What to do Following a Semi-Truck Accident
Truck accidents occur far more frequently than you may think—according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, more than 160,000 of them in a single year alone. Because of the size disparity between trucks and passenger vehicles, these accidents can cause particularly grievous injuries and property damage. In the unfortunate event that you are involved in a truck accident, it’s important to know what to do next in the hours and days ahead.
Six Steps to Take Following a Truck Accident
One of the most important things you can do immediately following an accident is to ensure your own safety and the safety of any passengers in your vehicle. In multi-vehicle crashes, you should also check to ensure that everyone else involved in the accident has moved to a safer location, if possible. You should also move all vehicles as far to the side of the road as possible. The last thing anyone wants is to be struck by other traffic on the roadway immediately after an accident. Once these two issues are addressed, take the following steps:
- Contact 911. When contacting 911, you will need to tell the operator the location of the accident. Today, many cell phones have mapping features that will indicate where you are if you are on an unfamiliar road. Advise the dispatcher of any additional hazards, such as leaking fuel, damaged telephone poles or trees, or if any of the vehicles remain in the roadway. Avoid discussing the accident itself, but advise the dispatcher of the number of victims and whether their injuries appear serious, so that the medical professionals know what rescue equipment they may need.
- Speak with law enforcement at the scene. When police officers arrive at the scene, they will have several questions for everyone involved. You should describe the accident without assigning or accepting blame, provide them your information as requested, and use caution when describing anyone’s role in the accident. You should also make sure you get the contact information of the officer who is taking the report, including his or her badge number. If the accident report has a number assigned to it, get that information as well.
- Obtain information at the scene. One of the most important things you can do, if possible, is to obtain information from the other driver and witnesses at the scene, as well as document the scene. All involved drivers should provide you with full contact information, as well as their license numbers, plate numbers, and insurance information. Since it is a truck accident, you may also wish to obtain the name of the truck driver’s employer. Whenever possible, you should take photos to document the scene, including the condition of the vehicles, road signs, photos of the people involved in the accident, and anything else that may seem relevant. You can also ask a witness to take these steps for you if you are unable to take them yourself.
- Seek medical care. Even if you believe your injuries are mild following a truck accident, you should still seek medical attention. This is imperative, since you may not feel any immediate symptoms. Make sure whoever you see understands that you have been involved in a truck accident, so he or she can determine if additional tests or x-rays are needed to ensure your wellbeing.
- Contact your insurance company. you should use caution when speaking with an insurance adjuster, especially in a state with no-fault insurance laws. Provide only the basic facts about the accident, including when and where it occurred, the name of the other driver or drivers involved, and what injuries you’ve sustained (as diagnosed by a doctor). Do not offer any opinions regarding the extent of your injuries, the damage to your car, or how the accident occurred. This will be important later, and the insurance company may use any information you share in the future to undermine your claim.
- Seek legal advice. You should contact an attorney who has experience representing victims of truck accidents. A truck accident lawyer will provide you a free consultation to advise you of your rights under your state’s laws. This may prove important if you eventually decide to file a lawsuit against the other party involved in the accident.
No-Fault Statutes and Truck Accidents
Truck accident victims in no-fault states usually are convinced that they have no options but to accept the amount of money they have in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage under their own policy. However, this is not accurate.
While all registered motor vehicles are required to carry both Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Property Damage Liability (PDL) coverage in Florida, for example, neither coverage will likely pay 100 percent of your expenses in the event of a truck accident. In fact, PIP coverage pays only 80 percent of medical expenses up to $10,000, which may not come close to meeting your expenses. Since no-fault means exactly what it says, however, there is no need to assign blame to collect funds under your PIP policy.
Your options to file a personal injury lawsuit may seem limited in a no-fault state. However, there are specific circumstances under which you can file a lawsuit for the additional costs of your care, lost time from work, and damages, including pain and suffering. Truck accident victims who suffered a serious injury can file a personal injury suit against the other driver. Injuries that qualify as significant include:
- Broken bones
- Disfigurement (including life-long scarring)
- Limitation of use of any part of the body
- Injuries that will render you disabled for 90 days or more
If you are uncertain about whether your injuries meet this standard, a personal injury lawyer can answer your questions and help you determine the best options for your individual case.
