Truck Accident Lawsuit Guide (2024)

Sarah Edwards

Contributor

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.

Editor

Read in 10 mins

Large trucks, such as semi-trucks, garbage trucks and construction vehicles, can cause enormous damage in a collision. Weighing up to 80,000 pounds, these commercial vehicles can crush sedans, vans, pickup trucks and SUVs, potentially causing catastrophic injuries to the occupants inside.

The law allows crash victims to pursue accident claims when a trucking company or its truck driver causes their injuries. A claim may start with insurers, but it can lead to a truck accident lawsuit when these companies refuse to offer fair settlement terms. Thus, when determining whether to file a lawsuit, a lawyer and their client must examine the law, the trucking company’s actions and the victim’s losses.

Due to their size and speed, truck accidents can lead to life-changing injuries and fatalities. Resolving truck accident claims can be particularly complicated because of a variety of factors, including liability issues, insurance coverage and how federal regulations affect truck accident lawsuits. This guide presents an overview of some of the issues surrounding truck accident cases.

Who Is Liable for a Truck Accident?

Truck accidents may involve all kinds of commercial vehicles, including municipal vehicles, commercial and private delivery services, construction vehicles and interstate shipping services. Who is liable for your damages depends partly on the kind of truck involved in the collision.

  • Privately Owned Business Vehicles. In an accident involving a truck owned by a private business or shipping service and used for commercial purposes, a plaintiff generally has claims against the company (and its insurance). If someone was using a privately-owned business truck for a non-work purpose, or there is a question about whether its use was in the course of business, an injured person may have to file suit against the truck driver directly.
  • Municipal Vehicles. If an accident involves a municipal vehicle (such as a dump truck, plow, street sweeper, etc.), a person may have to file claims against the city, county, or municipality. These claims often have many additional procedural requirements and plaintiffs have a short time to file them correctly.
  • Interstate Commercial Vehicles. Litigation can be incredibly complicated if a truck is a tractor-trailer, 18-wheeler or other large vehicle involved in interstate commerce. Interstate trucking is a heavily regulated industry controlled by numerous federal and state laws. These laws regulate driver training, health and behavior, along with truck maintenance schedules, inspection and certification.

An injured plaintiff may have multiple truck accident liability claims against a number of different parties. They may be able to bring claims against the truck driver, a shipping company, the owner of the truck itself, the owner of the shipment, a company that manufactured the vehicle or one of its parts, a maintenance company or another third party.

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Process of Pursuing a Truck Accident Lawsuit

Trucking companies have different rules from private vehicle owners. Since their vehicles can damage property, contaminate the environment and injure road users, the U.S. government requires them to carry at least $750,000 in insurance policies and surety bonds. This number increases to $5 million if the company’s trucks carry hazardous substances.

After a truck crash, accident victims can pursue claims against these policies and bonds. An insurance policy is a contract between an insurer and a policyholder. The insurer agrees to pay any liabilities incurred by the policyholder within the scope of the policy. Trucking company liability policies cover traffic accidents in which one of the company’s trucks hits an automobile, motorcycle, pedestrian or bicycle.

Surety bonds work the same as insurance policies except the trucking company must reimburse the surety for any claims paid. So the trucking company must pay $100,000 to a surety after it pays a $100,000 claim by an accident victim.

Investigating the Claim

Sureties and insurance companies use claim adjusters to investigate claims. An adjuster’s job is to protect the insurer or surety from:

  • Paying claims it is not legally obligated to pay
  • Paying more than the policy requires

The adjuster’s job is not to help the accident victim. Instead, they will try to pay you as little as possible to settle your claim. The adjuster can deny the claim, accept the claim or deny part of the claim. If the adjuster partially or fully denies the claim, you and your lawyer can respond to the denial with evidence and legal arguments. Some grounds for denial include the following:

  • The truck accident did not cause your injuries.
  • The trucking company was not negligent in causing the crash.
  • You did not incur any losses as a result of the collision.

Once an adjuster accepts your claim, you and your lawyer can negotiate a settlement. Together you will fight for a settlement that covers as many of your losses as possible.

