If you get into an accident with an 18-wheeler or commercial vehicle, you’ll likely need to be familiar with the personal injury laws and wrongful death regulations in your state. You may have several options to pursue financial compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. Whether the collision was with a trucking company or a third party, the lawsuit will be subject to the state’s (where the accident occurred) statute of limitations. This means that the person filing must take legal action within a specified period of time, or else the case is barred from court.
Though you may assume that you would file a lawsuit against the driver directly, there are often other potentially liable parties. This is the case frequently in truck accident cases where the driver’s employer may be held responsible instead of only the truck driver.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit Against a Truck Company After an Accident?
Each state has a different statute of limitations when it comes to filing a personal injury lawsuit, so it’s a good idea to research your local laws to figure out how long you have to file. Most states have implemented a two-year limitation from the date of injury or when the injury was reasonably discovered. Some states, such as Florida and Maine, extend the standard two-year timeline that other states use. Depending on where you live, the statute will be different. The earlier, the better with filing a bodily injury claim since evidence diminishes and can be harder to track down as time goes on.
How to Start a Lawsuit against a Trucking Company
Though you do not need legal representation when pursuing a claim against a trucking company, it is strongly advised. Trucking companies have deeper pockets and greater insurance coverage than independent truck drivers, so bringing a claim against them in court is challenging. You need an experienced attorney who can prove your claim to receive full and fair compensation.
1. Report the accident immediately
Report the accident immediately to your insurance companies and other necessary parties. The trucking company will assign the claim to a company representative and begin their investigation right away to secure time-sensitive evidence from the scene. Many states also have laws that require a person to submit an accident report to their local DMV, so check with your local regulations to make sure you’re in compliance.
2. Document everything
Write down everything you remember about the accident in a central location that’s easy to access, such as a Notes app or notebook. Take photos and videos of the scene. Make a note of anything you noticed about the driver or their behavior, especially if you think the accident was due to negligence.
3. Talk to Witnesses
Identify potential witnesses and gather their statements for your records. First responders, police officers, passersby, and anyone hanging around the scene should be interviewed and provide their account of events. Keep a log of who you speak to and their contact information should you need to follow up with them in the future.
4. Speak with a Doctor
If bodily injuries have been suffered, go to a doctor as soon as possible. Get a copy of the records and distribute them to the proper parties. Take photos and notes of continuing medical issues as a result of the accident, like whiplash, which can appear days and weeks after the accident.
5. Determine the company’s liability
The last step before starting a lawsuit against a trucking company is to determine if the driver of the other vehicle was an employee of the company when the accident occurred. A skilled attorney can find this information out quickly and begin processing your claim. In general, if the truck driver who caused the accident is classified as an “employee” of the trucking company, you can bring a claim against the trucking company. If the driver is classified as an independent contractor, the trucking company is likely not liable for the accident and the truck driver’s conduct.
There are specific criteria in each state to be classified as an independent contractor. As a general rule, truck drivers can only be considered independent contractors if they have significant control regarding how and when they carry out their work duties and activities. Once you figure out that the driver is classified as an employee, you can proceed to filing a claim. Consult with an attorney in your area to help determine what kind of standard insurance the driver carries and your avenues to compensation.
How Long Does a Trucking Company Lawsuit Take?
The short answer is that how long a lawsuit takes varies widely. Truck accident lawsuits do not settle overnight. The process for settling a truck accident claim depends on several factors. Straightforward claims can be resolved in a matter of months. However, the circumstances of truck accidents often have complicated aspects that will likely take longer to parse out in court. In the case of complex claims where liability is contested or there are potentially multiple parties at fault, cases can take several years before they are ultimately resolved. A licensed attorney can provide a more accurate timeline for compensation but prepare for the long haul.
Will My Truck Company Lawsuit Go to Court?
Whether or not you have to go to court for your trucking accident lawsuit will depend on many factors. Your case only goes to court when you and the other party (or parties) cannot agree on the amount of compensation. Many trucking companies want to settle out of court to avoid expensive court costs or risk a potential larger settlement in court. This is another reason to have a knowledgeable lawyer on your side who knows how to negotiate with an insurance provider and recover the most possible compensation.
Resources for Truck Accident Victims
If you retain representation, your attorney will be your best available resource. However, there are resources available that anyone can benefit from. When it comes to supporting a claim and compiling large truck accident evidence, you shouldn’t pay out of pocket for reliable information and access to resources that can help you during the legal process. From requesting police reports to researching the rules and regulations large trucks have to abide by, below are three free and valuable resources for dealing with a large truck accident claim.
Request police reports
Depending on what city you reside in, you or your attorney will want to submit a public records request for the police’s accident report. Submitting a request directly to the issuing police department is also an adequate alternative if you know the responding officers’ precinct. Public records requests can be made in person, by mail, or online depending on the jurisdiction. A small fee may be charged for the request and most requests come back within a few days. If time is of the essence, most cities offer an expedited rate, so that you can receive that police report as soon as possible. Be advised that although police officers may detail specifics that they believe contributed to the accident, such as the road/weather conditions or skid marks, these observations are seen as the officer’s opinion and are not binding in terms of liability.
Research FMCSA regulations
By law, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is required to provide appropriate copies of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Volumes can be acquired at many local libraries or viewed online here on their eCFR system. The eCFR system makes it relatively easy to access recent updates to the rules that physical copies may not have. The electronic version provides information about when the change took effect and the impact on current regulations. Additionally, the online system allows you to keyword search for pertinent information, making it much more accessible for a layperson to find the materials they need.
Support claim with statistics
If your accident involves a commercial truck, such as a delivery truck or 18-wheeler, you’ll have to work with your insurance provider. To better prepare your claim, check out the Insurance Information Institute (III), an unaffiliated organization dedicated to informing and empowering consumers. Their site features unbiased information relating to highway safety, managing a large truck claim, and fatality statistics. Under the “large trucks” section, there’s safety ratings, regulatory policies, and related safety information that can substantiate your claim and put you in touch with other non-governmental resources.
Ryan Zehl is one of the country’s most accomplished trial lawyers, with a winning track record that has gained him national media acclaim and the esteem of the legal field. He is an advocate for the catastrophically injured and those who have met tragic deaths due to the negligence of others. As founder of the firm Zehl & Associates, he leads an undefeated personal injury law firm that has recovered billions of dollars in due compensation for accident victims across Texas and the United States. Ryan Zehl holds the record for securing the largest truck accident settlement in Texas at $23.5 million—a recent achievement in a long case history of record-setting settlements and verdicts.