This page will look at truck accident lawsuits, meaning injury cases involving commercial trucks, also known as tractor-trailer trucks or big rigs. The average tractor-trailer can weigh around 40,000 lbs., compared to the average car which weighs 5,000 lbs. When big trucks crash into smaller vehicles, they can cause significant damage. When these accidents occur, drivers and passengers typically sustain serious injuries or even death. Personal injury claims involving commercial trucks generally are unique. Recovering compensation requires an understanding of the complexity of these claims.
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What Makes Truck Accident Cases Different
Personal injury lawsuits involving accidents with tractor-trailers or big rig trucks are significantly different than normal auto accident cases. Although the basic legal concepts are the same, truck accident cases are significantly different in a number of different ways.
The first thing that makes big truck accident cases different is that they tend to be higher stakes. When a massive tractor-trailer truck slams into a much smaller passenger vehicle, it can cause major damage. The impact force in truck collisions is much higher, so the injuries to the driver and occupants of the other vehicle are often much more serious than what you see in a normal accident.
More damage and more serious injuries mean that the amount of money at stake in truck accident cases is usually much higher than in car accident cases. While standard passenger vehicle accidents may also include large financial damages, the likelihood is substantially higher in accidents involving commercial trucks. In fatal truck accidents, 97% of fatalities are the people in passenger vehicles, not-at-fault drivers.
Truck Regulations and Laws
Another major reason why truck accident cases are so different is because there is a separate body of law and regulations that apply to commercial trucks. Commercial trucks and tractor-trailers are subject to numerous local, state, and federal laws. They are also subject to a range of federal trucking regulations. Attorneys must have an understanding of these regulations to identify when someone has violated them. Many states have detailed trucking regulations that can be very impactful to the outcome of a case. Your accident lawyer needs to have a working understanding of these trucking laws and regulations and how to leverage them to your advantage to get the most compensation for your case.
Evidence Preservation and Gathering
Gathering and preserving evidence in tractor-trailer truck accident cases is much different than it is in a regular accident case. Most big rig trucks maintain black box devices that measure various parameters to assist in determining how the truck accident occurred. Black boxes are onboard information recorders that are capable of capturing operational data through a truck’s electronic network. These boxes can be vital to proving the validity of a victim’s case and are not seen in typical passenger vehicle accidents.
Black boxes also lead to another important consideration, the preservation of evidence. Drivers and trucking companies have an incentive to destroy evidence that does not support their version of the facts. Black boxes are on board most trucks and capture relevant information. Meaning, that they provide a unique advantage to victims of trucking accidents. Parties in a truck accident case have a duty to retain evidence that could be relevant to the crash. To preserve this evidence, a victim must work with an attorney to put the defendants on notice of a potential claim.
Given the incentive to alter evidence, this may seem problematic and time-sensitive. In most states, the courts view the destruction or alteration of evidence as wrongdoing by that party. When this occurs, Maryland courts assume that the destroyed evidence contained information most favorable to the victim. By doing this, courts provide an advantage to victims and help lead to the most equitable results.
Truck Company Negligence
In contrast to normal vehicle accidents, trucking accidents most often involve two separate defendants: the truck driver and the trucking company. To ensure maximum available coverage, plaintiffs need to go after both the driver and the trucking company. Suing the trucking company usually involves a claim for negligent entrustment or negligent supervision. These causes of action focus on the employer’s responsibility to the victim. For example, if the company failed to properly screen or train the driver, the employer could be held liable. Likewise, a victim could bring a claim for negligent maintenance. This legal theory relates to a company or driver who failed to properly maintain their truck.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents can happen for a wide range of reasons, and every individual accident is different and unique. For the most part, truck accidents can happen for the same basic reasons that regular auto accidents happen: inattentive or distracted driving, poor weather conditions, etc. There are, however, certain things risks presented by tractor-trailer trucks that commonly cause truck accidents.
Due to their size and significant weight, big rigs have a difficult time slowing down. If a truck weighs more, it requires a longer distance to stop and avoid an accident. When truck drivers fail to realize the length needed to prevent an accident, the risk of a rear-end truck collision increases.
Another common cause of truck accidents is jackknifing. Jackknifing is when an eighteen-wheel truck’s axle brakes lock up, causing it to skid. The truck’s two separate parts fold in on itself at the point of separation, forming a 90-degree angle with the vehicle. If this occurs, the trailer may flip over and roll. Jackknifing can occur at speeds as low as five miles per hour. Slippery roads, high speeds, or sharp turns can all cause a truck accident from jackknifing. A jackknife accident can cause severe personal injuries and happens more often than one would think. In fact, nearly five percent of all truck accidents are jackknife collisions.
Large commercial vehicles often need to make very wide turns. To do so, they require the driver to use more than one lane of traffic when turning. To turn, drivers must keep the rear wheels from hitting parked vehicles or the sidewalk. During this process, it is difficult to see because trucks have a partially obstructed view. The lack of ability to see doesn’t provide an adequate look at lanes and oncoming traffic. When a driver cannot view the full road, a collision with an unsuspecting passenger is more likely.
One of the most common causes of truck accidents is driver fatigue. The Federal Highway Administration’s Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study describes that fatigue exacerbates all the problems that cause truck accidents. Often, these truck drivers are overworked and over-exhausted from driving all day and night. Creating a situation where a driver cannot concentrate or potentially fall asleep at the wheel. This study showed that the average truck driver only gets 4.8 hours of sleep. The skill and knowledge required to drive a commercial vehicle don’t leave room for a lapse in concentration.
How Truck Accident Settlements Are Calculated
Settlement amounts in truck accident cases are based on a number of different factors, all of which are aimed at calculating the damages that the plaintiff would potentially be entitled to if the case went to trial. Legally, injured plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for all economic losses and all mental pain and suffering resulting from injuries suffered in the accident. Below is a breakdown of how the various elements of damages factor into truck accident settlements.
If you get physically injured in a truck accident, you are entitled to recover damages for all medical expenses you incur in treating the injuries caused by the accident. This includes not just past medical expenses, but also future medical expenses.
- Past Medical Expenses: You are entitled to damages for the costs of all doctors, specialists, surgeons, physical therapists, chiropractors, etc., related to the injuries caused by the accident.
- Future Medical Expenses: If the injuries you suffered in the accident will require future medical procedures or treatment (e.g., surgeries, therapies, medications, and other medical aids) you can recover damages for those future expenses.
Lost Income / Wages
If you miss time from work or are unable to earn a living as a result of injuries suffered in the truck accident, you are legally entitled to recover damages for the amount of lost wages or lost income. Like medical bills, this includes both future and past lost wages or income. In cases involving very serious, permanent injuries, future lost earnings capacity can be a very large element of damages.
Pain and Suffering
Accident victims are allowed to recover monetary damages to compensate for mental pain and suffering they experience as a direct result of the physical injuries they sustain in the accident. In many cases, pain and suffering are the biggest part of the damages awarded in the case. Unlike lost wages and medical expenses, there is no precise way to calculate the amount of money someone should get for pain and suffering. This is an inherently emotional quantification.
So how do insurance companies calculate pain and suffering damages for purposes of settlement valuation? Insurance companies invariably use some type of formula to calculate pain and suffering damages. The most common method is to calculate pain and suffering by multiplying the plaintiff’s economic damages (i.e., lost wages, medical expenses) by a pre-determined multiplier. For example, if the plaintiff’s economic damages are $100,000, some insurance companies will apply a multiplier of .5 to calculate pain and suffering at $50,000.
Plaintiff can get damages for emotional distress that is directly related to physical injuries suffered in the accident. Damages for emotional distress are very closely related to pain and suffering damages, and the two categories are often grouped together.
Other Factors the Impact Settlement Amounts
- Shared Fault: All states have rules dealing with “shared fault” situations, where the plaintiff is partly at fault for causing the accident. If you are in a state that follows the strict rule of contributory negligence, the insurance company will use this to lower your settlement offer.
- Strength of Evidence: Cases where the evidence of the truck driver’s liability is very clear and undisputed will have a higher settlement value compared to cases where liability is unclear.
- Likable Victim: The personality and likability of the plaintiff can have a major impact on the potential settlement value of a case. Why? Because juries make decisions with their hearts and if they find the plaintiff likable they will tend to rule in their favor. Insurance companies understand this and will increase their settlement offers to avoid going to trial with a likable plaintiff.
Truck Accident Verdicts & Settlements
Below are summaries of recent verdicts and publicly reported settlements from accident cases involving tractor-trailers or large commercial trucks.
$4,500,000 Verdict (Massachusetts 2023): In Massachusetts, a truck driver suffered severe injuries after an employee of a pre-owned industrial equipment seller, known for his inadequate training, dropped a 4,000-pound load on him while operating a hi-lo forklift. The company, despite being aware of the employee’s unsafe operating practices, failed to enforce necessary safety measures or provide adequate supervision. The truck driver, facing significant injuries including fractures, nerve damage, and a dislocated elbow and shoulder, filed a lawsuit against the equipment seller. The case was tried in a federal court in Michigan, not because of where the accident occurred, but due to the legal principle of jurisdiction. Since the defendant, the equipment seller, was based in Michigan, the federal court there had jurisdiction over the case, allowing the lawsuit to be tried in that state. The jury held the equipment seller fully accountable for the negligence of their employee. The driver was awarded $4.5 million in damages, a sum that included compensation for both economic losses and noneconomic damages.
$2,530,000 Verdict (Pennsylvania 2023): At a Family Dollar, a 50-year-old truck driver was pinned by a Schneider National Inc. tractor-trailer, enduring grave pelvic and sacrum injuries. Holding Schneider, Family Dollar, and others responsible for negligence and the hazardous environment, he sued in state court. The jury awarded $4.6 million in damages but comparative negligence of the reduced final award of $2,912,688.49 for the injured driver.
$1,260,000 Verdict (Louisiana 2023): The plaintiff, a 67-year-old male, said he was driving a pickup truck near a highway intersection and stopped for a red traffic light. While stopped, the plaintiff said his pickup truck was struck by an eighteen wheel tractor trailer operated by the defendant. The plaintiffs’ injuries included worsening of compression fractures in the lumbar region of his spine and other lower back injuries for which he received bilateral radiofrequency ablations. The plaintiff also suffered a tear of the scapholunate ligament in his left wrist, for which scapholunate ligament reconstruction with pin neurectomy was performed.
$490,000 Verdict (Texas 2023): The plaintiff was topped in his pickup truck, waiting to make a left turn, when he was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer driven by the defendant. The plaintiff claimed to suffer a brain injury, spine injuries, a shoulder injury, and an ankle injury. He said he required five surgeries as a result of his injuries. He sued both the truck driver, and the trucking company for negligent supervision.
$1,000,000 Settlement (Washington 2023): The plaintiff, a 49-year-old sales rep, was driving his work van when he was rear-ended by a freightliner tractor-trailer. The plaintiffs’ injuries included cervical and lumbar strains; aggravation or “lighting up” of pre-existing, asymptomatic, degenerative disc and joint disease of the cervical spine. Permanency claimed. He underwent selective nerve blocks and surgery for an anterior cervical decompression and fusion at C6-7 and C7-T1. The case settled just days before trial.
$350,000 Verdict (New Jersey 2023): The plaintiff was driving southbound in the right lane when a tractor trailer driver attempted to execute a right turn from the center lane directly in front of her lane of travel, causing her to brake and her vehicle was struck from the rear by a vehicle operated by another driver. The plaintiff reported injuries including C4-C6 disc herniations requiring block injections and radiofrequency ambulation, L4-L5 disc bulging requiring injections and a SLAP tear to her right shoulder requiring arthroscopic surgery.
$4,700,000 Verdict (Illinois 2023): The plaintiff was driving in a north-easterly direction when his SUV’s front-end was struck by a tractor-trailer operated by defendant who was acting within the scope of his employment for the co-defendant paving company. The plaintiff was reportedly attempting to make a left turn at a controlled intersection when the defendant, driving eastbound, failed to stop, causing the collision. Because of the accident, the plaintiff reportedly suffered multiple injuries, including fractures of his left arm, left elbow, and ribs, as well as injuries to his head, neck, and spine. The plaintiff said he underwent multiple surgeries and suffered anxiety.
$2,380,000 Verdict (Florida 2023): The plaintiff said his vehicle was stopped at a red light when it was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer operated by the defendant in the course and scope of his employment with defendant Republic Services of Florida, LP. The plaintiff allegedly suffered injuries, including to his neck and lower back, and required a fusion procedure. The verdict included $187,000 for past medical expenses and $242,000 for future medical expenses, plus $1.5 million for pain and suffering.
$178,000 Verdict (Georgia 2023): The plaintiff was driving a pickup truck north on an interstate entry ramp when his vehicle was rear-ended by a semi tractor-trailer driven by defendant, an employee of defendant Crete Carrier Corporation. The collision reportedly caused the plaintiff’s vehicle to collide with the vehicle in front of him. The truck driver was issued a citation for following too closely. The plaintiff reportedly suffered injuries, including a ruptured cervical disc and myeloradiculopathy and required fusion surgery. He was allegedly diagnosed with 28 percent whole person impairment. Atlanta Truck Accident Lawsuits
$715,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2023): A college student in his early twenties was walking across a road crossed a roadway at a cross walk when he was hit by a tractor–trailer operated by the defendant and owned by defendant ABF Freight System Inc. The student was killed in the accident and his family brought a wrongful death case against the driver and trucking company. Pennsylvania Truck Accident Lawsuits
Contact Our Truck Accident Lawyers
The truck accident lawyers at Miller & Zois handle big truck accident injury cases across the country. If you have been seriously injured in a big truck accident, call us today at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation, or contact us online.