From Stamford east on I-95 to the northernmost parts of I-91 and I-395, commercial truck accidents are a common occurrence throughout Connecticut. While large trucks are indispensable to our modern way of life, they also present clear dangers for motorists on Connecticut’s highways and byways. Over the past 10 years, hundreds of Connecticut residents have been killed in commercial truck accidents (according to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics), and far more have been injured. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, here’s what you need to know:
1. You Have the Right to Seek Just Compensation for Your Losses
First and foremost, you have the right to seek just compensation for your losses. If you were seriously injured, this includes just compensation for your medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and all other forms of economic and non-economic harm. If a loved one was killed, this includes all out-of-pocket expenses and other financial losses you and your family incur as well as compensation for your loved one’s loss of life and his or her pain and suffering prior to death.
Establishing Liability after a Commercial Truck Accident
There are a number of ways that liability can be established following a commercial truck accident in Connecticut. While many accidents are the result of driver-related factors, issues with the truck itself, issues with the road, and issues with other vehicles involved in the collision can be to blame as well.
Truck Driver Negligence
According to the DOT, “at least one driver-related factor” played a role in 32 percent of fatal truck accidents in 2017 (the most-current year for which data is available). The DOT’s data indicated that speeding was the most common form of driver negligence in fatal commercial truck collisions, with distracted driving not far behind. More recent reports suggest that distracted driving may have taken the top spot. But regardless, it is clear that truck drivers’ avoidable mistakes are to blame for a significant percentage of all fatal and non-fatal commercial truck accidents. In addition to speeding and distracted driving, other common driver-related factors include:
- Following too closely (tailgating)
- Harsh braking (which can cause large trucks to jackknife or roll over)
- Driving while fatigued (or falling asleep behind the wheel)
- Driving under the influence of sleeping pills, marijuana, or other illegal drugs
- Driving under the influence of alcohol (although, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving is far more likely to be a factor in non-truck-involved collisions)
Issues with the Commercial Truck
In addition to issues with the truck driver’s ability to maintain control and avoid accidents on the road, issues with the truck itself can also cause and contribute to dangerous collisions. In fact, there are several truck-related issues frequently proven to be causal factors in serious commercial truck accidents. Some of the most common examples of these factors include:
- Truck defects existing from the time the truck left its manufacturing facility
- Inadequate truck maintenance and faulty repairs
- Cargo loading errors, including off-balance loading, exceeding the truck’s GVWR, failing to secure cargo so that it does not shift or fall during transport, and failing to pressurize liquid cargo such as fuel or chemicals
Issues with the Road
Similarly, issues with the road surface can factor into fatal and non-fatal commercial truck accidents. Also similar to truck-related factors, road-related factors can include defects, maintenance issues, and other forms of negligence as well. These issues can arise in good and bad weather, and they can impact trucks and other vehicles traveling at all speeds on all types of roads. Some examples of these issues include:
- Dangerous road design (including bends that are too sharp, shoulders that are too low, and ramps that have inadequate banking)
- Faulty road construction (including issues with the road material, issues with the road surface, and issues with signage and guardrails)
- Negligent road maintenance (including failure to fix cracks, potholes, crumbling asphalt, and broken signs and signals)
- Failure to clear the road (including failure to remove construction debris from the road and failure to adequately treat the roadway during winter storms)
Issues with Other Vehicles Involved in the Collision
Issues with other vehicles involved in the collision can support liability claims as well. This includes issues with your own vehicle. If your vehicle had a defect that contributed to the accident (such as faulty brakes) or your injuries (such as a faulty airbag), you may have a product liability claim. If your repair shop performed negligent work, you may have a claim against your repair shop as well. And if another vehicle involved in the accident was defective or inoperable due to a negligent repair (or if another driver involved in the accident was negligent), then you could potentially have multiple claims for financial compensation.
