A truck accident can cost you a lot of money. See how you can get the compensation you deserve.
A truck accident can be more complicated than a collision with a passenger car. For one thing, there are often several parties at fault. For another, truck accidents often cause severe injuries. If you’ve been in a truck accident, you’re probably trying to figure out where to turn and what to do next.
These truck accident FAQs can get you on your way to recovery.
Q: What’s classified as a “commercial truck”?
A: A commercial truck could be a “big rig” or any vehicle designed for transporting commercial goods. It could include 18-wheeler tractor trailers, the delivery vehicles you might see in your neighborhood, tanker trucks, or other large freight trucks. The drivers of these trucks must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Q: What are common causes of truck accidents?
A: Truck accidents could be caused by a variety of factors, and sometimes it’s a combination of more than one. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Truck driver error (speeding, failure to brake on time, poor maneuvering)
- Passenger car driver error (for example, failure to properly gauge a truck’s speed or traveling in the truck’s blind spot)
- Mechanical failure
- Cargo load problems
- Failure to reduce speed in bad weather
- Driver fatigue, drug use, or distraction
Q: Why are truck accident injuries more serious than other car accidents?
A: Any accident involving passenger cars can result in severe injury or fatality. But truck accidents raise that risk because, quite simply, a truck far outweighs a passenger car. The average passenger vehicle weighs about 3,000 pounds. A big rig with its cargo load could be up to 80,000 pounds. If that truck hits a small car, there’s no way the car can stand up to that impact.
In addition, many truck accidents happen on highways when they’re traveling at high speeds. Speed plus impact of a heavy vehicle usually leaves occupants of a passenger car with severe injuries.
Q: Is it true that there’s no liability on the trucker if a truck jackknifes?
A: Yes and no. Sometimes, a court will find that the driver had to jackknife in order to avoid some other accident. For example, if the road was very slippery and the driver was operating the truck at a reasonable speed for the weather, the driver could avoid liability.
If a truck driver had to make an abrupt turn in order to avoid another stalled vehicle and the truck jackknifes, that might also be a situation where it’s determined that the jackknife couldn’t be prevented.
However, if the driver was speeding or negligent for some other reason (like distracted driving or an unsafe lane change), they would likely be at fault in a jackknife accident.
Q: Who’s at fault in a truck accident?
A: That’s a complicated question. It’s complicated enough that Enjuris has an entire page explaining truck accident liability. The short version is that there might be several parties that bear some percent of the liability. These might include:
- Truck driver
- Driver’s employer
- Trucking company
- Truck or part manufacturer
Even if the accident was caused by truck driver error, sometimes their employer is legally liable for their negligence. This depends on the terms of a driver’s employment contract—whether they’re an employee or independent contractor—and other considerations.
If the driver was negligent because they’d been on the road for more hours and with less sleep than federal regulations require, that might also be the trucking company’s fault.
There will be a lot of questions about liability, depending on the type of accident and the results. If a truck tipped over, it’s possible that the cargo wasn’t loaded properly. Who’s responsible for that? It might be the shipper, or it could be the trucking company. All of these questions can be answered through the discovery process in a lawsuit. Your lawyer will likely request copies of contracts and other documents that will set forth who has legal liability.
If the accident was caused by a mechanical failure like a problem with brakes, steering, cargo restraints, a faulty hitch, or something else, it’s possible that the manufacturer of the truck or the part is to blame. If that happens, it would mean a product liability lawsuit, rather than a regular personal injury case.
Q: What if I’m at fault for the truck accident? Can I recover anything?
A: Maybe. There can be several factors involved in a truck accident, so you might share liability with another party. In some states, you can’t recover anything if you were at fault for any part of the accident.
In others, you can recover based on your percentage of liability. For instance, if the court finds that you were 15% liable for the crash, you could receive damages reduced by 15% of the total award.
Some states limit recovery based on whether you were more or less than 50% at fault. The chart below outlines what the fault system is in your state.
Fault Systems by State
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If there’s any possibility of shared fault between you and any other party, your lawyer’s job is to minimize your liability. The insurance companies or lawyers for any other party (the trucking company, for example) might say that the accident was all your fault, and your lawyer will try to defend you if that happens.
Q: How much can I receive in damages for a truck accident?
It’s important to begin right away keeping a record of expenses associated with the accident. Keep a note of every medical appointment, medication cost, any adaptive devices (wheelchair, crutches, prosthetics, etc.), lost wages, expenses for life activities that you can no longer do on your own (if you need an aide to help with your daily hygiene, cooking, cleaning, or other tasks), and any other expenses associated with the accident. Keep track of everything, even if your medical or auto insurance has paid for it.
The amount you recover will depend on the severity of your injuries, how much time you were out of work, and other factors like pain and suffering. Your lawyer works with medical experts, accountants, and other professionals to calculate your future expenses and will make a demand based on the amount lost and future anticipated expenses.
Q: I live near the site of a truck accident where hazardous substances were released into the air. I now have respiratory problems. What are my legal remedies?
A: The shipper might be liable for injuries if a truck accident releases a harmful substance. If you were harmed by exposure to gases or other chemicals but not directly involved in the accident, this would likely be a toxic tort.
A toxic tort is a lawsuit to recover from injury or illness that’s the result of exposure to a pollutant in the air, ground, or water.
Q: Are there lawyers who have specific expertise in truck accident lawsuits?
A: Absolutely. A personal injury lawyer is trained to understand the steps in a lawsuit and how to use the evidence to the client’s advantage.
However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific regulations for commercial vehicles, licenses, cargo, components, drivers, and every other aspect to commercial transportation.
A truck accident lawyer knows these regulations, understands how trucking companies sometimes try to get around them, and is familiar with how the trucking company is going to try to communicate with you.
Q: What do I do after a truck accident?
A: First, focus on your physical recovery. Get the treatment you need to get back on your feet after an injury. Next, start looking for a truck accident lawyer. You might already be working with an adjuster for your insurance company, but the adjuster isn’t allowed to give you legal advice.
The trucking company is going to aim to pay you the least amount of money possible, and it’s going to want quick settlement so that it can avoid liability or a lengthy legal process.
Don’t agree to anything, sign documents, or accept money from the trucking company or its insurer. Doing so might affect your ability to receive compensation later. Instead, let them know you’re in the process of hiring a lawyer and they can deal with the law firm directly. Or just wait to communicate at all.
Use the Enjuris Personal Injury Law Firm Directory to find an experienced truck accident attorney near you, who will get what you need to recover costs for your injuries.