How Do Commercial Truck Accident Claims Work?

The McClellan Law Firm

Motor vehicle accidents can create an abundance of setbacks and challenges, whether they’re physical, emotional, or financial in nature. As victims and families recover and piece their lives back together, they may question whether another party can be held at fault for their injuries and losses.

The answer to this question, of course, relies heavily on the individual facts of a case. Still, it’s an important question to ask, as it helps victims understand that our civil justice system offers pathways through which they can seek accountability for wrongs and injustices committed against them, as well as financial compensation for the damages they incurred.

5 Things to Know About Truck Accident Cases

Because navigating the injury claim process is no easy task, especially in cases involving commercial truck accidents, working with experienced attorneys like those at The McClellan Law Firm can make all the difference.

Our attorneys have earned national recognition for fighting on behalf of the injured and the wronged, and are available to help victims across Southern California learn more about their rights and options following any type of truck accident.

To help you gain a better understanding of how trucking accident cases work, we’ve put together a few general things to know.

1. Truck Accident Cases Are Similar to Car Accident Claims

Though they do have their distinct differences and challenging issues, truck accident claims, for the most part, function similarly to a standard car accident claim (and most types of negligence claims). Generally, that means victims pursuing these claims:

  • Have been involved in a crash caused by the negligence or wrongful acts of another;
  • Have suffered injuries and damages as a result of the crash; and
  • Want to hold at-fault parties financially liable for their damages.

This is a very simplified explanation of why victims pursue claims against defendants they allege to have caused their accidents and injuries. What’s required to prevail, however, entails much more.

2. Naming a Defendant(s): Determining Who’s at Fault

If you or a loved one have been involved in a truck accident, it is not always the case that you can just file a claim or lawsuit against the trucking company. Though trucking companies and their drivers are often named as defendants in accident claims, there are many other potentially liable parties that may have caused (in whole) or contributed (in part) to your crash.

Because there can be multiple parties involved in these cases, thorough investigations become critical to determining not only an underlying cause, but also who is to blame. A few examples of defendants that may be named in a truck accident claim include:

  • Truck drivers and trucking companies;
  • Third-party service /maintenance companies that negligently maintained trucks;
  • Product retailers, cargo loaders, or distributors that improperly loaded or overloaded cargo;
  • Automakers / auto part manufacturers that made defective products;
  • Owners of properties or premises that contained hazards owners knew about, but failed to address;
  • Another negligent motorist (i.e. a driver of a passenger vehicle that cut a truck off, causing it to crash);
  • A government entity, public utility, or local City, if the truck in question was owned by the government or a crash was caused by unsafe road conditions (note: claims against public entities are subject to unique rules and procedures, and shorter statutes of limitations);

3. Elements of a Trucking Claim: What Victims Need to Prove

Victims pursuing accident claims over tractor-trailer accidents won’t be automatically awarded compensation. Their claims have to meet certain legal elements, which can vary depending on the type of claims alleged, and the parties named as defendants.

Typically, trucking accident victims bring claims of negligence against defendants they say could and should have prevented crashes. When doing so, they must prove a few essential elements of a negligence claim, which generally include:

  1. Legal Duty – A legal duty must have existed between the victim and the defendant. In the case of a trucking crash, drivers and trucking companies have a duty to exercise reasonable care in operating and maintaining their vehicles so as to reduce considerable public safety risks.
  2. Breach of Duty – Proving a defendant failed to meet their “duty of care” is a critical part of a negligence claim. With trucking accidents, a breach of duty can come in many different forms, whether it’s a negligent trucker who drove distracted or under the influence, or trucking companies that failed to comply with applicable trucking regulations to the detriment of victims.
  3. Causation – It’s not enough to prove a defendant was negligent and failed to meet a duty of care. Victims will further need to prove the act of negligence or specific breach of duty more likely than not caused their accident and injuries. The “more likely than not” is a way of describing “a preponderance of the evidence,” which is the burden of proof used in civil cases. It’s a lower burden than the well-known “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.
  4. Damages – There’s no claim if victims don’t suffer actual damages. In many trucking accident cases, however, that point is often moot. As statistics show, victims of trucking accidents are more likely to suffer severe and fatal injuries that can come with permanent and profound repercussions for their physical, emotional, and financial well-being.

4. Case Value: What a Truck Accident Case is Worth

Given the far-reaching damages that can accompany trucking accidents, it is normal for victims and families to have questions about what their truck accident claim or settlement is worth. Unfortunately, no ethical lawyer will quote you a figure, especially if they haven’t seen the details of your case, or if it’s still very early on in the case. Even then, there’s no exact sum that can be estimated with confidence.

The real answer, as with many matters of the law, is that it depends. The value of your accident claim is determined in part by what happened, who’s at fault (and to what degree), the availability of insurance coverage, and the extent of your injuries, among other factors.

In many cases, the scope of a victim’s damages is not fully known until they are done treating their injuries; in others, permanent injuries require careful calculations of estimated future needs and projected losses. Case value also depends in part on your ability (and the ability of your legal representation) to negotiate or litigate for the full amount of compensation you deserve.

Though you’re not going to get a precise number when inquiring about the value of your case, you can get a better understanding of what you may be able to recover in terms of compensation should a case resolve in your favor. This may include economic and non-economic damages such as:

  • Past and future medical expenses (i.e. costs of emergency care, surgery, rehabilitation, medications, medical devices, attendant care, future surgeries, etc.);
  • Lost income caused by missing work due to your injuries;
  • Lost earning potential or lost future earnings, when injuries or disabilities prevent you from doing the same work you once did, or working at all;
  • Physical pain and suffering;
  • Emotional injuries such as lost enjoyment of life, disfigurement or disability, and mental anguish;
  • Emotional injuries suffered by family members who witnessed the injury causing event, or, in cases of wrongful death, loss of consortium, including lost emotional support and sexual relations.

There are other potentially recoverable damages that will depend on the individual case. 

Some cases may also present an opportunity for punitive damages, which are awarded as to deter others from committing similar acts, and to punish wrongdoers for egregious conduct (e.g. engaging in a commercial driver’s license fraud scheme to allow unqualified truckers to operate big rigs).

5.  Settlements vs. Trial

Many personal injury victims are offered settlements early on by insurance carriers for trucking companies. In the beginning of a case, these are typically “lowball” offers that fail to take into account the full scope of a victim’s damages, often because they simply are not yet known, and often because an acceptance would allow them to avoid what could later become substantial payouts.

Whether it is a settlement (the most common way injury cases are resolved) or a trial (which is less common, but sometimes necessary in complex claims or when defendants dispute or deny liability or challenge damages), thorough preparation is vital to securing resolutions which meet the needs of victims and their families. Legal representation capable of helping victims take on corporate defendants at the negotiation table or trial is also important. Attorney Craig McClellan and our team have secured a record of multi-million dollar both in and out of the courtroom.

Have questions about a commercial truck accident and your rights? The McClellan Law Firm handles serious injury and wrongful death cases throughout San Diego and Southern California. Contact us to speak with an attorney.

Categories: