit or deny each factual allegation about the truck crash. Beyond countering the complaint’s factual allegations, the answer by the truck accident defendant’s lawyer may raise affirmative defenses. These argue that the truck accident defendant is excused from liability even if the allegations are true. (“Self-defense” in a case of assault is a classic affirmative defense.) The answer may introduce counterclaimsagainst the truck accident plaintiff or claims against third parties or co-defendants in order to transfer liability.
Before filing an answer, the truck accident defendant might first file a motion asking the court to dismiss the truck accident complaint. The reasons are usually technical, mostly involving lack of jurisdiction or mistakes with the complaint or summons, but may involve the argument that a claim is legally baseless. Once all complaints and answers are presented, the court may hold a hearing to determine whether the truck accident complaint is in proper form for the case to proceed. Evidence about the truck crash itself – the accident report or the maintenance records of the semi-truck, 18-wheeler, or other truck involved – is not presented at such a hearing.
If neither a timely motion nor an answer to the truck accident complaint is filed, you may be granted a default judgment against the truck accident defendant. If counterclaims against the truck accident plaintiff or claims against third parties are filed, those parties must in turn respond with an answer or a motion by a set deadline.
Discovery of truck accident evidence
(Time period: highly variable, possibly more that a year)
In the “discovery phase” of a truck accident lawsuit, both sides:
- collect evidence related to the truck crash
- produce it to the opposing truck accident lawyers
- review it to find information helpful in the truck accident lawsuit
Evidence produced in discovery may include witness statements, written and electronic documents, and physical evidence. Discovery is the most time-consuming portion of most truck accident lawsuits.
You may be asked to complete an interrogatory: a set of questions prepared by the opposing truck accident lawyer. Your answers are given under oath. Some questions will address the truck crash itself; others may address issues relating to damages, such as your prior accidents and injuries. You must make an honest good faith effort to answer all questions, absent any legal objection. If you do not know an answer, despite an honest good faith effort, you will discuss it with your California truck accident attorney.
Discovery may include requests for admissions, where a party is asked to agree that certain facts regarding the truck crash case are true. This eliminates the need to produce evidence to prove them.
Documentary discovery involves written, graphic, and electronic documents. In a truck crash case, this might include such evidence:
- typed letters
- handwritten notes
- receipts for fuel
- a trucker’s log books
- records of the trucker’s previous involvement in trucking accidents
- photographs of the truck crash scene
- the 18-wheeler’s black box
- a company policy on drug testing drivers to prevent truck crashes
- the plaintiff’s injury report
- records showing how a company investigates independent contractors to drive their semi-trucks before hiring them
Depositions come late in the truck crash case discovery process. Truck accident parties and other witnesses assemble with both sides’ truck accident attorneys and a court reporter. They answer questions from the opponent’s truck accident lawyer and then their own lawyer. Depositions are sworn testimony and are formally transcribed by court reporters. They are sometimes videotaped so that a truck crash witness’s reactions to certain evidence or questions can be seen and replayed in open court.
Discovery often ends with a motion for summary judgment by one or more parties to the truck accident lawsuit. A party argues that:
- the undisputed evidence would not allow the opponent to prevail at trial
- even granting the opposing party any disputed facts regarding the truck crash, those facts would still not allow the opposing party to prevail at trial
- the court should spare the expense of a trial and declare that the party making the motion wins
If the court agrees, the truck accident lawsuit ends there with respect to the party making the motion.
Settlement conferences in truck accident cases
(Time period: may happen multiple times at various points, but one will almost always occur before a trial begins)
One purpose of discovery is to encourage pre-trial settlement. Discovery ensures that all parties share an understanding of what factual evidence will be presented in the truck crash case. If both parties see the facts similarly, they can more readily agree on the value of the accident claim. Settlement reduces the financial burdens on the parties and the court system. An experienced truck accident attorney can estimate what settlement amount is obtainable in a truck crash case.
Trying the truck accident case
Some truck crash cases never settle. They proceed to trials. A jury (or sometimes a judge alone) hears evidence and decides what facts to believe.
Truck accident attorneys for both parties begin with persuasive opening statements. They explain what evidence about the truck crash will prove and why that means they should win. After their opening statements, truck accident attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant will in turn present tangible and testimonial evidence. Expert witnesses may provide context for truck crash evidence and speak to its legitimacy and implications. In a truck crash case, they may testify on standard procedures within an industry, appropriate damages, and similar matters.Fact witnesses, usually including the truck accident plaintiff and defendants, will speak to what happened prior to, during, and after the accident and at other points relevant to the case. Each witness may be cross-examined by the opposing truck accident lawyer, who will try to cast doubt on the testimony. Once all facts have been presented, the truck accident attorneys will give persuasive closing arguments. They argue that certain facts related to the truck crash are true and significant. They explain why, given the law, those facts requires a favorable verdict.
The question of appropriate damages is separate from, though related to, the question of liability. If no defendant is liable for the truck crash, no damages will be awarded. Sometimes evidence regarding truck accident damages is considered only after liability for injury is established.
In truck crash cases, damages often involve assessing comparative negligence. A plaintiff who was partly at fault for a truck crash may still collect injury damages from a defendant. In most states, however, you can only collect damages if your own negligence was less than 50% responsible for the truck crash. Otherwise, anyone who was arguably even 1% responsible for a truck crash could be sued by someone who was 80% responsible. Given the expense and life disruption of being a defendant a trial, this is considered unfair.
The jury will determine the appropriate degree of fault. To predict their judgment, your truck accident attorney and an insurance adjuster will probably review the various factors that possibly contributed to the truck crash – including the role of your own carelessness, if any. They will assess the full value of your truck accident claim and its likely reduction due to your degree of comparative negligence.
Once the truck accident jury has reached a verdict, and the judge approves, either party can appeal it to anappellate court, claiming that the judge committed an error. Relatively few cases are overturned.
How long will your truck accident case take?
Your truck crash case could take months or years. Some general guidelines, however, are:
- Truck crash cases with more money at stake, as with more serious injuries, often take longer.
- Truck crash cases where legal or factual issues are more complex often take longer.
- Truck crash cases with more defendants, more claims, and more witnesses often take longer.
- Truck crash cases with trucking industry defendants who have large fleets of semi-trucks or 18-wheelers and experienced lawyers on retainer often take longer.
- Truck crash cases that are bitter and contentious often take longer.
- Most critically, the willingness of both sides in a truck crash case to settle for less than the full amount at stake determines the time required for a final determination. Having a knowledgeable truck accident attorney who is an experienced negotiator can speed a settlement, because truck accident defendants will be less likely to try to win by stubbornness and delay.