“Tractor trailer” is a term the trucking industry uses to refer to a combination of a trailer and a truck or on-road tractor. A tractor-trailer comprises two entirely different vehicles, allowing truckers to hook their truck to other trailers and trailers to other trucks.
Generally, a tractor-trailer is used for transporting materials or goods from one place to another. For instance, delivering perishable goods to the shelves of a grocery store.
Due to their sheer size and weight, tractor-trailers pose a life-threatening danger to other road users, particularly occupants of smaller passenger vehicles.
In 2020, large trucks were involved in 4,842 fatal accidents, accounting for nine percent of all motor vehicles involved in fatal accidents. Moreover, these large truck crashes resulted in 4,965 fatalities in the same year.
Suppose you were involved in a tractor-trailer accident. Legal options are available to you to recover compensation for your losses. You can file an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit to seek damages for your injuries.
Regardless of your approach, obtaining legal advice from a personal injury lawyer is advisable. Law firms offer free consultations to accident victims and review their cases, allowing you to discuss which legal remedy is best for your truck accident case.
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1. Common Causes of Tractor Trailer Accidents
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recorded at least one driver-related factor for 32 percent of truck drivers involved in fatal crashes. According to the agency, speeding is the most frequent driver-related factor, closely followed by impaired driving.
However, several different factors can contribute to large truck accidents.
Truck driver fatigue
Impaired driving is among the leading causes of commercial truck accidents in the US, as revealed by FMCSA. It includes fatigue, intoxicated driving, and driving with an illness.
Most truckers work long hours and are expected to remain alert while on duty. Sleep or rest deprivation can result in a lack of focus, leading to misjudgment while on the road. Fatigue can also affect a driver’s response time and ability to operate a big rig, particularly when driving along potential road hazards.
Due to safety issues regarding truck driver fatigue, the federal government has implemented hours-of-service rules. Under federal regulations, drivers of commercial trucks can operate a big rig for a maximum of 11 hours. Likewise, the government requires truckers to take a break for at least 30 consecutive minutes after eight hours of driving time.
Unsecured or heavy cargo
Semi-trucks usually transport cargo, including heavy or oversized materials. Trucking companies must load cargo properly according to industry specifications to transport them safely. This includes observing weight and size limits to prevent rollover accidents.
In addition, large trucks that transport hazardous materials must comply with storage and handling regulations. Truckers must adhere to these rules to minimize the migration of harmful chemicals or substances onto roadways,
Improperly loaded cargo can lead the tractor-trailer to tip, shift, or roll due to unbalanced weight distribution. Additionally, improperly secured materials can fall onto the road, creating hazardous road conditions for other motorists and potentially causing accidents.
Truck drivers, like other motorists, must carefully inspect their rig before embarking on a long-haul drive. A trucking company or operator might not be aware of mechanical issues that could pose a traffic risk.
For instance, a faulty brake system or worn brake pads could cause life-threatening motor vehicle collisions, endangering truckers and occupants of lighter, smaller vehicles.
Common maintenance and mechanical-related safety concerns include the following:
- Underinflated tires
- Cracked windshield
- Transmission failure
- Faulty coupling equipment, which attaches the trailer to the truck
- Lighting system outages
- Faulty steering or suspension
2. Common Injuries From Semi-truck Accidents
A semi-truck accident can be a traumatic event resulting in serious injuries to all parties involved. Due to the weight and size of commercial vehicles, the consequences can be life-altering, causing permanent disabilities or wrongful death.
The recovery process can be lengthy and arduous, requiring extensive medical treatment, rehabilitation, and ongoing care. Even with the best medical care, injured victims may have to live with significant disfigurement or complications.
Back and neck injuries
Back and neck injuries are common outcomes of truck accidents, ranging from minor neck pain due to whiplash to severe spinal cord injuries.
In severe accidents, bone fragments can break and become lodged into the spine, while neck or head contortion can damage the spinal cord.
Even minor whiplashes can result in blurred vision, headaches, and back pain or stiffness.
Typically, accident victims do not notice the effects of whiplash immediately, as symptoms may not appear until 24 hours after the incident.
Accident victims may sustain traumatic brain injuries, especially during sudden stops like those in an auto accident. Upon impact, the brain can be jostled and touch the walls of the skull, causing a concussion.
