Truck accidents are devastating. Victims nearly always suffer debilitating injuries—when they survive the accident. Unfortunately, when someone does lose their life in a trucking accident, family members are often left wondering what legal options are open to them to hold the responsible parties accountable for their negligence.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits After Trucking Fatalities
One option a family has following a trucking accident that involves a fatality is filing a wrongful death claim. These claims are considered personal injury claims. Wrongful death claims are appropriate when a decedent who died in an accident could have filed a personal injury claim had they survived.
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim Following a Trucking Accident
As with any personal injury claim, establishing who is at fault for the accident which resulted in someone's death is required. Establishing that the person acted negligently and that because of the negligence, someone lost their life is also a requirement.
You must consider:
- Duty of care. The person who caused a trucking accident must have owed the victim a duty of care. When someone travels on the road, they owe everyone else a duty of care. Operators of cars and trucks on our roadways require a duty of care.
- Failure to exercise the duty of care. Speeding, falling asleep at the wheel, failing to maintain control of their vehicle, or disobeying traffic signals- indicates someone failed to exercise the proper duty of care.
- Failure of duty of care led to death. Proof that the decedent would still be alive if the accident did not occur. This is the most straightforward aspect of the case to prove.
An attorney well-versed in personal injury law can help family members hold negligent parties accountable for losing a loved one. While no amount of money can make up for their loss, holding the responsible parties financially liable can make a difference in the lives of survivors.
Trucking Accident Statistics
One of the most important things to remember when dealing with accidents, injuries, and death on the roadway is that each number represents a person and their family. It is easy to lose sight of this fact when citing statistics.
In one recent year, more than 9,000 accidents involving tractor-trailers. These crashes resulted in more than 1,700 injuries and 117 deaths. Ninety-three of the deaths were occupants of other vehicles, and nine were pedestrians. These losses are devastating for family members.
While every family would gladly exchange every dollar they have to enjoy their loved one longer, no family should ever face potential financial ruin because they have lost a loved one in a trucking accident. This is why some families opt to file a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File Wrongful Death Claims?
Every state has different rules on wrongful death claims. In Illinois, a wrongful death claim is defined under the Wrongful Death Act. Under this act, the surviving spouse has the first right to file a wrongful death claim. In the absence of a spouse, the decedent's children have the right to file a wrongful death claim.
When there is no spouse or children, other family members, including parents, siblings, or those financially dependent upon the decedent, may be able to file a claim. In the absence of any next of kin, there may be other situations where a wrongful death claim is appropriate. A wrongful death claim attorney can help explain what is appropriate and who may file a suit.
What Damages Can Be Claimed in a Wrongful Death Suit?
When someone survives a trucking accident, the responsible parties can be held financially liable for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.
When someone loses their life and a family member files a wrongful death claim, they may recover compensation for:
- Wages lost for family. In some cases, a loss of life could mean the primary family breadwinner has lost their life. Including the decedent's future wages in a wrongful death claim may be possible.
- Unexpected expenses. When a family faces the loss of a loved one, they also face unusual expenses, including funeral and burial expenses. A wrongful death claim can include these expenses.
- Medical expenses. After an accident, a victim may go to a medical facility, typically by ambulance. The claim can include the ambulance costs and any medical care the victim received before death.
- Other financial losses. You may include losses including loss of inheritance and hiring help to replace services the decedent would have provided had they survived the accident.
- Non-financial losses. Emotional distress, loss of companionship, loss of parental guidance, and other non-economic losses can be determined as part of a wrongful death claim.
- Punitive damages. A truck accident attorney may decide that a family should seek punitive damages if the party responsible for the accident acted recklessly. Cases of drunk or drugged driving, reckless driving, or other similar behavior could qualify a family for punitive damages.
There is no easy way to calculate the potential amount of a final claim or settlement in wrongful death cases. The best option for anyone considering a wrongful death claim is to seek the advice of a knowledgeable personal injury attorney.
Identifying Liable Parties After a Trucking Accident
Like any roadway accident, more than one party may be liable for the accident and subsequent death.
When evaluating a trucking accident, some of the potentially liable parties include:
- The driver of the truck. In most cases, the truck driver will bear some or all the responsibility for an accident on the roadway. A driver driving distracted, operating under the influence, or speeding can be held liable for an accident.
