Every year, around 4,000 people die in truck accidents. For the surviving families of truck accident victims, that can leave a lot of questions. What happens after a fatal truck accident? What steps should family members take to protect themselves financially? Perhaps just as importantly, what should the truck driver or trucking company do to help prevent further accidents?
Immediately after a truck accident, the investigation begins.
Assuming that the truck driver did not also suffer injury in the accident, which could require ambulance transport to a medical care facility, the truck driver should report the accident to the police and stick around to provide all necessary information, which might include:
- The truck driver’s license information
- Information about the truck driver’s employer
- A copy of the truck driver’s logbook, which may help establish how long he or she spent on the road
If your loved one survived the accident itself but with serious injuries, then during this initial investigation, your loved one probably spent his or her time in an ambulance and the hospital emergency room. Your loved one, if conscious and capable, might have given a statement about the accident, or the police officer who responded to the scene of the accident might have relied on witness statements to get a more accurate picture of exactly what led to the accident.
During this initial investigation, the police officer will write a report that contains an initial statement about what caused the accident, including who bears primary liability for the accident.
In the case of a severe truck accident, including an accident with multiple fatalities, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may send out a team to investigate the accident. This team will look at all the details that led to the accident, including factors like:
The Driver’s Logbooks and History
Many trucking companies now use virtual logbooks to help track how long a driver has spent behind the wheel each day, how many miles he or she has traveled, and whether he or she broke any laws in doing so. The federal government strictly regulates the number of hours that a truck driver can spend behind the wheel each day, including mandating breaks and the number of consecutive days that a driver may drive. If drivers’ habits fall outside of those requirements, their companies may share the blame.
The NTSB may also look closely into a driver’s history. Drivers with long histories of past accidents should not remain on the road, especially if their past accidents occurred due to negligence or drunkenness. A company that continues to employ a driver despite a record of dangerous behaviors may share liability for an accident caused by that driver.
Like log books, many maintenance reports and requirements now exist in virtual form. These maintenance reports provide valuable information about how drivers and companies keep up with their vehicles. Semi-trucks spend a lot of hours out on the road, and the vehicles suffer significant wear and tear.
Regular maintenance on the truck, however, can help reduce the odds of severe damage to the vehicle, which can increase the risk of an accident on the road. The evaluation may include checking out any maintenance recently performed on the vehicle to ensure that the mechanic completed that maintenance properly and that he did not mistakenly cause more problems with the vehicle. The company that owns the truck may also share liability for failure to complete maintenance properly, including skipping driver inspections or ignoring problems the driver reported with the vehicle.
The Driver’s Load
Shifting loads can fall from the back of a flatbed or pull a semi-trailer out of control, leading to jackknife accidents or even tipping trailers. The NTSB will carefully evaluate the driver’s load, who loaded it, and any other factors that may influence an accident. The evaluation may also include a look at how the load could impact victims who survived the accident, especially in the case of tanker truck accidents.
The Accident Itself
What circumstances led to the accident? Investigators may evaluate the scene of the accident or take a close look at the vehicles involved in the accident. If possible, they will consult with witnesses or evaluate any video footage of the accident. Investigators may also include a look at the vehicles involved in the accident, from which many experts can reconstruct the scene of the accident and get a better idea of what led to the accident. The investigators may attempt to get a full idea of all factors that contributed to the accident to help correctly assign fault.
Following a truck accident that results in the death of other drivers or passengers, the decedents’ surviving family members may have the right to file a wrongful death claim against the truck driver that caused the accident or against any other parties, including the trucking company, that share liability for the accident. Truck drivers and companies often carry substantial insurance policies designed to protect accident victims.
Who Has the Right to a Wrongful Death Claim After a Semi-Truck Accident?
Several factors help determine whether surviving family members have a right to file a wrongful death claim following a semi-truck accident. Consider the following:
Who caused or contributed to the accident? Multiple factors can contribute to semi-truck accidents. In many cases, driver error contributes more than other factors, including instances involving drunk or distracted drivers. However, other factors can contribute to severe truck accidents, including shifting loads, companies that have illegal requirements of their drivers, and mechanics who fail to properly repair a vehicle after the driver brings it in with a known problem.