Truck Accident Injuries Can Alter Your Life
Truck accidents, by their nature, are generally more dangerous than accidents involving two cars. This is a function of a truck being significantly larger than most other vehicles on the roadway. Even when trucks aren’t carrying a full load, they tend to outweigh standard automobiles by as much as 10 times. While standard automobiles usually weigh between 2,400 and 5,000 pounds when empty, a tractor-trailer when empty usually weighs between 20,000 and 26,000 pounds.
Because of this weight disparity, the injuries that an occupant or driver of a car may potentially suffer after a truck accident can prove devastating. Some of the potential injuries include:
- Broken bones. Even a seemingly minor rear-end collision when a truck is involved can result in broken bones. Your body will be thrown forward in this type of collision, which could result in broken ribs, arms, or legs due to the force of the impact.
- Crushing injuries. Regardless of where a truck hits a car, there are increased dangers from being crushed in a truck accident. Side-collision impacts can result in a driver or passenger being forced sideways and being crushed by the doors or car frame. These types of injury may require multiple surgical procedures to repair damage and, in very serious cases, can result in death.
- Back and neck injuries. Every accident involving a motor vehicle puts passengers and drivers at risk for back and neck injuries. The force of an accident can result in ruptures to the cervical discs and leave victims with life-long pain. In serious cases, these injuries may require surgery to repair or may leave victims with mobility issues that never go away.
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Motor vehicle accidents account for 20 percent of TBIs in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Victims of TBI can suffer paralysis, vision and hearing issues, or even life-long changes to their personalities.
These are only some of the injuries that a victim of a truck accident may have to face. If the truck was carrying hazardous materials, a victim may suffer burns as well. Victims may have to adjust their entire way of living after a truck accident injury.
Difficulty in Determining Fault After Truck Accidents
When you are involved in a two-car accident, usually either you or the other driver is at fault. Truck accidents are far more complex, however. Here are some scenarios in which someone other than the driver may be at fault in a truck accident:
- Brake failure. While the driver may be at fault for driving at an unsafe speed, if the brakes on the truck fail, the manufacturer of the brakes may be liable, the driver’s employer may be liable for failing to maintain the vehicle, or the company or person responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle may be liable.
- Driver dozed off at the wheel. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has strict regulations regarding how long a truck driver may operate without a rest period. Should the employer advise a driver to violate these rules because of deadlines, that employer may be held liable for an accident that the driver caused by driving while drowsy.
- Driver distractions. It is up to employers to make sure that drivers are aware of state regulations regarding the usage of electronics such as cell phones while driving. Poorly trained drivers may face liability, but their employers may also share in that liability if they received insufficient training.
- Improperly balanced loads or overloading. When a truck overturns because of overloading or improperly balanced loads, the driver, the person or company responsible for the loading, or the employer may be liable.
There are certainly other cases that may involve multiple liable parties. The only way to make sure that the right people are held liable is to work with a lawyer who has a proven track record of successfully working on personal injury cases pertaining to truck accidents. Because of the number of parties that may share in liability, you want to work closely with an attorney rather than attempting to negotiate with several insurance company adjusters on your own. Keep in mind, insurance company adjusters want to minimize their financial exposure, and the best way to do that is to deny claims.
Potential Monetary Recovery in Truck Accident Cases
Victims of a truck accident often want to know how much their claim is worth. Keep in mind, each individual truck accident claim is different. Relevant factors include the severity of your injuries, the amount of time you will be out of work, the extent of necessary medical care, and potentially the loss of movement or freedom of movement you may suffer as an aftereffect of your injuries.
Once a medical professional evaluates you following your truck accident, maintain a record of your health, both physical and mental. This record should include information pertaining to all medical visits, including mileage and findings, changes in your physical condition, mental issues—such as increased depression—and your financial situation, including any compensation you may receive from work for disability payments. You should provide all of this information to your attorney, as it will be crucial in determining what the potential damages are.
There is no way to address every question you may have pertaining to a truck accident without having an attorney understand all the issues surrounding your accident. While it is understandable that you are concerned about your financial future when you are recovering from a truck accident, you should take advantage of a free consultation and feel confident that a truck accident lawyer will be willing to take your case on a contingency basis. This means that unless a truck accident lawyer successfully obtains compensation in your case, you will not be responsible for the payment of any attorney fees. Contact a truck accident attorney today, have your case evaluated free of charge, and make sure your rights are protected.