Understanding Your Legal Rights If You Have Been Injured In A Truck Or Car Accident In Illinois
- Why are truck accidents different than other auto accidents?
- What special laws apply to semitruck drivers and trucking companies?
- What legal rights do I have after a truck accident?
- What monetary compensation is available for truck accident victims?
- Are there time limits for bringing a lawsuit?
- Why is it important to investigate truck crashes as soon as possible?
- What should I do if the trucking company or its insurer contacts me?
- How time-consuming will it be to bring a lawsuit?
- What should I consider before hiring a truck accident attorney?
Why are truck accidents different than other auto accidents?
A. Accidents involving commercial trucks and semitractor-trailers are much more likely to result in severe injuries or death than other auto accidents. The most obvious reason for this is their massive size and weight, which results in a more forceful collision. However, there are many other special dangers involved with trucking. For instance, some trucking companies require their drivers to be on the road for extremely long periods of time, leading to driver fatigue.
Even worse, trucking companies often pressure their drivers to make deliveries on a tight schedule, regardless of traffic and weather conditions. Other examples of special dangers involved with trucking are that the loads being hauled can break loose into traffic if not properly secured, and loads may contain hazardous or flammable materials. Because of these special dangers, the trucking industry is heavily regulated by federal and state laws to protect the lives and safety of others on the roadway.
What special laws apply to semitruck drivers and trucking companies?
A. On Jan. 1, 2000, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was established to reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths involving large trucks. To carry out this mission, the Safety Administration heavily regulates all aspects of interstate trucking operations to ensure safe practices are followed. The regulations are meant to ensure that semitruck drivers are properly qualified and trained, and that trucking companies and drivers follow safe practices when operating, loading, routing and maintaining their trucks. All interstate motor carriers are required to know and follow these regulations. Individual states also have laws especially regulating the conduct of trucking operations within their borders.
What legal rights do I have after a truck accident?
A. If a person is injured or killed in a truck accident, a lawsuit may be brought to recover money damages from those responsible for causing the accident. Depending on the circumstances, the people who may have a right to bring a lawsuit and/or recover damages include: any person injured in the accident, the spouse of a person injured in the accident, the legal guardian of a person injured in the accident, the personal representative for the estate of a person killed in the accident, the next of kin of a person killed in the accident and persons in the “zone of danger” who experience emotional harm due to the accident. A qualified truck accident attorney will be able to advise you based on the circumstances of your case which persons have a right to bring a lawsuit and/or recover monetary damages from the responsible parties.
What monetary compensation is available for truck accident victims?
A. Every state has its own laws about what types of monetary damages are available to compensate those who have been harmed by the negligence of others in a truck accident. Generally, an injured person may be compensated for past and future medical expenses, past and future lost earnings, past and future pain and suffering, past and future disability and any disfigurement that has resulted from the accident. Generally, in a wrongful death case, the decedent’s estate may be compensated for the decedent’s loss of future earnings, medical expenses, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering, while the decedent’s next of kin may be compensated for the loss of their loved one.
Just as different states recognize different categories of damages, some states also have laws limiting the amount of money damages that can be recovered. A qualified truck accident attorney will be able to explain what types of damages may be recovered in your case, and whether any damages caps apply. If there are damages caps, a qualified attorney may be able to find creative ways around the caps to ensure the persons harmed by the truck accident receive a full recovery.
Are there time limits for bringing a lawsuit?
A. Yes, except for very rare exceptions, there are time limits for bringing a lawsuit. Once the time limit expires, you lose any right to recover monetary damages from those responsible for the accident. There are a number of factors which affect how long the time limit will be in a case. After an auto or truck accident, it is very important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to find out how long you have to bring a lawsuit.
Why is it important to investigate truck crashes as soon as possible?
A. Truck drivers are trained to report any accident to their superiors immediately so that within minutes of the accident, the trucking company and its insurer can start investigating. Similarly, after a truck crash, it is important that persons harmed in the accident hire an attorney to investigate on their behalf as soon as possible. The more time that passes before an investigation begins, the greater chance that important evidence could be lost.
An investigation will include such things as sending letters to the trucking company and others to preserve important evidence they have, interviewing witnesses while the events are fresh in their minds, taking pictures of the accident scene, the vehicles involved in the accident and the victims’ injuries, gathering police reports and photographs, gathering medical records and bills, and identifying and researching the backgrounds of the potentially responsible parties.
In addition to investigating the facts, a qualified truck accident attorney will also investigate and research the law before filing a lawsuit. For instance, in some cases, you may have the right to choose the courthouse and/or state to bring the lawsuit in, and this choice may significantly affect the amount of money damages you will receive. The law may also provide different ways of structuring a lawsuit. Before filing the lawsuit, a qualified truck accident attorney will research these issues and make important strategic decisions that will affect the monetary value of the case.
What should I do if the trucking company or its insurer contacts me?
A. The best thing to do is give them your attorney’s contact information, and you should not agree to make any “recorded statements” about what happened in the accident. As explained in the previous answer, trucking companies and their insurers start their investigations very quickly after an accident. The goal of their investigation is to limit their liability exposure, or in other words, to pay the persons harmed as little money as possible. This may include attempting to obtain information from you that can be used against you in a lawsuit, and to offer to settle with you for minimal money before you have hired an attorney and understand your rights. Some companies will assign a specific person to establish friendly contact with you, ask about your medical condition, ask you about what happened in the accident, offer to pay for the damage to your vehicle, and offer to pay you to settle your personal injury or wrongful death claims. The money they will offer is usually well below the value of what you would recover in a lawsuit.
How time-consuming will it be to bring a lawsuit?
A. While a lawsuit may take several years to complete, you will have to do very little. The most important decision you will make is hiring an attorney or law firm that is experienced and qualified in litigating truck crashes. Once that decision is made, the attorney will conduct the investigation, collect the evidence, perform the legal research and prosecute the lawsuit. You will need to provide information to the attorney before and from time to time during the lawsuit. You may also have to provide deposition testimony. You will be involved in settlement discussions as the case proceeds. Your attorney will serve as an adviser about any settlement offer, but you will make the final decision about whether or not to accept any settlement. If the case does not settle before trial, you will need to attend and testify at the trial.
What should I consider before hiring a truck accident attorney?
A. First and foremost, you should hire an attorney or law firm that is trustworthy, reputable, strongly believes in your case and will fight on your behalf. You should also make sure the attorney or law firm has had prior success litigating truck crashes.
As explained above, truck crashes involve different laws and different issues than typical auto accidents. Trucking companies and their insurers have tremendous resources at their disposal for defending claims against them, and they will hire highly qualified attorneys to represent them. You will be at a great disadvantage if your attorney has not enjoyed past success litigating truck crashes and cannot compete with the trucking companies’ resources by advancing expenses for a thorough investigation and highly qualified expert witnesses.