How Is Compensation Determined After a Semi-Truck Wreck?
Setting expectations for potential damages
on December 15, 2016
Updated on May 12, 2022
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a semi-truck accident, you know how traumatic it is. Tractor-trailers weigh tens of thousands of pounds. So even a minor collision with a large truck can cause significant damage and serious injury. It’s essential to seek medical treatment immediately after a commercial truck accident. Medical care can prevent complications from injuries that might not be immediately evident.
Once you are on the mend, you might consider filing a lawsuit against the trucker or the truck driving company that caused your accident. One of the first things truck accident victims usually ask an attorney is how much their truck accident is worth. When legal professionals assess the value of a truck accident claim, they must consider who the liable parties are, the severity of injuries, property damage, and more. Truck accident attorneys can seek financial reimbursement or “damages” for medical bills, lost earnings, and other consequences from your truck crash.
What Are the Common Causes for Truck Accidents?
Like passenger vehicle accidents, truck accidents can occur because of driver error. However, truck accidents are usually more complex than other motor vehicle accidents. So, there are many other potential causes of large truck accidents. Truck wrecks commonly occur due to:
- Driver fatigue from overwork
- A trucking company’s improper hiring and training procedures
- Insufficient road maintenance
- Improper cargo loading procedures
- Equipment failure
- Excess speed
- Failure to follow traffic laws
By investigating the cause of your truck accident, your attorney can determine who the liable parties are. Your attorney will review your medical records, police reports, eyewitness statements, and more during their investigation. Once your attorney determines who is responsible for your truck wreck, they can begin estimating the value of your case.
Even if your truck wreck was partly your fault, you still might be able to sue. However, you will need the advice of an experienced local attorney. They can tell you how your state’s laws will affect your ability to recover for an accident that was partially your fault.
Damages in a Truck Accident Case
Truck wreck claims are often based on a theory of negligence. To prove negligence, your legal team must show that the opposing party breached a duty of care, causing you harm. Suppose you were in a truck crash because the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel. In this case, your lawyer will gather evidence to show that the trucker worked too many hours, in excess of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) rules. The truck driver could be at fault for breaching their duty to follow these federal regulations. Or their employing trucking company could be liable for encouraging them to work too many consecutive hours.
In addition to establishing fault, your attorney will show evidence of the damages you suffered. They will gather evidence through your medical records, police reports, video footage, and more. Damages in commercial truck wrecks can include:
- Economic damages: Damages that you can readily calculate are called economic damages. Property damage, lost wages, and medical expenses are all examples of economic damages. Your attorney can quickly add up these damages and present them in court. Another form of economic damages is the loss of future earning capacity. If you become unable to work due to your injuries, you may be able to seek compensation for future lost earnings.
- Non-economic damages: Your attorney can request compensation for your physical pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, mental anguish, or disfigurement. These damages can be challenging to quantify, so they are called non-economic damages. State laws sometimes place caps on payouts for non-economic damages. However, they can still be a significant source of compensation. Further, the possibility of a non-economic damage award can be a bargaining chip during settlement negotiations. Both economic and non-economic damages are types of compensatory damages. They are designed to compensate you for the injuries you suffered due to another party’s negligence.
- Punitive damages: Although it’s uncommon, it may be possible to seek punitive damages for a truck collision. Punitive damages are usually reserved for egregious conduct, such as driver intoxication or malice. When a court issues punitive damages, they do so to deter such behavior in the future. For this reason, punitive damages are usually substantial. Some states place limits on punitive damage awards. But they typically allow truck accident victims to receive punitive damages up to three times the value of compensatory damages.
- Wrongful Death: Unfortunately, truck wrecks are more likely to cause fatalities than car accidents. Large trucks are much heavier and larger than passenger vehicles. When trucks are traveling at high speeds, they can cause life-changing injuries and even fatalities. If you lost a family member in a truck wreck, you might be able to sue for wrongful death.
The limits and availability of the above damages vary from state to state. Further, state laws are subject to change. An experienced truck driving attorney can advise you on the types of damages you may be able to receive in your state.
Semi-truck Accident Settlements
The majority of truck accident claims settle out of court. Truck accident victims and their attorneys often prefer settlements over trials. By settling, both parties can avoid extended legal proceedings and associated costs. Further, settling out of court helps you avoid the uncertain outcome of a trial.
Unfortunately, there is no simple way to calculate the value of your truck wreck settlement. The amount of your compensation will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The severity of your injuries
- Your pain and suffering
- Your lost wages
- Future lost earnings
- Your age and general health
- The long-term ramifications of your accident.
Your attorney will probably have to negotiate with the other party’s insurance company to reach a settlement. Along with your settlement proposal, your attorney will present evidence of negligence and explain your injuries. Initially, your attorney will present this information in the form of a demand letter. The insurance company is unlikely to accept these demands, though. Instead, they will probably counter your offer with a lower amount.
The insurance company and your attorney may need to go through several settlement offers and counteroffers before you can agree. If it becomes impossible to reach a fair settlement, you will need to take your case to court.
The other parties’ insurance policy limits could be another significant factor in determining your settlement amount. Although your injury might be worth more than their insurance policy limit, you may have difficulty recovering any additional funds.
Why Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer?
It’s wise to contact an experienced truck accident attorney soon after your truck accident. Your state may place time limits (statutes of limitation) on your ability to file a personal injury claim. While you focus on your recovery, a skilled truck accident lawyer can track deadlines, file paperwork, and collect evidence for your case. They can also hire experts to reconstruct the accident or give expert testimony as needed.
If you are concerned about the cost of hiring an attorney, it may give you peace of mind to know that most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation. At this first meeting, you can ask for a case evaluation. Although an attorney will not give you an exact value for your claim, they can describe the outcomes of similar cases. These outcomes can give you an estimate of what you might expect as a settlement or verdict in your truck accident claim. Further, it would help if you took this opportunity to ask about the law firm’s fee schedule. Most truck accident attorneys will work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they will take a percentage of any payout you receive rather than charging you an hourly rate. A contingency fee schedule can relieve you from needing to pay any legal fees upfront.
When you first meet a personal injury attorney, it’s also wise to ask about their experience with truck accidents. Truck accident law is highly specialized. So, it’s best to hire an attorney familiar with trucking regulations and trucking industry issues.
For more information on this area of law, see our overview on trucking accidents.