At Snyder & Wenner, we have been litigating big rig and truck accidents for over 30 years. We have the experience and knowledge that it takes to hold trucking companies responsible for their negligent conduct that leads to serious, life-threatening truck accidents.
While some aspects of truck accidents are similar to car accident cases, many are not. To answer the most frequently asked questions we receive regarding truck accident cases, we have provided the following information as a resource to our community.
Call the police. Police officers are skilled at securing the scene and ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Be sure you tell the emergency dispatcher where the accident is, if anyone appears to be injured, and what kind of injuries seem to be involved. That will allow the dispatcher to send the appropriate type of emergency personnel.
When possible, after you are interviewed by the police officer, which you almost certainly will be, find out how to get a copy of the police report. This may sound silly, but sometimes you may not be able to tell from the policeman’s uniform what jurisdiction he works for. You will need to contact that jurisdiction to get a report. That report will include the names, contact information, and other information about all the drivers involved.
In the case of an accident with a big truck, you will want to know information about the driver’s employer, usually a trucking company. You may ask the police officers to obtain this information from the truck driver and include it in the report.
Police reports will also include insurance information about everyone involved, a diagram or description of the accident scene, weather conditions, witnesses’ names, and the tickets issued to any of the drivers.
If you can, over the next few days, go back to the accident scene. You will be calmer and may be able to notice more things, such as other cameras, additional traffic signs, skid marks, etc. Be careful not to interfere with traffic when you are trying to look for other evidence.
Also, look for cameras. It is amazing how many places have cameras now. Nearby banks or other commercial concerns may have surveillance cameras that captured part or all the accident on film or digital recording device. These recordings are often recorded over quickly so it is important that you or your lawyer asks for a copy as soon as possible.
If you see other people at the scene taking pictures, ask if you can exchange pictures to have the most complete record possible. And be aware, some commercial trucks even have dash cameras that can show exactly what the driver is doing. If possible, determine if such a camera exists. Your lawyer can ask the trucking company for it.
Include what other persons say they heard as well. Try to exchange contact information with as many of the witnesses as possible. They too may want to bring suit and may appreciate having your information.
Another point is that big trucking companies have staff who are devoted full time to limiting the liability of the company. In other words, they are trying to figure out how to pay you less for an accident. That’s why you may need an attorney to help you represent your own interests.
You, as the victim of the accident, will be acting as a plaintiff. The difficulty is sometimes figuring out who should serve as the defendant.
There are lots of reasons a big truck can be involved in an accident. Who is to blame is sometimes hard to figure out. A legal firm has specialists in this area who can advise you. Together you can figure this out. Obviously, the driver of the big truck will be named as a defendant, but there may be others.
The trucking company that the driver works for may qualify as a defendant if the driver was under the control of the company as part of his employment. There may be others as well.
As part of trying to avoid having to pay, the company will try to claim that they had no control over the driver. This is usually true only if the driver is an independent contractor, and even then, that defense may not stand up in court.
With few exceptions, the trucking company is found to be at least partly liable in court. The only exception is if the driver deliberately tried to cause harm, such as in the case of road rage.
There may be other people or entities serving as defendants too. This is why your lawyer must hear all the details of the accident before determining who to sue.
Other possibilities for the role of defendant include:
- The person or company that leased the truck or trailer
- The shipper of the cargo
- The loader of the cargo
- The owner of the truck cab
- The owner of the truck trailer
- The manufacturer of the truck, the trailer, or any part of these that could have caused the accident
Although it is not usually done, it may even be appropriate for the manufacturer of the cargo to be a defendant. One case in which the manufacturer was successfully sued occurred when chemical gas was released into the air, resulting in respiratory problems for the accident victims. In that case, important factors were who was informed of the danger of the cargo and what safety measures were taken.
Obviously, each of these potential defendants will try to convince you that other persons or entities are the ones who should be held liable. Each defendant that actually ends up in court will spend substantial time trying to convince the court that you were really more to blame for the accident. That is just one of the reasons you need a good law firm.
