Filing a Truck Accident Injury Claim
Truck accidents can be devastating, especially if you were in a smaller vehicle. The sheer size and weight of commercial trucks can cause extensive damage to passenger vehicles. Your own vehicle can be crushed and you may have suffered life-threatening injuries. Loved ones could have been killed. If you or your loved on has recently been involved in a serious truck accident don’t hesitate to speak with the truck accident attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today about your recovery options.
Truck accidents are all too frequent on Florida’s roads. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 225 truck accidents resulted in incapacitating injuries and 771 resulted in non-incapacitating injuries in the last year for which statistics were available. Forty-six people were killed during the same year.
After the pain and shock subside of a truck accident subside, though, it’s very normal to wonder “what can I sue for?” You may be facing significant medical costs, be laid up and unable to work, and be traumatized. It may seem only fair that someone pay. Fortunately, we have answers to the question “what can I sue for?” The answer can be complex in Florida, so it’s actually multiple answers. Here they are.
Your Own Insurance Covers Damages First
As most Florida drivers know, Florida is a no-fault state for car insurance. Essentially, that means the first step is: you can’t sue immediately.
Every registered driver is required to carry $10,000 of personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. No-fault rules are designed to eliminate the potential hassle (and time and cost) of having to prove who is at fault. Each driver turns to their own PIP first.
PIP is designed to cover 80 percent of your medical bills from a truck accident, regardless of who was at fault. It will also cover 60 percent of lost wages from work if you need time to treat your injuries or recover from them. You are also required to have $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) to cover any damage to property, such as your vehicle.
If You Are Injured Severely in a Truck Accident
Truck accidents are very likely to cause damages much greater than $10,000. Fortunately, Florida allows people to go beyond the no-fault system if they are severely injured. This is called “stepping outside” of no-fault.
The law has a specific definition of severe injury, however. You must have incurred at least one of the following as a direct result of the accident:
- Fractured bone(s)
- Significant disfigurement
- Permanent limitation of use of a body member or organ
- Significant limitation of use of a body function or system
- An injury causing substantially full disability for 90 days
If you do have one or more of these, you are entitled either to bring a third-party claim against the insurance company of the at-fault party or to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
In these cases, you can sue for the following:
- Medical bills already incurred, including doctor’s bills, hospital/surgery bills, prescription medication bills, rehabilitative therapy, and more
- Expected future medical bills
- Wages lost from work
- Expected future wages lost from work
- Pain and suffering and other non-economic damages
Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering are never compensated under no-fault, so the right to sue for them obtained by a significant injury can be important in receiving a just settlement.
Pain and suffering damages are usually compensated by applying a multiplier to economic damages such as medical bills and wages lost from work. The multiple usually ranges from 1.5 to 5. If an injury is expected to heal without significant repercussions going forward, the multiplier will be toward the low end.
Injuries assigned a pain and suffering multiplier toward the higher end are often likely to have an ongoing impact. Injuries that have an immediate negative impact on an individual’s life, such as a spinal cord injury that causes permanent paralysis, are termed “catastrophic.” They often result in the affected individual needing lifelong care, around the clock.
Higher multipliers can also be assigned if the injuries permanently affect the person in ways they would not necessarily affect other people. A professional athlete who is rendered unable to compete any longer by a truck accident injury will likely be assigned a higher multiplier for pain and suffering than an individual whose injury is significant, but unlikely to affect their livelihood.
What Can You Sue for if a Loved One Has Died?
What if your loved one has died as a result of a truck accident? In that case, it is possible to sue for wrongful death. What is Wrongful Death? Wrongful death is essentially a type of personal injury suit, in which the individual has died as a result of an injury.
Only certain parties with a relationship to the deceased person can recover damages from a wrongful death suit in Florida. Those parties are:
- The deceased’s surviving spouse
- The deceased’s surviving children
- The deceased’s surviving parents
- The deceased’s blood relative or adoptive sibling, as long as they were partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services
Only a representative of the deceased person’s estate may bring wrongful death suits in Florida. If no will or estate plan names a personal representative, a court usually appoints one. The suit must itemize every party with an interest in it. Wrongful death suits can seek damages for both economic and non-economic damages.
The economic damages can include:
- Medical expenses paid directly by the estate or by a surviving family member.
- Funeral expenses paid directly by the estate or by a surviving family member.
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings, such as the lost earnings’ value that the deceased could reasonably have been anticipated to earn if they have lived.
- Lost prospective net accumulations of the estate, or the value of earnings the estate could reasonably have been expected to collect if the deceased had lived.
Non-economic damages are designed to recognize that the survivors can be significantly impacted by the death of a loved one. The damages sought can include:
- The value of support and services the deceased person provided to the surviving family member(s)
- Loss of companionship, protection, and guidance the deceased provided
- If the deceased was a child, mental and emotional pain and suffering
If the truck accident was caused by a particularly egregious failing on the part of the at-fault party, it is also possible to seek punitive damages. The court awarding punitive damages is rare, but it does happen, and is designed to punish wrongdoers for harmful or wrongful actions.
Determining Fault of a Truck Accident
As you can see, people injured or survivors of those killed in a truck accident can sue for the damages done by the accident.
But suing anyone in a truck accident depends most of all on determining fault for the accident. Injured people (and survivors of people killed in an accident) can only sue if some other entity is liable for their injuries.
Liability depends on the determination of negligence. Simply put, negligence in law is defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
That sounds simple enough, but in fact, determining negligence in a truck accident can be anything but simple. Many truck accidents need to be investigated to determine who or what was at fault. There can be multiple parties at fault.
Let’s take a hypothetical example. An 18-wheeler takes a curve too fast, causing it to roll over. Rollovers are among the most common type of truck accidents—and the most serious. The rollover strikes your vehicle in the front. Spilled cargo from the rollover strikes and breaks a window.
Your first and most immediate reaction might be to blame the driver. The driver might be to blame, in fact, in which cases the driver would be a defendant in the lawsuit.
Not Just Drivers Can Contribute Negligence
But truck accidents can have hidden causes, too, and multiple players. What if the driver attempted to slow down on the curve, but the brakes wouldn’t work sufficiently? In that case, the companies that installed, manufactured, inspected, or repaired the brakes could be at fault. Failing brakes are also one of the most common causes of truck accidents?
Installation, manufacturing, inspection, and repairs can all be done by different companies, so the negligent parties can all be different. In some cases, a truck’s or fleet’s owner performs these tasks, but in others, they are separate entities (in the case of truck or component manufacture) or separate companies or subcontractors.
These separate entities can all have separate insurance companies to cover their liabilities and separate attorneys to argue their cases at insurance hearings and court appearances. What if the failure to slow down was caused by a poorly designed or maintained roadway? In that case, the organization that designed or maintained the roadway could be at fault. What if the driver was speeding because of pressure from his company to make a delivery by a certain time and date—a time and date that couldn’t be met without speeding or stinting on sleep? Driver fatigue is a frequent cause of accidents as well.
Trucks are more prone to rollover if their cargo is improperly loaded, improperly secured, or too heavy. Packing, loading, and shipping cargo is also sometimes done by truck owners and sometimes done by separate companies or subcontractors. Failure to load or secure properly can also cause accidents, and these companies could be liable.
In short, all truck accidents could potentially be caused by negligence on the part of the following:
- The driver
- The truck’s owner
- The trucking company
- The maintenance and repair companies
- The loading company
- The truck or part manufacturers
Any or all of these parties (or their insurance companies) can be sued, if they are determined to be at fault.
How to Prove Truck Accident Fault (6 Steps)
Determining fault in any vehicle accident to sue relies on proof of what caused the accident, and truck accidents are no exception.
First, law enforcement should be called to the scene of an accident when someone is injured. They will issue a police report. A police report preserves evidence of what occurred, including place, time and date, the people and vehicles involved, and the cause. Law enforcement interviews the drivers involved and eyewitnesses if possible. They will note the weather, the road conditions, and any other significant details.
Second, though, it’s a very good idea to take pictures or notes at the scene of an accident if you are able. In a world where many people carry smartphones, their picture-taking capacity can provide strong evidence.
Pictures of your injuries can provide evidence about where and how your vehicle was impacted—which can be a strong source of evidence about what happened. Pictures of all vehicles involved, from all sides, can also provide proof. If you don’t have a camera or smartphone, take notes as soon as possible about what happened.
Third, interview eyewitnesses if there are some and you are able.
Fourth, law offices frequently work with investigators to determine the causes of accidents. They can, for example, see if surveillance camera footage is available. Truck drivers are required to keep logbooks, which can provide evidence of when they last stopped and their own inspection of the truck’s condition and any notes about it. (Truck drivers are mandated to inspect the truck at certain points during a run, although the main inspection is done by companies who inspect, maintain, and repair.) They can interview Federal accident inspectors.
Fifth, a doctor or emergency department’s records of injuries can be used to reconstruct what happened in an accident.
Sixth, at times forensic investigators can be utilized to reconstruct an accident. They often use evidence such as skid marks, damaged or broken road barriers, damaged vegetation such as roadside trees or brushes, and other indicators of what happened.
If you have any additional concerns, contact an experienced truck accident attorney today.