Determining What Company Is Liable for Your Truck Accident Losses
This brings us to the question of who is liable for your truck accident losses. When we ask “who,” we are primarily asking which company (or companies) hold legal responsibility for the cause (or causes) of the collision. We touched on some of the parties that could potentially hold legal responsibility in the previous paragraph, but in most cases, the complete list will include:
- One or more drivers’ insurance companies
- The trucking company
- The shipping company
- A truck or other vehicle (or component) manufacturer
- A repair shop, maintenance shop, or dealership
- The road or highway authority
- A government contractor hired to design, construct, or maintain the road
Of course, not all of these parties will be liable in all cases. In order to determine what company or companies are liable for your family’s losses, you will need to hire a Connecticut truck accident law firm to conduct a comprehensive investigation.
2. You Have the Right to Be Treated Fairly during Good-Faith Settlement Negotiations
At this point, we will assume that you have engaged a law firm and that the firm has identified the cause (or causes) of the accident. Your attorneys have initiated the appropriate legal claims on your behalf, and your case is well underway.
What happens now? As you may be aware, the vast majority of personal injury and wrongful death claims settle out of court. While a settlement is by no means guaranteed, if an experienced lawyer has accepted your case, the statistics suggest that the odds of a negotiated resolution are fairly high. That said, convincing the insurance companies, trucking companies, and other commercial parties to settle for just compensation isn’t easy, and your attorneys will need to be able to present clear evidence of both liability (i.e., who was at fault) and damages (i.e., how much you are entitled to recover).
Although the settlement negotiation process is fairly informal and highly unstructured as compared to courtroom litigation, there are still rules that all parties must follow. While defense attorneys can (and will) advocate zealously for their clients, they cannot misrepresent the facts or withhold evidence that is subject to disclosure through the discovery process. Likewise, insurance companies have a legal obligation to process all claims in good faith. These legal obligations help facilitate the settlement negotiation process. Generally speaking, in a typical type of scenario, you should have the opportunity to resolve your case for just compensation short of going to trial.
3. You Have the Right to Take Your Case to Court in Connecticut If Necessary
But, whether an insurance company or trucking company is not convinced it is liable, or you are not satisfied that the best offer you have received reflects just compensation for your losses, the possibility remains that you will need to take your case to court. As a commercial truck accident victim in Connecticut, if you do not receive a satisfactory settlement offer, you have every right to fight for just compensation at trial.
If you receive a settlement offer prior to your trial date (or during your trial, as often happens), you will need to carefully consider various factors in order to decide whether to accept. You only get one chance to resolve your case – and your losses are likely to be substantial – so you need to make your decision wisely. Some of the factors you will need to consider include:
- Does the offer provide full compensation for your economic losses (e.g., medical expenses, loss of income, and loss of future earnings)?
- Does the offer provide full compensation for your non-economic losses (e.g., pain and suffering, permanent scarring, and loss of enjoyment of life)?
- Are you entitled to additional damages based on the truck driver’s (or another driver’s) “reckless disregard” of Connecticut traffic laws?
- Are you entitled to additional damages for bad-faith insurance settlement practices?
- What is the likelihood that you would be able to secure additional financial compensation if your attorney takes your case to verdict?
4. You Have the Right to Experienced Legal Representation
Finally, as a commercial truck accident victim in Connecticut, you have the right to experienced legal representation. You do not have to handle your case on your own, and it is inadvisable to try to do so for a variety of different reasons. The trucking company and insurance companies will have defense lawyers representing them, so you need a plaintiff’s lawyer who is capable of fighting for just compensation on your behalf.
At Berkowitz Hanna, we handle Connecticut commercial truck accident cases on a contingency-fee basis. This means that you do not pay anything unless and until you accept a settlement or our lawyers win a verdict at trial. If you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one, we can help you recover. We encourage you to contact us promptly for a free consultation about your legal rights.
Speak with an Accident Lawyer for Free
If you would like to speak with an attorney about your legal rights after a commercial truck accident in Connecticut, we want to hear from you. To schedule a free initial consultation at your convenience, please call 203-487-5716 or contact us online today.