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Situated in the American Midwest, South Dakota is known for the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and its rich paleontological history. It also has an expanse of prairies, mountains, and rivers thriving with wildlife.

Unfortunately, the state’s abundant fauna faces perils in the form of vehicles traversing its roadways. In 2022, one-fifth of the truck crashes in the state involved animal collisions. In addition to being a threat to wildlife, truck accidents during that year resulted in 1,089 driver injuries and 38 driver fatalities.

Consequently, the South Dakota Department of Transportation has been working on various countermeasures against road accidents. On Interstate 90, the construction of a fence led to a drastic decline in wildlife collisions

Other programs and campaigns have been created on a state and federal level to protect humans and animals against truck and other vehicular crashes. Additionally, various laws have been implemented to uphold victims' rights.

If you are a truck accident victim in South Dakota and are overwhelmed by your situation and the legal procedures involved, this article can be a good starting point to help you determine the right course of action.

South Dakota’s Laws Related to Animal Collision

Statistics from 2019 to 2020 show there's a one in 53 chance of being involved in an animal collision in South Dakota. In 2022, it was the number one contributing factor in truck crashes in the state. In line with the frequency of this type of accident, two laws cover a possible outcome:

Euthanasia of Animals Injured in Motor Vehicle Accidents

According to Section 41-1-12 of South Dakota law, an animal that incurs severe injuries after being hit by a truck or any other vehicle may be euthanized by the person responsible for the accident or by someone who has come across the animal if they have the ability and means to do so. This is to prevent needless suffering on the animal’s part.

Report of Euthanasia to Department

Section 41-1-13 states that a report must be submitted within 24 hours to a conservation office or the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks if euthanasia was performed in accordance with Section 41-1-12.

South Dakota’s Law Related to Driving at a Reasonable Speed

There’s a significant risk of vehicular crashes during the winter in South Dakota. In fact, from December 2022 to February 2023, 521 truck accidents happened on snowy surfaces, and 434 occurred on icy roads. Additionally, 413 truck crashes in the same period were attributed to drivers driving too fast for the given conditions.

Section 32-25-3 of the law commands operators of trucks and other vehicles to drive at a reasonable speed according to the conditions. This means, for instance, that when paths are slippery due to ice or snow, it is prudent to drive slower than usual.

Violating this rule counts as a misdemeanor. If you were involved in a truck accident because the other party disobeyed this law, you have grounds to pursue compensation from them.

Right-of-way Laws in South Dakota

In South Dakota, legal rights in the form of rights-of-way are given to the following:

  • Pedestrians in crosswalks.

  • Oncoming traffic if you are turning left.

  • Traffic on a public road if you are coming from a private road, alley, driveway, or building.

  • The vehicle on the right if you arrived at the same time as them at an intersection.

  • Emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks using a siren or air horn.

In these instances, not yielding to the other road user can lead to a misdemeanor charge and four points being added to one’s driver’s license. In addition to having personal consequences, failure to follow the law can affect other parties. In 2022, not yielding the right-of-way resulted in 878 truck accidents within the state. 

If a truck driver struck you or your vehicle after violating South Dakota’s right-of-way rules, you could seek compensation for your damages.

South Dakota’s Law Related to Following Too Closely

Over 10% of truck accidents in the state in 2022 were mainly caused by following the vehicle in front too closely. Most likely, these mishaps could have been avoided if the at-fault parties had followed the law. 

Section 32-26-40 of the state legislation mandates drivers to observe a reasonable distance between them and the vehicle in front. This rule is essential for trucks, which — compared to other vehicles — are larger in terms of size and have a greater potential to cause damage in the event of an accident.

Those who disregard this law can be charged with a misdemeanor and face other legal repercussions if they cause injuries, death, or property damage.

South Dakota’s Distracted Driving Law

Truck drivers in South Dakota are expected to abide by traffic rules and keep their focus on the road. They should not be taking their attention away from driving by using an electronic device, eating, or being distracted by a passenger. 

In 2022, more than 200 truck drivers did not follow the law and caused a distracted driving accident. If you are a victim of this type of vehicular crash, you can hold the at-fault liable through an insurance claim or a lawsuit.

South Dakota’s DUI Law

Driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is very dangerous, not just for the person behind the wheel but for other road users as well. One can even say the risks are higher when the vehicle being operated by an impaired driver is a truck. 

For this reason, South Dakota has imposed a lower blood alcohol content (BAC) threshold for operators of trucks and other commercial vehicles. Regular driver’s license holders can face a DUI charge for having 0.08% BAC level or higher while driving, while commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders can be arrested for DUI for a 0.04% BAC level at a minimum.

The state takes violations of this law seriously, as evident in the severity of the penalties. A first DUI offense leads to CDL suspension for a year, and it goes up to three years if a truck driver is transporting hazardous materials while impaired. A second offense ensures a truck driver can no longer practice their profession since the penalty is a lifetime CDL suspension.

Implied Consent Law

In South Dakota, operating a vehicle means automatically giving consent to being subject to a chemical test to determine one’s BAC level. This can be in the form of a blood, bodily substance, or breath test to check for traces of alcohol or any controlled substance in one’s system.

A chemical test is performed by law enforcement when a person is suspected of driving while impaired. One can ultimately refuse it, but at a cost — refusal can be used as evidence of guilt in a DUI trial. It can also tilt the verdict in favor of the plaintiff if the impaired driver causes an accident and is facing a personal injury or property damage lawsuit.

South Dakota’s Commercial Trucking Insurance Requirements

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s financial responsibility regulations refer to the minimum liability insurance requirements for commercial vehicles. Trucks used for general freight transportation should have a $750,000 liability policy at the very least, while those carrying oil and specific hazardous waste must have $1 million coverage or higher. Trucks transporting other dangerous substances are subject to more liability insurance at $5 million or above. This is because they are more at risk of being involved in a crash.

On a state level, the insurance requirements for vehicles in South Dakota are as follows:

  • $25,000 per person for bodily injury.

  • $50,000 per accident for bodily injury.

  • $25,000 per accident for property damage.

It is also mandatory to obtain underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage, which pays for the damages incurred by a policyholder, their vehicle’s passengers, and their family members in case of an accident caused by someone with insufficient or no insurance coverage. This type of policy also applies to hit-and-run situations.

The minimum liability insurance requirements in the state are definite, but various factors can affect the insurance premium amount for a commercial truck. These include the type of items it will transport, the value of the vehicle itself, additional coverages purchased, and the insurance policy provider.

Policyholders must note that it is not enough to abide by the minimum insurance requirements; all vehicles in the state — including commercial trucks — must carry proof of financial responsibility in the form of an SR-22 document at all times. Not doing so constitutes a Class 2 misdemeanor, which leads to penalties such as a $100 fine, county jail imprisonment for 30 days, or both. It can also result in a license suspension. Consequences become more grave if one cannot show proof of insurance after being involved in a truck accident.

How Much Can One Sue for a Truck Accident in South Dakota?

In South Dakota, there’s no cap on the damages a plaintiff can recover in a truck accident lawsuit. Depending on the circumstances and incurred losses, one may sue for economic, noneconomic, and exemplary damages:

  • Economic damages refer to a plaintiff’s monetary losses due to the defendant’s negligence. These include medical costs, rehabilitation expenses, and the loss of economic or educational potential. 

  • Noneconomic damages are the intangible harm from an accident, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress.

  • Exemplary damages, also known as punitive damages, serve as the defendant’s punishment if they are found guilty of maliciously or willfully causing harm.

South Dakota’s Statute of Limitations for Truck Accidents

In South Dakota, individuals suffering from injuries after being involved in a truck accident are given three years to pursue legal action. The timeframe begins on the date the incident happened. The same period applies in cases of wrongful death, with the three-year window starting from when the victim died. Meanwhile, those who would like to file a lawsuit for property damage can do so within six years.

Note that there are some exceptions to the statute of limitations. For instance, if the party being sued is a government agency or employee, a personal injury victim has one year to seek damages.

A truck accident victim can file a case anytime within the given timeframe. However, it is advisable to take action and hire an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible while one still has access to witnesses and preserved evidence. A delay in pursuing compensation can also be used by the other party in their defense.

Is South Dakota a Fault State for Insurance Claims?

As a state that follows the fault-based system, South Dakota offers two options to truck accident victims who would like to file an insurance claim for their losses related to injuries, lost income, and property damage:

  • They can file a claim with their insurance provider, which can then collect the damages from the at-fault party’s insurer.

  • They can directly file a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company.

Does South Dakota Follow the Slight/Gross Negligence System for Trucking Accident Lawsuits?

South Dakota abides by a unique negligence system; instead of being assigned a percentage, a party’s level of fault in a personal injury case can be labeled as “slight” or “gross.”

If a plaintiff in a truck accident lawsuit is deemed to have only been slightly negligent, they are entitled to obtain damages, which are reduced based on their degree of fault. Meanwhile, being judged as grossly negligent prevents a truck accident victim from recovering any compensation.

This type of negligence system leaves much room for confusion since the definitions of “slight” and “gross” seem arbitrary. If you are thinking of suing someone after suffering losses due to a truck accident, it would be helpful to seek the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer. They can explain the state’s peculiar negligence system and guide you through various legal processes. Moreover, an attorney can advocate for your right to obtain compensation by working to prove that your level of negligence is only slight at the most.

What Is the Average Settlement for South Dakota Trucking Accident Lawsuits?

The value of damages recoverable in a truck accident is based on the facts surrounding the case, such as the state where the incident occurred and the injuries sustained by the plaintiff.

As such, the total settlement for truck accident lawsuits is usually higher than the compensation for car accident cases since truck crashes generally cause more harm. Some reach six digits, and it’s not uncommon to see truck accident victims acquiring multimillions in awarded damages.

Typically, the final amount of compensation a plaintiff can obtain also depends on their chosen fee arrangement with their lawyer. For personal injury cases, lawyers usually work on a contingency fee basis. 

Note that there are no contingency fee limitations in South Dakota, and the average attorney fees range from 33% to 40% of the total damages. However, one should know that attorney fees and disbursements are considered recoverable damages in the state.

Legal Resources for South Dakota Trucking Accident Victims

South Dakota Department of Public Safety Crash Assistance Program

The state agency’s Crash Assistance Program was created for the victims of vehicular accidents. It educates them about their legal rights, the process of reporting an incident, and ways to recover from their traumatic experience. The program’s webpage points readers to relevant projects, such as the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, as well as online guides to help them deal with financial losses, trauma, and grief.

South Dakota Free Legal Answers Program

The Free Legal Answers Program of the American Bar Association has a site specifically for the people of South Dakota. The initiative functions as an online legal advice clinic staffed by pro bono lawyers who welcome questions related to truck accidents and other non-criminal law matters. Adults from low-income households are qualified to use the service.

Truck Safety Coalition

The Truck Safety Coalition is a nationwide community of truck accident survivors and families of people who have died in truck crashes. They can guide victims through the processes they have experienced firsthand and are committed to providing help through immediate response and long-term support. The volunteers also advocate for better trucking laws through direct communication with policymakers.

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