Most commuters in cities drive among commercial trucks every day. After all, these trucks are responsible for 70 percent of the products in the U.S. reaching their destination. An estimated 2 million semi-trucks are on the road, driving a combined 140 billion miles each year.
Unfortunately, with so much truck traffic in the U.S., truckers will make errors and cause accidents. When they do, the people most likely to be injured or killed are other roadway users, including the occupants of other vehicles, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
If you fell victim to a truck accident, here is a simple explanation of what to do immediately afterward for your health and safety and to preserve your right to compensation.
If Possible, Call for Help and Collect Information From the Scene
After a truck accident, there will likely be injuries and a need for an investigation. If you are able, contact 911 to report the accident. Likely, witnesses will also call for help, so if, after a self-assessment, you determine movement may exacerbate your injuries, stay put and stay calm.
If you determine that you are in harm's way and can move yourself or your vehicle, do so. While you're waiting for police and first responders to arrive, try to take photos of the accident scene. These photos should include damage to all vehicles involved, any visible injuries you or the occupants of your car have sustained, and other potential evidence, such as skid marks or debris on the roadway.
Exchange contact, vehicle, and insurance information with the truck driver and any other drivers in the accident. Obtain the names and contact information of witnesses who have stopped to render aid.
When the police and first responders arrive, they want to know what happened from your point of view. Answer their questions honestly, but avoid saying anything they could perceive as you admitting fault.
Obtain the name and badge numbers of the officers at the scene and ask them how you can receive a copy of the police report when it is available.
What if You're Too Injured to Collect Information?
Seek Medical Attention
Commercial trucks are massive vehicles, weighing up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded, and measuring around 72 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, and 13.5 feet tall. Because they are so much larger than other vehicles, they share the roadway with, truck accidents often result in severe injuries to other roadway users. Truck accidents injure 130,000 people each year and kill more than 4,000.
If you are injured, first responders will assess the injuries at the scene and determine whether you need ambulance transport to the hospital. Do not deny medical treatment at the scene. This assessment can help you and first responders understand the seriousness of your injuries and provide important documentation to show that the accident was the cause of your injuries.
Though it may seem obvious that the truck accident caused your injuries, weeks or months down the line (when a third-party insurance claims adjuster evaluates your claim), documentation that you received medical attention becomes much more important.
What if You Don't Feel Injured?
People commonly decline medical attention at the scene of an accident because they don't feel hurt, only to discover hours later, after the adrenaline rush from the accident wears off, that they are injured. Always get a medical evaluation after a serious traffic accident. Many injuries—including traumatic brain injuries and internal bleeding—are not immediately apparent but require prompt intervention.
Hire an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney
Many people go into a "wait and see" mode after an accident: Wait and see the effects of the injuries. Wait and see if the medical expenses are high. Wait and see if an insurance company contacts you and offers money.
One major problem with this approach is that the trucking industry is highly regulated by the federal government. Because of these regulations, truck drivers and trucking companies must produce a lot of documentation and evidence that they are following the rules.
Some of this documentation includes the truck's event data recorder and other items that—if not secured quickly—can be overwritten or otherwise unavailable after a short time. An attorney knows how to secure this evidence and use it later, but they must act quickly.
Another issue is that even if the at-fault party's insurance provider contacts you after an accident and offers a settlement (sometimes they do), it is wise not to trust either the insurance company representative or their offer.
Insurance companies are in the business of making money, not paying out claims. They hire adjusters to evaluate claims and determine how much compensation to pay the claimant. They work for the insurance company, not you.
Claims adjusters—particularly those who work for corporate insurance companies that provide policies for high-value, high-claim clients such as trucking companies—will often use questionable tactics to reduce or eliminate claims made against the policies of their insured.
One of the most common tactics is to offer a quick settlement to a claimant who has not yet hired an attorney, has not yet recovered from their injuries, and has no idea what their claim is worth. If the claimant agrees to this settlement, the case resolves. At this point, the claimant cannot seek additional compensation if they realize that the settlement will not cover their expenses.
What if You Can't Afford an Attorney?
Of all the things to worry about after a truck accident, being able to hire an experienced truck accident attorney is not one. Personal injury attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. In essence, rather than require a retainer or billing hourly, the attorney signs an agreement with the client when they begin working together.
This agreement allows the client to withhold payment for the lawyer's services unless a negotiated settlement or a court award resolves the case. When this happens, the attorney receives a percentage of the award for their efforts.
Make Informed Decisions About the Status of Your Claim
An attorney's job is to act in their client's best interests. They do this by performing services that help the client obtain the most available compensation for their claim. They also guide their client through the personal injury claims process.
An essential component of the attorney's responsibility is to provide knowledge and information about important aspects of the case, such as how a claim is valued, whether an offered settlement will fairly compensate the claim, or even when to go to court.
The attorney's job is not to make decisions about your claim but to arm you with the information you need to make decisions in your own best interest.
If You Don't Want to Go To Trial, Can You Just Settle the Claim?
Generally, no one wants to go to trial, including the at-fault party's insurance provider. Litigation is expensive, and the outcome is uncertain for everyone involved. This is why up to 96 percent of personal injury claims resolve before they ever see the inside of a courtroom.
However, the option to take the claim to court is a powerful tool. Without the option of having the court decide liability and compensation, you likely will not get much traction in getting the insurance company to offer a fair settlement.
There are no guarantees, even with the threat of litigation, that the insurance company will offer you a fair settlement for your claim. Because of this, hire an attorney with extensive trial experience who is comfortable with fighting for their clients in the courtroom if that is the best option for obtaining needed compensation.
Be Patient in the Process
One of the downsides of the personal injury claims process is that it can take time. While there is a statute of limitations on filing the claim in court, there is no deadline for resolution.
Another questionable tactic that claims adjusters often use to devalue a claim is delaying the settlement negotiation process by repeatedly making low offers hoping that the claimant will be desperate enough for compensation to accept those offers.
Your attorney will continue working to negotiate a fair settlement while also managing the timelines of your claim to ensure that the option of filing a lawsuit remains open.
Settlement negotiations don't end when a lawsuit is filed. A settlement can come and an agreement made before the court decides the matter. Because of this, there can be overlapping services where your attorney is working to negotiate a settlement on your behalf, going through an extensive amount of potential evidence from the trucking company that can help prove your claim, and preparing the court case.
How Will I Know the Status of My Claim?
In addition to trial experience, when hiring a truck accident attorney, look for excellent communication skills. From the start of your case, you should have access to the firm and the ability to reach your contact through your preferred communication method (phone calls, email, etc.).
While staying in communication won't necessarily lead to a quicker resolution, it can help give you the peace of mind that the claim is moving forward and keep you looped into any status updates.
Continue Following Your Doctor's Instructions and Attending Appointments
While your legal team focuses on your claim, you need to focus on healing from your injury by continuing to attend all scheduled medical appointments and following your doctor's instructions. This is not only an important step toward recovery. It also documents the physical effects of the injury and may help justify the value of your claim in court.
What If You Can't Afford Your Treatments?
Medical treatment in the U.S. is costly and is not likely to change. Hospitals and employer-sponsored health insurance groups often place liens on potential settlements in personal injury cases, which provide them a legal right to recover the expenses of their services or their policy coverage when a settlement or award is received.
Covering the medical expenses you have incurred is a large part of the reason for filing the claim in the first place. An attorney can help you determine the totality of those costs and pursue fair compensation for them.
In addition to collecting their payment after your claim's resolution, your attorney can also satisfy any liens for you.
If a truck accident injured you and you need compensation, contact a truck accident lawyer near you for your free case evaluation.