Few things are as frightening as a trucking accident. The size disparity between trucks and anything else on the road is significant, and the damage they can do to both vehicles and their occupants is devastating. Once the fear and shock of the moment wear off and once the injuries are assessed and treated, there is often a pile of bills and other costs that need to be addressed. If you’ve been in a trucking accident that was the fault of another driver, then the law demands that you are compensated for those costs.
However, like most companies, insurance companies aren’t eager to hand out money, even if they rightfully owe it. At the Tatum Law Firm, we help victims of trucking accidents who find themselves in these situations fight to get what they deserve.
Trucking accidents are like many car accidents in that liability will typically belong to another driver. However, that’s not always the case. Those who are liable for an accident are those who made an action or inaction that a reasonably careful person wouldn’t have made, and without that action, the accident wouldn’t have occurred. Therefore, it’s possible that someone other than the driver may be at fault. This is especially true in the case of a trucking accident where things like company policies could be behind the accident. Some of the potentially liable parties for a trucking accident include:
A truck accident claim is a subset of a personal injury claim. The legal process and expectations for proving fault, which leads to liability, are the same as you might find in a personal injury claim. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show why the defendant is at fault. Only once fault is established can restitution for the accident be required.
The first element of proving fault is demonstrating a duty to care. In a personal injury claim, this is the idea that the defendant had a responsibility to those around them. The responsibility included the need to be careful and respectful and to behave in a way that wouldn’t needlessly or recklessly endanger anyone else. Of course, there are limits to this. Drivers have a duty to take reasonable actions or inactions that enable them to be careful of those who could be affected by their behavior.
In the case of anything involving a vehicle, this is generally a given. Every driver on the road has a duty to care about other drivers and anyone who may be near the vehicle. That duty to care extends beyond those parties to others who may also be related to the vehicle’s operation as well. Those involved with contracting with the truck or driver, such as the employer, freight owner, or shipper, all have a duty to care. Similarly, so do manufacturers and maintenance providers. This is generally a very easy component to prove in a trucking accident case.
The second element that needs to be shown to prove fault is a breach of duty. It must be shown that the defendant failed to live up to the duty of care. This means proving two things. First, it must be shown that the way the defendant acted or failed to act in the situation caused the accident. Then, how that behavior failed to live up to their duty to care must be illustrated. In other words, it needs to be demonstrated that they failed to act as a reasonably careful person would have in the same situation.
In a trucking accident, what constitutes a breach will depend upon who the defendant is. For the driver, a breach is typically something like not following the rules of the road, driving recklessly, or driving distracted. Truck drivers also have additional regulations regarding how much time they can drive and how much rest they are required to get. Any violation of these regulations could be considered a breach as well.
For something like the trucking company, a breach would likely be a policy that made the accident more likely. An example might be holding drivers to standards that they could only meet by missing their scheduled rest or driving recklessly. For those involved with freight, something about how the freight was identified, packaged, or loaded onto the truck could be a breach. If the defendant is a manufacturer or installer of a part, then their breach would likely be related to the failure of the part.
The last element needed to prove fault is to show that the breach led to the injury or injuries that the plaintiff suffered. In the case of a trucking accident, this again means proving two things. It first needs to be proven that the accident was a direct result of the breach. This is not always a given. For instance, a truck driver may not have gotten the rest that they are required to, which is a breach, but that breach doesn’t play a role in the accident if the truck is rear-ended while sitting at a red light.
The second thing that will connect the breach to the injuries is to show that the injuries arose as a result of the accident. Again, this is not the type of thing that you may expect to be controversial, but there are some circumstances where the defendant’s legal team may choose to challenge the validity of the injuries or whether the injuries are related to the accident. They could argue that the injuries were present before the accident or were the result of some other incident after the accident.
A lawyer can use a few different tools to prove fault. One of those tools is the evidence that they gather from a thorough investigation of the accident. This could be physical evidence, like photographs and videos from the scene, or anything else that is relevant to the case. Witness interviews may be another valuable tool for proving what happened. In some cases, your lawyer may even use expert witnesses to explain how the crash occurred and what factors are involved. Once fault is proven, you can get compensation for the costs that you suffered as a result of the accident.
To receive compensation for the costs associated with an accident, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the costs are a direct result of the injuries they sustained. This connects the breach to the costs for which you’re seeking restitution. The costs are easier to prove where there is a bill or something similar involved. Other costs, less materially evident, can still be proven, though. The costs that are paid out in a claim are called “damages,” and in most trucking accidents, they are paid out in two categories:
Another potential form of damages is punitive damages, but these are rarely awarded in a trucking accident claim. Punitive damages are awarded in situations where the court wants to punish and deter behavior that is particularly egregious and malicious. While this can occur in some cases involving a trucking accident, it’s unlikely unless there was something malicious or obscenely reckless about the behavior of the liable party.
One element of damages that is important to be aware of is how they could be limited. For personal injury claims, Georgia has what is known as a contributory negligence rule. What this means is that in the court proceedings, the defendant will have the opportunity to present an argument showing that the plaintiff bears some level of fault for the accident. The burden of proof will be on them to prove fault, just like it was for the plaintiff to prove the defendant’s fault.
If they are successful, a percentage value will be applied to the level of responsibility that the plaintiff bears. If that percentage is 50% or more, then the plaintiff will not be able to collect any damages. If the percentage is less than 50%, then the damages the plaintiff receives will be reduced proportionately to that rate. If the plaintiff is found to be 30% at fault on a damages award of $200,000, they will receive $140,000.
