A Guide to Truck Accident Litigation
If you have been injured in a truck accident, it is important to select a law firm with experience handling trucking accident claims. Choose wisely. Choose The Reeves Law Group. We have been helping truck accident victims get financial compensation for their injuries for more than 20 years.
Automobile drivers become used to sharing the road with commercial trucks, also often known as “semi-trucks” or “18-wheelers.” They generally underestimate the danger of truck accidents. A car might weigh 2000-3000 pounds, but a loaded commercial truck may weigh 20, 30, or even 40 times as much. Proportionally, a truck crash affects a car like a large professional football player smashing into a newborn infant at high speed. An 18-wheeler in a truck crash exerts overwhelming and deadly force.
Freight carried by semi-trucks poses additional dangers. Semi-truck cargo that falls onto the road invites accidents. Spillage of liquid contents from 18-wheeler tanker trucks causes hazardous slicks. Hazardous freight is sometimes released in trucking accidents. Chemicals leaking from a semi-truck after a truck accident can cause poisoning, burns, or respiratory damage. Truck accidents involving flammable, combustible, or radioactive materials risk obvious injuries.
If you or someone you know is injured in a truck crash, consult with a truck accident attorney quickly, while accident evidence remains fresh and available. After assessing your injuries, an experienced truck accident attorney can evaluate your ability to win compensation for truck accident injuries and damages.
How to Win a Truck Accident Case
Your truck accident attorney will collect evidence about the truck crash, your injuries and other damages. To ensure that a jury will clearly understand the truck crash evidence, your truck accident attorney may hire expert witnesses familiar with truck accidents and injury compensation.
Truck accidents cause such serious injuries that actions of semi-truck drivers and owners are held to a high “standard of care.” Most trucking accident cases require proving that the negligence of the truck driver, truck owner, or other parties maintaining a commercial truck caused the truck crash. The defendants’ truck accident lawyers will seek evidence that they were not negligent and perhaps that your own negligence caused the truck crash. Defendants and their truck accident lawyers may also hinder your obtaining needed evidence regarding negligence.
The standard of “negligence” in truck accident litigation
Most trucking accident cases require proving that the semi-truck was operated “negligently.” Proving negligence in a truck crash case requires showing that:
- the defendant owed a “duty of reasonable care” not to injure the plaintiff while performing an activity
- the defendant breached that duty
- the defendant’s breach of duty actually caused the truck crash
- the truck crash actually injured the plaintiff
Obtaining evidence of negligence in truck accident litigation
If you are involved in a truck accident, the accident investigation should start immediately. At the truck crash scene, call the police and ensure that the accident scene is fully surveyed and documented, ideally with photographs and/or video, and that your vehicle is secured. Seek to document:
- where all vehicles were when the truck crash occurred;
- where the vehicles came to rest at the end of the truck accident;
- the site and appearance of impact locations on each vehicle in the truck accident;
- the appearance of the inside of your vehicle, including signs of external or internal accident impacts;
- the presence or absence of skid marks, obstructions, or road hazards on the truck accident scene;
- information about weather conditions, road conditions, etc., when the truck accident occurred
Obtain the names of witnesses and first responders to the truck accident, if possible. Your truck accident attorney may want to interview them while their memories of the accident are fresh.
As soon as possible after the truck accident, ensure that police obtain information and evidence from the truck and the driver. Two pieces of physical evidence are especially important to locate after a truck crash. One is a computerized “black box” that records data about speed and other factors surrounding a truck crash. The other is the driver’s log book, which details the driver’s activities during the period before the truck accident. This information indicates whether a driver was complying with trucking industry regulations designed to reduce truck accidents, such as requiring sufficient daily rest time. If this this is not secured quickly, it may be impossible to recover later.
Obstacles to obtaining truck accident evidence
Unfortunately, a semi-truck driver, trucking company, or other potentially liable parties may not preserve truck accident evidence as required by law. Trucking companies, semi-truck drivers, and other drivers are increasingly pressed by the rising cost of fuel. Sometimes, to save money, they break the law. If their violating federal regulations possibly caused your truck accident, they might rather keep incriminating truck accident evidence from you and your lawyer. Defense lawyers who specialize in truck accidents want to control access to evidence as soon as possible. Dishonest trucking industry figures know how to hide incriminating truck accident evidence effectively. If your truck accident lawyer understands such tricks, the defendants will more likely follow the rules.
Interpreting truck accident evidence for a jury
Expert truck accident witnesses will interpret truck accident evidence for a jury. If you have persuasive expert witnesses, defendants are more likely to settle your truck accident case out of court, and on better terms, rather than risking a trial.
Truck accident experts often come from the trucking industry or its regulators. Trucking industry figures can testify to areas including:
- “best practices” to avoid truck crashes
- ways of hiding truck accident evidence
- regulations that prevent truck accidents
- the “duty, breach, and causation” elements of your truck accident negligence claim.
Your California truck crash lawyer might hire other expert truck accident witnesses such as:
- A computer expert to testify about the “black box” recovered after a truck crash
- A truck accident reconstruction expert or engineer to discuss what caused the truck crash
- Various experts to discuss the physical, psychological, and financial damage caused by the truck crash
Identifying prospective truck accident case defendants
Beyond developing evidence showing truck accident negligence and damages, your truck accident attorney must decide who can be sued over your injuries. Trucking industry lawyers try to structure their businesses to shield those with “deep pockets” from becoming truck accident case defendants. The strongest truck accident case may be futile if the only possible defendants are uninsured and penniless. Your truck accident attorney’s experience with litigating trucking accidents becomes critical here.
The range of prospective truck accident case defendants
Some prospective truck accident defendants are obvious, while other are less so:
- the driver involved in the truck crash
- the owner of the semi-truck or other vehicle involved in the truck crash
- those responsible for maintaining, servicing, or inspecting the vehicle in the truck crash
- anyone guiding or supervising the driver’s behavior
- anyone soliciting, contributing to, facilitating, or hiding the driver’s misbehavior
A truck crash may also result from problems with the design or maintenance of the road. Your truck accident attorney may consider adding those entities, usually governments, who design or maintain roads as trucking accident defendants.
The problem of “agency” in truck accident cases
Some trucking companies avoid truck accident liability by hiring drivers as “independent contractors” rather than employees. Drivers usually have less money to pay truck accident damages and can more easily declare bankruptcy to avoid them. Owners then argue that any negligence in a truck crash was the driver’s fault. Your truck accident attorney may argue in response that the driver in the truck crash was a de facto employee and therefore the company’s agent. The truck owner can also be accused of negligently hiring someone who was likely to cause a truck crash.
The trucking company may argue that a driver’s negligent actions before a truck crash were outside of the scope of employment. A driver’s drinking alcohol before a truck crash might not be the company’s responsibility. If company encouraged or permitted a driver to engage in negligent activity, this truck accident defense will fail.
Another question is whether the company should have known that a driver would likely violate federal regulations. For example, a company assigning a delivery should know the speed limit and the legally allowable on-duty hours. If a law-abiding driver could not possible make the delivery on schedule, a company should know that violations are likely. Drug testing policies to ensure compliance with regulations need to be reasonable. An experienced truck accident attorney will understand these complicated situations.
Other defendants in truck accident cases
In some truck accidents, neither the truck driver nor the trucking company acted negligently. Without their knowledge, a mechanical or material defect in a truck, such as bad tires or brakes, may have caused the truck accident. Negligence by a company that serviced the truck may caused the truck crash. In such cases, manufacturers or service companies may become truck accident defendants.
A truck’s cargo may cause a truck accident. Mislabeled hazardous materials may cause or worsen a trucking accident, as when a truck driver smokes near material mistakenly not labeled as flammable. Poorly distributed cargo weight can cause a truck crash if it makes a truck tip over or lose control on a turn. Those providing or improperly loading the cargo could become truck accident defendants.
Trucking companies may shield themselves from truck accident liability by using a third party logistics company. These companies broker transportation services but neither own nor operate trucks. Federal law gives these independent contractors protection against liability in trucking accident personal injury cases. Trucking company lawyers may thus try to limit truck accident liability, but your truck accident attorney may consider suing a trucking company for negligently hiring a contractor that it should have known was likely to cause a truck crash.
Damages in Truck Accident Cases
If your injury in a truck accident is due to someone else’s negligence, you may receive compensation for areas including:
- Medical Bills – for your past, present and future costs of treating truck crash injuries;
- Property Damage – for truck crash damage to your car and its contents;
- Pain and Suffering – for physical pain and limitations due to injury in a truck crash;
- Loss of Wages – for time off of work while recovering from trucking accident injuries or visiting professionals who treat your injuries;
- Impairment of Earning Capacity – for your reduced ability to earn wages due to your trucking accident injuries;
- Lifestyle Changes – for loss of enjoyment of life due to debilitating truck accident injuries;
- Life-Care – for ongoing non-medical needs after a serious truck crash injury;
- Punitive Damages – these may apply if a defendant’s intentional or reckless acts contributed to causing your truck crash injuries.
The accident hazard posed by a huge 18-wheeler traveling the roads at high speed is immense. The legal hazards present if you are injured in a truck crash are also substantial. But experienced lawyers often obtain good settlements with, or verdicts against, truck accident defendants. The complexity of truck accident cases simply emphasizes the need to hire a competent and experienced truck accident lawyer – and to do so as soon as possible. With an experienced truck accident attorney behind you, your chances of getting the truck accident injury compensation you deserve.