A Guide to Truck Accident Injury Cases

Every accident matters. But accidents involving semi-trucks (also known as 18-wheelers, big rigs, semis, and tractor-trailers) have a unique ability to cause devastation for those involved. If you’ve been injured by one of these big trucks, you might wonder what will happen if you file a personal injury claim.

In general, the steps involved in a trucking accident case are similar to those involving regular-sized cars. But what happens at each stage is slightly different and can make a big difference in the outcome of your injury case. This article will explain some important steps in trucking accident cases.

Why Trucking Accidents Are So Serious

To understand why trucking accidents cause such severe injuries, let’s compare the average car to the average semi-truck.

The average four-door sedan weighs 4,000 pounds. A fully loaded semi-truck can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. The average big rig stands 13.5 feet high — twice as tall as the average car. And while most cars are 15 feet long, semis can be 70–80 feet long.

These differences matter for many reasons. A truck’s weight, size, and length make it difficult to maneuver quickly, which makes it harder for truck drivers to avoid accidents. The height difference between trucks and cars causes blind spots that might hide a small car until it’s too late. The truck’s massive weight also makes it harder to come to a complete stop. In fact, it takes a typical loaded truck 40% longer than a car to come to a stop.

Finally, the weight and size difference between passenger vehicles and commercial trucks means that in a collision between a truck and a car, the car will almost always get the worst of the bargain. When a large, heavy object crashes into a smaller, lighter one, the smaller one is far more likely to be damaged. This helps to explain why car passengers suffer over 80% of fatalities in trucking accidents. Even if there aren’t fatalities, serious injuries like broken bones, traumatic brain injury, and more can result.

Trucking Accidents Are Complicated

Trucking accidents are not only dangerous, they can be very complicated. To understand why, let’s look at some of the causes of trucking accidents. Trucking accidents can be caused by:

  • Speeding.
  • Improper stopping distance.
  • Distracted driving.
  • Failure to check blind spots.
  • Drowsy driving.
  • Intoxication.
  • Improperly loaded cargo.
  • Lack of maintenance.
  • Improper maintenance.
  • Malfunction of essential components (brakes, tires, etc.)
  • Driver inexperience.
  • Improper driver training.

While many of the causes of trucking accidents can be blamed on truck drivers, many are not. In fact, an accident resulting from a driver’s choice to speed or drive while drowsy may actually be the fault of an employer that creates unreasonable schedules or that forces drivers to skip federally mandated sleep breaks. In addition, the company that employs the driver may not be the same as the company that owns the truck. To make matters worse, another company may be responsible for loading the cargo, and yet another might be responsible for truck maintenance. All of this means that several people or companies could be responsible for the injuries in a trucking accident case.

Trucking accidents are also legally complex. A typical two-car accident usually involves just one set of laws. However, commercial trucks like 18-wheelers and their drivers are regulated by federal law. They also have to follow any Alabama laws that regulate their industry.

Because there may be many people, companies, and laws involved, a truck accident case is more complex than a typical case between two passenger cars. Luckily, an experienced Alabama truck accident attorney can help.

Steps in a Typical Trucking Accident Case

The steps in a truck accident case are similar to the steps in a typical car accident case. But there are some important differences. Here are some things to note about each stage of the process.

Step #1 – Gather information at the scene.

After calling 911 and requesting medical attention, your first priority should be collecting as much information as possible about the accident and the truck driver. In addition to the types of information you should collect after any accident, such as pictures of the scene and the names of any witnesses, be sure to note the driver’s name and the truck number. Ask about the owner(s) and operator(s) of the truck, as well as any people or businesses that might have performed maintenance on the truck.

Step #2 – Hire a truck accident attorney.

