Steps to Take in a Semi-Truck Aftermath
If you or a loved one has been in a Florida truck accident, you may be injured, shaken, and/or distressed. These reactions are common, and how could they not be, when one considers the potential harm and danger of a truck accident?
Truck Accidents Can Cause Tremendous Harm
Trucks can weigh as much as 40 tons, or 80,000 pounds. The average car, by contrast, weighs about 1.5 tons, or 3,000 pounds. The potential danger to cars and smaller vehicles in a truck accident is clear, and the potential injuries to passengers are much greater than if they were hit by a smaller vehicle. Injuries in truck accidents are severe enough, and occur frequently enough, that the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles breaks out injuries into categories for incapacitating and categories for non-incapacitating. In 2017, 225 truck accidents caused incapacitating injuries, and 771 caused non-incapacitating injuries. There were 46 deaths in truck accidents that year—nearly four every month. In fact, Florida was one of the top 10 U.S. states for truck accident-related deaths in the 2014 to 2016 timeframe, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
What Should I Do After a Truck Accident in Florida?
At the Scene of the Truck Accident
Despite your justifiable distress, there are certain steps that you should take after a truck accident in Florida. The first step is to ensure your safety. If you are able, drive to the side of the road or out of any area where you may be hit by traffic. Trucks carry cargo that, if it flies out or spills out of the truck, can be harmful as well. If that has occurred, position your vehicle out of the danger zone.
Seek Immediate Medical Care
Serious injuries need to be treated immediately. If you or any other person is visibly injured (bleeding, lacerated, or unconscious, for example), call 911 right away. Emergency responders will be alerted by the 911 call and will send medical personnel and ambulances. If you do not need to be transported for immediate medical attention, do not leave the scene of the accident. It is against the law to leave the scene of an accident. Once your safety has been secured, call law enforcement to report the crash. (In other words, if a 911 call isn’t necessary to get medical personnel to the scene, calling law enforcement needs to be your first move after you secure a safe position.) Drivers are required, by law, to alert the police if a crash has caused injuries, fatalities, or at least $500 in property damage (vehicles or other property). (A 911 call can also alert police, and it can be helpful to use this method, especially if you aren’t sure what division of law enforcement has jurisdiction at the site of the crash. Police are also required to file a crash report with a commercial motor vehicle, which is what a truck is, by law. Officers are also required to file a crash report if anyone has been injured or killed, if there was a hit and run, if a wrecker will be required to remove a vehicle(s), if a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or if damages are over $500.
Speaking to Law Enforcement After the Accident
Once law enforcement arrives, they will likely ask all parties what happened. When they talk to you, tell them fully and truthfully what occurred. Do not worry if the accident seemed to come out of the blue, and you aren’t sure what happened, however. An overview of the crash can be obtained by evidence later. What they need to know is what occurred as far as you are concerned. Once you have given an account, exchange information with the truck driver and any other drivers involved. Keep it simple and calm. You must give your name, insurance information, and contact information, such as an e-mail address. It’s not uncommon for people in an accident to be emotional and even angry. Remember, though, that exchanges with the police and other drivers are required. The quicker these tasks are accomplished, the quicker you can get home. Do not berate or threaten any driver personally. If you think another driver caused the accident or a driver seemed fatigued or to be under the influence of alcohol or another substance when you spoke to them, tell law enforcement. It will then become part of the evidence law enforcement compiles about the crash. If law enforcement needs to follow up with the driver’s condition, it is their job to do so.
Evidence of the Accident Scene
Before you leave the scene, it’s a good idea to take pictures. Many people carry a smartphone with them. If you do, take pictures of any injuries you’ve sustained and any damage to your vehicle. Take pictures of the crash site, including other vehicles. Their position and any signs of the crash on the road can all be important in determining the cause of the crash. Pictures can be excellent evidence if you want to pursue a legal claim for your injuries. Pictures of the injuries at the time they occurred show the extent and harm done. Your injuries may visibly heal quickly, so it’s important to take pictures as soon as possible. If you don’t have a smartphone, jot down some notes about what happened while it is fresh in your mind. Obtain a copy of the police crash report, or make arrangements to have it sent to you.
After Leaving the Scene
If you didn’t call 911 for medical attention, it’s still a good idea to see a doctor or go to the emergency room right after the crash. People can suffer concussions, internal injuries, and more without feeling injured or being aware of the extent of their injuries. Asking a doctor to check you out is the most prudent thing to do. A doctor can give you advice on dealing with any injuries and with stress after the accident. While the primary reason for a doctor’s visit is to ensure your health and safety, it also provides potential evidence if you need to file a legal case after the accident. Doctor records are, after all, a record of your injuries from the accident.
Contact Your Insurance Company
As soon as possible following your accident, contact your insurance carrier. Florida is a no-fault state for accidents, which means that your insurance will compensate you for damages from an accident, regardless of who was at fault. Florida drivers are required to have $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP). The purpose of required PIP is for drivers to receive compensation for economic damages resulting from an accident. Medical bills are an example of damages, as you would not have incurred them if not for the accident. So are lost wages from work if injuries from the accident caused you to lose time off from work. Drivers in Florida also are mandated to carry $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) for damage to your vehicle or other property stemming from the accident.
What if My Insurance Isn’t Enough to Cover the Damages?
Many people realize that the mandated $10,000 PIP won’t actually go very far in covering medical bills. Truck accidents cause severe accidents, and both medical bills and lost wages from work may be higher than that. Fortunately, Florida law provides a remedy for this. People who are injured severely as the law defines it can bring a personal injury suit for economic damages in civil court. This is referred to as “stepping outside” of no-fault. In addition, victims who step outside of no-fault can also bring a claim for non-economic damages, which are ordinarily not available under no-fault policies. Non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering and other emotional distress. A severe injury, as defined under Florida law, must include a minimum of one of the following:
- Significant disfigurement
- Broken bone(s)
- Permanent limitation of use of a body member or organ
- Significant limitation of use of a body function or system
- An injury that causes substantially full disability for 90 days
If you are injured in a truck accident, keep records of all medical and related appointments and treatment related to your injuries. Ambulance and emergency room bills, as well as bills from hospitals, pharmacies, doctors, urgent care clinics, and physical or rehabilitative therapists, and more, are all relevant.
Pursuing a Third-Party Claim
Injured individuals whose injuries are severe, as defined by law, can file a claim against the insurance company of the responsible party, instead of a personal injury claim in court. This is known as a third-party insurance claim. People injured in a truck accident should know, however, that third-party insurance claims in a truck accident can be very complex, for several reasons. It is prudent to talk to an attorney skilled in third-party insurance claims before making a decision. Insurance companies are skilled negotiators regarding claims, but their objectives can be very different than those of the injured parties. The companies’ self-interest is in minimizing the payout of claims. Even if their insured was totally responsible for the accident, they can try to claim that the injured party was responsible. Protecting themselves from liability, as much as possible, is part of their business. But there’s also an entirely different reason that third-party claims can be complex in trucking accidents. Each potentially responsible party can have a different insurer, and there are many potentially responsible parties in a truck accident. These include:
- The driver, if human error caused the accident.
- The truck’s owner if the condition of the truck or failure to repair or maintain it properly caused the accident.
- The trucking company if the truck’s condition or failure to adequately train or hire qualified drivers caused the accident.
- The maintenance and repair companies if they were responsible for the maintenance and repair of the truck, and the condition of the truck or failure to repair or maintain it properly caused the accident.
- The loaders if failure to load the cargo or secure it properly caused the accident.
- The manufacturers of the truck or its parts if defective or malfunctioning components, parts, or the truck itself caused the accident.
Each of these parties may be entirely responsible or may have contributed partially to the accident. If any of the parties breached what the law calls a duty of care, a court may hold them liable for any damages that stemmed from the accident. However, it frequently takes an investigation to determine who was really responsible for a truck accident. A jack-knifed truck, for example, may seem to stem from driver error. But an investigation may reveal that it’s actually because the brakes or tires were frayed and needed to be replaced. Both are frequent causes of truck error and can be the fault of the owner, the trucking company, or the maintenance and repair crews, depending on which entity had official responsibility for maintenance and repair. Similarly, failure to load and secure cargo properly may cause truck accidents, because this failure can unbalance the truck, increase the probability of a rollover, and make the truck very difficult to operate. Not only can multiple parties cause an accident—their insurance may be with different carriers, with different terms, and different conditions.
Seek an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney
An experienced truck accident attorney can hire an investigative team, including forensic investigators. He or she can also compile records of the accident. Federal, state, and local authorities can investigate truck accidents. Attorneys can request these records, as well as police crash reports and emergency personnel records, if relevant. They can make sure to obtain witness testimony and to access any surveillance camera footage that is available. If you need further information or assistance about a truck accident in Florida, contact an experienced truck accident attorney. Retaining a truck accident lawyer can help eliminate the stress that accompanies having to negotiate and litigate a truck accident claim on your own. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900 https://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/truck-accident-attorneys/