Trucks are ubiquitous on our roads. Nationwide, 15.5 million trucks transport nearly a billion dollars of retail and manufactured goods within the U.S., as well as between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, each year, accounting for nearly 70 percent of all goods moved in the country. It’s impossible to drive almost anywhere and not see semi-trucks, whether you’re driving on interstates, in cities, or over rural highways.
The sheer size of semi-trucks means that when they collide with passenger vehicles, the results are usually severe for the car and its occupants. In fact, across the U.S., a person dies in a truck-involved accident every 16 minutes. Those who don’t suffer fatal injuries are often left with devastating injuries that cost them dearly in terms of both physical and financial pain.
Depending on the severity of the injuries a victim suffers, even with health insurance, costs can quickly spiral out of control. High deductibles, coinsurance requirements, and copays mean many people injured in semi-truck accidents are left responsible for significant costs that they cannot pay. Individuals without insurance at all are left holding the bag for every dollar of medical care that they receive.
Having to deal with financial stress on top of sometimes extreme pain, a long hospital stay, follow-up appointments, therapy, and rehabilitation treatment can feel overwhelming and leave victims wondering if they will ever get their lives back.
It’s not completely hopeless, though. Florida law allows those injured in semi-truck accidents to seek damages (monetary compensation) from the truck driver who injured them through a personal injury lawsuit. You generally must file your lawsuit within four years of the date of your accident, (what’s known as the statute of limitations) though, so you can’t put it off forever. Failing to file your lawsuit within the four-year statute of limitations may cause a judge to throw your suit out without even considering the merit of your legal claims or the severity of your injuries.
An experienced semi-truck accident attorney can help guide you through the complicated process of filing and ultimately resolving your personal injury lawsuit, whether through an out-of-court settlement or with a jury trial.
Why You Need a Semi-Truck Accident Attorney
You may be wondering if you actually need an attorney to help you through the lawsuit process. The answer is a resounding yes. It’s rarely a good idea to enter any type of legal proceeding without the assistance of competent counsel.
In a semi-truck accident suit, the driver himself will be a party (defendant), but you will also likely sue his employer and its insurance company. Depending on the facts of your case, it may also be appropriate to include other individuals or entities as defendants.
It is guaranteed that when you file your suit, you will be facing off against attorneys with experience defending these kinds of lawsuits. They know the law and how to use it to get the best results for their employers, which means paying you as little as possible. In fact, that is the entirety of their jobs. Going up against what is likely to be, not just a single attorney (which is also a bad idea), but an entire team of attorneys who are committed to paying you as little as possible is a risky and unwise gamble.
To maximize your potential for compensation, you should retain an experienced and competent semi-truck accident attorney on your side who is unintimidated by the defendants’ legal teams and who will fight to protect your rights.
How to Choose a Semi-Truck Accident Attorney
Advertisements by attorneys who want to represent you are everywhere. You have probably heard and seen many of them on the radio, TV, and billboards as you drive around your city. So how do you choose one who will zealously represent you? Consider the following qualities:
While all attorneys have to make it through the grueling ordeal that is law school and taking (and passing) the bar exam, that’s pretty much where their similarities end. Attorneys can legally begin taking cases the day on which they are sworn in. Just because they have a practice and have “Esq.” behind their name, however, does not mean that they can handle complex matters, like personal injury suits.
Just as you wouldn’t trust an orthopedist to perform surgery on your brain, you don’t want an attorney without experience in personal injury taking on your semi-truck accident case. An attorney may have the reputation as the best criminal defense attorney around, but that is no indication that he can take on and provide competent representation in a civil personal injury lawsuit. In fact, it’s a great indication that he cannot. Similarly, even other attorneys who practice civil, rather than criminal law, but in a different area than truck accident claims, say contract law, is not in a much better position to assist in your suit against a trucking company.
Most personal injury claims settle out of court and never come before a jury. That makes your attorney’s negotiation skills of utmost importance. It’s seldom a good idea to shut the door completely on future negotiations. Cases can settle at any point before a jury gets the case, including after the trial has already started. A smart attorney, even while walking away from an offer, will make sure that the defendants know that if they provide a better one, you will consider it.
It is always your decision whether to accept an offer or take your case to trial. Your attorney has a legal obligation to bring every offer made by the defendant to you for your consideration. He or she will almost certainly offer an opinion as to whether he or she thinks the offer is a good one, but it’s ultimately up to you whether to accept.
