A south Florida woman filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the automaker Tesla after an accident caused the death of her 50-year-old husband several months earlier. The man was driving a Tesla Model 3 near Delray Beach when he collided with a semi-truck on State Highway 441. While the lawsuit alleges that Tesla’s autopilot safety system was the cause of the truck accident that resulted in the man’s death, Tesla is saying that the semi-truck encroached on the man’s lane, and that’s what caused the crash. The wife’s attorney stated that the autopilot system made no attempt to slow the man’s vehicle down before the accident and that there have been similar crashes involving the same technology.
So, what caused the accident? Was it a semi-truck encroaching on the driver’s lane? Or was it a faulty autopilot system? These are questions that a court will decide. When it comes to semi-truck accidents, liability issues are often one of the situations that can cause a seemingly open-and-shut case to drag on for months or even years.
A question that truck accident attorneys often receive is: “How long will it take to settle my case?” The truth is, no two cases are alike, so there is no correct answer. However, the length of time that the case takes to settle is often longer than people think. Below the experienced attorneys at The Law Offices of Michael T. Gibson discuss why.
Florida’s no-fault insurance scheme requires that drivers who register their vehicles in the state purchase a personal injury protection policy of at least $10,000. The benefits available through this policy include a portion of medical expenses and lost wages, as well as death benefits in cases where a named person on the policy dies as a result of the accident. In exchange for these benefits, many individuals suffering from accident injuries can only file a personal injury lawsuit against an at-fault party if the cost of treatment and expenses exceeds the limit of the policy or if the injuries are permanent.
Permanent injuries in Florida motor vehicle accident cases are those that cause:
- Significant permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement
- Significant and permanent scarring and disfigurement
In addition to no-fault insurance, a lot of other insurance policies also come into play. For example, trucking companies are required to purchase policies with bodily injury limits that are significantly higher than those purchased by individuals for their personal vehicles. The reason for this is because of the high likelihood that injuries caused by truck driver negligence would be significant.
Each liable party carries with it potential insurance resources for compensating an injured individual. Sorting out these various policies takes time.
Even if there isn’t the question of a potential product liability claim, such as the autopilot system on the Tesla in the above-mentioned case, ironing out the question of liability and lining up the potential insurance resources that these liable parties carry is a series of time-consuming tasks. In addition to an at-fault truck driver, semi-truck accidents pose the possibility of additional liable parties. Some of those parties include:
- The trucking company for which the semi-truck driver works. Trucking companies are often found liable in accidents that their drivers cause simply because they hired this driver, and the driver serves as a representative of the company while on the job. The trucking company may face additional liability, however, due to the federal regulations that the trucking industry is required to follow, such as performing complete background checks on drivers, including driving history; performing regular maintenance on the vehicle; and ensuring that the driver is properly trained before heading out behind the wheel of a big rig. Your truck accident attorney will carefully investigate all of the factors of your case to determine if there were regulatory issues at the heart of what caused the accident.
- The individual or company that performs routine maintenance. Another thing your attorney will investigate is whether the maintenance was performed as scheduled and whether any issues that were discovered were fixed properly.
- The shipping company. The shipper is responsible for ensuring that the companies that it hires to transport its goods are fully insured, compliant with regulations, and sometimes are also responsible for the loading of the cargo. Your attorney will want to know if the shipping company performed due diligence when selecting a shipper.
- The manufacturer or distributor of parts of the truck or the car involved in the accident. Manufacturers have an obligation to ensure that their products are safe when used as directed. Your attorney will check to see if any defective vehicle parts could have factored into the conditions that led to the crash.
- The driver of another vehicle. Drivers who are engaging in negligent driving practices don’t just place themselves in danger, but also everyone else on the roadway. It is not unusual for a driver to commit an error that leads to two other vehicles colliding with each other. This is particularly true in multi-vehicle accidents, which require a lot of investigatory work to determine who was at fault for what.
It’s one thing to say that it was the other driver’s (or someone else’s) fault that an accident occurred. It’s an entirely different thing to prove that in court. When determining whether an individual is liable for an accident that results in personal injury, your attorney will have to decide if, based on the facts of your case, he or she can prove negligence. Negligence is the cornerstone for most personal injury cases, and is established by showing all of the following:
- The defendant in the case (the party who was at fault) owed you a duty of care. The duty of care depends on what role this individual or entity had in the accident. A driver’s duty of care would be to operate his or her truck in a safe and lawful manner. The duty of care for the trucking company would be to ensure that the driver it hired had a clean driving history and was properly trained to operate the truck safely. The duty of care for the manufacturer of truck parts would be to produce parts that are safe to use.
