Semi trucks are massive, heavy vehicles that can cause serious damage in the event of an accident. Being involved in a crash with a semi is often a traumatic experience.
Due to the serious injuries that are often involved, victims of truck accidents often wonder if they can sue after being hit by a semi truck. The answer to this question is generally “yes,” but it depends on your unique situation.
Generally, a few conditions must be met for you to have a viable truck accident lawsuit:
- The semi truck driver and/or another party was responsible for the accident
- You suffered serious injuries in the accident
- Your injuries resulted in damages
An experienced semi truck accident injury lawyer at Colombo Law can review your legal options and advise you what your claim may be worth. Our personal injury attorneys serve clients throughout West Virginia.
Keep reading to find out when you might have a claim after being injured in a semi truck accident:
The Semi Truck Driver Caused the Accident
The first question to answer when considering a truck accident lawsuit: Who was at fault? If the truck driver was at fault, you may have a case.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for truck drivers to cause accidents. Some of the most common examples of negligence that lead to semi crashes include:
- Falling asleep at the wheel
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Distracted driving
- Road rage or aggressive driving
Your lawyer will fully investigate the accident to determine if the truck driver was engaging in any kind of reckless behavior. If the driver was careless behind the wheel and caused the accident, he or she can be held liable for the injuries and subsequent damages you suffer.
Additional Parties May Be At Fault
The negligence of other parties may also be a factor in a semi truck accident – even if the truck driver is the one who actually caused the accident.
For example, in the case of a truck driver falling asleep at the wheel, your lawyer may uncover evidence that the trucking company routinely forced its drivers to stay on the road longer than they are legally allowed. If this is the case, the trucking company may also be liable for the accident.
Trucking companies also have a responsibility to perform thorough background checks to ensure drivers have a good safety record. If the truck driver had a history of drug and alcohol abuse but the trucking company hired him or her anyway, it could be grounds for suing the trucking company.
In addition, truck parts manufacturers, loading companies, and other parties all have a responsibility to ensure the safety of trucks on the road. If they fail to do so, they may also be held responsible for accidents that occur as a result of their negligence.
You Suffer Serious Injuries in the Truck Accident
The second condition for being able to sue is if you suffered injuries in the accident. Because semi trucks are so much larger and heavier than passenger vehicles, accidents with 18-wheelers often cause serious injuries that are expensive to treat and may permanently alter a victim’s life.
In these situations, there is a lot at stake, including a lot of money. Truck accident victims have to deal not only with the physical and emotional ramifications of serious injuries but medical bills, an inability to work, and other life-altering consequences.
In these situations, the law allows accident victims to pursue compensation against the negligent party (or parties) that caused their injuries. It is in your best interest to contact a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible to start building your case.
Your Truck Accident Injuries Result in Damages
Damages refers to the expenses related to your injuries as well as the other negative effects of the accident. Non-economic losses, including the pain and suffering and ongoing emotional anguish you experience as a result of the accident, are also compensable damages.
For many, the effects of serious truck accidents are life-altering. You may no longer be able to enjoy the things you used to enjoy, and it may affect your career, your relationships with loved ones, and more.
Accident victims can pursue compensation for all of these damages under the law.
You may also be awarded punitive damages, which are intended to punish the negligent party for their actions. However, punitive damages are only awarded in cases where the court determines that the defendant acted “with actual malice toward the plaintiff or a conscious, reckless and outrageous indifference to the health, safety and welfare of others” (per the West Virginia Code).
How to Collect Evidence After a Truck Accident
Evidence will form the foundation of your claim and serve as an indispensable tool in negotiations with insurance companies and, if necessary, in court. Here are some pointers about how to gather crucial pieces of evidence:
How to Take Photographs
If you are badly injured, you should not attempt to take photographs immediately following the accident. However, if you or someone else is able, you should take photos with your phone of the following:
- The damage to the vehicles
- The area surrounding the scene of the accident
- The truck’s license plate, USDOT Number, and other identifying information
- Your injuries
- Anything else that might seem relevant
Reconstructing a truck accident scene can be an imperfect science, so having photographic evidence of everything as it was immediately following the crash can be very helpful. If possible, you should also try to take video of the scene.
How to Interview Witnesses
Did someone see the accident take place? If so, you should get their name, address, and phone number, as well as their account of what took place.
Eyewitness testimony is always subjective. However, if the witness statements align with other evidence, it can be a big help in proving your account of the accident.
If you are not sure if someone saw the accident take place, you can check with businesses and houses in the area to ask if anyone saw the accident happen. You may also be able to uncover video footage of the accident, which could serve as a key piece of evidence.
How to Exchange Information
After an accident, you should always exchange information with the truck driver. The information you will need includes:
- Their name and address
- Contact information
- Driver’s license number
- Insurance information (company and policy number)
- License plate number
- Company name or employer
- USDOT Number
Getting this information will allow you to file a claim against the truck driver and/or the trucking company.
How to Report the Accident to the Police
After a truck accident that involves any injury or significant property damage, you should call the police to report the accident. When they show up, answer all of their questions as clearly and concisely as you can.
Do not volunteer additional commentary about how the accident happened, why you believe it happened, or any other opinion that is not being asked for. Definitely do not say anything implying fault, such as “I’m sorry” or “I should have done X.” These statements could be used against you by the defendants and their insurers.
How to Report a Truck Accident to the Insurance Company
After a truck accident, you should report it to your insurance company first. You can do so by calling your insurer or filling out an accident report online. This is an important step because your insurance company may be able to provide some support while you are pursuing compensation against the truck driver and/or their employer.
You should also report the accident to the truck driver’s insurance company, though this comes with a word of caution: We recommend that you do not speak with the truck driver’s insurance company directly about the accident. The truck driver’s insurance company will attempt to get a recorded statement from you. Do not provide a recorded statement to the insurance company until you have consulted with an experienced truck accident lawyer. You should instead have your lawyer handle these communications.
Insurance companies are very good at using your own words against you. They will ask you complicated, unclear questions and attempt to get you to back yourself into a corner. Do not fall for it. Have your truck accident lawyer handle these communications for you to avoid these attempts at manipulation.
How to File a Lawsuit After a Truck Accident
Most people do not have a good sense of how to pursue compensation for a truck accident, much less how to file a lawsuit if it comes down to it. Although your attorney will likely handle the process of filing suit on your behalf, it is important to understand what is involved:
How to Draft a Demand Letter
Before filing a lawsuit, a demand letter should be submitted to the insurance company. This letter will lay out your side of the case, including how much you are demanding in compensation for the damages you have sustained.
Crafting an effective demand letter is a task that should not be taken lightly. It needs to strike the right balance between professional politeness and straightforward clarity. In most cases, it is ideal to leave the writing of this letter to someone who has experience writing effective demand letters, such as a truck accident lawyer.
How to Negotiate a Settlement
Regardless of how effective a demand letter is, the chances are very small that an insurance company will automatically agree to pay the amount requested. Instead, they will seek to negotiate the settlement amount.
These negotiations can be difficult to navigate. Knowing how to balance the value of your claim versus the risk and time involved in filing a lawsuit and going to trial is not simple. Truth be told, there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, it is something you should discuss and agree with your attorney on before moving forward.
How to File Suit
Filing a lawsuit involves completing paperwork that details several important facts of your case. These include:
- The amount you are claiming in compensation
- Information about who was involved in the accident, where it took place, and how it happened
- Why the defendant is responsible for the damages associated with the accident
It is very important that you complete this paperwork carefully to make sure you are fully calculating your damages, that you have evidence to support your claims, and that you can back up your demands for compensation with facts and evidence. The Complaint requires that specific information is asserted in order to be complete and valid. An experienced truck accident lawyer should complete and file the Complaint on your behalf.
The completed paperwork is known as a complaint. Next, the complaint must be filed with the appropriate court (a truck accident lawyer can determine the appropriate court). Once the complaint is filed, the defendant(s) will be issued a summons notifying them that they are party to the action.
How to Prepare for Trial (If Necessary)
While you may be able to settle your claim out of court, filing a lawsuit and going to trial is sometimes the only way to recover the compensation needed and deserved for a truck accident. That said, presenting a case in court is very different from negotiating with insurance companies.
Read More: Do Semi-Truck Accidents Go to Trial?
In court, you will need to present evidence of your injuries, the damages you have sustained, and the negligence of the truck driver and any other defendants. This requires extensive preparation beforehand, as well as persuasiveness and advanced knowledge of courtroom proceedings.
The success of your case and fair compensation for your losses are at stake. Generally, it is in your best interest to have a truck accident lawyer serve as your advocate at trial.
You May Not Need to Sue
It is important to understand that you may not need to sue to recover compensation for damages. Generally, before a lawsuit is considered, your lawyer will negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf in an attempt to settle the case out of court.
Settlements take less time and are less expensive than going to court. It is generally in the best interest of all parties in the case to reach a fair settlement without going to trial
That said, insurance companies are not quick to pay out fair amounts of compensation. If your lawyer is unable to reach a fair settlement on your behalf, it may be time to file suit against those responsible.
Whether your case is settled out of court or requires a lawsuit, working with a qualified truck accident attorney is crucial for recovering the compensation you need and deserve. Investigating your case, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, negotiating with insurance companies, and everything else that comes with a truck accident claim is technical, difficult work – especially if you are in the process of healing from your injuries and dealing with other repercussions of the accident.
At Colombo Law, we focus an extensive portion of our practice on truck accident litigation. We have achieved significant recoveries for our clients, and we handle each case with compassion and hands-on attention.
For a FREE consultation, please call Colombo Law at (304) 599-4229 today. Our semi truck accident injury lawyers serve clients in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia.