Involved in a Big Truck Accident? Find out What to Do Next with Our FAQ
At Snyder & Wenner, we have been litigating big rig and truck accidents for over 30 years. We have the experience and knowledge that it takes to hold trucking companies responsible for their negligent conduct that leads to serious, life-threatening truck accidents. While some aspects of truck accidents are similar to car accident cases, many are not. To answer the most frequently asked questions we receive regarding truck accident cases, we have provided the following information as a resource to our community.
How do I choose an attorney?
You need an experienced, knowledgeable attorney. Snyder & Wenner has been in business for more than 30 years. Our lawyers have national reputations and are consistently cited in Super Lawyer magazine and U.S. News & World Report for excellence in advocacy.
If I am in an accident with a big truck, what should I do?
First of all, if you are involved in an accident with a big truck, you will be shaken up if not actually suffering from injuries. It will be hard to think clearly. Fortunately, the rules for an accident with a big truck are basically the same as the rules for any accident.
- Call the police. Police officers are skilled as securing the scene and ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Be sure you tell the emergency dispatcher where the accident is, if anyone appears to be injured, and what kind of injuries seem to be involved. That will allow the dispatcher to send the appropriate type of emergency personnel.
- When possible, after you are interviewed by the police officer, which you almost certainly will be, find out how to get a copy of the police report. This may sound silly, but sometimes you may not be able to tell from the policeman’s uniform what jurisdiction he works for. You will need to contact that jurisdiction to get a report. That report will include the names, contact information, and other information about all the drivers involved. In the case of an accident with a big truck, you will want to know information about the driver’s employer, usually a trucking company. You may ask the police officers to obtain this information from the truck driver and include it in the report. Police reports will also include insurance information about everyone involved, a diagram or description of the accident scene, weather conditions, witnesses’ names, and the tickets issued to any of the drivers.
- If you can, over the next few days, go back to the accident scene. You will be calmer and may be able to notice more things, such as other cameras, additional traffic signs, skid marks, etc. Be careful not to interfere with traffic when you are trying to look for other evidence.
What about pictures?
You should definitely take pictures. This can be done with most cellular phones. Be careful not to interfere with the emergency personnel. Be aware that some persons may object to having you take pictures. If possible, take as many pictures of the vehicles, the damage, the driver, and the witnesses. Try to document the damages, skid marks, and any other evidence of the collision.
Also, look for cameras. It is amazing how many places have cameras now. Nearby banks or other commercial concerns may have surveillance cameras that captured part or all the accident on film or digital recording device. These recordings are often recorded over quickly so it is important that you or your lawyer asks for a copy as soon as possible. If you see other people at the scene taking pictures, ask if you can exchange pictures to have the most complete record possible. And be aware, some commercial trucks even have dash cameras that can show exactly what the driver is doing. If possible, determine if such a camera exists. Your lawyer can ask the trucking company for it.
Should I write anything down?
Yes, in addition to taking pictures, you should make a written record. After an accident, it is easy to forget details, so as soon as you can, make a record of what you see and say and what is said to you. If your phone can record, this is great, but you want to transcribe your notes later. Include what other persons say they heard as well. Try to exchange contact information with as many of the witnesses as possible. They too may want to bring suit and may appreciate having your information.
How does a personal injury case involving a commercial truck differ from one involving a passenger vehicle?
There are significantly more laws that govern the drivers of commercial trucks than there are governing the drivers of passenger vehicles. Since many of these trucks are driven across state lines, there are also federal laws that come into play. A lawyer who is very knowledgeable about car accidents may not have sufficient experience with these different laws and regulations to adequately represent you in court.
Another point is that big trucking companies have staff who are devoted full time to limiting the liability of the company. In other words, they are trying to figure out how to pay you less for any accident. That’s why you may need an attorney to help you represent your own interests.
I'm not sure if my accident involved a big truck. What do you mean by "big trucks"?
The terms “big truck,” “commercial truck,” “big rig,” and “semi” are used interchangeably in these FAQ. Basically we mean trucks that weigh between 10,000 and 80,000 pounds. That’s up to 25 times what a typical passenger car weighs.
