Winning a truck accident lawsuit comes down to gathering evidence soon after the accident, determining the cause of the accident, researching state and federal trucking regulations, selecting the right defendant, and presenting your case persuasively at trial with the aid of an experienced trial lawyer.
When it comes to truck accidents, the statistics are grim. Every year in the US, about a half million accidents occur that involve commercial vehicles, most of them trucks. The total carnage amounts to over 130,000 injuries and 5,000 deaths. Shockingly, truck drivers themselves account for only about two percent of total fatalities – the other 98 percent are occupants of the non-commercial vehicle involved in the accident.
The Supreme Importance of Meticulous Preparation
The advice of the ancient Chinese warfare strategist Sun Tzu is relevant here: “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” A trial is a war, and the best way to win is to prepare thoroughly and thoughtfully. A favorable judgment is not enough. To really win, the amount awarded must be enough to fully compensate you.
What to Do in the Immediate Aftermath of a Truck Accident.
Take the following steps immediately following a truck accident, to the extent that your condition allows. Of course, if you are seriously injured, you might not be able to take any of these steps.
- Call an ambulance. The police will be notified as a matter of course, and you are obligated by law to remain at the scene of the accident until the police arrive.
- Obtain the following information from the truck driver: the driver’s full name and contact details, the trucking company’s name, the plate number, insurance information, the driver’s drivers’ license number, and the type of cargo that was being hauled.
- Ask any witnesses to remain at the scene of the accident until the police arrive, and obtain their names and contact details.
- Photograph the scene of the accident, including injuries, vehicle damage, and any other useful evidence such as road signs, etc.
Gather and Preserve Evidence
If you were injured in the accident and were unable to gather all of the information mentioned above, do your best to obtain it soon after the accident or have someone else do it for you (your lawyer, for example). Other evidence that you will likely need includes:
- Medical evidence of the extent of your injuries: Your medical records, patient charts, medical bills, etc. are all important. Keep every document you receive from your healthcare provider, and ask for more as you need it. Once you file a lawsuit, a court can even order your hospital to produce relevant evidence.
- Keep your vehicle in the exact condition it was in after the accident, because it is important evidence.
- Obtain vehicle inspection reports from the trucking company.
- Obtain data from the truck’s “black box” (the “event data recorder”). The event data recorder contains information such as the truck’s speed, braking time, and which gear the truck was in at the time of the accident. Keep in mind that this data can be overwritten, which would leave you with no evidence.
- Request the truck’s maintenance logs.
- Request the trucker’s driving log. If the trucker exceeded the legal limit of driving hours mandated by federal regulation, you would need to know this.
- Obtain cargo logs to determine whether the truck was overweight at the time of the accident.
- Get a copy of the police report. Although police reports are not generally accepted as evidence in courts, it can also identify critical facts about the accident that you can then follow up on.
The foregoing is only a partial list of evidence that may be useful to you.
Determine the Cause of the Accident
In many cases, the cause of the accident is obvious, while in many cases, it isn’t. If you are having problems pinpointing the cause of the accident, you might want to hire an accident reconstruction expert to apply the laws of physics to the evidence you have gathered to determine the exact cause of the accident. Once the cause of the accident is clear, it is normally easy to determine whose fault it was.
Most Common Types of Truck Accidents
The following are some (but not all) of the most common types of truck accidents:
- Jackknife accidents: A “jackknife” forms when a big rig’s cab ends up at a 90-degree angle with its trailer, like an open jackknife. This may happen when the truck driver brakes too hard and too suddenly (an event that should be recorded in the truck’s “black box”).
- Rollover accidents: Rollover accidents occur when the driver loses control of his truck (sometimes in response to a tire blowout). An 80,000 pound rig can then collapse onto an adjacent car.
- Tire Blowouts: Tire blowouts drastically interfere with the ability to steer the vehicle, perhaps forcing it into oncoming traffic. Inadequate tire maintenance or a defectively manufactured tire, among other causes, can result in a blowout.
- Wide Turns: A wide turn occurs when a truck driver swings too far left in order to make a right turn. This can pose a serious danger to vehicles behind the truck.
- Blind Spots: Some trucks place signs on their truck reading “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” A trucker’s blind spot most often causes accidents when the truck changes lanes into a vehicle located in his blind spot.
- Rear-end collisions: Right or wrong, commercial truck drivers have a reputation for the intimidation tactic of “tailgating” vehicles that are moving too slow. An 80,000 pound truck can cause a devastating accident this way.
- “Under ride” accidents: If a truck stops suddenly, an oncoming car traveling at a high speed might rear-end it, ending with the car becoming lodged underneath the truck’s trailer. These types of accidents are very often fatal. Whatever you do, never tailgate a truck.
If You Determine That the Accident Was Partly Your Fault
If your investigation into the cause of the accident reveals that it was partially your fault, you might still be able to recover damages. Under Connecticut comparative fault law, you can still recover damages as long as the accident was mostly the other driver’s fault, although your damages will be reduced in proportion to your percentage of fault.
Research State and Federal Trucking Laws
Connecticut recognizes the concept of negligence per se, which means that, if you can establish that the truck driver violated a federal trucking regulation or a Connecticut trucking regulation, he will be considered automatically negligent. Once you prove that the truck driver was negligent, all you will have left to prove in order to win is (i) you suffered damages and (ii) your damages were directly caused by the truck driver’s negligence.
Determine the Appropriate Defendant
The following are the most likely candidates for defendant in a truck accident case:
- The truck driver: This is the most obvious choice, although not all accidents are the driver’s fault. Fortunately, truck drivers are required by law to be heavily insured.
- The trucking company: If the truck driver is an employee of the trucking company, the company will be automatically liable for the driver’s liability. If not, you will need to show negligence on the part of the trucking company itself in order to hold them liable.
- The government (local, state or federal): This may be appropriate if the accident was caused by inadequate road maintenance, for example, or by a malfunctioning traffic signal. Special procedures are required to sue the government.
- A manufacturer: You might sue the manufacturer of a defective truck part (a defective tire that blew out, for example) or a malfunctioning traffic signal.
- An alcohol vendor, if the accident was caused by driver intoxication: The Connecticut Dram Shop Act allows you to sue an alcohol vendor for up to $250,000 for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person who then causes an accident that injures you.
Filing a Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit requires you to submit certain carefully prepared documents, for which you will probably need an experienced truck accident attorney. Every sentence in a formal lawsuit complaint carries consequences, not all of which are obvious. Several weeks or even longer are likely to elapse between filing the lawsuit papers and the date of the actual trial, and during this period, you can seek an out of court settlement.
If Someone Was Killed in the Accident
Truck accidents are very often fatal. If someone was killed in the accident, the executor of the deceased victim’s probate estate, appointed by the probate court, can file a wrongful death claim. Damages are distributed to the estate itself for distribution to estate beneficiaries and to close family members of the deceased.
The Discovery Process
The discovery process can take place only after a lawsuit has already been filed. In discovery, you can question the defendant under oath (and he can question you), and each of you can demand evidence that is in the possession of the other. If the other party refuses to cooperate, the requesting party can apply for a court order compelling the other party to cooperate.
For trial, you will need to prepare numerous evidentiary exhibits, perhaps hire an expert witness such as an accident reconstruction specialist, and present a persuasive case to the jury. Your best bet is to retain a law firm like Berkowitz Hanna, which enjoys a strong track record of victory in court. Your case needs to be clear, concise, easy for the jury to understand, and backed up by admissible evidence.
Delay Will Only Hurt Your Chances
If you have been hurt in a truck accident, or if your loved one died that way, and if you even suspect that the accident may have been mostly the truck driver’s fault, contact Berkowitz Hanna by telephone at one of our offices in Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, and Shelton; or simply contact us online. Either way, we can schedule you a free initial consultation to discuss your case.
We serve clients throughout the state of Connecticut.