The terms “big truck,” “commercial truck,” “big rig,” and “semi” are used interchangeably in these FAQ. Basically, we mean trucks that weigh between 10,000 and 80,000 pounds. That’s up to 25 times what a typical passenger car weighs.
This is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Then the driver gets a green card that must be renewed every two years. With the green card, he can apply to take a practical road test to get a Class A or CDL, which means Commercial Driver’s License.
The Arizona Department of Transportation combines large trucks and buses together. During 2013 (the most recent report from the Arizona Department of Transportation), big trucks and buses were responsible for 5.79 percent of the 107,348 traffic accidents in Arizona.
The persons or entities identified as defendants owed you a reasonable effort to help you avoid injury (and this can be physical, emotional, or financial). In the case of the driver as the defendant, this is easy because all drivers have a legal duty to take reasonable care for other vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, or pedestrians.
Other evidence might include:
- Log books. Commercial drivers are required to keep logs of their drive times, rest times, and other key information.
- Bills of lading and other paperwork. This can help provide a full picture of the driver’s activity.
- Black box data Just like airplanes, commercial trucks have an onboard recorder that captures essential data. This includes speed, brake usage, etc. The black box information must be obtained as soon as possible because it is recorded over with each new trip.
- Cell phone data. If there is any chance that the driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash, the cellular carrier’s records will show it. This must be subpoenaed through a lawyer.
- History of drivers. The histories of all involved drivers may be introduced in court, including yours. Your lawyer may want your complete driving history, including accidents, tickets, insurance claims, etc. He will also be looking into the trucker’s record, including the status of his Commercial Driver’s License at the time of the accident, his criminal record, his traffic records, and his financial record.
So say you changed lanes without signaling and a big truck struck your car. If, after trial, a jury awards you $1,000,000, but says you are 40% responsible, your total verdict will be reduced by 40%, or $400,000. Most of the time, the plaintiff did nothing wrong to cause the accident.
For example, let’s say you have just been released from the hospital with two broken legs after the accident. Your car is totaled and you are still shaken by the image of the accident. The insurance company sends a representative with a settlement offer of $50,000. This sounds great! After all, your health insurance will pay for all but your deductible and you can get a new car and even pay off some other debts.
You are tempted to sign immediately. But will you need to hire extra help at home while you heal? How much work will you miss and how much sick leave will you be paid for? Will you need physical therapy? Who will pay for that? Who will pay for the expense involved in traveling to doctor appointments?
You need a lawyer to help you think through all the possible expenses you will have. The insurance company may try to convince you that their offer is only good for a limited time, like midnight tonight. Nonsense. Demand time to speak to your lawyer.
- Property damage. This includes your car itself, the contents, and other property lost as a result of the accident. Pictures and possibly receipts for lost items will be helpful..
- Any injuries should be fully documented by your physician for maximum effectiveness. Again, pictures can impress the courts. To ensure that our clients have good medical care and the medical records are complete, Snyder & Wenner has two nurses on our staff..
- Lasting damages. Often, we think that we will simply “get over” the accident, when actually it may not be that easy. Damages such as a disfiguring scar, a permanent limp, or a loss of a skill, such as an ability to swim, may all be considered for compensation..
- Expenses caused by accident. We all think about out-of-pocket medical expenses, but what about the cost of commuting to medical treatment, the need to hire someone to help in the home, and unpaid time off work? Your attorney can help you calculate these expenses..
- Pain and suffering and emotional distress. Medical and/or psychological records will be helpful to demonstrate the extent of these injuries..
- Non-quantifiable losses. These are less likely but should not be ignored in conversations with your lawyer. They include things like a loss of ability to be intimate with your partner or the loss of companionship because your partner is now unable to communicate with you verbally.
Call Snyder & Wenner, PC for Help
If you were involved in a trucking accident caused by a delivery truck, semi-truck, big rig, 18-wheeler, or any other commercial vehicle in Phoenix and need assistance with the claim process, we can help you. Call us today at 602-224-0006 to set up a free consultation to discuss your case with a Phoenix truck accident attorney.