Getting into an accident with a truck can lead to very serious consequences for both your health and your financial well-being. Commercial trucks are much larger than ordinary vehicles, so they can cause accidents that cause very severe injuries. Even people who ordinarily enjoy protection from collisions by driving large vans or SUVs can experience serious physical injuries from even a minor accident involving a truck.
In the aftermath of a truck accident, it is crucial to take the right initial steps to protect your future. You will first need to look after your health by recovering in a hospital and receiving physical therapy. Once you are healthy, you will also need to confront the financial aspects of your accident. Your right to legal compensation for personal injuries and property damage varies based on the circumstances that led to your accident.
If you make the right legal moves after an accident, you can receive substantial compensation that can help to make you whole for the hardship that you endured. Therefore, it is important to assess your situation and make good decisions that will keep your future protected.
Why Truck Accidents Are Different
Before diving into the legal aspects of accidents involving trucks, it is first important to understand why truck accidents are different than ordinary car accidents. Usually, if two vehicles collide, energy is transferred throughout both vehicles evenly. Although the energy transfer in a car accident can still be very violent, a substantial portion of the energy can be transferred to the street, air, and other parties in the accident.
In contrast, if a vehicle hits a solid object, such as a telephone pole or a cement wall, all of the energy from the accident is usually transferred directly into the vehicle. Since a well-built wall will not move at all in an accident, damage sustained by the vehicle can be devastating. Worst of all, humans inside of the vehicle will be impacted by that same energy. In many cases, therefore, accidents are fatal when vehicles smash into solid objects at as little as 20 miles per hour.
When vehicles collide with a truck, the consequences of an accident are even more severe. If a 3,000-pound car smashes into a truck loaded with 60,000 pounds of cargo, less than 5 percent of the energy from the crash would be transferred to the truck. The other 95 percent of the kinetic energy would be absorbed by the car, so the accident would be very similar to a head-on collision with a solid object. For this reason, if a truck is moving toward a vehicle at even a very slow rate of speed, devastating injuries can occur.
Furthermore, accidents involving trucks can be particularly devastating because trucks are much higher off the ground than small cars. As a result, many accidents involving trucks are not ordinary bumper-to-bumper crashes. Instead, the windows of a car can slam directly into the bumper of a truck. When this happens, even seemingly minor accidents are usually fatal. Therefore, trucks are legally required to use steel side guards to protect other drivers on the road, but these laws are poorly enforced. Consequently, many trucks on the road do not have these protective rails that can save lives.
Injuries Experienced After a Truck Accident
The injuries people sustain after an accident with a truck vary depending on the speed of the crash, the weight of the vehicles involved, and the direction of the momentum in the crash. If a car hits a stationary truck, damage usually is not more severe than a head-on collision with a secured object. However, if a truck hits a car, accidents usually cause severe injuries.
Physical injuries that involve a moving truck smashing into a stationary or slow-moving vehicle are particularly severe since many trucks are overloaded with as much as 80,000 pounds of weight. Even experienced truck drivers can take a significant amount of time to come to a complete stop when they are carrying a significant amount of weight on the highway. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advises that ordinary semi trucks take 600 feet to stop, but stopping distances can exceed a quarter of a mile in many real-world situations.
In less severe accidents, whiplash is the most common injury sustained by car drivers. Although whiplash can be painful, drivers should consider themselves lucky if this is their only symptom after a crash. Common injuries from a truck accident include:
- broken bones,
- head trauma,
- internal bleeding,
- broken ribs,
- spinal cord rupturing, and
- neurological damage.
Additionally, it should be kept in mind that many accidents involving trucks are fatal. Truck drivers are required to obtain licenses and go through extensive training because their vehicles have a substantial potential to cause injuries on the road. Nevertheless, data from the NHTSA shows that 3,802 drivers die in collisions with trucks every year. The vast majority of these fatalities are sustained by the drivers of small vehicles while truck drivers often emerge from accidents unscathed.
What to Do After a Truck Accident
When any accident happens on the road, your health should be your first priority. Even if the other driver was responsible for your crash, you cannot obtain compensation for your personal injury unless you are alive. Of course, your heirs can still sue an irresponsible truck driver, but you will not see any of that compensation unless you safeguard your health. Therefore, your first course of action after an accident should be to get in contact with first responders. Make sure that they send an ambulance to the scene of your crash regardless of whether you believe you, your passengers, other drivers were injured in the crash.