Filing a Truck Accident Lawsuit

If the insurer persists in denying a claim or refuses to negotiate a fair settlement, you can file a lawsuit against the trucking company. To do this, your lawyer will prepare and file a complaint in court. The complaint will explain how the accident happened and why the trucking company is liable for the resulting losses.

Even after filing a lawsuit, many truck accident cases settle. Insurers and sureties do not like spending money defending cases they will probably lose. As a result, they will often continue to explore settlement options after you file your truck accident lawsuit.

If the case does not settle, the lawyers will present their evidence to a judge or jury at trial. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury will return a verdict that finds in favor of you or the trucking company. A verdict for you will include an award of damages.

Causes of Truck Accidents

Many things cause truck accidents, including poor road or weather conditions, driver negligence or error and mechanical equipment failure. Frequently, accidents are caused by several factors working together. Some of these factors are unavoidable (for example, a deer jumping into traffic). Others are caused by a driver, company or entity failing to fulfill their legal responsibilities.

Truck Driver Negligence

Although all drivers have a duty of care to others on the road, truck drivers must meet higher standards than ordinary motorists. Most truckers drive an average of 2500 miles per week—about ten times that of the average U.S. driver. Federal regulations require drivers to complete regular safety certifications and physical health examinations. They are limited to a certain number of hours behind the wheel daily.

Professional truck drivers are responsible for using their experience and judgment to operate their vehicles safely. Nevertheless, many truck accidents are caused by driver mistakes or negligence. Drivers may engage in risky behavior, like driving while tired, drunk or impaired, failing to perform inspections or safety checks or improperly securing cargo. Drivers can be held accountable if their negligence causes an accident.

Negligent Trucking Companies

The actions or inactions of trucking companies also contribute to causing many devastating accidents. Federal law requires truck owners and operators to perform routine inspections and maintenance and to keep detailed records. Some companies delay or avoid regular maintenance and inspections to save money or reduce vehicle downtime, which can lead to equipment failure or malfunction.

Another potential factor is when trucking companies set overly ambitious delivery deadlines. This kind of aggressive scheduling increases the chances that drivers will take dangerous risks to meet their marks rather than face disciplinary action or retaliation.

Dangerous Vehicles and Vehicle Parts

Numerous high-profile semi-truck accident claims have involved mechanical or structural failure. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pointed to brake failure as a factor in 30 percent of large-truck accidents. Other mechanical issues frequently contribute to accidents, including power train failures, broken couplings and tire separation.

Sometimes, these issues are manufacturing or design flaws. Other times, they are due to a maintenance failure. An injured person may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the truck or one of its components or against someone who negligently maintained the vehicle.

Proving Truck Accident Liability

Most truck accident cases depend on negligence law. Negligence requires proof of four elements:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of duty
  • Causation
  • Damages

Trucking companies owe the public a duty to operate in a reasonably safe way. They breach this duty by exposing road users to an unreasonable risk of injury or death. Importantly, trucking companies are liable for the actions of drivers who are their employees. This doctrine, called vicarious liability, ensures that crash victims can pursue a claim against trucking companies for crashes caused by truck drivers.

You can also rely on other forms of truck accident liability in your case. Suppose that a truck driver did everything right but the crash still happened because the truck’s brakes failed. You might still have a case for compensation if the trucking company negligently maintained or repaired its trucks.

Similarly, a carrier also bears liability for negligence in loading its trucks, screening its drivers and conducting drug and alcohol tests.

Proving Fault in Complicated Cases

Many factors make truck accident litigation challenging. To recover damages after a truck accident, a victim must prove who was at fault and to what extent. Accomplishing this requires extensive investigation and a careful assessment of the evidence. It’s often necessary to consult experts to determine an accident’s cause, especially in cases that point to mechanical failure or structural issues.

An accident in one state can involve a driver based thousands of miles away transporting cargo from a carrier across the country to an entirely different recipient. Litigating cases like this can be expensive and time-consuming, although video-conferencing and virtual options have made the process much easier.

Both federal and state laws heavily regulate the interstate trucking industry, and commercial liability insurance policies can be highly complex. Since crashes often involve multiple vehicles and significant damage to property and individuals, they often involve numerous insurance companies. These companies can delay claims and drag out litigation to discourage plaintiffs.

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Recovering Damages in Truck Accident Cases

Large truck accidents often cause significant property damage and severe injuries. Victims sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBI), concussions, broken bones, spinal cord damage, lacerations, damage to internal organs and other severe, permanent conditions. Many multi-vehicle truck collisions are fatal.

Truck accident victims often have many different kinds of damages. Compensatory damages are those compensating you for direct losses related to an accident. These damages are categorized as “economic” and “non-economic.”

Economic damages are expenses and costs related to the accident that are easy to quantify. These include:

  • Medical bills, charges and expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Short and long-term reduction in earning capacity
  • Vehicle repairs or replacement value
  • Rental of a vehicle or alternate transportation costs
  • Insurance deductible
  • Expected future expenses related to the accident (such as future medical treatment)

Non-economic damages try to compensate a driver or passenger in a truck accident for their non-monetary losses. These include pain and suffering, long-term disability, loss of companionship, disfigurement, emotional distress and PTSD.

Although valuing non-economic damages can be more challenging, they can be significant. After an injured person testifies about how they have been affected, their treating physicians, medical experts and occupational health experts often provide context for the value of their losses.

Determining appropriate compensation for multiple victims of serious injury can be complicated and take a significant amount of time. Because the long-term impact of these injuries can be so substantial, it is essential to retain an experienced personal injury attorney to prepare and present your case.

Pursuing Truck Accident Claims in No-Fault States

In some states, "no-fault" laws require all drivers to carry a minimum amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. In these states, you must first file a claim with your PIP insurance provider after an accident. If your medical bills exceed the amount of PIP coverage, you can file a claim or lawsuit against an at-fault driver or another responsible party.

Large truck accidents usually involve significant damage, entitling you to file a lawsuit for your injuries. However, navigating the no-fault insurance coverage rules and coverage can complicate your claim. An attorney can help you properly submit the required documentation to your insurer and proceed with additional legal claims.

Time Limitations After a Truck Accident

You may be able to recover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and other compensation for your injuries after a truck accident or the loss of a loved one. However, there are time limitations to filing legal claims. Truck accident claims can involve shorter statutes of limitations than other auto accident claims. Consult with an attorney immediately to protect your rights.

An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to help you figure out the value of your claim, identify all of the parties who may be legally liable and pursue the kind of large-scale litigation that may be necessary to recover the compensation you deserve.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • You can sue a trucking company when its negligent actions caused your injuries. Negligence can take many forms, including negligence in loading, operating, maintaining or repairing the trucks.

  • Determining liability after a truck accident can be complicated. A driver may be liable if the evidence shows they engaged in risky driving behaviors, failed to meet safety or maintenance requirements or was otherwise negligent. They may also share liability with other parties whose actions or omissions contributed to causing the accident. Whether a driver will be responsible for paying damages depends on the facts of each case.

  • The deadlines to file truck accident claims vary widely. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims varies from state to state. There are often shorter time limits to file claims against municipalities or public entities. If you are pursuing product liability claims, different statutes of limitations apply. It's best to consult an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident.

  • Truck accidents can cause serious injuries because they typically involve enormous crash energy. Some common injuries include bone fractures, whiplash and concussions. Depending on how the vehicles collide, you might also suffer crushing injuries when the truck collapses the passenger compartment.

  • There is no standard amount for truck accident settlements. They vary depending on the injuries that victims suffer. The factors that will determine how much you can recover include the severity of your injuries, how they affect your ability to work and whether you will recover from them.

  • A serious truck accident can have significant consequences for drivers with a CDL (commercial driver's license). Laws differ from state to state regarding the specific penalties. In general, evidence of negligent or reckless behavior (such as violating mandatory rest periods, failing to comply with safety requirements or using drugs or alcohol) is grounds to suspend or revoke a driver's CDL. Causing an accident involving serious injury or death is also likely to impact a CDL.

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