- The defendant breached his or her duty of care.
- The breach caused the accident, which resulted in your injuries.
One of the ways that an injured person can help his or her attorney to move the process of determining liability and negligence along is to keep copies of all expenses, medical reports, accident reports, and the names of any witnesses. If you have copies of any of these documents, let your attorney know, as each piece of information is one less thing that he or she will need to collect.
The Severity of Injuries
It can take a while for the severity of a person’s injuries and the lasting effect that those injuries will have on his or her ability to lead a normal life to become apparent. When they do offer settlements, insurance companies often offer a quick and low settlement as a way to avoid paying out the full extent of the insured’s policy limits. However, the problem with a quick settlement offer is that it doesn’t take into consideration the full picture of the injuries that were sustained. A serious injury may not only take time, procedures, and rehabilitation to recover from, but it may also present complications that require additional treatment, as well as permanent disability and far-ranging impacts.
There is no “typical” injury for a truck accident. One person may walk away with a broken arm while someone else might suffer a severe, permanent brain injury. The person with the broken arm may lose some function in the arm and yet return to work and to a life that is similar to what it was before the accident, while the person with the brain injury may never work or live independently again. Obviously, these two scenarios would result in drastically differing settlements.
One piece of a lawsuit that results in a higher settlement is the presence of non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. The value of these damages is determined by adding up the economic damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and loss of earning capacity, and using a multiplier. The severity of the injury is the reason for using a higher multiplier when establishing the value of a case. For this reason, a settlement should not even be entertained until those treating your injury have a better handle on what your prognosis will be.
According to 2018 figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 5,000 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks. Around 80 percent of those individuals were the occupants of other vehicles or pedestrians and bicyclists. 885 of the fatalities were occupants of the large trucks. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that the size of commercial trucks, which weigh 20 to 30 times more than the average passenger car, is what makes drivers of smaller cars particularly vulnerable in this type of accident.
If you’ve lost a loved one due to an accident involving a semi-truck, you may be eligible to recover compensation through a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death actions are similar to personal injury lawsuits in that they’re filed through civil court, and they seek recovery of damages through proving liability. However, a wrongful death claim is filed on behalf of the family of the deceased and seeks to recover expenses related to the death, such as loss of income, funeral and burial expenses, expenses related to hiring someone to perform household services that were formerly performed by the deceased, as well as non-economic damages, such as loss of consortium, loss of companionship, or loss of parental care and guidance.
Death related to a trucking accident may bring rise to a claim for punitive damages, depending on the circumstances. Punitive damages are damages designed to punish a defendant and are reserved only for claims in which the defendant’s behavior was particularly wanton or egregious, such as a truck driver who had multiple previous driving violations and was found to have been impaired by alcohol at the time of the crash, or a trucking company who consistently made bad hiring decisions or had fallen out of compliance with several federal regulations at the time of the accident.
The negotiations involved in reaching a truck accident settlement that fairly compensates the injured individual are seldom quickly wrapped up. The act of negotiating only begins when each party determines where his or her starting point will be. For insurance carriers representing truck drivers and trucking companies, the starting point is generally where the insurance carriers try to shift the blame to other parties, including the injured person. For the attorney representing the plaintiff in the case, the starting point is the value of the case, which can only be determined once there is a clearer picture of the impacts and the expenses involved.
The Plaintiff’s Patience
Personal injury attorneys know this to be true: the amount of the settlement doesn’t only depend on the ability to prove liability and expenses. It also depends on the patience of the plaintiff. If an insurance company’s attorneys realize that the plaintiff is impatient, they will refuse to increase the amount of their settlement offer. Often, it is only after a personal injury lawsuit has been filed and opening arguments have been prepared, or even delivered in some cases, that the defendant’s attorneys are willing to make a serious offer. When it comes to obtaining the highest settlement you can receive, keep in mind that the process is generally more of a marathon than a sprint.
Were you injured in an accident involving a semi-truck? If so, an experienced truck accident attorney can help you to understand your legal options.
Orlando, FL 32814