Medical bills started arriving weeks ago. Your regular income took a serious hit due to time off work for your injuries, but your bills did not stop piling up. You need compensation for your semi-truck accident as soon as possible. How long does it really take to get those funds into your hands (assuming you have a good case)?
Most semi-truck drivers and trucking companies carry substantial insurance coverage designed to protect anyone who suffers injuries or property damage as a result of an accident caused by a truck driver. The average trucker carries a minimum of $750,000 of coverage for an accident. Many people assume that high coverage will make it easy to get compensation for the full cost of severe injuries after a truck accident. Unfortunately, the length of time needed to settle a semi-truck accident can depend on several factors.
Factor #1: When did you initiate your claim?
If you want compensation for your semi-truck accident as soon as possible, the time at which you start your claim matters. Ideally, you want to start working with an attorney to file your claim as soon after an accident as possible. If you let too much time pass, the statute of limitations may prevent you from receiving the compensation that you deserve for your injuries.
Starting work with an attorney as soon after your semi-truck accident as possible also has other key advantages.
- When you start early, discovering evidence takes less effort. Witness statements gradually lose clarity and accuracy over time; memories fade, and memories of traumatic events may fade more quickly than happy memories. Your attorney may also find it easier to collect evidence, like logbooks, immediately after the accident.
- The sooner you start, the sooner the claim ends. Even if the insurance company tries stalling tactics, or it takes time to discover the evidence you need, starting early helps finish the claim early, too. While it may not make the settlement come faster, it will increase the odds that you will get it sooner, when you really need it.
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Factor #2: Are you working with an attorney?
Many people think that they can handle a semi-truck accident claim on their own, that they can handle calculating medical bills and putting together a demand package. In reality, trying to handle an accident claim on your own not only has the potential to reduce the compensation you ultimately receive, but it can also make it take longer to get the funds you need in your hands. Personal injury attorneys know how personal injury claims work. Not only that, they can help move your claim through the insurance company, respond faster to requests from the liable entity, and help protect you. If you need your settlement faster after a semi-truck accident, consider how working with an attorney can streamline the process and get that compensation in your hands sooner.
Factor #3: How much did you ask for in your demand package?
With $750,000 of coverage offered by even minimum insurance coverage for truck drivers, you may assume that getting full compensation for your injuries will take no time at all. In reality, however, even truckers’ insurance companies do not want to accept financial liability unless absolutely necessary. If you ask for a substantial amount in your demand package, it may take longer to negotiate with the insurance company to recover the full cost of your injuries.
Generally, when you file a demand package, you will include the following:
- Your medical bills
- Your lost wages due to inability to work from your injuries
- Lost earning potential, if you cannot return to work
- Property losses due to the accident
- Compensation for pain and suffering
Sometimes, those expenses can add up significantly. Often, the amount in your demand package depends on the severity of your injuries. For example, if you suffer a traumatic brain injury in a semi-truck accident, you may face between $85,000 and $3 million in medical expenses over the course of your recovery, depending on the severity of your injury. If you have high tetraplegia as a result of a spinal cord injury, your medical expenses in the first year alone may total more than $1 million.
While you want to include all the costs related to your accident in your demand package—and an attorney can help you identify all associated expenses to maximize the funds you receive—the more you ask for, the longer it can take to receive approval from the insurance company.
Factor #4: How much do you want to negotiate?
Immediately after your semi-truck accident—often while you remain in the hospital, still recovering from your injuries—the insurance company or responsible entity will often present you with a settlement offer. This settlement offer may, at first glance, seem reasonable: it offers compensation for your injuries and your property damage, and it will get a check in your hands as soon as possible.
With medical expenses already mounting, some people choose to accept the insurance company’s first settlement offer and deal with the fallout later. An immediate settlement, especially a reasonable one, can help provide you with the funds you need to rebuild your life or continue to function as independently as possible following your accident. Even if your health insurance company pays a large percentage of your medical expenses, you will still need to deal with copays and deductibles, cover the cost of transportation to your appointments, and pay for anything not covered by your insurance company.
Some companies, for example, may not cover the full cost of durable medical equipment, including wheelchairs and prosthetic devices, especially if you need or want complex devices that have a higher price tag. Not only that, but also to come home after your accident, you may need to modify your home, installing a wheelchair ramp, widening doorways, and even altering your bathroom or kitchen to make them more accessible.
Unfortunately, many insurance companies do not provide a reasonable offer in that initial settlement package. When you discuss the offer with an experienced personal injury attorney, you may find that the settlement package fails to address your real expenses from the accident. You may need considerably more compensation to cover the full cost of your injuries than the insurance company offers. If you accept that initial settlement offer, even though it provides you with funds to handle your immediate expenses, it also relieves the company of future financial liability for your injuries.
After consulting with an attorney, you may choose to negotiate. The negotiation process after a semi-truck accident can take several rounds, and how long it takes to settle your claim will depend on how much you need to ask for, the insurance company’s willingness to settle, and your determination to negotiate.
Step One: Your Demand Package
After you receive an initial settlement offer, if you accept it, that acceptance will end the negotiation process. If you do not accept that offer, you will work with an attorney to put together your own demands: an accounting of all your expenses related to the accident, including your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Your demand package may also include evidence concerning your claim.
Step Two: Negotiation
Once the insurance company or liable entity receives your demand package, the company has the right to respond. It can accept your offer or provide a return offer of its own. When you reach an agreement, negotiation ends. You may go through several rounds of negotiation before reaching an agreement.
Step Three: Mediation
If you cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company, you may proceed to mediation. A mediator, often a judge or former judge, will hear both sides of the claim and try to help you reach a settlement agreement. When you reach an agreement, this ends the settlement process.
Step Four: Court
If you cannot reach an agreement in mediation, you may proceed to court, where a judge and, in some claims, a jury will hear your claim and make a judgment. Going to court can substantially extend the time required to reach an agreement.
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Factor #5: How long does it take to recover from your injuries?
In the middle of your recovery, when you have substantial medical bills coming in with little to no income to help take care of them, you may want to push your accident claim through and get a settlement as fast as possible. In some cases, however, your attorney may advise you to wait. Until you make a full recovery, you may have little idea how much your medical expenses will really mount. Following some accidents, you may need to wait until you recover from your injuries, or your doctors can effectively predict the course of further recovery, before filing your claim.
Factor #6: Can you clearly determine liability in your truck accident?
In some semi-truck accidents, you can clearly identify the party that caused the accident. You might, for example, recognize a drowsy or distracted driver as bearing full liability for the accident, or you might discover that a jackknife accident occurred because the driver mistakenly took a curve too fast, slinging the truck out of control. In other semi-truck accidents, however, the balance of liability might change.
Consider, for example, a jackknife accident. It could occur because the truck driver took a turn too fast and lost control of the vehicle. Once a trailer swings around, truck drivers typically struggle to bring their trucks back under control.
While excessive speeds may contribute to a jackknife accident, other factors can also contribute, including the following:
- Mechanical failure, including tire blowouts
- Poor distribution of the load inside the trailer, including a load that shifts dangerously in the middle of a turn
- Poor weather conditions in which the driver should have pulled off the road, but could not due to company policy
When multiple factors contribute to semi-truck accidents, other parties could bear some liability for any resulting damage. Potential defendants include:
- The trucking company. The trucking company must provide reasonable working conditions for the driver, conditions that don’t force the truck driver to drive outside the federally mandated maximum number of hours for each shift and that allow drivers to stay off the road when sick, inebriated, or drowsy. When trucking companies force unsafe working conditions on their drivers, the trucking company may bear liability for any accidents caused due to those requirements. If the trucking company owns the vehicle, the trucking company also bears responsibility for taking care of maintenance on that vehicle. If the company ignores needed maintenance, especially after a warning about problems, the company may bear liability for an accident caused due to a lack of maintenance.
- The manufacturer of the truck or its parts. Mechanical failure of even seemingly minor parts, like turn signals, headlights, and windshield wipers, can cause serious problems for truck drivers out on the road. When a mechanical failure leads to a semi-truck accident outside the driver or owner’s control—a part that fails well before its anticipated lifespan, for example—the company that crafted the faulty part may bear liability for the accident.
- A mechanic who recently worked on the vehicle. Mechanical failure can also occur due to a faulty repair job: a mechanic who attempted to repair a vehicle, but did not complete the repair properly, for example. In some cases, the mechanic might claim completion of a repair without really doing the job. When that failure leads to an accident, the mechanic may bear liability for the accident.
- The company that loaded the truck. Some companies hire trucks to transport their loads, but prefer to do the loading themselves. When the company loads the truck improperly, however, shifting loads can quickly cause accidents out on the road. If the company loads the truck improperly, it can share liability for the accident.
If multiple entities bear liability for your accident, it may complicate the claim and make it take longer to get compensation in your hands. Sometimes, insurance companies may argue over the percentage of liability each party bears or attempt to shift liability to reduce the financial responsibility of each company. When liability balance comes into question, it can take longer for you to reach a settlement agreement with any individual entity or insurance company.
These seven factors can contribute to how long it takes to resolve your semi-truck accident claim. By working closely with an attorney, however, not only can you help your claim move faster, but also you can get a better idea of how long it will take before you can expect your case to settle.