Hit by an 18-wheeler? Your personal injury claim will likely involve multiple defendants.
Any accident that involves an 18-wheeler truck (including semi-trucks, big rigs, tractor trailers, or any type of commercial truck) brings with it some unique issues. There are a number of both state and federal regulations which commercial truck operators specifically must adhere to, big trucks require much higher insurance coverage (compared to passenger vehicles), and there are also many circumstances under which parties other than the driver of the truck may be held responsible for the accident and resulting personal injury claim.
Liability of the trucking company.
Right off the bat, many people do not realize that the trucking company who hired the driver could be held jointly liable for an accident. The primary factor that allows the company to be held responsible for the actions of a driver/employee is a legal theory called “respondeat superior.” This is a Latin phrase that means “let the master answer.” This principle holds the employer responsible for any negligent acts that agents or employees commit, provided those actions were not intentional and were committed while in the performance of the employees’ jobs.
Before a company will admit liability for an automobile accident, the injured party must be able to prove that the driver of the truck is an employee of the company and not an independent contractor. In most cases, the company is not held liable for any acts that independent contractors commit. At the same time, some companies will say they driver is an independent contractor, when they are legally considered an employee. If this happens to you, convey this information to your attorney and let them investigate.
It’s very common to have multiple defendants in a truck accident case.
When there are multiple defendants in a lawsuit, each party may only be required to pay a portion of your total damages, based on their percentage of liability. One example of this would be a case in which a truck accident may have been caused by a blown tire. The plaintiff would then need to sue the driver, the driver’s employer, as well as the maintenance company and/or manufacturer of the tires.
One of the drawbacks of having more than one defendant with an unclear proportion of responsibility is the potential difficulty of reaching a quick settlement, even when it’s clear that the victim holds no responsibility whatsoever for the accident. The defendants may choose to go to trial rather than settling because they cannot agree on how much responsibility they should shoulder for the accident, because they dispute the total amount of your damages, or because they simply want to delay payment.
Accidents that involve commercial trucks are often difficult to resolve in terms of liability, even in cases that show the driver is clearly at fault, and this is why having an attorney on your side is so important. Nothing says the insurance company has to act quickly, or even pay you a single penny even when they know they hold 100% of the fault. The only reason they even entertain the idea of offering you a settlement is because there is a risk of the case making it to court, and the jury forcing them to pay even more.
Multiple insurance companies.
There’s also a very good chance that the truck’s cab and trailer are covered by two entirely different insurance companies. In such a case, you may need to file a claim with both insurance companies in addition to the driver and his/her employer. Unfortunately, this means that each insurance company may put blame on the other, causing confusion, frustration, and considerable delay.
Because of the higher insurance policy limits that semi-truck operators are required to carry, you must always expect a fight from the insurance company/companies. Since these policies are often valued at over $1 million, they will do everything in their power to reduce the value of your claim or deny it outright. This is done with every injury claim resulting from an 18-wheeler accident, and if you do not know how to combat it, they could very-well ruin your chances of ever securing a fair settlement.
State and federal laws which apply only to commercial truck drivers.
Drivers of semi-trucks and the transportation companies for which they work have a legal responsibility to adhere to rules laid out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Some of the areas these regulations control include the following:
- Maximum weight load a rig can haul.
- Length of time the driver can go without resting.
- Rules surrounding quality control measures in both manufacturing and repair.
To give yourself the best chance at being offered a significant settlement or winning in court, you must be very familiar with these laws and how they apply to your situation. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an experienced truck accident attorney review the facts of your case. Our firm will actually do this for free, over the phone, when you call 1-877-405-4313. We can help explain the options available to you, and there’s no obligation to hire us. In fact, you never pay us a penny unless we actually win you money!