Trucking accident cases are notoriously difficult. Often several defendants are responsible for the injured's damages. In some cases, the injured plaintiff might share the blame for the accident. Illinois has specific laws for dealing with blame in vehicle accidents, including trucking accidents. These laws are good and bad. Comparative negligence allows the insurance company to argue the plaintiff is more to blame. However, without comparative negligence laws, a plaintiff partially at fault for an accident might not collect damages after a truck accident.
What Is Comparative Negligence?
Most states use some form of comparative negligence to allow plaintiffs who contribute to an accident to recover damages. However, comparative negligence is a catch-all phrase. Not every state's comparative negligence laws work the same. Additionally, comparative negligence laws are often complex and confusing, especially when more than one defendant shares fault for the accident.
The Illinois Department of Insurance defines comparative negligence as 735 ILCS 5/2-1116, which states that if a plaintiff is partially at fault in an accident, they can only recover damages if the court finds the plaintiff's share of fault is less than 50 percent. The insurance company will most likely pay for that percentage.
The laws also provide for other percentages if more than one defendant shares liability for your injuries, losses, and other damages.
How Does the Insurance Company Determine My Percentage of Fault?
The insurance company looks at several factors to determine who caused a truck accident, including but not limited to:
- The police report.
- The insurance company's accident investigation, if any.
- Witness accounts.
The problem with this is insurance companies are in business to make money. They can tell you that you are 52 percent at fault when in reality, you might be 10 percent at fault for the accident—and you might never know. You will not collect anything for your injuries, losses, and other damages if this happens.
A truck accident lawyer knows the laws, including traffic laws, and will fight for a fair and reasonable settlement for you. A truck accident attorney also knows the tricks insurance companies play to get out of paying you or giving you so little money that it might not cover medical expenses.
How a Truck Accident Attorney Helps Recover Damages in a Truck Accident Case
A truck accident lawyer uses the same tools as the insurance company to determine fault. However, your attorney has your best interests in mind, while the insurance company's attorneys have the insurance company's best interests in mind.
Your attorney might take additional steps, such as investigating the physical accident scene, which means that the sooner you retain a truck accident lawyer, the better. Evidence tends to disappear.
Traffic driving over evidence and weather could destroy evidence left at the scene. The trucking company will repair the truck, inadvertently destroying evidence. This usually happens because the police release the truck to the trucking company, which repairs the truck as soon as possible so the truck can get back on the road. In some cases, the trucking company could purposely destroy evidence.
Finally, the police could inadvertently destroy evidence. If the police impound the vehicles, the weather could destroy evidence if the vehicle sits outside in the impound yard. The police could destroy evidence at the scene as part of the accident scene cleanup. This is not done on purpose, as the accident scene cannot block traffic for days while insurance companies, the police, and your legal team investigate.
Others Who Could Share in the Liability for a Truck Accident
In many cases, the truck driver is not the only person at fault for the accident.
Additional parties that might share responsibility for your injuries, losses, and other damages include:
- The truck driver's employer.
- The owner of the truck, if the truck driver, is an independent contractor renting the truck.
- A truck mechanic.
- Truck inspectors.
- Dispatchers, if the trucking company uses a third-party dispatcher.
- The weather, as long as the truck driver was not driving too fast for the conditions.
- A town, city, county, or state that improperly maintained the road.
- Another vehicle driver caused the truck to wreck into you.
You might hold a truck driver at fault if they:
- Fell asleep because he was tired or fatigued.
- Was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including prescription drugs
- Was driving distracted
- Was driving too fast for the conditions, including weather, the sun, the type of curve in the road, and other conditions
- Was driving recklessly or aggressively, including speeding and excessively speeding.
- Ignored traffic control signals
- Was not paying attention, i.e., pulling out in front of someone because the driver did not look twice before pulling out
Injuries You Might Sustain in a Truck Accident
Because of the size of a truck, you have a higher risk of sustaining catastrophic injuries in a truck accident. Catastrophic injuries sometimes make truck accident cases more complex than other vehicle accident cases.
While Illinois doesn't have a specific definition for catastrophic injuries, the U.S. Code defines a catastrophic injury as permanently preventing you from performing gainful work. Traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries are often catastrophic.
