If you are considering whether you need an attorney to process a truck accident suit, it may be helpful to understand what an attorney actually does. While some auto accident cases can be processed without an attorney, this is almost never the case with truck accidents. Truck accidents can be complicated. They involve different regulations and often involve multiple parties. Navigating the process alone can be confusing and burdensome. Additionally, accidents involving large trucks have the potential to inflict serious and life-threatening injuries. So how can an attorney help?
1. Experience. Many factors come into play when you file a truck accident suit. When you file a claim for damages against a person or corporation you need to understand the laws regarding your case. How long do you have to file a suit? Is certain evidence admissible? How long will the process take?
Mistakes can affect your rights to compensation. Missed evidence can greatly diminish the amount of damages you can recover. Trucking companies employ a team of attorneys to defend them in the event of an accident. This is not a process you want to take on alone.
In addition to having an understanding of the legal side, most personal injury attorneys have connections in the medical field. This means they can help you connect with specialists, direct you to doctors who will work with your insurance, and help defer payment until your case is resolved. An established relationship with local doctors and care providers also helps make discovery and obtaining records easier.
2. Proving fault. It should come as no surprise that proving fault is one of the most important steps if not the most important part of a personal injury case. Fault will determine who is responsible for paying damages. As such, it is one of the most contentious parts of a personal injury case. While fault may seem straight forward, there are often many different variables to consider.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that approximately 32 percent of all fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2017 involved one driver-related factor. This means that the truck driver held at least some responsibility in these cases. Speeding was most often the contributing cause.
Even in cases where fault is straightforward, the other side may dispute whether the accident actually caused your injuries. This is one way insurance companies try to get out of paying. If the insurance company can prove that the accident did not cause your injuries, they won’t pay. An experienced attorney can help determine the origin of injury as well as whether the accident may have aggravated any preexisting conditions.
This may include:
- Expert witnesses
- Medical records
- Personal statements
- Witness accounts
- Accident reconstruction
3. Determining liability. Commercial trucking is big business. There are over 500,000 trucking companies in the United States and over 15 million trucks on the road. When it comes to accidents, it’s not just about the person driving the truck, you also have to look at who hired the driver, who maintained the truck, and the truck manufacturer. Truck accidents often involve multiple parties, even if there were only two vehicles involved. Trucks are commercial vehicles, meaning liability often extends beyond the driver.
Responsible parties may include:
- The driver’s employer: Employers have a duty to hire qualified drivers. What does qualified mean? Employers need to make sure that all employees meet the legal requirements to drive a large truck, go through the proper training, and are in good health. Additionally, the employer should ensure that the driver does not exceed the maximum driving hours and facilitate regular drug testing. If the employer is negligent or caused the driver to break regulations, they may be liable.
- The truck owner: The truck’s owner and the employer may not always be the same entity. Sometimes employers will lease or use trucks from another company. This company should make sure the truck is up to standards and properly maintained.
- The truck or parts manufacturer: According to the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 10 percent of all accidents involved in the study had one critical vehicle failure that played a role in the accident. Common issues included tire blowouts, brake problems, and steering issues. While some of these issues were the result of poor maintenance, vehicle and part defects can lead to an accident. When this happens, the vehicle or part manufacturer may hold some or all financial responsibility.
4. Gathering evidence. Evidence is an important part of any personal injury case. It can help prove fault and damages. Some of this evidence may be easily accessible at the scene, while other information may require a legal request or cooperation from a third party. A personal injury attorney will have access to more information and data than most civilians.
Evidence your attorney may request includes:
- Driver records: An unqualified driver is dangerous to other drivers on the road. Employment records, criminal records, and DMV records can help determine whether the truck driver should not have been on the road.
- Cell phone records: In one recent year, distracted driving led to 3,166 fatalities on the road. Cell phone use is one of the biggest problems for all drivers. However, most drivers won’t outwardly admit that they were on the phone at the time of an accident. A request for cell phone records can prove fault and may lead to punitive damages.
- Video surveillance: If there is a question of fault, video surveillance can be critical evidence. Neighboring businesses or traffic cameras may have a record of the accident.
- Medical records: Your medical records and the other driver’s medical records can provide valuable information. An undisclosed health condition may help explain the events of the accident. Your past medical records can help explain symptoms after an accident.
- Expert witnesses: Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to an expert in the field to explain injuries, the mechanics of an accident, or other factors at play. These experts have limited availability and come at a cost. A personal injury attorney can help find qualified witnesses and determine their value to the case.
- Legal records: Trucking companies have certain regulations they must comply with. Finding out that a company has several recent violations can make a big difference in your case. A personal injury attorney will know the questions to ask, the documents to request, and the process it takes to get the information you need.
5. Calculating damages. How do you calculate the value of an injury? The truth is, there is no straightforward calculation to help you determine how much an accident is “worth.” Your truck accident attorney will take many considerations into account. How bad are the injuries? What does recovery look like? Were there any preexisting injuries? Insurance companies are known for downplaying injuries and they will try to get you to admit fault or relinquish some of their driver’s responsibility.
An experienced truck accident attorney knows the tactics insurance companies use. They can evaluate your case to come up with a fair valuation of your damages.
The amount you will require will depend on several factors, but items commonly considered in a personal injury case include:
- Medical bills: Truck accidents can cause serious injuries, requiring extensive or lifetime care. While your PIP coverage will cover some of these costs, it will usually not cover them all. A personal injury claim can help you recover the costs related to your treatment. This may include doctor visits, surgeries, medical transportation, medication, medical devices, and recovery. If your doctor anticipates longterm care, these costs may be added to your final recovery.
- Lost wages: If your injuries cause you to miss time from work, you may be eligible for time-loss benefits. These benefits typically begin the first day you miss work and end when you return to work. If you cannot return to work, your lawyer can help you recover future wages.
- Pain and suffering: Every injury is different. While some symptoms may go away within a few weeks, other symptoms may be apparent years after the initial injury. Even seemingly minor injuries like whiplash can cause chronic pain years down the road. After an accident, an experienced personal injury attorney will appreciate this cost and include them in your final settlement.
- Loss of companionship: A traumatic brain injury can leave an accident victim unable to talk or communicate. A spinal cord injury can make it difficult for someone to provide for their family or show physical affection. Emotional injuries can completely change the dynamics of a relationship. When an injury affects personal relationships, the affected parties may have a claim to compensation.
- Loss of enjoyment: Serious injuries can interfere with your ability to do things you did before the accident. When your pain or injuries prevent you from doing things you enjoy, it can affect your quality of life. This is not a small loss. A personal injury attorney can help you seek damages to compensate you for this loss.
- Wrongful death: Accidents involving large trucks can be deadly. Commercial trucks can outweigh a passenger vehicle by a 20-to-1 ratio. A truck accident lawsuit can help you recover all reasonable burial and funeral costs, as well as outstanding medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
6. Insurance negotiations. Insurance companies will never put forth their best offer at the beginning of the case. In many cases, their best offer won’t even be their second or third offer. Sometimes it may be necessary to take the insurance company and the trucking company to court to recover appropriate damages. Negotiations with insurance companies and all liable parties can be complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating. When you hire a truck accident attorney, you will have final approval over any settlement offers without having to participate in any negotiations.