Mild traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, can cause symptoms such as changes in behavior or mood, confusion, and depression. Other effects associated with brain injuries include the following:
- Outbursts of anger
- Memory loss
- Intellectual deficiencies
- Inability to concentrate
More serious brain injuries can also lead to complications such as seizures and neurological problems.
Semi-trucks can also transport dangerous chemicals on the road, including fuel. In an accident, the truck may tip over, resulting in gasoline and chemical leaks. These substances can be highly explosive, posing a risk to those involved in the accident.
Victims of tractor-trailer accidents can sustain burn injuries, which can lead to permanent disfigurement or death. Burn injuries are life-threatening and likely to cause fluid loss, infections, and other complications. In severe cases, burn-injury victims require blood transfusion or limb amputation.
3. How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help in Your Claim
Lawyers specialize in various areas of law, such as family and divorce, criminal, or constitutional law. It is essential to contact a lawyer who specifically handles tort law cases when dealing with a truck accident.
Truck accident attorneys focus on personal injury cases and have extensive knowledge of federal laws in the truck industry. They are experts in truck accident cases and know how to gather the necessary evidence and build a solid case.
A successful attorney-client relationship will help you make informed decisions and better understand the legal processes involved.
Provide legal strategy
There are typically two legal options for recovering damages in a truck accident case— insurance claims and civil litigation. After reviewing the case, your lawyer can determine which approach is best suited for your situation.
Insurance claims involve filing a personal injury claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company. This process is usually quicker and less expensive than going to court. In many cases, insurance companies prefer to settle outside of court. If the claim is successful, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance will be triggered.
On the other hand, civil litigation occurs when accident victims file a lawsuit against the truck driver, trucking company, or other parties. Unlike insurance claims, civil litigation is a more complex and time-consuming process.
However, taking your truck accident case to court can result in larger compensation awards. Sometimes, going to court is necessary, especially when the liable party’s insurance policies do not cover all of the damages from the incident.
Occasionally, accident victims can pursue insurance claims and civil litigation simultaneously. For example, the insurance company unnecessarily delays your claim or refuses to provide a settlement offer for your losses. Working with a knowledgeable truck accident attorney who can guide you through the legal process and help you make informed decisions is best.
Negotiate with insurance companies
Your truck accident attorney can also negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf. Lawyers have experience handling insurance claims and can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.
Insurance companies may offer a low settlement to accident victims who do not have legal representation. In these situations, their settlement offer may be much lower than what victims are entitled to receive.
Accident victims trying to negotiate with adjusters alone may not know how to obtain a fair settlement. A lawyer can advise clients on accepting or rejecting an offer and explain the legal implications.
Represent you during trials
As mentioned, accident victims may need to bring their cases to trial when they cannot reach a fair settlement, especially when there is a dispute over who is liable for the accident.
Personal injury attorneys are experienced in appearing before a jury and presenting evidence compellingly. With a truck accident attorney, you will have a professional who can effectively argue on your behalf and present your case in the best way possible.
4. Who Can Be Liable for a Commercial Truck Accident
As with car accidents, multiple parties can also be responsible for the injuries and damages resulting from a commercial truck accident. In most cases, the truck driver or another motorist who was recklessly driving is at-fault for the incident.
However, the trucking company that owns the semi-truck may also be responsible for the accident. They are responsible for ensuring that their drivers are adequately trained and trucks properly maintained. Additionally, they must comply with federal regulations, such as the hours of service rules that limit a truck operator’s driving time.
Other parties, such as the manufacturer, may also be liable for a semi-truck accident. Suppose a defective truck component caused the incident. They must pay for damages to injured victims. Meanwhile, the truck’s loader or shipper may be liable if they improperly loaded or secured the cargo.
5. How To File a Truck Accident Lawsuit
For your truck accident lawsuit to succeed, you must establish the following grounds for negligence:
- The defendant (the truck driver or another party) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff or injured victim.
- The defendant breached that duty by acting negligently or recklessly.
- The defendant caused the victim to sustain injuries
- The plaintiff suffered damages due to the incident.
Once you have determined that your case meets all the requirements for a truck accident lawsuit, hire a truck accident lawyer to start the legal process. They will investigate your case, gather evidence, and negotiate with the insurance companies.
