If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle collision with a truck, you probably want to seek compensation for your medical expenses. In addition, if the accident caused you severe emotional distress or debilitating pain, you may want to seek remuneration for those intangible pain and suffering damages. The manner and limits of such an endeavor vary from state to state, but there are general principles that are more or less consistent throughout the country.
To that end, it is useful to understand some of the prevailing theories regarding liability so you can know where your potential compensation might come from. It is also a good idea to know what to do when an accident occurs, so you can effectively help your attorney build a case and determine which parties are liable. We will address both points in the following.
What Happens If You Can’t Sue the Trucking Company?
It is not unheard of for a small trucking company to go belly up after multiple truck accidents related to risky driving behavior. Drivers in the trucking industry might push the limits of fatigue. Many drivers will drive for 11 hours straight during a 14-hour window – this is the absolute limit – before taking a significant break, and some will push even further, past the legal limit. They do this because of incentives supplied by their employer. If they drive longer, they get more money.
Shippers and Brokers
But drivers (and the trucking companies that employ them) aren’t the only culprits in this dangerous game. Shippers and brokers may also intentionally seek out companies known for pushing drivers to the limit. Thus, when an accident occurs, these entities have an indirect relationship to your injuries. According to one theory – vicarious liability – brokers can sometimes be held liable in automobile vs. truck collisions.
What are brokers? When a distributor needs to deliver a load, they sometimes hire brokers to handle the logistics of finding a delivery company and coordinating times and schedules. They are in effect the middle man in the supply chain.
In order to show that a broker is indeed liable in a car accident a few criteria have to be met. Most importantly, the broker must be considered, in the eyes of the Department of Transportation, a motor carrier. This means they have to carry out duties similar to those of motor carriers – i.e. negotiating terms of contracts, prices and devising the overall plan for delivery.
They can also be held liable if it can be shown that they knowingly hired a company with a bad track record. This is known as the theory of negligent hiring and supervision.
After an Accident
When it comes down to it, this type of accident is probably more common than it should be. In 2012, nearly 4,000 people died in trucking accidents – nearly three-quarters of those fatalities were passengers in the other automobile.
If you’re one of the many people who end up in big rig accidents, there are a number of things you can do to prepare for potential legal action and to help build a case for liability. For the most part, the steps you take following a truck accident are the same as those after a “normal” automobile collision.
Stay Calm and Get Information
For one, you want to remain calm. If not, you could inadvertently incriminate yourself by slipping an accidental “sorry” into the post-collision conversation.
Secondly, you want to be sure to exchange information with the driver, leaving out extraneous comments and forceful provocations. Be sure to get the driver’s, driver’s license, license plate number, insurance, name, phone number and address. The more information the better.
Take Photos and Speak With Police
As with any accident, you want to be sure to document the crash site, taking pictures of both vehicles, any skid marks, damaged property, visible injuries, the surrounding environs and literally anything that might be remotely related to the accident.
You will likely have to give a statement to the police, so make certain you stick to the facts. Once again, it’s important not to let any inadvertent confessions slip.
Report Accident to Insurer
You also want to report the accident to your insurance company. That being said, don’t speak with any other insurer until you’ve had a chance to speak with an attorney. Insurance companies will do what they can to avoid payment.
In the end, your attorney will combine the information you gathered after the crash with information collected from various sources related to the trucker and associated parties. These sources include, black box data, company logs, financial information and shipping records.
If you’ve been in a trucking accident, be sure to inquire about the various liability theories mentioned above. An experienced truck accident attorney will be able to help point you in the right direction.