Who is liable for truck accidents?
Liability means legal responsibility. To obtain any judgment and therefore any money in a court case, someone must be proved to be legally responsible for the acts that caused the injury. The court is ultimately responsible for determining who is liable for any incident.
You, as the victim of the accident, will be acting as a plaintiff. The difficulty is sometimes figuring out who should serve as the defendant.
There are lots of reasons a big truck can be involved in an accident. Who is to blame is sometimes hard to figure out. A legal firm has specialists in this area who can advise you. Together you can figure this out. Obviously, the driver of the big truck will be named as a defendant, but there may be others. The trucking company that the driver works for may qualify as a defendant if the driver was under the control of the company as part of his employment. There may be others as well.
As part of trying to avoid having to pay, the company will try to claim that they had no control over the driver. This is usually true only if the driver is an independent contractor, and even then, that defense may not stand up in court. With few exceptions, the trucking company is found to be at least partly liable in court. The only exception is if the driver deliberately tried to cause harm, such as in the case of road rage.
There may be other people or entities serving as defendants too. This is why your lawyer must hear all the details of the accident before determining who to sue. Other possibilities for the role of defendant include:
- The person or company that leased the truck or trailer
- The shipper of the cargo
- The loader of the cargo
- The owner of the truck cab
- The owner of the truck trailer
- The manufacturer of the truck, the trailer, or any part of these that could have caused the accident
Although it is not usually done, it may even be appropriate for the manufacturer of the cargo to be a defendant. One case in which the manufacturer was successfully sued occurred when chemical gas was released into the air, resulting in respiratory problems for the accident victims. In that case, important factors were who was informed of the danger of the cargo and what safety measures were taken.
Obviously, each of these potential defendants will try to convince you that other persons or entities are the ones who should be held liable. Each defendant that actually ends up in court will spend substantial time trying to convince the court that you were really more to blame for the accident. That is just one of the reasons you need a good law firm.
What is the difference between accidents with cars and accidents with big trucks?
Big trucks are susceptible to all the same kinds of accidents that cars have. However, when a big truck is involved, the dangers are multiplied. Think about the weight of the big truck and the trouble that it will have coming to a complete stop with all that weight. Add to that its massive size and how much opportunity for collisions all that size affords. In general, accidents with big rigs result in more damage and more injuries.
How competent are big truck drivers?
To be a licensed driver of a big rig, an applicant must be over 21 years of age and pass a number of vision and physical exams. Most attend truck driving school to prepare for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations written exam. This is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Then the driver gets a green card that must renewed every two years. With the green card, he can apply to take a practical road test to get a Class A or CDL, which means Commercial Driver’s License.
How often do big trucks get involved in accidents?
According to the National Traffic Safety Administration, big trucks were involved in 8 percent of all fatal accidents and 3 percent of all non-fatal accidents in 2012 (the most recent year for which there is complete data). The Arizona Department of Transportation combines large trucks and buses together. During 2013 (the most recent report from the Arizona Department of Transportation), big trucks and buses were responsible for 5.79 percent of the 107,348 traffic accidents in Arizona.
What is negligence and who decides who was negligent?
In general, as your representative, we will be attempting to prove a case of negligence. The term negligence has specific meaning in law. Basically it means that “it was an accident, not intentional, but if someone had acted reasonably, it would not have happened.” So your attorney will try to prove three things:
- The persons or entities identified as defendants owed you a reasonable effort to help you avoid injury (and this can be physical, emotional, or financial). In the case of the driver as the defendant, this is easy because all drivers have a legal duty to take reasonable care for other vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, or pedestrians.
- The named defendants failed to show this care.
- The connection between the failure to show care and the injury you suffered.
What evidence will be needed?
To win maximum awards, a lot of information is needed. First, your lawyer will meet with you. He or she will want to know exactly what happened from your perspective. Any notes you made, pictures, contact information, and the police report will all be helpful during this meeting. This conference will help your lawyer figure out what other evidence might be available and how to obtain it. Other evidence might include:
- Log books. Commercial drivers are required to keep logs of their drive times, rest times, and other key information.