There is a limit to when you can file a claim for a trucking accident. That limit is set by the statute of limitations for personal injury claims and is two years in the state of Georgia. There are some slight exceptions to this, including the two-year clock not starting until the injuries were discovered if they weren’t immediately evident. It’s a good idea not to wait to get the process started, though. You certainly don’t want to count on a possible exception, and the more time you leave your lawyer to investigate and prepare your claim, the greater the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
Working with a lawyer can give your case a much better chance of success. Your opposition will likely have a team of lawyers working to minimize their payout to you. However, with a skilled, experienced lawyer on your side, you can even the odds and give your case a better chance of a favorable outcome for you.
A trucking accident lawyer will usually begin with a thorough investigation of the accident. The goal is to understand what parties might potentially be liable and to gather evidence that demonstrates their negligence. The investigation may also involve considering the possibility of an attempt to prove contributory negligence and how the defendant’s lawyers may go about doing so. Your lawyer should also attempt to gather some evidence that defends against those accusations. In the process of investigating, your lawyer will gather several forms of evidence. They’ll likely look for any visual evidence of the accident, examine physical evidence, interview eyewitnesses, and even talk to expert witnesses, depending on where their investigation leads them.
While investigating and before filing a claim, your lawyer will likely be in contact with the insurance company. They can negotiate with them on your behalf for a deal that is favorable to you. There are some significant benefits to considering negotiation as a solution and avoiding civil claims:
Still, there are some cases where taking the claim to court is necessary. If that happens, it’s your lawyer’s job to represent you and argue your position. They can demonstrate negligence on the part of the defendant. If successful, they can defend the damages package that they’re requesting on your behalf. They can also defend you against contributory negligence claims. When working with a good lawyer, they are going to use every tool they can to get the outcome you’re seeking.
How you handle things following an accident can be helpful to your case. There’s a lot that can be done to gather evidence and protect your interests. Of course, your ability to do anything following an accident may be limited by injuries. It’s important that getting proper care for those be the priority. However, if your injuries are less serious, or if you have someone with you who can help, there are some things in the immediate aftermath of an accident that can be beneficial. There are also some things to consider as the process moves forward following the accident that can help your case as well.
The most important thing following a trucking accident is getting proper medical attention. The first step is getting looked at by paramedics at the scene. You may think that there’s nothing wrong, but it’s also possible that you’re in a state of shock and not aware of a potential injury. Paramedics are trained to identify traumatic injuries and treat them quickly, so it’s crucial to let them see if that’s the case.
If you are alright at the scene, you should still look into getting a full medical examination quickly so that you can get a full picture of any injuries that you might have. You may become aware of a problem that you didn’t initially recognize because of the adrenaline. You are going to want to get this examination reasonably soon after the accident. Insurance companies sometimes argue that the injuries from an accident aren’t as serious as claimed or are the result of a different incident. They could use a delay between the accident and getting checked out to bolster their argument.
If possible, you want to get contact information at the scene of the accident. Write down the phone numbers and insurance information from any of the other drivers involved in the accident. Information regarding the truck driver’s employer may also be helpful. Additionally, if there were any eyewitnesses to the scene, their contact info may be something that can later assist your lawyer in making your case.
Another element that can be useful in your case is to document the scene of the accident if you are capable. Both pictures and video can be helpful in recreating what happened. They can help a lawyer get a better idea of who might be liable and also demonstrate to the jury how the accident occurred. Capturing any injuries, the vehicles involved and their damage, any street signs that are around, and anything else that might be relevant is a good place to start. One shot of the whole scene, including any skid marks, can also be helpful. When it comes to documenting an accident, it’s always better to err on the side of too much and not too little. Your lawyer can sort through what they need and whittle it down later.
The importance of documentation continues beyond the scene of the accident. You will need to keep good records of what any doctors say about your diagnosis. You also want to be sure you have a good record of anything else that might be used to prove fault in the accident. Additionally, it’s important to remember that you must be able to tie any costs that you need compensation for back to your injuries and the accident. Keep good track of medical bills, vehicle repair costs, or anything else related to what you’re suffering because of the accident.
In the aftermath, you also want to be careful about what you say about the accident. The possibility of trying to prove contributory negligence on your part is something that insurance companies and their lawyers will be on the lookout for. If they get word of anything that sounds like you accepting some of the blame, it could be used against you later on. In particular, you will want to be careful when speaking with anyone representing the insurance company, as they are likely to recognize anything that sounds like you admitting fault. Generally, you want to let your lawyer handle as much as possible.
It’s a good idea to contact the Tatum Law Firm as soon as you can after the accident. We can help you with the next steps and protect you from mistakenly saying something that could be used against you. If you contact us sooner, we can also get an early jump on investigating your accident and preparing for a claim. Remember, if you are going to file a claim, that needs to happen within two years. While that may seem like a long time, there is a lot to do before filing. The more time we have, the better we can prepare.
If you’ve been in a trucking accident, you know just how damaging that experience can be. Those fortunate enough to survive are often left with significant and sometimes life-altering injuries. The challenges extend beyond the physical as there are often emotional and psychological costs that can result from the accident as well, particularly in the case of more permanent injuries. The victims of these accidents should legally receive compensation for everything that they’ve had to endure.
Getting the compensation can often be a challenge, though. What you’re owed is paid out by the liable party’s insurance company. They will likely put up a fight against paying everything they should. It can be intimidating knowing that you’re going up against a large insurance company and its team of lawyers. When you work with an experienced legal team, like the Tatum Law Firm, you can even the odds and take away that advantage. We’ve gone up against the insurance companies and their lawyers before. We understand the law and make sure you’re given what you’re owed. If you’ve been in a trucking accident and need to make sure you get everything you deserve, contact us today.