Truck Accidents: How the Claims Process Works

Learn how truck accident law differs from a car crash, and what to expect when filing a lawsuit

Tragedy struck on Thursday, April 25, 2019.

Four people died and several were injured on Interstate 70 near Denver, Colorado when a semi truck slammed into backed up traffic. The driver told officers he was going 85 mph when his brakes failed. He attempted to pull the truck onto the shoulder but couldn’t because another semi was already there. His truck then hit the line of stopped traffic on the highway, and several explosions and fires affected the 28 vehicles involved and their passengers.

What if it happens to you?

Crashes involving trucks with passenger cars often involve serious injuries. But from a legal perspective, they’re not as straightforward as car accidents involving two regular passenger cars. Continue reading to learn how the process is different and what you need to do if you’re involved in a truck accident.

Personal Injury Timeline (P.I.T.)

Truck accident statistics

In 2017, 4,102 people died in large truck crashes.

Of those, three-quarters were involved in crashes with tractor-trailers and the remaining quarter were single-unit trucks.


Here’s where these accidents occurred:


Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute

What causes truck accidents?

Driving a commercial truck, semi or big rig presents challenges that drivers of “regular” passengers cars don’t experience.

For one thing, they’re large and can be unwieldy, especially on smaller roads that might not have been built to accommodate large vehicles.

For another, their size makes them harder to manage, which means that they can’t be manipulated as quickly in reaction to a fast or unexpected move by a smaller passenger car.

Still, truck accidents can be caused either by the truck driver or by the driver of a passenger car. Any driver must act responsibly and be aware of road hazards at all times when behind the wheel.

Truck accidents caused by commercial truck drivers

These are some of the most common ways accidents are caused by commercial truck drivers:

  • Inadequate training on driving techniques, safety, and defensive driving.
  • Fatigue or exhaustion from hectic schedules of trucking companies, with too many hours on the road and pressure to move quickly from one location to another. Some trucking companies encourage speeding and fewer hours of sleep by paying more to drivers who are able to travel more miles and make more deliveries.

Truck accidents caused by passenger vehicle drivers

Not every truck accident is caused by the truck driver. Sometimes the driver of the passenger car makes an error that causes a collision.

Below are just some of the ways that accidents happen because of the passenger car driver:

  • Failing to get a disabled vehicle completely onto the shoulder of the highway
  • Driving in the truck driver’s blind spots (areas behind or next to a commercial truck)
  • Driving in between two or more large trucks
  • Fast maneuvers like an abrupt lane changes in front of a truck
  • Moving into traffic from the shoulder or merging from an on-ramp without sufficient acceleration in front of a truck
  • Moving to the right of a truck that’s making a right turn
  • Passing too close to a truck and being blown to the side by air turbulence or crosswind
  • Making a left turn in front of a truck while misjudging its speed
  • Failing to slow down or speed up when a truck begins to change lanes or merge

As a driver of a passenger car, it’s important to realize that although you might have the right of way in a situation, sometimes it’s safer and essential to yield to the truck anyway. Its size and weight make it harder to maneuver than your car, and it’s crucial to your safety and other drivers’ for you to allow it the time and space it needs.

Who are the defendants in a truck accident claim?

When you’re involved in a collision with another passenger car, the legal claims usually involve the two drivers and your insurance companies.

If the crash includes a commercial truck, though, there might be many more parties involved such as:

  • Truck driver
  • Trucking company
  • Contractor
  • Insurance company
  • Truck driver’s employer
  • Manufacturer or shipper of cargo (if the accident was aggravated by dangerous, flammable, or toxic material in the truck)

Here’s how it works:

A truck driver might be an independent contractor of a company that hires truckers and contracts them out to trucking companies.

Already, we have three potential defendants:  

1. Driver
2. Hiring copany that contracts with driver
3. Trucking company that contracts with hiring company

But then, depending on the facts of the accident, we might be able to add these defendants:

4. Truck manufacturer
5. Shipper or manufacturer of materials on the truck

Each of these entities will also be represented by its own insurance company, so you might even be dealing with five different insurers (plus your own).

So, what do you do now?

Establishing liability for a truck accident

Liability is based on the premise that each person has a certain set of responsibilities and obligations in any situation.

As the driver of a car or truck, you are liable for ensuring that your driving is reasonable according to the laws and road rules wherever you are. It also means you have a duty to every other driver and pedestrian to exercise reasonable care for their safety.

When an accident happens, the first thing your insurer or lawyer will consider is who’s liable. It’s possible that there will be a split of liability between you and the truck driver.

There are two unique situations in trucking accidents:

  1. Jackknifing. If the road was slippery or if a driver was forced to turn abruptly to avoid another car, stalled truck or something else, and the truck jackknifes, the driver likely won’t be held liable for the accident.
  2. Turning accidents. A commercial truck often requires two lanes to make a successful right turn. However, if an accident happens, it’s possible that the driver can be found liable when turning from an inside lane or occupying two lanes.

The important thing to remember is that how liability is assessed will depend on what state the accident took place in. In some states, if you bear any responsibility for the accident, you can’t recover damages. In other states, it depends on how much your percentage of responsibility is.

Enjuris Tip: Read more about how each state assesses shared fault rules.

If you believe you’re at fault for the accident, consult a car or truck accident lawyer immediately. Your lawyer can defend a claim against you by the trucking company’s insurer and negotiate for the lowest possible settlement for your responsibility. The trucking company’s insurer handles these kinds of claims every day. They want to pay out as little as possible, and they also probably have their own attorneys ready for exactly the situation you’re in.

You need to be prepared to meet them where they are. Your attorney will defend you against claims of liability (or try to reduce your liability if you are at fault) and ensure that you’re being treated fairly.

When to consult a truck accident attorney

You’ll want to handle a truck accident a little differently than you would a regular accident with a passenger car. Remember that a trucking company likely has a large insurance policy and deep pockets, and it might be very motivated to make an accident “go away.”

But that might not be in your best interest long term, especially if you have significant injuries.

You’ll want to find a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. Your insurance adjuster isn’t allowed to give legal advice. Your insurance company’s objective is to pay out as little as possible to settle your claim — they’re not there to make sure that a settlement covers everything you need for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, or other costs associated with the accident.

Only your lawyer will be on your side to figure out what all of that should be.

Enjuris Tip: If you’re involved in any kind of vehicle accident, whether it’s a passenger car fender-bender or a collision with an 18-wheeler, don’t share the details or photos on social media. Even using Facebook to communicate with friends and family that you’re “fine” can be a problem after an accident because if injuries appear later, you don’t want to have posted online that you weren’t injured.

Remember that anything that you post online could potentially be saved forever, even if you delete it or think it’s only visible to a select few people. If you want to communicate with friends and family after an accident, it’s best to just talk to them on the phone. Sharing on social media can work against you in court.

Did you know that truck accident law varies by state?

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