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Commercial Vehicle Accident Settlements: Everything You Need To Know

Commercial vehicle accident
Many people are cautious when sharing the road with large commercial vehicles. There is reason to be careful, as a commercial vehicle accident can be devastating. Aside from catastrophic damage to your own car, the risk is high for critical injuries such as head trauma, broken bones, internal trauma, and nerve damage. If you are involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, you should speak with a personal injury attorney to review your case and find out how much your commercial vehicle accident settlement may be worth.

Below is more information about commercial vehicle accidents, sample truck accident settlements, and much more.

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What is a Commercial Vehicle Accident?

The term “commercial vehicle” commonly refers to semi trucks, work trucks/vans, or buses/large taxis. Generally speaking, a commercial vehicle is larger and heavier than the car, truck, or SUV that most of us use in our daily travels. These types of accidents are usually more serious that a car hitting another car. Even accidents that happen at low speeds can cause massive damage to a smaller vehicle and severe injuries.

Some examples of commercial motor vehicles include:

  • Semi trucks, big rigs, tractor-trailer trucks, 18-wheelers
  • School, city, and private buses
  • Garbage and refuse trucks
  • Dump trucks and other construction vehicles
  • Tow trucks and car haulers
  • Delivery trucks and vans

What is the Reason For Most Commercial Vehicle Accidents?

When it comes to causes of commercial vehicle accidents, there are a lot of similarities to more common motor vehicle accidents. Studies conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) find that around 30% of commercial vehicle accidents are caused by negligent behavior of truck drivers. This includes distracted driving (texting and driving), impaired driving (drunk driving), driving while overly tired or sick, speeding, or disregard for traffic laws.

Of course, it is possible for other drivers on the road to cause accidents. Accidents happen due to poor road conditions or less than ideal weather. As a driver, whether you are driving a two door coupe or a double tractor-trailer, you should always drive safely and follow the rules of the road.

Most Common Commercial Vehicle Accidents

There are many reasons for being hit by a tractor-trailer. The driver may have been on drugs or alcohol, tired, or failed to maintain their vehicle. Distracted driving also often happens with commercial vehicle drivers on cell phones and using GPS navigation systems. Commercial truck accidents can have serious effects on drivers. Some of the most common commercial vehicle accidents are:

Rear-end crashes: If the truck driver is tired or distracted, the driver can get into a rear-end accident. In the United States, texting and driving are major causes of distracted driving for significant rig drivers. A tractor-trailer driver texting and driving is 23 times more likely to get into an accident when compared to a big rig driver who does not text and drive. Rear end collision settlements involving commercial vehicles are generally much larger than standard rear end settlements.

Jackknife crashes: If a big rig’s cargo is not balanced correctly, the driver tries to take a turn too fast, or they lose control of their rig, the truck can jackknife in the middle of the highway. This can happen quickly, and other drivers can slam into the tractor-trailer, leading to severe or fatal injuries.

Turning accidents: Tractor-trailers can occupy two lanes when making a full turn and have several blind spots. If a truck driver is not careful when making a turn, a severe crash can happen.

Speeding accidents: Seventeen percent of large truck accidents in 2016 involved speeding.

Bad weather crashes: An average tractor-trailer can take 20-40% longer to stop than a passenger vehicle. If the roads are wet or icy, it can take much longer for the truck to stop.

First Steps After a Commercial Vehicle Accident

It is vital to protect your health and legal rights after a commercial vehicle accident. Follow these steps:

  • Take care of your health first. Get immediate medical attention after a tractor-trailer accident. There is a good chance you have injuries, even if you do not feel them at first. Call 911 as they will ensure you get the medical attention you need. They also will file the necessary accident reports that could be important when you file your claim.
  • Document the crash scene. If you can, take photos of the crash scene. Take pictures of the vehicles and damages, skid marks, vehicle positions, and your injuries. The trucking company may send a team to the crash scene to collect and even hide evidence. If you cannot document the crash scene, call a truck accident attorney. The lawyer will send an accident investigator to the scene right away. He also can file motions to prevent the trucking company from removing critical evidence.
  • Do not speak to anyone. The trucking company’s claim adjuster might contact you. They only want to protect the company’s interests after the accident. They will use anything they say against you. The best idea is to have your truck accident attorney talk to their insurance company.
  • Call a commercial vehicle accident lawyer. The insurance adjuster may discourage you from hiring an attorney, but you need one when you are in a commercial vehicle accident. Your attorney will ensure you get enough compensation to cover your future medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
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How Commercial Vehicle Accidents are Different

Commercial vehicles might drive on the same roads as other motorists, but they abide by slightly different rules. At both the state and federal level, commercial drivers are held to a different standard than your average motorist. Because the commercial driver is an employee, liability becomes more complicated. The employee, the company or both may indeed be liable for the damage done in the wreck.

Generally speaking, you will likely recover damages from the employer of the commercial driver. They are responsible for their workers’ actions on the road. The exception to this is when a driver is using their work vehicle while off the clock. In such cases, you should seek recovery from the driver’s insurance company.

Commercial vehicle insurance is likely to have much more coverage than average. This means you won’t need to settle for anything less than what you deserve because of policy limits. When more money is at stake, however, the insurance company may be more likely to defend their case. Because of this, commercial vehicle claims often take a long time to settle.

Commercial Vehicle Accident Facts That May Surprise You

Beyond passing tractor trailers on the highway, we rarely consider the trucks that ship our goods and packages across the country. The reality is, though, that big rig trucks make up a significant portion of the traffic on our roads. Without an understanding of these large vehicles, you could underestimate the potential risks associated with trucks.

Because of the sheer size difference between trucks and the average passenger vehicle, few can appreciate how dangerous these vehicles are. Since most truck accidents occur on the highway, many incidents also involve high speeds. This makes these accidents inherently more risky. The damage done by such accidents is often catastrophic. Here are some other trucking accident facts that you might not know:

Bad Weather Increases the Risks of an Accident

We all recognize the inherent dangers of driving on wet, icy or snowy roads. Multiply the usual risks by the large weight and size of a tractor trailer and these factors become life-threatening. Throw in stiff deadlines and driver fatigue and you have a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, the federal government has certain requirements for long-haul truckers to abide by. Section 392.14 of the U.S. Code of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations states that when truckers are driving in poor weather conditions, they must exercise good judgment and drive defensively. They’re also required to reduce their speed, use their lights and be ready to stop on a dime. This is harder than you might imagine, with thousands of pounds behind them to weigh them down. Still, following these requirements can prevent accidents and ensure the ones that do occur aren’t as catastrophic.

Driver Error is the Leading Cause of Commercial Vehicle Accidents

Drivers of commercial vehicles are required to have special drivers licenses, years of experience behind the wheel and training to handle the unique challenges of driving tractor trailers. Regardless, the American Trucking Association reports that a majority of truck accidents are due to driver error. When under pressure to meet deadlines and power through long shifts, many drivers turn to substances to get through. From caffeine to more serious drugs, these substances can impact a driver’s decision making skills.

Even when drivers stay clean, fatigue can set in, clouding their ability to make good choices at the wheel. Driving distracted is another common problem. Truckers face the same temptations to text and drive as any other motorist. All these can add up to serious mistakes made at the wheel. Enough of these mistakes can often result in a serious accident.

Maintenance Isn’t Guaranteed

With thousands of trucks on the road every day, you’d expect trucking companies to pay close attention to the maintenance of their vehicles. Unfortunately, though, these vehicles aren’t always looked after with care. It is the responsibility of the driver to inspect their vehicle before hitting the road. However, these inspections are often rushed or overlooked. When the driver is under pressure to head out on the highway, these inspections can be especially shallow. Too often, trucking companies have strict deadlines to meet and send vehicles out without performing the necessary maintenance.

Poor maintenance is one of the other leading causes of truck crashes. In these instances, the trucking company or the truck manufacturer is to blame. It can often take months to understand the neglected maintenance, resulting in a lengthy legal battle for liability.

Liability Isn’t Always Clear in Commercial Vehicle Accidents

Trucking companies, their drivers and even the individuals who load the freight can all be responsible for damage done in an accident. Whereas most collisions between passenger vehicles impact people involved in the wreck, commercial vehicle accident liability has further reach. One employee’s failure to properly strap down cargo, for instance, can lead to a truck crash hundreds of miles from the loading dock.

Getting into an accident with a truck is a nightmare for many reasons. But the ongoing legal battle that can wage on for months after a wreck can make a bad situation even worse. An attorney can help investigate the incident and ensure protection of your rights. All the while, the trucking company, their driver and insurance company battle it out for the blame. Even if you’re not sure if you need a truck accident attorney, speaking with one can help clarify your legal options.

Who Is Liable For a Commercial Vehicle Accident?

Usually, companies are responsible for their workers’ actions when they get in accidents in a commercial vehicle on company time. This means that the company is generally liable when workers are in an accident when carrying out their work duties.

Also, the driver could be liable if negligence played a role in the commercial vehicle accident. Employers can be responsible for the following:

  • Inadequate supervision
  • Not verifying license or certification of the driver
  • Poor hiring practices
  • Not properly training drivers
  • Not maintaining tractor-trailer
  • Improperly loaded freight

What happens if the worker drove the company truck for personal reasons and hit you? The employer may still be at-fault in this scenario. The truck company must use due care when allowing someone to drive the vehicle.

Suppose the company failed to check the worker’s driving record or should have known he had medical problems that affected his ability to drive. In that case, they can be found liable for negligent entrustment.

Sample Commercial Vehicle Accident Settlements

Commercial vehicle accident settlements tend to be larger because of the more severe injuries and higher insurance amounts available. Below are some actual commercial vehicle accident settlement amounts.

$500,000 Truck Accident Settlement

A commercial vehicle made a left turn in front of a motorcyclist. The motorcycle rider was thrown from his bike, onto the road. The police were called to the scene and the truck driver was ticketed for an illegal turn. The motorcycle driver broke his arm and fractured two ribs. His arm required surgery, though his ribs had to heal on their own. He had immense pain for several weeks.

The insurance company for the truck driver’s company only offered $125,000 in the beginning. But the motorcycle rider’s lawyer was confident that they could get a better motorcycle accident settlement based on the long term pain his client was in. After some back and forth negotiations, the insurance company agreed to the demands.

$35,000 Commercial Vehicle Accident Settlement

A family traveling in a sedan was ran off the road but an unmarked semi truck, causing them to flip sideways onto the median. Luckily, there were no serious injuries. Unfortunately, the truck driver did not stop and the family was unable to give any distinguishing details to the police. The truck driver was never located. The family filed a claim with their own insurance company and were able to utilize their uninsured motorist coverage.

$70,000 Commercial Vehicle Accident Settlement

A semi truck rear-ended a Jeep, causing damage that was beyond repair. The insurance company declared the vehicle to be totaled. The driver of the Jeep suffered from whiplash and soft tissue injuries. The truck driver was found completely liable for the accident and the Jeep driver received enough money to purchase a new car and cover his medical bills.

Get Legal Help With Your Commercial Vehicle Accident Case

If you suffered injuries in a commercial vehicle accident, it is vital to hire a personal injury attorney. Dealing with trucking insurance companies is difficult, and they will do their best to compensate you as little as possible. Your attorney will negotiate aggressively to get you the best settlement, and the possibility of filing a lawsuit may encourage the insurance company to offer fair compensation.

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About Michael Eisner, Esq

Michael Eisner earned his Juris Doctorate from George Washington University and practiced law in Illinois for 4 years before leaving to focus his energy on writing full time. He writes about the intersection of law and technology, and enjoys creating content that helps regular people understand how these topics can impact the lives of everyday people in ways they don’t realize.