Also known as semi-trucks, semi-trailers, big rigs, 18-wheelers, or simply as commercial trucks, around 2 million tractor-trailers operate on U.S. roadways. While these trucks are vital to the economy and the comfort of people who rely on the products transported by them, there are hundreds of thousands of accidents involving tractor-trailers. These accidents often result in serious injuries or death to other roadway users, including the occupants of other vehicles, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
If you were injured or have lost a loved one due to a tractor-trailer accident, you can seek compensation for the financial and emotional costs of your injury or loss. An experienced truck accident attorney can handle your claim for you.
What Exactly Is a Tractor-Trailer, and Why Are They Dangerous?
A tractor-trailer is a commercial vehicle consisting of a “tractor,” which is the front part of the semi that houses the engine compartment, cab, and sleeper berth, and a trailer that measures about 53 feet long. The tractor and trailer combination makes for a vehicle that measures around 72 feet in length, 13.5 feet high, and 8.5 feet wide. When fully loaded, a tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, up to 30 times heavier than the average passenger car that shares the roadway with it.
The size of the vehicle impacts its maneuverability, presenting issues such as:
- Significant blind spots on all four sides of the vehicle
- An increased distance needed to come to a complete stop
- The need to make wide turns when negotiating sharp corners
- The higher ground clearance can allow a smaller vehicle to slip beneath the truck during an accident.
- A high center of gravity can make the vehicle prone to rolling over when negotiating sharp corners or swerving to avoid an accident.
- Excessive mileage can result in premature wearing of tires, brakes, and other vehicle systems that allow for the vehicle’s safe operation.
The Extra Duty of Care Required by Tractor-Trailer Drivers and Trucking Companies
Because of the hazards posed by having such large vehicles on the roadway, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the trucking industry. Duty of care refers to the reasonable actions an individual takes in a given circumstance to avoid harming others.
While all roadway users have a duty of care, for tractor-trailer drivers and the companies they work for, there is an increased duty of care by way of:
- The requirement is to obtain a special license to drive the vehicle. This license is known as a CDL.
- Regular drug and alcohol screenings to avoid having impaired drivers on the roadway behind the wheels of 80,000-pound vehicles
- A reduced alcohol impairment limit. For most adult drivers over the age of 21 in the U.S., the legal impairment limit for driving is .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood. For CDL holders, the impairment limit is 0.04, equal to the impairment one would experience after consuming around two alcoholic drinks within an hour before driving.
How a Tractor-Trailer Accident Can Impact Your Entire Life
The size discrepancy between tractor-trailers and other vehicles on the road is why most injuries and deaths in tractor-trailer accidents occur to other users of the roadway instead of the truck drivers themselves. Nearly 70 percent of injuries and fatalities in tractor-trailer accidents happen to the occupants of other vehicles. The damages in this type of accident are often very severe and can impact your entire life in several ways.
Profound Medical Expenses
Two of the most severe injuries that can occur in a tractor-trailer accident involve damage to the brain and the spinal cord, which make up the body’s central nervous system and are known for producing a high number of complications and permanent impacts. The lifetime costs of medically treating a traumatic brain injury range between $85,000 and $3 million. Spinal cord injuries can result in lifetime medical costs of between $1 million and $4 million. Any injury that requires medical treatment can easily result in thousands of dollars worth of expenses.
Loss of Future Earning Capacity
Many injuries will cause the sufferer to miss work while they are recovering. However, specific injuries, such as those involving the brain or spinal cord, can produce permanent disabilities that prevent the person from earning an income.
Impacts on Your Quality of Life
Serious injuries can have profound impacts on your quality of life, such as:
- The inability to participate in activities or hobbies you formerly enjoyed
- The loss of self-confidence or favorable self-image results from visible or disfiguring injuries
- Changed relationships with family members, who are often relied on to provide care for an injured loved one
- The loss of physical intimacy and companionship with spouses or romantic partners commonly experienced after a severe injury
The Loss of a Loved One
Losing a loved one in a tractor-trailer accident is not only emotionally devastating but can be financially devastating as well. Family members of those who die in truck accidents often incur medical bills resulting from the treatment of their loved one’s final injuries, as well as the expenses of a funeral and burial or cremation. They can face the loss of the financial support their loved one provided to the family and the loss of inheritance for the deceased’s children.
Seeking Compensation for What You Lost in a Tractor-Trailer Accident
Individuals who have been injured or have lost a loved one due to a tractor-trailer accident can seek compensation for the many impacts and expenses discussed above through the personal injury or wrongful death claims process.
This process generally begins when your attorney submits a demand package to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. Because many liable parties could not afford to compensate someone else’s expenses and impacts from an injury or loss of a loved one out-of-pocket, insurance policies are the sources of payment in nearly all personal injury and wrongful death claims.
Upon receiving the demand, the at-fault party’s insurance adjuster can:
- Accept the liability of their insured and pay the claim as submitted. If this occurs, then your claim has been resolved.
- Deny the insured’s liability and provide a reason for the denial to the claimant. If the insurer denies your claim, you and your attorney will likely consider filing the claim in court as a lawsuit.
- Accept some liability on the part of their insured and offer a settlement for less than what you demanded. If this occurs, your attorney will help you discern if the amount offered is reasonable or if your attorney should negotiate with them to obtain a higher offer.
Liability: What Is It, and Who Has It?
Liability is the legal responsibility for the accident. Human error causes the vast majority of tractor-trailer accidents. Those responsible for a truck accident include the unqualified truck driver, who has an advanced duty of care to operate the vehicle safely and legally, and other drivers on the roadway, who also have a legal duty to take reasonable actions to avoid harming others.
The trucking company that hired the driver and needed to ensure that they were properly licensed, trained, and physically healthy enough to handle the day-to-day rigors of the job and that the truck is adequately insured and maintained can be liable as well.
Additionally, there can be a liability for the agency that maintains the roadway where the accident occurred, the manufacturer or distributor of defective parts used on the tractor-trailer or other vehicles involved in the accident, and others whose carelessness or recklessness factored into the accident.
To prove who was liable for your accident, you must show:
- The at-fault party had a duty to take reasonable actions to avoid harming others.
- There was a breach in that duty when the at-fault party took careless or reckless actions.
- This breach resulted in a tractor-trailer accident in which you were injured and subsequently incurred expenses and impacts.
How an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Can Help With Your Claim
Many people are hesitant to hire an experienced truck accident attorney to help them seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of their injury because they believe they cannot afford one. Having an attorney to help you navigate this complex legal process is one of the cornerstones of having a successful claim.
A truck accident attorney can provide:
- A free case evaluation, where you can talk about your accident with a legal team and obtain answers to your questions without any obligation to hire them
- A contingent fee billing method that allows you to wait to pay for the attorney’s services until there is a successful outcome to your claim. When you decide to hire one to help you with your case, they will enter a contingent fee agreement with you. This agreement spells out the services you can expect and the percentage of the settlement you will pay for your legal services upon the resolution of your claim. Working through a contingent fee allows you to obtain legal services regardless of your financial status and allows them to begin working on your claim immediately and keep working until it’s resolved, without worrying about billing you by the hour or whether you are current on payments.
In addition to the free case evaluation and the contingent fee, some of the other services an experienced truck accident attorney can provide to assist you with your claim include:
- Determining all sources of liability and their associated insurance resources
- Valuing your claim based on the expenses and impacts you have already incurred, as well as those you will likely face
- Managing communication with the at-fault party’s insurance provider to garner a fair settlement offer on your behalf, as well as to protect your claim from common insurance tactics.
- Gathering the evidence and witness testimony to prove liability and expenses. In truck accident cases, this can include testimony from expert witnesses, such as accident reconstruction professionals or medical specialists.
- Handling the court process, including filing your claim within the statute of limitations and attending pre-trial conferences and hearings on your behalf
- Guiding you as you make the critical decisions about your claim, such as whether to accept a settlement offer or file your claim as a lawsuit in court
- Litigation services.
- Assistance with collecting your settlement or award
Tractor-Trailer Accident? An Attorney Can Help
A legal team can bring needed experience to your claim, providing a deep understanding not only of the legal process of seeking compensation but also the profound need their clients have for that compensation after suffering a devastating injury or loss of a loved one.
Let a truck accident attorney evaluate your case for free, answer your legal questions, and help you understand the role they can play in assisting you with your claim.