- Owner of the truck. In some cases, the truck owner or trucking company may bear some of the liability to the victim's family. This may include a truck driver with a poor driving record who was hired because of a driver shortage .
- Maintenance company. When a company owns a fleet of trucks, they may hire a company to handle maintenance. Suppose the company fails to maintain a vehicle and an accident is caused by a tire blowout, failed brakes, or other mechanical issues which could have been prevented. In that case, the maintenance company could be held partially liable.
- Party responsible for loading trucks. If a truck is not loaded properly, there is a possibility of a rollover accident or freight slipping, which can crush other motor vehicles resulting in the death of another driver or a pedestrian. In these cases, improper loading practices will be called into question, and the party responsible could be partially liable for the accident resulting in death.
Without a thorough investigation of an accident, it is often challenging to identify the parties who may be responsible for the death of someone in a truck accident. This is why hiring a personal injury law firm with knowledge of these accidents and a team of investigators can be helpful to surviving family members.
When an Insurance Company Fights a Wrongful Death Claim
Filing a wrongful death claim is complicated. While losing a loved one because of a trucking accident may seem obvious, and there may be solid proof that another party caused the accident, that does not mean the insurance company will automatically accept a claim. Because death is involved, they are often reluctant to pay a claim without fighting back to get the amount reduced.
After a claim is filed, an insurance company will assign an adjuster to deal with the claim. While some victims' family members may think the adjuster is there to help them resolve the claim, this is usually not the case. In fact, the adjuster's job is to help minimize the amount of the claim they will pay.
Toward that end, the insurer might:
- Make a fast offer. Adjusters may offer an immediate settlement to family members in the aftermath of a trucking accident. The adjuster frequently advises a family the offer is the best offer and final offer they will get. This is misleading because it is likely the lowest offer they will make, and the offer is not final until the family accepts it.
- Suggest the victim had some responsibility. The insurer may point to something that occurred during the accident as proof that the victim was partially at fault. Insurers use this common tactic to minimize their liability.
- Suggest other liable parties. The insurance company may point to others who could be held liable. For example, a driver's insurer could point to the trucking company, a municipal entity due to a poorly maintained road, or the company that loaded the truck.
Thorough investigations are necessary before a claim is filed with an insurance company. Additionally, family members of someone who lost their life in a trucking accident should be aware insurers have no obligation to inform them of their legal rights. The less a family knows about their legal rights, the easier it is for an insurance company to minimize the final settlement offer.
Hiring an Attorney for a Wrongful Death Settlement Claim
Money can never replace the love, companionship, or life of a loved one lost in a trucking accident. However, holding the responsible party financially liable can help stabilize the financial future of a decedent's family.
Family financial repercussions can be devastating, regardless of the victim's age.
- The loss of a parent means children may be unable to attend college, lose a potential inheritance, or be forced to move out of their homes.
- The loss of a spouse may mean the surviving stay-at-home spouse must return to school for training to earn a living to support their family.
- The loss of a child who was supporting parents physically and financially could mean the parent needs to move or hire caregivers after a loss.
Every family is different, and a loss will not affect everyone the same, but many of the legal processes don't change from case to case. Thus, speak with an attorney with experience handling wrongful death claims as soon as possible after losing a loved one in a trucking accident.
Settlement Amounts and Timeframes for Wrongful Death Claims
One of family members' most common questions about wrongful death claims is regarding the final settlement amounts. However, since no two cases are identical, it is impossible to determine the final dollar amount of a settlement. An attorney will review each case's facts individually and help a family arrive at a fair amount before submitting a claim.
Time frames also vary in these cases. When only one insurance company is involved, the claims process may be handled faster, particularly when there is a clear picture of who was responsible for the accident, which resulted in a trucking accident fatality.
Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer As Soon As Possible
Family members are often overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one and do not act in the weeks and sometimes months following the death of a loved one. However, this could be a serious mistake. There is a statute of limitations on filing a claim for a trucking accident that resulted in death. The sooner an attorney is contacted, the faster the process can begin.
When a trucking accident results in a fatality, an investigation should start as soon as possible before valuable evidence is lost. Contacting a truck accident lawyer with experience handling fatalities can help a family understand their legal right to compensation and justice.