Motor Vehicle Accidents Law

Do I Need a Truck Accident Attorney?

If you’ve been in an accident with a truck or other commercial vehicle, it could result in significant physical injuries and financial losses. Injuries may make it difficult to go back to work or result in sizable medical bills. How can you know if it's worth hiring a truck injury attorney?

Who is Legally Responsible?

In truck accidents involving multiple vehicles, there are often several parties that could be held liable, or partially liable, for damages if it can be demonstrated that they have acted negligently. An attorney may be helpful in identifying all the parties that may have been legally responsible for an accident. Some of these parties include:

  • The truck driver - A truck driver who is proven to have been negligent can be held financially responsible for the accident. Examples of negligence may include driving while distracted, driving under the influence, speeding, or otherwise not following traffic laws.
  • The truck driver’s employer – Under the legal theory of vicarious liability, an employer can be held liable for the actions of its employees if they cause an accident while on the job. This might be the case if the employee was not trained correctly, the vehicle was not maintained properly, or the employer hired an unsafe driver, such as a person with past convictions for DUI, without performing a background check.
  • The truck’s manufacturer – If an issue with the truck was the cause of the accident, the manufacturer of the truck or of the faulty part could be held liable for any resulting injuries.
  • Government entities - In most cases, local, county and state governments have an obligation to fix potholes, repair bridges and ensure that road signs are clearly visible. These entities could be held liable for damages incurred in an accident if the lack of maintenance caused it to occur.
  • The driver who was hit – Depending on the state the accident took place in, the driver of the vehicle that was hit may be partially liable for the actions leading up to the accident, such as driving while distracted or running a red light. All 50 states plus the District of Columbia follow the concept of either contributory negligence or some form of comparative negligence.

Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

Under the concepts of contributory and comparative negligence, if the driver who was injured in an accident is found to be partially at fault, there will be limits placed on the portion of damages that can be recovered.

In states that use the standard of contributory negligence, such as North Carolina and Alabama, passenger car drivers will be completely barred from collecting damages if they were found to be even only 1 percent at fault.

Most other states, like New York and California, follow the standard of comparative negligence. Under these rules, the settlement or jury award is reduced by the percentage that the plaintiff is found to be at fault. For example, if the plaintiff in a case is found to be 10 percent liable for the accident, the award would be reduced by that percentage.

Under the concept of modified comparative negligence, which is the approach used by most states, if injured plaintiffs are found to be 50 percent or more responsible for the accident (12 states), or 51 percent or more liable for the accident (21 states), they are barred from collecting damages altogether. If their degree of fault is found to be under these percentages, the amount of damages that is awarded to them will be reduced by their share of responsibility.

Several other states follow the pure comparative negligence theory. In those jurisdictions, plaintiffs can recover damages even if their degree of fault was in excess of 51 percent, but their award will be proportionately reduced.

During a civil case, an insurance company or legal counsel for the defendants will often use these rules try to convince an injured victim to settle for less than what could be obtained under state law. An attorney may use witness statements, police reports and physical evidence to show that an injured victim played little or no role in causing the crash, thus helping the client to receive as much of the award as possible.

Selecting the Best Legal Strategy

There are many factors that an individual must consider when deciding how to pursue compensation after a truck accident injury. First, a decision must be made as to whether it is best to settle a case or attempt to win a jury award in a civil trial. This can depend on several factors, such as the strength of the evidence available or what the defendant or its insurer is willing to offer as a settlement.

Time will also play a role in the decision. Each state has a statute of limitations that specifies how long a person has to file a claim after an accident. In Illinois, for example, an accident victim has two years to file a lawsuit while the New York statute of limitations is three years. Personal injury cases may take months or years to be resolved, even if the facts seem to indicate that the defendant was clearly at fault. If injured victims feel that they are in need of money sooner than that to pay bills, they may find it beneficial to settle the case quickly, even if it means taking less than they think that they are entitled to.

An attorney can be helpful in determining which legal strategy to employ in order to get the highest award or settlement possible. Should an injured victim choose to pursue a civil suit, an attorney can help prepare the paperwork, obtain the appropriate evidence and represent the client in court. If the plaintiff instead wants to seek a settlement, an attorney can help to ensure that the client’s best interest is represented.