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Negotiating a Settlement After a Truck Accident

truck accident settlements

Settling out of court is often the best way to get what you need after a truck accident

If you’re weighing the pros and cons of settlement or trial, settlement usually wins. Here are the reasons why it’s to your advantage to settle out of court, and how to work with your truck accident lawyer to make it happen.

Why settle?

Because a truck accident settlement can be the key to you getting the money you need to cover expenses for your losses.

“Losses” doesn’t mean just material things. Sure, you might need to replace your vehicle and its contents. But you also might have lost wages from time out of work or expenses paid for services like house cleaning, cooking, and transportation. And then there’s medical costs for diagnostic testing, treatment and rehabilitative therapy, or pain and suffering.

The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to make the plaintiff “whole.” Money can’t take away physical or emotional pain, and it can’t bring back a loved one lost in a fatal accident. But the legal process is intended to compensate an injured person in a way that returns you to the condition you’d be in if the accident or harm had never happened in the first place.

In a civil lawsuit (which is any lawsuit that’s not criminal), the only recovery is money. A settlement is when the parties negotiate an amount of money and the defendant pays the plaintiff the agreed-upon amount in exchange for the plaintiff not moving forward with a lawsuit. A settlement can be reached at any time during the legal process, including during a trial.

5 benefits to settling a truck accident lawsuit (for plaintiffs)

A settlement usually benefits all parties. Here are some reasons why a settlement might be better than a trial:

1. A trial is time-consuming

It can take years for a lawsuit to get to trial, and then there could be an appeal. If there’s an appeal, the case goes to a higher court and sometimes the entire process begins again, which takes even more time. In addition to not having closure while the trial is taking place, you also don’t have money to pay medical expenses or other costs while you’re waiting.

2. You might have to testify

If the trucking company claims you were liable for any part of the accident, you might need to answer questions about how the accident happened and what role you might have had. You might also need to testify about the details of your physical or mental condition before and after the accident in order to demonstrate to the judge or jury how injured you are and how much money you require. For some people, testifying before a jury is stressful and complicated.

3. Attorney fees can increase at trial

Most personal injury lawyers work for a contingency fee, meaning they don’t get paid until you win a case or receive a settlement. When you receive a damage award, your lawyer gets a percentage that you agree to when you sign a retainer contract. Most of the time, the lawyer’s percentage is about 33% of what you recover. Most contracts will raise that percentage to about 40% if the case goes to trial.

In some states, if you win less at trial than what the defendant originally offered to settle, you might even need to pay the defendant’s attorney fees (in addition to your own).

4. You lose privacy at trial

A settlement can be private, including the amount of money you recover. When you go to trial, everything becomes public record. Witness testimony, evidence, and money awards are available for whoever wants to view the trial or read a transcript later. That includes any cross-examination by the other side that attempts to make you appear untruthful, unreliable or untrustworthy.

It might also include information about your medical or mental conditions either before or after the accident. The settlement agreement is a contract, and it’s common to include a non-disclosure clause, which means neither party is permitted to share it publicly.

5. A jury is unpredictable

You might think (and your lawyer might agree) that you have an air-tight case and that any jury or judge will take your side. But you don’t know who’s on the jury, what personal baggage they bring with them, and why they make the decisions they do. Sometimes a jury makes a decision that no one saw coming, so a jury trial is always a calculated risk.

Benefits of settling a truck accident claim (for defendants)

So far, we’ve discussed all the reasons why a settlement benefits you, but what’s in it for the defendant? The reasons why you might want to avoid trial are all factors for the defendant, too.

Especially if the defendant is a large trucking company or other well-known business, the last thing it wants is a public trial. A settlement makes the case “go away.” A defendant can offer a settlement agreement without admitting liability. For the purposes of protecting their reputation and insurance coverage, this is a big benefit.

In all likelihood, you get into a small handful of collisions in your lifetime. This one might be more serious than others because a truck accident often results in more severe injuries than accidents between passenger cars.

But while you’re trying to cover your medical costs and focusing on this one lawsuit, the trucking company might be defending itself against dozens or hundreds of lawsuits just like yours. It definitely doesn’t want to spend time or money going to trial for these cases. The easier it is to reach settlement, the sooner it can move on.

How much can you recover in a truck accident settlement?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates minimum insurance coverage amounts for trucking companies based on the type of freight being hauled. However, a large commercial truck like a semi or 18-wheeler can cause devastating injuries to occupants of a passenger car. Often, the insurance coverage doesn’t even come close to covering the medical costs of an injured passenger car driver, which could reach into the millions of dollars.

If you were in a truck accident, you can recover damages for these losses:

  1. Medical expenses, including diagnostic testing (like MRI, CT scans, ultrasounds, or bloodwork), prescription medications, hospital and doctor visits and other treatment
  2. Lost wages, both past and future, including long-term disabilities
  3. Lost earning potential
  4. Property and vehicle damage or replacement
  5. Pain and suffering
  6. Wrongful death, if you’re a survivor of a family member who died in a truck accident

What factors determine a settlement amount in a truck accident?

There are two main aspects to any legal claim: injury and liability.

Injury is the harm you suffered from another person or company’s behavior. A more severe injury leads to higher amounts of damages because you require more intensive and long-term medical treatment.

Liability refers to who caused the accident. Both sides will look at material from police reports, accident reconstruction experts, accident scene photos, and any other available evidence to determine how the accident happened. It’s not always the truck driver’s fault. Sometimes the driver of a car makes a mistake that causes an accident, either completely or in part.

How liability is determined depends on where you live. There are four legal models for determining fault:

  1. Pure contributory negligence: You can’t recover any damages if you were at all at fault.
  2. Pure comparative negligence: Your damage recovery amount is reduced by the percentage for which you’re at fault.
  3. Modified comparative fault (50% rule): You can recover damages if you’re 50% or less at fault.
  4. Modified comparative fault (51% rule): You can recover damages if you’re 51% or less at fault.

The chart below shows which states follow each of these rules:

Fault Systems by State

Fatality also plays a role in determining the amount of a settlement. If you were injured, you can figure out the dollar value of costs incurred. But how do you put a value on a person’s life? A wrongful death lawsuit might result in a larger settlement that might even include punitive damages.

How much you can recover from a truck accident settlement depends on a lot of factors. Although there are online calculators and formulas to figure it out, your best bet is to work with your truck accident lawyer to come up with a reasonable demand figure.

Damages/Expenses Worksheet
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format

The best scenario in a truck accident is to reach a quick settlement, but negotiation is an art. Your lawyer knows how to minimize your liability and establish what expenses you need covered. Your lawyer also knows it’s unlikely that you’ll end up with exactly the dollar figure in your demand, but you and the trucking company can hopefully meet in the middle in a way that provides the compensation you need and deserve.

Use the Enjuris Personal Injury Law Firm Directory to find a qualified, experienced truck accident lawyer who can help you settle your case.

 

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