Afterward, your lawyer will send a demand letter to the at-fault party. This letter will detail the extent of your injuries, damages, and the compensation you are seeking. It is an official notice that you intend to file a lawsuit if both parties disagree on a settlement amount.
Suppose you and the insurance company cannot reach a settlement offer, your lawyer will file a complaint with the court and serve it to the parties involved in the accident. The complaint will detail the victim’s legal claims and the damages they wish to recover.
6. Types of Evidence for a Truck Accident Case
Compelling evidence is the foundation of a successful truck accident lawsuit. It must establish that the other party is liable for the incident and support your legal claims.
The more evidence you present, the stronger your case will be. Evidence can include police reports, witness statements, video footage, and expert testimony.
Moreover, evidence can demonstrate the extent of your injuries and the damages you have suffered. This may include medical costs, records, and testimonies from medical experts.
Tractor-trailer accidents have unique evidence that can help build your case.
Black box data and in-cab camera
The semi-truck’s black box data can establish the truck’s speed during the accident and provide information on whether the truck driver used brakes and how long they drove without taking a break.
Most trucks have cameras installed in their cab that can capture footage of what the driver was doing leading up to the accident, regardless of whether the camera is facing inward or outward. This evidence can be used to prove liability and support the victim’s legal claims.
Maintenance and trucker inspection records
Trucking companies must maintain and repair their trucks when needed, as per the FMCSA regulations. By examining maintenance records, you can determine if they have followed these requirements.
Additionally, trucker drivers must conduct pre-trip and post-trip truck inspections. By reviewing trucker inspection records, you can determine if any safety issues existed before the driver operated the truck.
Shipper documents can provide critical evidence in a truck accident case. They can reveal if the shipping company loaded cargo improperly on the day of the accident, which can make them liable for your injuries. If this happens, you can file a truck accident claim against their insurance company.
7. How To Compute Truck Accident Settlements
It is challenging to determine an exact settlement amount for a tractor-trailer accident case since each case’s circumstances will differ. The amount of compensation will depend on various factors, including the severity of your injuries and losses. Generally, you can claim economic, non-economic, and possibly punitive damages from the accident.
Economic damages seek to reimburse you for any expenses you incurred due to the accident, such as medical expenses, property damage, and lost earning capacity.
Non-economic damages aim to compensate you for losses that cannot be quantified, such as emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering. Suppose you lost a loved one in a commercial truck accident. You may also be able to be eligible for compensation for loss of consortium.
In rare cases, the court may award punitive damages to prevent others from engaging in similar acts. However, this is only reserved for situations where the at-fault party’s behavior was intentional or cruel.
Due to these factors, it is difficult to quantify an average settlement amount for tractor-trailer accident cases. Each case will differ from the other and depend on the extent of your injuries and losses.
Did you know?
Most large-truck crash fatalities are passengers of other vehicles rather than truck occupants. Seventy-one percent of the 4,965 people who died in truck accidents in 2020 were passengers of other cars.
Book a Free Consultation With a Personal Injury Lawyer
Before filing a lawsuit related to a tractor-trailer accident, it’s crucial to consider several factors. As discussed earlier, exploring other legal remedies for a more immediate settlement may be a good option. Additionally, you must ensure that you have a strong case before formally filing a lawsuit.
To increase your chances of success, seeking legal representation from a reliable truck accident attorney is highly recommended. The Personal Injury Center offers a free case evaluation with a competent truck accident lawyer to help you determine the best course of action.
If you’re interested in learning more about truck accident cases, you may browse through our vast legal articles. These texts are made with your needs in mind and help address any concerns you may have about your case.
Let a lawyer help file your tractor-trailer accident lawsuit. Contact The Personal Injury Center to connect you to a reliable lawyer.
FAQs on Tractor Trailer Accident Lawsuit
A truck accident attorney’s contingency fee depends on how much compensation you may recover from your claim. Usually, lawyers receive approximately 30 to 40 percent of your settlement to cover their legal fees.
However, this percentage may vary depending on factors such as the complexity of your case or if you decide to proceed to trial.
You can only pursue a wrongful death claim if you represent the deceased person’s estate. Usually, the spouse, partner, child, or sibling can file this claim. Suppose you cannot settle with the at-fault party’s insurance company. Then you may also file a lawsuit against the other party.