As you wait for first responders to arrive, you should assess your health. If you are reasonably sure that you and your passengers are fine, you may want to check on the health of the other driver. You are not legally required to check on the other driver, but doing so is usually the right thing to do. Just be careful about what you say, and especially never take responsibility for an accident until you have spoken to a car accident lawyer.
Next, you should work to document the scene of the crash as much as possible. Be careful to not move any evidence to avoid an accusation of evidence tampering. However, you should aim to take hundreds of pictures of the crash scene that can be useful for your case in the future. If your phone has a top-quality camera, you may want to consider recording a 4K video of the scene. Continue the video after first responders arrive, and use your phone to document conversations with these first responders. In this way, you can protect yourself against erroneous police reports.
You should get in touch with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after an accident. Your lawyer can advise you on the best steps to take at the scene. In many cases, police can take several hours to finish their work after a major accident, so you may want to ask your lawyer to come to the scene of the crash. Your lawyer can advise you on what to tell the police, how to communicate with the other driver, and what to say to your insurance company.
Investigating a Truck Accident
You will often need to conduct a substantial investigation after a crash occurs. As always, evidence becomes less useful as more time passes. You will need to work quickly to gather evidence while it is still available. Additionally, gathering evidence at an early point in time can enable you to make the right initial moves that will help you to safeguard your interests in the aftermath of the crash.
If you sustained a personal injury from your crash, you should have extensive conversations with your doctor. Ask your doctor to sign statements verifying that you sustained certain types of injuries. If you spend time in a hospital, be sure to keep any receipts from treatments that you received. Try to keep a journal of interactions with medical professionals throughout your stay to document the state of your health and what doctors said at specific points in time. Also, be sure to get a copy of your medical records as soon as you leave the hospital to get a better understanding of what happened.
You may need to hire a professional car accident investigator to evaluate the circumstances that are relevant to your crash. Investigators may be able to gather evidence from unconventional sources, such as nearby security camera footage, dashcam footage, witness interviews, or internal police and hospital records. A professional investigator can also help you to analyze the findings of the police investigation to determine where discrepancies may exist. Your car accident lawyer is likely to be able to recommend a trustworthy accident investigator.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Car accident lawyers deal with vehicle accidents on a daily basis, so they have a strong understanding of the full range of actions that need to be taken after a crash. Your lawyer can help you to make statements to your insurance company to protect your interests as much as possible. Additionally, lawyers are experienced at negotiating with insurance companies. Therefore, they can help you to get compensation faster while increasing your chances of receiving the full amount of money that you deserve.
In many cases, you may need to sue the driver of the truck that hit you. Thankfully, many trucks are owned by large trucking firms that are required to have substantial liability insurance, so you can usually get paid in full if you are able to win a lawsuit. Of course, getting through a lawsuit can take several years. Even if you win an initial judgment, the odds are high that payment will be withheld until the appeals process has been complete. Although you are usually entitled to substantial interest while your money is withheld, waiting several years for compensation is still an unfortunate reality that many people have to deal with when a case goes to trial.
Lawyers can usually negotiate with the opposing party after an accident to obtain a favorable settlement. Settlement amounts can vary widely, and they often result in less compensation than you should be entitled to under the law. However, settlements also enable you to avoid a long-term legal battle that can entail enormous stress and uncertainty. Additionally, there is no guarantee that you will win your case in court, so settlements also take the uncertainty out of the process of obtaining compensation.
There are, of course, many situations where you are able to get compensation relatively quickly from the insurance provider of the opposing party. In rare cases, you may also get rapid compensation from an at-fault driver who takes responsibility for his actions. The bottom line, however, is that attorneys have the skills necessary to help you make the right statements that are likely to lead to more compensation. Therefore, you can make your medical bills more affordable while safeguarding your financial future.
Determining When You Can Receive Compensation
You can almost always receive compensation when the other party is said to be responsible for your accident. However, if an initial police report says that you are responsible for the accident, it is important to understand that actions can be taken to prevent an at-fault decision from being upheld in court. After all, police reports are not intended to be final court decisions. Your attorney can help you to argue why an accident was the other party’s fault in court so that you can receive compensation.
In most cases, car drivers can receive significant compensation if they sustain a personal injury from an accident involving a truck. Courts are much more likely to side with car drivers after an accident because of the increased professional standards that are applied to truck drivers. Unlike ordinary drivers, truckers are required to go through extensive training, and they are supposed to appreciate the fact that the larger size of their vehicle makes other drivers more vulnerable on the road. Therefore, you should always talk to a personal injury lawyer in the aftermath of a crash to determine whether you could qualify for legal compensation.