Due to their massive size, commercial trucks feature several hazards involving their maneuverability, resulting in an accident. As explained by the National Safety Council, around 4,800 people die in accidents involving commercial trucks each year, and more than 100,000 suffer injuries.
Most of these deaths and injuries occur to other roadway users, including the occupants of passenger vehicles and motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
While the personal injury claims process provides the means for those injured in truck accidents to seek compensation for their injuries, you must meet an important deadline for filing the claim in court.
Failing to meet that deadline can bar you from using the court process to seek compensation and make it extremely difficult to obtain a fair settlement offer for the claim. Contact an experienced truck accident lawyer for a free consultation today.
The Statute of Limitations for Truck Accident Claims
Each state’s lawmakers must determine how long a person has to file legal claims. This period is known as the statute of limitations, and it can be different depending on the type of claim filed. The statute of limitations for truck accident claims in New York is three years from the accident. In New Jersey and Connecticut, the statutory deadline for filing a personal injury claim is two years after the accident.
While the statute of limitations determines how long an individual has to file a claim in court, the claim does not have to resolve within that timeline. Additionally, the at-fault party’s liability insurance provider can offer settlements any time before the court renders a decision on the case.
What Happens If You Miss the Deadline?
If the statute of limitations for filing your truck accident claim has expired, the law will usually bar you from using the state’s civil court system to seek compensation for your injuries. If most personal injury claims resolve through a negotiated settlement rather than litigation, you may wonder why the statute of limitation matters.
It matters because insurance providers are willing to make settlement offers to avoid the uncertainty and expense of litigation. If the claimant is not permitted to seek litigation, there is very little reason for the insurance provider to offer a settlement because they know the claim will not wind up in court.
Why Must I Speak With an Attorney as Soon as Possible After a Truck Accident
With years to file a legal claim for compensation for injury damages incurred in a truck accident, many people delay speaking with an attorney because they assume there is plenty of time to do so later.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why delaying speaking with an attorney about your case is a mistake, including:
- There is evidence your attorney needs to secure in a short period. Trucking is one of the nation’s most highly regulated industries, and truck drivers and the trucking companies who hire them must retain certain documentation to comply with these federal regulations. While the trucking company holds lots of evidence that can help prove your claim, much of it is digitally stored and prone to overwriting. An experienced truck accident attorney can take legal actions to ensure that this evidence is secure and available when it is time to prove your claim.
- Trucking companies must carry more liability insurance than other vehicles on the roadway. High-powered agencies and attorneys often provide and administer these expensive policies. The insurance carriers providing these policies are familiar with the tactics to reduce or eliminate the payouts on personal injury claims, including offering an extremely low settlement early after the accident occurs, when the injured person likely has not had the chance to speak with an attorney. Often, the individual—in pain from accident injuries and distressed about the rapidly increasing expense of the accident—will agree to the settlement, under the insurance carrier’s advice that it is the maximum amount available to them. However, once they accept the settlement, the injured person can not go back and file a claim for additional compensation. They are, instead, left with uncovered expenses.
A Truck Accident Attorney Can Manage Communication with the Insurance Provider
By having an experienced truck accident attorney establish a value to your claim, a claimant can often understand how much their claim is worth and be prepared to consider whether a settlement offer fairly compensates their financial and psychological costs of the injury.
In addition to valuing the claim, a personal injury attorney can also manage communication with the insurance provider to protect the claim’s value from being degraded by quick and dirty settlement offers or other common insurance tactics.
Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement
Most personal injury attorneys prefer to wait to value a claim until after their client has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is the point in treatment at which the injured person’s physician determines that the injury is stable and that there will likely be no more meaningful improvement to their condition, even with the continuation of treatment.
The reason attorneys wait until this point to value a claim is that it gives the most accurate view of the expenses and impacts that have been incurred or will likely result from the injury.
Unless asked for a worker’s compensation or personal injury claim, a physician will not necessarily tell a patient when they’ve reached MMI, which can take several months. An attorney will work with the physician to determine this point in treatment and assign a value to the claim as soon as possible to seek compensation from the insurance provider through settlement negotiations and provide ample time to file the claim in court.
