Each year, over 15.5 million trucks carry $671 billion of manufactured and retail goods, accounting for a whopping 70 percent of all freight transported on U.S. roads. Between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, trucks transport an additional $490 billion in goods.
With so many big trucks on our roads, they will inevitably collide with passenger cars. Tragically, the results are often catastrophic or fatal for the occupants of the passenger vehicles, while the trucks and their drivers typically escape unscathed. Nationally, someone dies in a truck accident every 16 minutes, and 98 percent of the time, it is someone in the passenger car who dies.
In one year, over 9,000 big trucks were involved in crashes on Florida roads. Over half of those resulted in injuries, and over 300 people lost their lives. While drunk truckers account for a relatively small percentage of truck-involved accidents, the effects of alcohol-impaired driving in truck drivers are compounded by the size and weight of the vehicles that they operate.
After a Truck-Involved Drunk Driving Accident
Any time that you’re involved in a truck accident involving an intoxicated truck driver, there are certain things you should do, both right away and following your hospital stay.
At the Scene
Florida law requires all parties to stay on the scene of any driving under the influence (DUI) accident. In many crashes involving trucks, injuries are such that the parties aren’t even physically able to leave the scene of the wreck; but if you are, don’t.
Someone should call 911 immediately. This, of course, dispatches both emergency responders and law enforcement to your accident scene. The officers who arrive have a responsibility to interview people who can speak with them, take photos of the scene, and subsequently write a report. Those who are unable to provide interviews on the scene may be interviewed after the fact in the hospital or elsewhere when they are physically able to do so.
This report may prove valuable to you if you choose to file a lawsuit down the road to recover damages for your injuries. If law enforcement suspects the truck driver to be driving under the influence of alcohol, that observation will be documented along with any field sobriety tests administered, chemical tests given to the driver, and subsequent arrest.
You should also always exchange insurance information with the other driver or drivers involved in any car accident. Under Florida’s no-fault law, drivers are required to have coverage that will pay out for injuries up to a certain limit, so some expenses will be covered by that. However, truck accident juries are often severe enough that those limits are exceeded in little time, and any company that insured the truck driver will certainly be a defendant in a future lawsuit.
File Your PIP Claim
Florida’s no-fault law requires you to carry certain personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. This is essentially money that your insurance company will pay out in the event of an accident, regardless of fault. The idea is that mandating this type of coverage reduces lawsuits related to vehicle accidents and covers the entirety of bodily injury and property damage in a large number of wrecks.
Every insurance policy must have certain minimum coverage amounts for three types of benefits. Each type of benefit pays differently and has different requirements for payment. If your costs exceed your PIP coverage, you must file your claim right away. You only have 14 days from the date of your accident to file, and any claim filed after that deadline will not be considered, so act fast.
Your policy must carry at least $10,000 in medical benefits. Note, though, that the policy only pays 80 percent of your costs up to that $10,000 maximum benefit amount. That means that you’ll still be on the hook for some of your expenses. A bit of good news is that the insurance company is required to pay you within 30 days of filing your claim, so you won’t end up waiting months to receive your benefit, though the company is permitted to investigate for any possible fraud for 60 days.
When the Florida legislature passed the state’s no-fault law, it created a situation in which the insurance company has an incredible amount of control over whether or not your medical bills are paid. The company determines whether you had an emergency medical condition. If it determines you did not have an emergency medical condition, the insurance company is only obligated to pay 25 percent of your medical costs. Companies must follow guidelines concerning where and by whom the care was provided, but insurance companies often try to find ways to deny benefits, causing further financial pain on top of the physical pain suffered in an accident.
If you’ve been denied PIP benefits by your insurance company, you are permitted to contest its determination; however, you don’t want to do that alone. A competent Orlando truck accident attorney can fight on your behalf and try to secure compensation for the full cost of your injuries.
The disability benefits under your PIP policy are there to cover the gross wages and earning capacity that you’ve lost due to the injuries you suffered in your accident. They are paid at 60 percent of the lost wages, up to your policy amount. The minimum policy amount is $10,000.
These benefits are paid every two weeks. To prove your lost wages, you may be required to provide documentation from your employer indicating the wages you earned for the last 13 weeks. Be sure to provide this right away if asked. Delay in giving this to the insurance company will delay your payments.
Death benefits are paid to the estate of someone killed in a vehicle accident. The minimum amount is $5,000, and this money can be paid to the deceased person’s estate or to certain family members or others the insurance company determines is equitably entitled to them.
Document Your Expenses
Whether your only claims will be against your PIP policy because it covers your expenses or because you choose to file a lawsuit against the truck driver (and possibly his or her employer), you need to carefully document your expenses. Keep all bills you receive, including for your ambulance transportation, initial hospital stay, follow-up appointments, physical or occupational therapy, rehabilitation treatment, and home health services. You should also retain receipts for things like medications and medical devices.
When PIP Isn’t Enough
When a person is injured in a truck accident, the injuries are often severe. This is especially true in drunk driving truck accidents, which often involve higher speeds and more reckless driving. Medical expenses and ongoing care, treatment, and rehabilitation can reach tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. So what do you do when you’ve exceeded the limits of your PIP insurance and any health insurance you may have? That’s when you talk to a truck accident attorney.
A Civil Lawsuit
The law allows you to seek compensation for monetary and non-monetary damages you suffer due to the negligence of another. This process is completely separate from any criminal proceedings, so even if the driver of the truck is acquitted on a DUI charge in criminal court, you can still seek damages civilly. The burden of proof in civil cases is the lower preponderance of the evidence standard, rather than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used in criminal cases, because the penalties in criminal cases are more severe. To prove something by a preponderance of the evidence, you must show that there is a more than 50 percent chance that what you’re claiming is true.
Under Florida law, you have four years from the date of your accident to file your personal injury lawsuit. This is known as the statute of limitations. While four years may seem like a long time, it’s important to reach out to an attorney as soon as you can begin the process. Obviously, the sooner you file your suit, the sooner you can be out from under the crushing weight of medical bills.
How an Attorney Can Help
You may wonder if it is really necessary to retain a truck accident attorney to file your suit. The short answer is a resounding yes. From filing your suit until the final resolution, it is always in your best interest to retain competent counsel.
In a drunk driving truck accident, multiple parties will be defendants, potentially including the driver, his or her employer, the employer’s insurance company, and your own insurance company. Rest assured that each of those parties will have their own lawyers, and the companies involved will have a team of them.
Filing Your Suit
Once you’ve met with and selected your attorney, the business of preparing and filing your suit begins. The first step is determining who exactly should be held accountable for your injuries and brought in as a defendant. This may sound simple, but it’s a determination that can get complicated quickly. If the driver was “on the clock”, it’s probably appropriate to sue his employer. That employer will have an insurance company. Your health insurance company may deny benefits you’re entitled to. There may have been unsafe conditions caused by another negligent party, such as a government entity that didn’t properly maintain roads, which was a contributing factor.
Filing a proper suit against the proper defendants is crucial. An improperly served party can ask the court to dismiss the suit in its entirety, forcing you back to the drawing board, possibly running up against the statute of limitations.
The majority of personal injury suits are settled out of court and never make it in front of a jury. Negotiation is critical, and selecting a skilled negotiator as your attorney can make all the difference. The defendants in your case will probably offer a settlement fairly soon after they are served notice of your suit. It’s equally likely that it will be a low ball offer intended to get you to go quietly into the night and get your case off of someone’s desk. While no attorney can guarantee you a specific result, an attorney who is an experienced negotiator and knows the ins and outs of truck accidents can help you ascertain whether or not the offer is a good one, or if you’re likely to receive more money from ongoing negotiations or at a jury trial.
As your case progresses and your attorney discovers more evidence that may make your case stronger and brings in investigators to assist with your case, negotiations will continue. It is rarely a good idea to leave the negotiating table altogether. The defendants can settle right up until the time the jury gets the case, so a competent attorney will always leave the door open for an offer.
Taking Your Case to Trial
If negotiations fail and you do not reach a satisfactory offer, your case will proceed to trial and a judge or jury will render a decision. This is another area in which the attorney you select makes a huge difference.
Litigation requires skills that not all attorneys have or are willing to hone. It requires knowing how to select a jury and how to speak to jurors once they’re impaneled. A deep understanding of the law of personal injury, the facts of your case, and the rules of procedure that will govern the trial are critical. Your attorney will also need to be able to grasp what might be complicated medical issues relating to your injuries and understand how to get that information from expert witnesses and subsequently present it to a jury in ways jurors can understand.
Choose an attorney who has experience in taking personal injury cases from filing to jury verdict and is competent at all stages in between.
If You Still Have Questions After a Drunk Driver Injured You
Truck accidents, especially those involving a drunk truck driver, can be catastrophic and cause physical, emotional, psychological, and financial damage that can last for years, if not the rest of your life. Trust your case to a team of lawyers who have the experience and knowledge to handle your case from start to finish.