According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 3852 people died because of truck accidents in 2015. Furthermore, the IIHS asserts that this number is gradually increasing each year. Often, truck accidents usually lead to complex factual questions such as what caused the crash, which party should be held responsible, and how truck accident victims can be compensated for their suffering and pain. At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we specialize in helping truck accident victims in California receive monetary compensation for their injuries. Reach out to us to file your personal injury claim.
What to Do After a Truck Accident
What steps should you take if you have been involved in a truck accident? There tends to be much confusion in an accident scene. Some people, including you, may have been injured severely. Others may yell at you trying to find out who was at fault. Here is a detailed list of the first steps which you should take after a truck accident:
1. Remain at the Accident Scene
It isn’t advisable to escape the scene of the accident immediately after an accident has occurred, especially if you were driving the truck itself or another motor vehicle. If you decide to leave and another person was severely injured or died because of the accident, the prosecution department of California may charge you with the criminal offense of misdemeanor hit and run. You should only leave the accident scene if you are sure that no person has been injured and no private or public property has been damaged.
2. Assist any Person Who Has Been Injured Because of the Accident
If you have not been injured, find out whether there is any person who has incurred injuries because of the accident. Then, help him or her, get medical attention. If you find individuals who have back or neck pain or are unconscious, do not move them unless you are trying to protect them from a hazard. Wait for professional medical help instead.
3. Contact Law Enforcement Officers
Contact the police if you believe that the accident has caused significant damage to property, or death and physical injuries to other people. When law enforcement officers reach the scene of the accident, ask them to file a report. Also, you should obtain their badge numbers and names.
4. Exchange Information
Record the names, phone numbers, addresses, driver's license numbers, license plate numbers, and basic insurance details of all the motor vehicle and truck drivers who have been involved in the accident. If the accident also involved pedestrians and passengers, you should record their details too. This information will be vital when filing your claim.
Be cooperative and cordial when talking to other people involved in the accident. However, you shouldn't admit fault or tell them you are sorry for anything that happened in the crash. If you do, you will have admitted legal liability for the accident, and the court may order you to compensate all the affected parties based on your admission.
Don’t apologize even if you believe that you should be held responsible for the accident. Sometimes, it may be unclear which party at the accident scene is primarily at-fault; and there might be other factors that may have resulted in the accident which you don’t know.
5. Talk to Witnesses
Interrogate all the witnesses in the accident scene, and ask them to explain to you what they saw. Moreover, you should record their names, addresses, and phone numbers. These witnesses will assist you in proving your claim before the jury.
You can also ask them if they have ever witnessed any similar accident in that area. You never know – perhaps the truck accident happened in a dangerous road, and it is the city, county, or federal government which should be held liable.
6. Keep All the Details of Your Medical Treatment
Jot down all the medical professionals who treated your truck accident injuries, including doctors, chiropractors, and physiotherapists. Keep a record of each medical professional who had referred you to other caregivers and an account of the type of medications and treatment which you received. Moreover, request them to give you copies of your medical bills and report for you to obtain proof of all your expenses.
It is much easier to document medical expenses, but it is quite tricky to prove pain and suffering. Record how the injuries of the truck accident affected your day to day life. Include all the missed workdays, any activity which you failed to undertake because of the crash, and how the accident affected your loved ones.
7. Take Pictures
Take photos of the truck accident scene, including that of your damaged car. These pictures will help you assess the value of compensation you deserve. Also, you can use pictures of your vehicle which you took before the accident to help the court assess the extent of the damage.
8. Get a Property Damage Valuation
If the truck accident damaged your car or your valuable property, you should get a property damage valuation from your insurance provider. However, some insurance companies may fail to value your property correctly.
In case you have not been satisfied with how the insurance company has valued and assessed your property, you should not give up. Just be assertive and inform the insurance adjuster about your concerns. Alternatively, you can get replacement quotes or repair estimates from independent parties. If you cannot agree with the insurance company over the value of your property, you should consider mediation or reach out to an attorney.
9. Be Cautious When Discussing the Truck Accident
Do not discuss the accident with any other person besides the police, your insurance provider, or your attorney. Also, avoid talking to any agent from another insurance company without the consent of your lawyer. If another insurance company reaches out to you, remain polite, and refer them to your lawyer.
10. Do Not Accept Offers of Early Settlement
Be extremely careful if the insurance company of the party at-fault offers you a settlement. This is because the primary aim of some companies is to offer you the least amount of money possible for them to quickly settle your claim and make more profits.
Furthermore, not all injuries manifest themselves immediately after the accident. In fact, they can show up months after the accident; and they may have life-threatening consequences. Note that you won’t receive any further compensation when these injuries manifest themselves in the future if you had already accepted an early settlement offer. As a general rule, before you accept any settlement offer, you should consult an attorney for advice.
11. Contact a Truck Accident Personal Injury Attorney
After you've gathered all the information that you can find about the accident, you should contact a personal injury attorney. Then, focus on maximizing your recovery as your attorney helps you to obtain compensation for your injuries and defend you if you were at fault.
Don’t worry about legal fees - most personal injury attorneys are willing to represent you on contingency fee terms. This means that they will only be paid if the court awards you damages or you accept an offer of settlement.
Personal Injury Claims for Damages Caused by a Truck Accident
Any person who has been injured in a truck accident can institute a personal injury lawsuit for damages. The court will hold the person who is responsible for causing the accident liable, which can be either the trucking company or the truck driver.
The amount of damages that the court will award you will cover all your medical bills and the value of your lost wages and lost future earnings. You may also be compensated for the pain and suffering you have endured and the loss of consortium.
Generally, there are two types of compensatory damages: ‘economic damages’ and ‘non-economic damages.’ Economic damages can be assessed in monetary terms. They primarily cover for the financial expenses the injured party has incurred or will have to spend in the future. Typically, the scope of economic damages in personal injury lawsuits include:
- Medical bills
- Court costs
- ER treatment
- Future medical treatment
- Prescription drugs
- Medical supplies
- Loss of consortium for a domestic partner or spouse
- Vehicle repairs
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
On the other hand, it is quite challenging to assess non-economic damages monetarily. They cover for losses which the plaintiff has suffered emotionally and physically. Some examples of non-economic damages in a truck accident are:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Emotional distress
- Physical disfigurement or disability
Even if you are partly responsible for causing the truck accident, you will still be able to recover a portion of the damages. As per California's comparative fault laws, an at-fault driver can institute a civil claim for damages although he contributed to the occurrence of the accident. In such scenarios, the other party who is at-fault will compensate you in a specific percentage that the court determines. For example, you may receive 60% of your total damages if the court finds out that you participated in causing the truck accident by 40%.
Family members can institute wrongful death claims to obtain compensation for the death of their loved ones due to truck accidents. Such family members will be compensated for the burial and funeral expenses of the deceased, together with the lifetime earnings of the victim had he not died.
You can also claim for exemplary or punitive damages, especially in circumstances where the defendant acted with malice or caused the truck accident through extreme recklessness or intentional harm. The primary purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for his reprehensible conduct.
Make sure you contact a California truck accident attorney before you start negotiating with the insurance company of the truck driver or accept any offer of settlement. Most insurance companies may attempt to take advantage of the fact that you don’t have a lawyer to represent or defend you. These companies may even deny or delay your claim, or settle it with the least amount of money as possible.
Parties at Fault in a Truck Accident
The main factor which California courts utilize to determine the party at fault in a truck accident is negligence. Any negligent person will be responsible for the injuries suffered by the truck drivers, pedestrians, or passengers.
Generally, the court will deem a truck driver to be negligent if he violates one or more traffic laws or fails to exercise reasonable care while driving. Also, trucking companies will still be responsible for the losses caused by the truck accident if the court believes that they were negligent.
As the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit, you must show that the defendant was negligent and his negligence resulted in the accident. Here are the elements of negligence which you must prove in a California personal injury truck accident lawsuit:
- The truck driver owed the plaintiff a duty of care
- The truck driver breached the duty of care
- This breach was the primary cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
Truck drivers in California have a duty of care to other road users. This duty of care requires them to exercise reasonable caution and be on the lookout for others while operating their vehicles.
The Fault of the Truck Driver
Some truck drivers may violate traffic laws or drive recklessly. For example, they may text other people while driving, indulge in speeding, drive in improper lanes, drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and fail to obey traffic signals or yield to the right of way. The court will hold a truck driver to be negligent per se if he substantially violated a traffic law, and this violation resulted in the accident.
Most truck drivers usually work under a lot of pressure to meet delivery deadlines. This may make them drive recklessly. California traffic laws limit the number of driving hours a driver can be on the road. According to California's Vehicle Code 21702, it is a misdemeanor for a truck driver to spend too many hours on the road within 24 hours. Some truck drivers usually break this law by reporting false service hours.
Over 12% of the total number of truck accidents in California is attributed to driver non-performance issues such as falling asleep at the wheel. As per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers who transport cargo should drive for a maximum of 11 hours a day after a rest period of 10 consecutive hours. Additionally, drivers should not be permitted to drive after 60 – 70 hours on duty in 7 – 8 consecutive days. If drivers do not observe these limits, they make themselves more vulnerable to road accidents.
The Fault of the Trucking Company
Some trucking companies may be negligent and substantially contribute to the occurrence of the accident. For instance, they may recklessly or intentionally violate safety requirements or transportation regulations to make more profits. The court can hold a trucking company liable if it finds out that its reckless and negligent acts resulted in the accident. Some examples of these acts include overloading trailers, encouraging their employee drivers not to observe sleep and hour restrictions, allowing trucks to take on unbalanced cargo, negligent hiring, and training of employees, and failing to maintain trailers and trucks.
There are various regulations in California that limit the truck size, route designations, and weight for trailers and trucks. However, some companies may intentionally exceed these limits and even falsify their documents to deceive authorities and hide their violations. If a truck accident occurred, such companies would be held responsible, and the court may punish them with punitive damages.
Other Causes of Truck Accidents
Not all truck accidents are caused by the fault of either the truck driver or the trucking company. There are other causes of truck accidents in California.
For example, a motor vehicle driver may be negligent and fail to observe some traffic signs, thus causing an accident. Also, maybe the truck was made of defective parts and the company which designed it failed to warn the users of its defects. Alternatively, perhaps there were some dangerous road conditions at the accident scene, and the governmental agency that was in charge of that road had neglected to repair it. As the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit, you can sue multiple defendants provided that all of them were partially negligent in causing the accident.
Trucking Accident Injuries
The passengers of a truck have a much higher risk of incurring severe bodily injuries than the truck driver when an accident occurs. The weight of tractor-trailers is usually around 80,000 pounds. Trucks alone can weigh 20,000 pounds, without towing a trailer. Furthermore, they are high off the ground. This makes truck drivers be seated above the level of other drivers, thus protecting them from injuries in case of an accident.
There are various factors that influence the type of injuries an individual can get from a trucking accident. Some of these factors include the weight of the truck and trailer, the model and type of the truck, whether the truck has safety features, the speed of the vehicles involved, and the area of the accident.
The most grievous truck accidents often involve the damage of a motor vehicle, leaving the passengers trapped inside. In such scenarios, an emergency crew must arrive at the accident scene and free the occupants of the damaged car and rush them to the hospital if they are injured. If they are not freed quickly, their injuries might become more serious. In fact, they can bleed to death or become permanently disabled. The most common injuries in truck-trailer accidents include head trauma, smoke inhalation, brain injury, internal injuries, back and neck injuries, burns, and broken bones.
How to File a Truck Accident Personal Injury Lawsuit
You can file a claim for damages in a California civil court within two years from the time when the truck accident occurred. However, this time frame can be reduced per California's Statute of Limitations. For instance, you can only institute a personal injury lawsuit against the state of California within six months after the road accident. Therefore, you must get in touch with an attorney as quickly as possible to file your civil claim within the stipulated time limits.
The best time to contact a personal injury attorney is immediately after the accident occurred. Your attorney will handle your insurance claim, demand compensation from those who are responsible for the accident, and even institute a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. This way, you will completely focus on recovering from your injuries as your attorney deals with all the legal issues related to the truck accident.
Sometimes, you may not be sure of the person who caused the accident. In such situations, your attorney will name all the people you suspect of causing the accident and list them as potential defendants. For example, he can include the truck driver, the trucking company, the county or city government, and other motor vehicle drivers as defendants in your personal injury lawsuit. If the court finds out that all of them are liable, then it will proportion the total value of your damages per their degree of negligence and their impact in causing the truck accident.
In instances where the truck driver was solely responsible for causing the accident, the court may still hold the trucking company liable since its employee was negligent. Under California's Respondeat Superior Laws, the court can hold an employer to be vicariously liable for the negligence of his employees.
Find a California Truck Accident Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
We know how difficult it is for honest people to be compensated for their injuries after a truck accident. Often, these people usually accept low settlements, or they may give up on pursuing compensation because the insurance companies have denied their claims. At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we help truck accident victims in California by ensuring that they are fully compensated for their injuries. Call us today at 619-625-8707 and speak to an attorney.