Gathering Evidence to Support Your Truck Accident Claim
As previously noted, there are many types of truck accident evidence that you can use to support your claim that a negligent truck driver caused your injuries.
Some of the evidence your attorney will want to look at, depending on the facts of your case, includes:
- The truck driver’s credentials. Truck drivers must obtain a special license to operate the vehicle on public roadways, known as a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Additional endorsements are required to transport certain types of cargo, including hazardous materials. One of the first orders of business when gathering evidence in a truck accident case is ensuring that the driver was qualified to operate the truck.
- The driver’s most recent physical exam and drug and alcohol screening. To maintain their CDL, commercial drivers must undergo regular physical exams to ensure that they are healthy enough for the job. Additionally, they must submit to annual drug and alcohol screenings and chemical tests for drugs and alcohol after an accident.
- The driver’s electronic log, which records the hours the driver has been on duty. Truck drivers are subject to federal hours of service regulations requiring them to take frequent off-duty breaks to avoid fatigue, which is a major cause of truck-involved accidents. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the agency tasked with regulating the trucking industry, 4,800 at the time of the crash.
- The truck’s “black box.” This box is an event data recorder that records information about how the truck operated before the collision, including braking, speed, and other factors that can indicate liability.
- The police report, which is often considered hearsay as the officer writing the report generally did not witness the accident themselves but rather formed a narrative about the accident based on interviews with the drivers, witnesses, and evidence. Because the report is considered hearsay, it is often inadmissible in court. However, much information can be gleaned from the report and used to establish liability, such as eyewitness statements and information about citations and arrests made against the driver or the trucking company for negligence.
- Pre-trip inspection reports and maintenance records. The size and weight of the truck, combined with the miles that truck drivers travel over a short time, can cause the parts that make the truck operable to wear prematurely, including the truck’s tires and brakes. Truck drivers must perform a pre-trip inspection of the truck before each trip to ensure all vehicle parts are operational. A personal injury attorney investigating a truck accident believed to have been caused by defective or poorly maintained equipment will want to see these records to ensure the driver performed pre-trip inspections and regular services.
- The truck driver’s phone records, which can prove that they talked or texted during the accident. The FMCSA prohibits handheld phone use for CDL-holding truck drivers, as many state and local traffic laws do. Texting is of particular concern, as it is simultaneously a manual distraction that causes the driver to take their hands from the wheel, a visual distraction that draws their eyes from watching the road, and a cognitive distraction that pulls their thoughts away from driving safely. When traveling on the interstate, in the time it takes the driver to read or reply to a text, they will have driven the length of a football field without attending to the roadway.
- Documents from the shipper or weigh station can give the attorney a better idea of the type of cargo carried, who loaded it, and whether the truck was inspected to ensure that it wasn’t overweight. A fully-loaded tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and still be permitted to drive on the roadway. Unfortunately, if the cargo was improperly loaded, this weight can be off-balance and cause the truck even more difficult to maneuver, possibly resulting in a rollover.
Additional helpful evidence includes video recordings of the accident from surveillance cameras or traffic cameras, photos of the damage to all vehicles involved, and the testimony of expert witnesses such as accident reconstruction specialists to help determine how the accident occurred.
Once You’ve Filed a Claim
Meeting the statute of limitations by filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault truck driver or the company they were employed by when the accident occurred is just a small part of the personal injury claims process.
Once your lawyer files a claim, they will have access to more records and witness testimony held by the at-fault party, and settlement negotiations can continue. Additionally, your attorney will likely be conducting depositions of witnesses and preparing you to be deposed by the defendant’s attorneys.
Your attorney or the trucking company’s attorney file pre-trial motions. Your attorney files these motions to improve your chances of winning the case, and motions from the trucking company’s attorney seek to have the case dismissed. If you and the insurer do not settle before the conclusion of litigation, the result of your claim rests on the judge or jury’s decision on liability and compensation.
Have you been injured in a truck accident? If so, let a truck accident attorney help you understand your legal options for seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury. Contact an experienced truck accident lawyer for a free consultation today.