What you need to know about big rig accident settlements
A semi truck hitting a passenger vehicle can cause devastating personal injuries. When fault lies with the truck driver, a sizable personal injury settlement is possible. What type of settlement can be expected in these cases?
This article describes the average semi truck accident settlement, as well as the factors that influence the final dollar figure.
Why Bigger Settlements for Semi Truck Accidents?
Generally, truck accident settlements often reflect larger dollar amounts because of the insurance requirements for commercial carriers, and the frequent multiple commercial entities involved in the liability claim.
Also, all US tractor trailer drivers are professionals who must have extensive training to hold a commercial driver’s license or CDL. To hold a CDL, truckers must carefully stick to safety regulations that are intended to protect the American public. Truckers are held to a higher standard than regular drivers. For instance, there are a maximum number of hours that truckers may drive on a given day. If they exceed those hours and hurt someone in an accident, criminal penalties can result, as well as personal injury liability.
Truck drivers are required to drive in a more cautious manner because they have a CDL. They also must exercise caution in adverse weather conditions.
After a serious truck accident, a police and legal investigation frequently uncovers evidence that the company and/or the driver failed to follow various state and federal rules. If the evidence indicates that the semi driver and company cut corners, juries often do not look upon these situations favorably when it comes time to render a verdict.
Truck Accidents and Minimum Liability Insurance Policy Limits
Liability insurance for semi truck drivers and companies is critical for public safety. It protects the public from truck accidents where the driver was negligent. The idea behind minimum liability insurance is that the trucking company can pay damages sufficient in many cases to make the injury party whole. This does not always occur in reality, however.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires truck drivers to have the following minimum coverage. Note that the minimum amount of insurance coverage depends upon the type of freight being hauled.
- Non-hazardous goods moved in vehicles <10,001 lbs: $300,000
- Non-hazardous goods moved in vehicles >10,001 lbs: $750,000
- Oil moved by private carriers: $1,000,000
- hazardous materials moved by private carriers: $5,000,000
These are the minimum requirements established by the FMCSA. Many commercial trucking companies require minimum liability insurance of at least $1,000,000, regardless of the material hauled.
Trucking Companies Often Opt for Minimum Coverage
The aforementioned policy minimums may sound like plenty of coverage, but the reality is often different:
- When rear ended by a semi truck, the car driver and passenger could suffer devastating injuries that cost millions of dollars to treat. Minimum coverage seldom covers serious medical problems such as traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries, among others.
- Some trucking companies and owner operators may not have updated their coverage limits for years. Inflation and medical costs increase over time. The policy limits may not nearly cover the high medical costs the crash victim faces.
- In a truck accident settlement, victims may win damages that substantially exceed the minimum liability limits. A 2013 study determined that 42% of truck crash settlements paid exceeded FMCSA’s minimum insurance requirements.
The reality is that many truck accident cases require a personal injury lawsuit with an attorney to obtain sufficient compensation to cover the large amount of injuries involved.
Other Semi Truck State and Federal Regulations Affect Settlements
As noted earlier, all semi trucks in the United States are government by FMCSA regulations. But truck drivers are subject to other rules, such as the commercial driver’s manual published by all US states. In the Georgia CDL manual, for example, semi drivers are required by state law to stay in the two lanes on the right of an interstate. If the trucker is driving outside those two lanes, this is against the law. An accident where the trucker is riding in the far left lane could lead to a personal injury lawsuit with a higher settlement.
Another example: Georgia’s CDL laws state that a truck must not follow another truck, or a motor vehicle pulling another motor vehicle closer than 100 yards. If the trucker is distracted and hits the vehicle in front, this could net a larger settlement.
The combination of the various state and federal laws that truckers and companies must obey can result in larger settlements with the help of a truck accident personal injury attorney.
How Much in Damages Can Be Recovered in Typical Accidents?
This article assumes that fault in the accident is clear cut. For example, the semi truck driver rear ends a car driver at a stop light. This is a common truck accident that often is caused by a dozing or distracted trucker. In some of these terrible accidents, it is possible for the truck to literally run over the smaller vehicle. This type of accident also is referred to as an under ride accident. A rear end truck accident can net massive medical bills due to ER care, hospitalization, surgeries, medications, home health care and rehabilitation.
In a typical rear end truck accident personal injury case, below are the factors involved in determining the claim’s total value:
- Total cost of all medical expenses; these can be substantial because a big rig can cause devastating injuries that take months or years to resolve.
- Lost wages from work. These include past, current and future wages. The latter is possible for those who are left disabled after the accident.
- Compensation for earning potential lost due to the truck accident
- Pain and suffering, both mental and physical.
- Property and vehicle damage.
Typical Semi Truck Accident Settlement Factors
There are four major factors that affect the amount of the accident settlement in major truck crashes:
- Liability: Every state has its own laws pertaining to contributory negligence. For example, California is a pure comparative negligence state. This means the defendant (the trucker) is liable only for his percentage of fault. If a jury finds that the car driver was 20% responsible for the rear end truck crash, the final settlement amount would be reduced by 20%. Contributory negligence laws also can bar the accident victim from receiving any compensation, if it is determined that the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault. A personal injury attorney typically is required to determine how a state’s contributory negligence laws affect the potential settlement amount.
- Injury severity: Truck accident injuries often have high dollar injury claims. These higher figures will be reviewed carefully by the insurance company or defense attorney. Generally, the more serious the injuries, the higher the odds of getting a larger accident settlement. However, it is common for defense counsel to comb through the plaintiff’s medical history looking for preexisting conditions that the company can hang the injuries on.
- Deaths: Trucks weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded. Fatal truck accidents are common: 3,852 people died in large truck crashes in 2015. If the accident leads to a death, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed. These lawsuits frequently lead to larger settlements; some states allow punitive damages as well. This is in the case of wanton, reckless driving behavior.
- Insurance policies in effect: How much insurance money is available? Given that more than one commercial entity often is involved in these crashes, it could be a higher amount. But as noted earlier, many trucking companies only carry the bare minimum coverage. Serious truck accident injuries easily can exceed those limits.
Semi Truck Accident Settlement Examples
Below are real examples of truck accident settlements and verdicts where the truck driver was found at fault:
- Tractor trailer driver negligence: $54,420,000: A 12-person jury decided in favor of the family of a 50 year-old woman who died due to a trucker’s negligence in the service of PFG Milton, Inc. The jury awarded $10,420,000 in compensatory damages, and $44,000,000 for punitive damages.
- Truck driver negligence at intersection: $12,000,000. This case was a pre-trial settlement; occurred at an intersection between two semi trucks where one allegedly ran a red light. Traumatic brain injury.
- Truck driver wrongful death verdict: $9,300,000. Elderly woman hit by a semi truck after rendering aid on the side of the road.
- Commercial truck negligence: $6,500,000. Settled shortly before trial for woman’s death that rear ended a poorly maintained commercial truck.
The above results far exceed the minimum liability limits required by the FMCSA. When faced with serious semi truck accident injuries, seeking experienced legal counsel is advised.
Summary of Truck Accident Settlements
It is true that many semi truck accidents result in higher settlements. Of course, the bottom line is that money, while helpful, will never compensate a person for the loss of a loved one. Money also will not always make an injured person whole.
Every semi truck accident and settlement is completely unique. Anyone who has suffered injuries due to trucker negligence will usually face an aggressive insurance company that will attempt to minimize liability. If the case goes to court, the trucking company attorneys also will attempt to minimize any potential settlement or verdict. Remember if in doubt, it is vital to get legal counsel to properly safeguard your legal rights.