If you decide to take your case to trial, who you have retained to represent you is also extremely important. Not all attorneys are good litigators. Trial skills are honed over time, and some attorneys never develop the right set of skills or simply have no interest in standing before 12 pairs of eyes laser-focused on them. That’s perfectly fine, unless you need an attorney to do just that.
Select an attorney who has semi-truck accident experience and who knows the law and the tricks and strategies that the defense attorneys you are facing off against will use to try to get you to accept a low-ball offer. Make sure your attorney has experience handling personal injury suits, from filing all the way to a jury trial.
Check out your attorney’s (and his or her firm’s) reputation in your community. In the Internet age, this is a pretty simple task. See if there is press about them. The website www.avvo.com is a great place to get information about your attorney’s reputation. It has reviews from past clients as well as comments from other attorneys who have had experiences with the attorney. A simple Google or Yahoo! search is also a great way to find out how the attorney you are contemplating hiring is viewed in your community.
Look at the Entire Team
Semi-truck accident lawsuits are not one-man shows. Such claims require a team of people dedicated to getting you the best result possible. Investigators are priceless in this kind of lawsuit. They interview witnesses, visit the crime scene, review police reports, gather medical records, among numerous other case-specific tasks.
Paralegals and legal secretaries will also play a big role in your lawsuit. They make sure that pleadings (your initial suit and any motions or responses to the defendant’s motions) are filed in a timely way and in accordance with local court practices. Paralegals and secretaries are valuable, behind-the-scenes members of your team.
You can strengthen your case by hiring various experts. This could be an actuary, an expert in your physical injuries, an accident reconstruction specialist, or a mental health expert to testify as to the extent your accident has affected your mental health. Established and experienced law firms usually have people whom the firms use regularly as experts or, if your case requires a less common type of expertise, know how to find those people.
No attorney can guarantee you a particular result in your case. In fact, the rules of legal ethics specifically prohibit lawyers from doing so. Regardless, you can still check out a firm’s track record of recovery for its clients. Try to figure out if the firm has been successful, both in trials and in reaching satisfactory out-of-court settlements.
Determining How Much Your Semi-Truck Accident Injuries Are Worth
Every semi-truck accident case is different. Each requires its own unique legal analysis of the facts and possible claims. That said, Florida law has established three broad categories of damages that victims may recover if the circumstances warrant.
These damages compensate victims for tangible monetary outlays required for the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from their injuries—from ambulance rides to inpatient rehabilitation. Things like the cost of your initial hospital stay (which in and of itself can be astronomical), surgeries, laboratory and diagnostic tests, X-rays, follow-up appointments, medications, various types of therapy, medical equipment, prosthetic devices, modifications to a vehicle or home, and rehabilitation treatment are all types of economic damages.
In addition, these damages can include services that you now have to pay for because you cannot perform them yourself due to your injuries, such as household chores and maintenance, childcare, or providing transportation.
Economic damages also include both present and future lost wages. Present lost wages are those that you lose during the course of treatment for your injuries and can include tips, commissions, and retirement contributions that you miss out on from being absent from work. Future wages are those that you will lose in the future due to being completely unable to work or being underemployed, either from having to work fewer hours or needing to take a job that pays less due to physical or mental disability.
Non-economic damages compensate victims for intangible yet real losses. They include things like physical and mental pain and suffering, disfigurement, impairment, or inconvenience. Non-economic damages are more difficult to prove, but experts can be brought in to evaluate the extent of injuries and provide a monetary value.
Punitive damages are not often awarded in Florida personal injury suits, including those related to semi-truck accidents. Rather than compensate victims for their losses, punitive damages are intended to punish the offender and to deter others from behaving in the same way. They are usually only awarded in cases where the defendant acted with an intent to cause harm or when the behavior that caused the accident was especially egregious.
Florida law caps the amount of a punitive damages award at three times the combined amount of economic and non-economic damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. Punitive damages are awarded by juries—not negotiated as part of a settlement, and a judge has the discretion to reduce the amount of the award.
Contact a Semi-Truck Accident Attorney for More Information
Semi-truck accidents are scary when they happen and can be scary to recover from. Injuries can be devastating and completely life-changing. While you are doing the hard work of physical recovery, trust your financial recovery to a team of caring lawyers who have the experience and knowledge to handle your case from start to finish.
Orlando, FL 32814