In general, you should not handle a car accident case on your own. This is doubly true for truck accident cases. As mentioned above, truck accident cases are more complicated than typical car accidents. Also, truck accident injuries are usually more severe. Even a small mistake with your case could prevent your right to get compensation for your injuries. Also, after any accident, you’ll have to talk to insurance companies. In a truck accident injury case with multiple people and companies, it’s possible you could have to interact with several insurance companies. Because truck accident injuries can be serious, insurance companies usually fight these claims aggressively. An Alabama accident attorney can handle all of this for you while protecting your rights.

Don’t wait to contact an accident lawyer. You may think you have time, and technically, you do. The legal deadline — or statute of limitations – for accident cases is two years. But cases such as wrongful death cases sometimes have earlier deadlines. Contact a personal injury attorney as soon as you can.

Step #3 – Your accident attorney investigates.

Once you hire a personal injury lawyer, they will investigate your case. The investigation is particularly important in trucking accidents where there could be multiple causes. Your Birmingham truck accident lawyer will know how to collect important information about your accident.

Step #4 – Your lawyer makes a demand. 

After getting more facts, your accident lawyer will send a demand letter to the people or companies who were responsible for your accident. This letter will set out the facts of your case, explain why you are entitled to compensation under the law, and request an accident settlement. The people responsible for your injuries can accept this demand, reject it, or make a counteroffer. If you accept an offer, your case will end. If not, it will continue to the next phase.

Step #5 – Decide whether to file a lawsuit.

If you don’t get a fair settlement offer after your first demand, you and your accident lawyer will have to decide whether to file a lawsuit. The rules of legal ethics say that you must be a major part of this decision – the lawyer cannot make this decision for you. Your lawyer will explain the pros and cons of making this decision. If you decide to move forward, your lawyer will file a special document called a complaint with the court. The complaint will spell out the facts of your case, explain the law that affects your case, and include a demand for damages from the people who caused your injuries (the defendants).

A few things can happen after you file your complaint. The defendants may make new settlement offers. Most likely, they will file a document called an answer where they admit or deny certain facts. They can also file motions to dismiss your case for various reasons. In a semi-truck case with multiple defendants, different defendants may choose different options. Some defendants may use their answers to argue that the accident was really the fault of one of the other defendants. All of this might sound complicated, but your Birmingham truck accident attorney can handle it for you.

Step #6 – Your lawyer conducts discovery.

Discovery is a process that lawyers use to get information about a case. During discovery, lawyers can ask questions under oath, request documents, and much more.

Discovery is particularly important in an 18-wheeler accident. For example, the semi should have an event data recorder (“black box”) that records the truck’s actions. Your lawyer can use discovery to get this and other helpful information. Discovery information can also be used to negotiate a better accident settlement.

Step #7 – Everyone files motions. 

After discovery, everyone should know most of the facts. These facts will be used to file additional motions. If granted, some of these motions could dismiss your case. But in a trucking accident, it’s more likely that the defendants will use these motions for procedural moves such as ensuring that every possible defendant has been included. Settlement negotiations usually continue during this period.

Step #8 – Going to trial. 

If all negotiations fail or you only settle with one defendant, you may have to go to trial. Trials are exceptionally rare – most accident cases settle out of court. But because they normally involve serious injuries, a number of potential defendants, and large amounts of money, cases involving 18-wheelers have a slightly higher chance of going to trial compared to other motor vehicle accidents. 

If your case does go to trial, your lawyer will prepare you for what to expect. A typical jury trial involves jury selection, opening statements, witness testimony, and more. The jury will be responsible for deciding any facts that are in dispute such as who was at fault. The judge will make legal decisions such as what evidence the jury is allowed to hear.

You Have Rights After a Trucking Accident!

If you were injured by a semi-truck, you have legal rights. At Collins Law, LLC, we will fight as hard as we can to protect those rights and get you the compensation you deserve. Our client reviews praise our firm’s customer service, compassion, and results. We handle all types of motor vehicle accidents from trucking accidents to motorcycle accidents. To learn what Collins Law can do for you, call us at 205-588-1411 or use our website’s online scheduling tool to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.