If the truck driver or another outside factor contributed to the accident, you may have the right to a wrongful death claim. On the other hand, if your loved one caused the accident, you may not have grounds for a wrongful death claim. Consulting an attorney can give you a better idea of what factors may have contributed to the accident and how those factors may influence your claim.
In general, if your loved one could have filed a truck accident claim had he or she lived, the surviving family has the right to file a wrongful death claim following a semi-truck accident.
What relationship do you have to the deceased? The individuals with the closest familial relationship to the deceased usually have the first right to file a wrongful death claim. This begins with the deceased’s spouse, if relevant, then the deceased’s children. If no spouse or children exist, the deceased’s parents may have the right to a wrongful death claim. Usually, a wrongful death claim helps provide vital financial compensation to individuals who suffered severe losses in a truck accident: those who relied on the deceased individual for financial support, for example.
The surviving family of a truck accident victim can file only one wrongful death claim for the entire family against the liable party. Even if multiple parties shared that loss, the family must file a single claim and distribute the compensation between them. In some cases, multiple individuals, including several surviving children of an accident victim, may have the same rights concerning a wrongful death claim, and can settle on behalf of everyone.
What Should You Do If You Have the Right to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
If you have, or believe you have, the right to file a wrongful death claim after the loss of a loved one, start by contacting an experienced truck accident attorney. While the NTSB may investigate your loved one’s death, an attorney will also conduct a separate investigation. In many cases, attorneys can help uncover information that might otherwise be missed, or they might have access to the information already collected by the NTSB.
It can take time for the attorney to conduct an investigation. Your attorney may need to wait until the NTSB releases information about the accident, or may need to look for extensive details regarding your loved one’s accident.
In the meantime, the attorney may ask you to collect vital information concerning the accident, including your loved one’s medical bills, death certificate, and any information provided by the doctors who attempted to treat your loved one before his or her death. If you have access to this information, it will make it easier for your attorney to put together your claim.
You should leave the investigation and wrongful death claim in the hands of your attorney, who will keep you informed about the investigation and let you know if he or she requires anything further from you.
Should You Contact the Truck Driver’s Insurance Company?
The truck driver’s insurance company knows that you have the right to a wrongful death award that will help provide you with much-needed compensation following a truck accident that resulted in death. The insurance company, however, typically wants to minimize the compensation it pays out as much as possible.
If you lost a loved one in a truck accident, do not accept the initial offer issued by an insurance company. Instead, talk with an attorney before accepting it. An attorney can give you vital information about how much compensation you should seek for the loss of your loved one.
Once you start working with an attorney, allow any communication about your claim to go through that attorney. This will not only reduce stress during an incredibly difficult time in your life, but also it can make it easier for you to maximize your compensation.
Where Can You Get Financial Help After You Lose a Loved One in a Truck Accident?
You can seek financial help through several different avenues after you lose a loved one in a truck accident, including through your loved one’s insurance company and a wrongful death claim.
For many victims’ families, a wrongful death claim helps provide valuable financial assistance after the loss of a loved one. Losing an immediate member of the family also means that you lose that individual’s income and the services that he or she usually performs for the family. It can take time to readjust your plans, your goals, and your finances to account for such a loss, and a wrongful death claim can offer vital help during that time.
Thanks to the funds that a wrongful death claim can provide you with, a surviving spouse can go back to school or arrange for a new job, and children can grow enough for self-sufficiency instead of requiring financial support from a parent.
The loss of a loved one in a fatal truck accident can leave the surviving family members with a wide range of questions and concerns. If you lost a loved one in a truck accident, contact an experienced attorney as soon after that accident as possible to begin the process of investigating the accident and to ensure that you fully understand your legal rights and how much you can expect in compensation for your losses. A wrongful death claim may not replace your loved one, but it can offer valuable compensation to help your family rebuild after that loss.