- Bills of lading and other paperwork. This can help provide a full picture of the driver’s activity.
- Black box data. Just like airplanes, commercial trucks have an on-board recorder that captures essential data. This includes speed, brake usage, etc. The black box information must be obtained as soon as possible because it is recorded over with each new trip.
- Cell phone data. If there is any chance that the driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash, the cellular carrier’s records will show it. This must be subpoenaed through a lawyer.
- History of drivers. The histories of all involved drivers may be introduced in court, including yours. Your lawyer may want your complete driving history, including accidents, tickets, insurance claims, etc. He will also be looking into the trucker’s record, including the status of his Commercial Driver’s License at the time of the accident, his criminal record, his traffic records, and his financial record.
What if I am partly to blame?
This is an excellent question. Many people think if they made any mistake, they cannot take action against another party. This is not true. Arizona has comparative fault rules. That means the court will decide what percentage of fault each party is responsible for. So say you changed lanes without signaling and a big truck struck your car. If, after trial, a jury awards you $1,000,000, but says you are 40% responsible, your total verdict will be reduced by 40%, or $400,000. Most of the time, the plaintiff did nothing wrong to cause the accident.
Are expert witnesses necessary to prove fault in a truck accident case?
Expert witnesses are typically needed to prove various claims in the case. Your attorney can help you figure out what witnesses are needed and how to obtain them for your case. Bear in mind, our best witness in any case is you.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
Different states have different statutes of limitation for vehicle accidents. In Arizona, you have two years to file a claim. The clock starts ticking when the accident occurs. The best time to contact an attorney is as soon as possible after the accident. This is not because of the statutes but because evidence can be lost, memories can fade, and witnesses can disappear.
What if the insurance company makes me an offer?
The trucker’s insurance company will almost certainly make you an offer, usually very soon after the accident. They are counting on your vulnerability and lack of information to convince you to sign a settlement that may be completely unfair. For example, let’s say you have just been released from the hospital with two broken legs after the accident. Your car is totaled and you are still shaken by the image of the accident. The insurance company sends a representative with a settlement offer of $50,000. This sounds great! After all, your health insurance will pay for all but your deductible and you can get a new car and even pay off some other debts. You are tempted to sign immediately. But will you need to hire extra help at home while you heal? How much work will you miss and how much sick leave will you be paid for? Will you need physical therapy? Who will pay for that? Who will pay for the expense involved in traveling to doctor appointments? You need a lawyer to help you think through all the possible expenses you will have. The insurance company may try to convince you that their offer is only good for a limited time, like midnight tonight. Nonsense. Demand time to speak to your lawyer.
Where do I sue?
In almost all cases, you can sue in either the state in which the accident occurred or in the state where the trucking company’s main headquarters is.
What will I sue for?
This is an excellent question and one that makes it clear why you should not immediately settle with an insurance company. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the damages you might be compensated for. These may include:
- Property damage. This includes your car itself, the contents, and other property lost as a result of the accident. Pictures and possibly receipts for lost items will be helpful.
- Any injuries should be fully documented by your physician for maximum effectiveness. Again, pictures can impress the courts. To ensure that our clients have good medical care and the medical records are complete, Snyder & Wenner has two nurses on our staff.
- Lasting damages. Often, we think that we will simply “get over” the accident, when actually it may not be that easy. Damages such as a disfiguring scar, a permanent limp, or a loss of a skill, such as an ability to swim, may all be considered for compensation.
- Expenses caused by accident. We all think about out-of-pocket medical expenses, but what about the cost of commuting to medical treatment, the need to hire someone to help in the home, and unpaid time off work? Your attorney can help you calculate these expenses.
- Pain and suffering and emotional distress. Medical and/or psychological records will be helpful to demonstrate the extent of these injuries.
- Non-quantifiable losses. These are less likely but should not be ignored in conversations with your lawyer. They include things like a loss of ability to be intimate with your partner or the loss of companionship because your partner is now unable to communicate with you verbally.
How much money will I get in court?
This is obviously one of the most frequently asked questions. However, no one can even estimate the extent of your damages and your potential award without thoroughly understanding all aspects of your case.