In May of 2019, two young men were driving down I-55 in St. Louis when their silver Volkswagon CC plowed into the back of a stopped truck. The 47-year-old trucker claimed to have turned on his hazard lights to warn other drivers that he was slowing down and coming to a stop. Apparently, the young men in the Volkswagen didn’t see him soon enough.
We can only speculate about what might have happened if the commercial truck were substituted for a typical sedan. Perhaps the crash would have still proven fatal — colliding with a stopped vehicle usually results in heavy damage — but hitting the back of a truck is practically the same as hitting an immovable wall.
Cases like the one from I-55 raise questions about safety, liability, and the outlook for litigation in trucking accidents. Could the families of the young men sue over the accident? The answer hinges on many factors: the actions of the individuals at the time of the crash, the laws of the road, the regulations that apply to the trucking company, the circumstances behind the accidents, and more.
Lawsuits involving commercial trucks are handled much differently from other automobile accidents. The sheer size and weight of a tractor-trailer guarantee catastrophic damage in high-speed collisions, and the loads carried by trucks can be hazardous to humans and the environment. For these reasons and many others, commercial truck drivers are required to follow much stricter driving laws. We will address many of these and other important issues below.
Trucking rules and regulations
Truckers must go through a rigorous training process to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and must follow numerous safety regulations intended to protect the public from the potential dangers of trucks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is one of the major organizations governing the safety of commercial trucks. Here are some examples of safety regulations:
- Truckers have a maximum number of hours they can drive in a given time period, typically 14 or less. In addition, truckers cannot haul for 11 hours each day unless they have taken at least 10 consecutive hours the previous day.
- They must exercise even greater caution in bad weather. Tractor-trailers are notorious for their difficulty stopping at high speeds, and this difficulty is even greater in snow and ice.
- Truck drivers must pass a physical exam at least every two years.
- They must not have any alcohol or drugs in their system that would affect their driving ability. A typical driver could pass a breathalyzer test with a BAC of 0.08 or less (which may vary based on local or state laws), but for the commercial truck driver, that number must be 0.
- Cargo must be secured to the highest standards of safety and include the USDOT number, Hazmat markings, and more.
Understanding these regulations is important because they may play a role in litigation. If it can be proven that the truck driver was not following these regulations, then the case for a lawsuit is much more compelling and may even lead to criminal charges for the trucker.
Minimum Insurance requirements for truck drivers
In accordance with the laws of the FMCSA, truck drivers are required to have a minimum level of coverage, and that minimum is dependent on the freight they carry. The following are the typical minimums:
- Non-hazardous freight carried by trucks with fewer than 10,000 lbs is $300,000
- Non-hazardous freight carried by trucks with greater than 10,000 lbs is $750,000
- Oil transported by private carriers is $1,000,000
- Hazardous materials transported by private carriers is $5,000,000
These are the FMCSA’s minimum requirements. Most commercial trucking companies carry minimum insurance of around $1,000,000, regardless of the freight.
Similar to the regulations for holding a CDL, the insurance requirements are also important to keep in mind because truckers or companies in violation of these minimums are more liable for lawsuits.
Do accidents with tractor-trailers lead to higher payouts than typical accidents?
Almost always. The reason is that truckers are most often insured by large corporations with more expensive and comprehensive insurance plans. At the same time, accidents involving commercial trucks open up the possibility of suing multiple parties: the trucking company, the driver, the vehicle manufacturer, the company owning the freight, the shipping company, to name a few.
How long does it take to settle a semi-truck accident lawsuit?
As with all litigation, the time it takes to settle a case involving an 18 wheeler varies greatly from case to case. A number of factors must be taken into account.
One of the biggest — if not the biggest — is the extent of the injuries. Most often a commercial trucking case won’t be resolved until the victim has recovered completely. And because big rig accidents are often so catastrophic, this may take a long time and require multiple different treatments and even surgeries. Not until the victim is back to full health can the total cost be determined. This cost will include lost wages and lost future wages, medical expenses, and more. None of these factors can be accurately measured until the victim has recovered, and perhaps not even then.
What is the minimum truck accident settlement?
There is no minimum or maximum for truck accident settlements. The maximum can be affected by the insurance policies of the companies, but sometimes the payout will exceed even the maximum covered by the insurance policy, which means the trucker or company itself would have to pay the remainder.
What will I get paid if I was rear-ended by a semi-truck?
That depends on the circumstances and extent of the damage. Were you parked in the middle of the highway or on the shoulder? Did you stop suddenly? Was there ice? These are just a few immediate questions to ask. As stated before, the payout is always difficult to determine, but if you feel the truck driver was at fault in any way, a lawsuit could be filed.
Semi-truck Accident Settlement Calculator
In searching the internet, you may find countless “settlement calculators,” which are automated tools that ask you questions about your situation and spit out numbers based on your answers. Be wary of these tools. Any good lawyer could tell you that he or she doesn’t know how much the payout will be until litigation. The reason is that no case is alike. Even lawsuits that seem similar in most details can result in vastly different payouts due to many factors: the strength of the evidence, the degree of liability, the tenor of the judge or jury, the effectiveness of the lawyer arguing the case, and more. This is why it’s best to not trust a settlement calculator and to instead seek legal counsel on the matter. The Lieser Law Firm always offers a free case evaluation, so you don’t need to waste your time with settlement calculators.
How much is my tractor-trailer lawsuit worth?
As stated above, it all depends on the situation. The payout of a tractor-trailer lawsuit varies based on many factors, including some of the following:
Big rig accidents cause serious injuries: broken bones, cuts, bruises, burns, lost limbs, and even permanent paralysis. Hospitalization is quite common, especially if the victim’s vehicle was especially small. Any wages lost from these injuries are calculated into the lawsuit.
Lost future earnings:
The injuries that result from big rig accidents have a lasting negative impact on the victim’s ability to earn in the future. For example, if a master carpenter is paralyzed from the waist down, his or her earning potential for the future may plummet. This carpenter may even before forced to start a new career path, which may require years of education, or else take on a lesser (and lower-paying) role in his same profession. This all must be taken into account when calculating lost earnings.
Past Medical Bills
A huge factor that impacts the worth of a lawsuit is the cost of past medical bills. This includes the cost of all visits that were in any way related to the accident.
Future Medical Bills
Future medical bills, like the loss of future earnings, is tricky to calculate, because the body can be unpredictable in how it responds to accidents. Some people recover quickly and have no problems in the weeks, months, and years the follow. Others not only take a long time to return to full health but also experience medical issues for years afterward, sometimes for life. Nevertheless, a lawsuit must estimate what medical bills may come in the future and add that to the sum of the lawsuit
Gross Negligence of the Driver
The level of negligence from the driver is another big factor. Was the truck driver texting? Was the driver working more than his or her hours allotted by regulations? Most seriously, was the truck driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
Gross Negligence of the Company
In addition to the negligence of the driver, the wide negligence of the company must also be taken into account. What regulations were blatantly being ignored by the company? Did the company properly train or inform its drivers? These questions can be answered by gathering the necessary evidence and information for a case.
Pain and suffering:
Putting a dollar amount on pain and suffering is always difficult. After all, how can the psychological and emotional pain brought on by an accident ever be adequately repaid? As with many other aspects of personal injury cases, the judgment of compensation for pain and suffering is up to the sense of the judge or the jury.
Often in personal injury cases, punitive damages are leveled against the defendant. This is compensation that goes beyond the normal amount because it is intended as punishment against the defendant.
When in doubt, contact an experienced personal injury trial lawyer
This article only touches on a few of the questions regarding commercial trucking lawsuits. If you or a loved one got into an accident with a truck, it’s best to contact a personal injury lawyer for the clearest information. As we’ve said before, every case is different, and even the same case can have a different outcome in the hands of a different attorney. That’s why you need help from the lawyers at Lieser to get the results you deserve. Give us a call now.
If you have been injured or are suffering because of the carelessness of someone else, let us offer you a free case evaluation. Send us an email about your accident & we will contact you today.
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