In a truck accident, you are also at a higher risk of dying because of the size and weight of the truck. A truck hauling an empty trailer weighs around 35,000 pounds. In most cases, fully loaded trucks weigh approximately 80,000 pounds, which is the weight limit for most roads. However, oversize loads could weigh over 100,000 pounds.
Injuries you could suffer in a truck accident vary widely and depend on several factors, including but not limited to the speed of the vehicles when they collide and the way the truck hits your vehicle.
Injuries often include:
- Cuts, scratches, scrapes, bumps, and bruises
- Face and eye injuries
- Strains and sprains
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries
- Simple and compound fractures
- Crushed bones and other crush injuries
- Ear injuries, including deafness, in the event of an explosion
- Road rash
- Chemical and thermal burns
- Amputation of a digit or limb
- Internal injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries
- Back and spinal cord injuries
You could also suffer from secondary injuries, such as infections from open wounds. The defendants are responsible for these injuries, as you would not have had the extra pain and suffering from them if not for the defendant's actions or inactions.
The defendant is also responsible for injuries that exacerbate existing illnesses and injuries. As with secondary injuries, you would not have to deal with the extra pain, suffering, and expense of treatments if not for the defendant's actions or inactions.
Recovering Damages After a Truck Accident
Many people ask how much their case is worth after a truck accident. No attorney can tell you that until he investigates the case, reviews the evidence and medical expenses, and speaks to expert witnesses regarding your condition. However, because we have had many successful truck accident cases, we can tell you what others in similar situations recovered.
Illinois allows you to recover compensatory damages and punitive damages. The court orders compensatory damages to make you financially whole again. However, the court only orders punitive damages as a punishment for the defendant.
Compensatory damages include economic damages and non-economic damages.
Most accident victims recover economic damages, which have a monetary value and include:
It could take months to determine the full extent of medical expenses you could recover, depending on the severity of your injuries. In some cases, your legal team might need the services of medical experts to determine the extent of your injuries.
Medical expenses could include:
- Doctor's appointments.
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments.
- Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications.
- Ambulatory aids.
- Physical therapy appointments.
- Occupational therapy appointments.
- Cognitive therapy appointments.
- Psychological therapy appointments.
- Hand controls for your vehicle.
- Home updates, including but not limited to wheelchair ramps, widened doorways, handrails, and grab bars.
After an accident, you can recover compensation for the time you miss from work. However, if you have long-term or permanent injuries or lost a loved one in a truck accident, you could recover loss of future earning capacity.
Even if you can return to work part-time or must take a job that pays less than your previous job, you could recover partial loss of future earning capacity.
After a truck accident, you could also recover compensation to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property. In most cases, this is for your vehicle. You could also recover compensation for a bicycle you were riding or anything of value in your vehicle or on your person that was damaged or destroyed in the accident, including cell phones and computers.
If you lost a loved one because of a truck accident, you could recover death-related expenses, including burial expenses, funeral expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate court costs, and probate attorney's fees and costs.
In most cases, those who lost a loved one or suffered long-term or permanent disabilities caused by accident injuries recover non-economic damages.
Sometimes called general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if accident injuries cause you to make life-long changes, such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you cannot enjoy time with your family or participate in family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a foot or hand.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight or bladder.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Disfigurement and excessive scarring.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, including but not limited to grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home repair and maintenance.
Not everyone recovers punitive damages. You must prove that the defendant's actions or inactions were done with an evil motive or were so reckless and outrageous that it showed the defendant didn't care about the unreasonable risk they were taking regarding the safety of others on the road.
After a Truck Accident
After a truck accident, even if you believe it might be partially your fault, never admit fault. Let the attorneys determine whether your actions or inactions place the blame on you. Never discuss the accident with the insurance companies, including your own, or on social media. A truck accident attorney can give the insurance company the facts so that the insurance company has less chance of twisting what you say to put more than 50 percent of the blame on you.
What you should do after a truck accident is to seek medical attention immediately, even if you believe your injuries are minor. Some injuries take hours, days, and sometimes weeks to manifest. Medical professionals can test you for hidden injuries. As soon as possible, after seeking medical attention, contact an experienced truck accident lawyer to help you through the process of recovering damages for your injuries and losses, whether through negotiations or litigation.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of a truck accident, contact a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible.