Semi-Truck Accident Claims and Injury Compensation

Semi-truck accidents lead to high-dollar injury and death claims. Here’s how to seek fair personal injury compensation for your losses.

The number of tractor-trailer accidents is increasing annually. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports more than 119,000 injury crashes, with more than 4,000 fatalities over the course of one year.¹

A motor vehicle collision with an 18-wheeler is a traumatic experience. Tractor-trailer wrecks can leave victims with severe, life-changing injuries.

If your life has changed because of a semi-truck accident, it’s important to know how to prepare your personal injury insurance claim for maximum compensation.

What to Do After a Semi-Truck Accident

Tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers, or semi-trucks. Whatever you call them, when a big rig hits your vehicle, immediately call 911 for help. Ask someone else to call if you’re unable.

Tell the dispatcher your location, that you’ve been in an accident with a semi-truck, and you need help. Admit you are injured and shaken up, and tell the dispatcher if anyone else is hurt, trapped, or thrown from their car.

The dispatcher will want to know if there are hazards at the scene like leaking fuel, downed power lines, or if the truck that hit you is carrying a dangerous load.

Never Refuse Medical Care

When help arrives, the police will begin to secure the scene, and medical responders will evaluate each person for injuries. Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. Some types of injuries are painfully obvious, like bleeding wounds and broken bones, but you can have potentially life-threatening injuries that aren’t immediately apparent like internal bleeding or closed head trauma.

Shock and excitement can mask injury symptoms. This is not the time to be tough. Tell the paramedics about every symptom, no matter how mild. If paramedics want to take you directly to the hospital, go with them.

Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident is a terrible mistake. The insurance company will jump at the chance to deny your injury claim, arguing that your injuries are not related to the accident.

If you aren’t taken straight to the hospital from the scene, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible. If your doctor can’t see you the day of the crash, go the nearest emergency department or urgent care center.

Collect the Trucker’s Information

Exchange information with the truck driver including your full names, home and work addresses, home and work phone numbers, email addresses, and any other relevant contact information.

Ask to see the driver’s license. Most states require drivers to show their driving permit after an accident. Truck drivers should have a special driver’s license, so pay attention. Take a picture of the trucker’s license, if you can.

When a tractor-trailer is involved, you’ll need specific information about the truck, such as:

  • The license number of the cab
  • The name, address, and contact information of the cab owner, if different from the driver
  • The driver’s insurance information
  • The company who owns or hired the truck
  • Information about the cargo on the truck

Gather Evidence from the Scene

Evidence gathered at the accident scene can help your injury claim, but don’t try to gather evidence if you’re injured. Delaying medical treatment or aggravating your injuries will do your insurance claim more harm than good.

If you’re able, collect as much additional evidence as you safely can:

Photographs: Use your camera or cell phone to take photographs of the accident scene. Include photos of the truck and your car. Take pictures of the point of impact on the vehicles.

Try to take photos or videos of skid marks, road conditions, and damage to the surrounding area. Try to capture images of the truck driver and truck passengers, and any witnesses to the accident.

Detailed notes: Write down your observations at the scene. Use any paper you can find to make your notes or type or dictate information into your cell phone while it’s fresh in your mind.

Be sure to note admissions the truck driver may make like, “I’m sorry,” or “I didn’t see you.” The same goes for witnesses who may have heard admissions the driver made. As soon as possible, transfer all your notes into a journal.

Witness statements: Witnesses and their statements are invaluable. The police may not have spoken with everyone who saw the accident. Get as much contact information as possible from potential witnesses.

Keep in mind, witnesses aren’t legally required to talk to you or the police. If you find a cooperative witness, ask them to write down what they saw and heard, and to sign and date their written statement.

Surveillance cameras: Look for security and red-light cameras close to the accident scene. Note their location. Surveillance cameras are often attached to businesses, schools, or municipal light poles that take photographs of intersections or railroad crossings.

If any of the camera owners won’t share copies of the footage, in a lawsuit your attorney can get them through the discovery process.

Return to the scene: The next day, if you’re well enough, return to the scene. If you can’t, have a friend or family member help. Measure skid marks. Take pictures of street signs or other objects that may have been moved or repaired since the accident.

Who Pays for Your Injuries?

Semi-trucks can weigh anywhere from 16,000 to 20,000 pounds. Depending on the speed, it can take a semi up to three times longer to stop than a passenger car.

Big truck accidents are five times more likely to cause serious injuries and death than accidents involving two or more passenger vehicles.

State and local regulations monitor the trucking industry. They ensure big rigs like semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles operate safely. Regulations regarding truck maintenance, driver eligibility, and cargo capacity are but a few of the rules in place to protect public safety.

Truckers Have a Duty of Care

All drivers on American roadways have a duty of care, meaning an obligation to look out for the safety of others. A driver’s duty includes:

  • Keeping a proper lookout
  • Obeying traffic laws
  • Using all reasonable means necessary to avoid an accident

The law demands a much higher duty of care for semi-truck drivers. The standards for truck drivers come from state and federal regulations.

Tractor-trailers are very dangerous in a crash situation. Due to the high risk for death and destruction, trucking laws are strictly enforced.

Truck drivers who violate traffic laws or trucking regulations are negligent.  This means they did something wrong or failed to act as a reasonable driver would.

When a truck driver’s negligence leads to an accident, and the accident is the proximate cause (meaning the only reason) for your injuries, then the trucker is liable (responsible) for your damages.

The at-fault truck driver should have liability insurance that can pay for your damages, but the driver may not be the only liable party.

If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, contact a personal injury attorney right away. You may be able to seek compensation from multiple sources if you act fast.

Besides the driver, your attorney can uncover other sources of liability coverage, such as:

  • Truck owner
  • Driver’s employer or client
  • Manufacturer of defective truck parts
  • Business responsible for the cargo

Frequently Abused Trucking Regulations

Successful insurance claims prove the at-fault driver was negligent. In semi-truck accidents, the most effective way to prove negligence is by proving the truck driver violated state or federal regulations.

A violation of a state or federal regulation can all but win your case. Courts have traditionally ruled that trucking violations are clear and unequivocal proof of negligence. Use all the additional proof you can gather, but regulatory violations can be a deciding factor in your favor.

Two frequently violated trucking regulations are:

CDL Regulations

Tractor-trailer drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

To obtain a CDL, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) requires a driver to pass a series of tests designed solely for commercial truck drivers.  There are different levels of CDL, depending on the size of the truck. The larger the tractor-trailer, the more stringent the test.

State laws vary, but all must comply with federal DOT laws and regulations. These regulations require a driver demonstrate skills such as:

  • Maneuvering the full rig for parking, backing, and turning
  • Maintaining the lights, tires, and other equipment
  • Pre-trip inspections
  • Hazardous materials containment regulations and procedures

In addition to obtaining a CDL license, drivers must pass a drug test and physical exam to be certified as fit to drive an 18-wheeler.

Log Book Regulations

Semi-truck drivers must keep a logbook and record such items as:

  • Hours-of-service and hours spent resting each day
  • Load pick-up dates
  • The weight of the truck rig before and after loading cargo
  • Trip destination
  • Load delivery date

What’s Needed to Prove Your Claim?

Proving negligence in a semi-truck accident claim will hinge on your ability to discover crucial information about the truck driver and the driver’s regulatory compliance. This can include:

  • Whether the driver’s CDL license was active or suspended
  • Whether the driver has a criminal record
  • How many prior traffic tickets the driver received
  • How many accidents the driver was in
  • The driver’s financial background, including outstanding debts and judgments
  • Whether the driver’s cargo load was over the legal limit
  • Whether the driver was driving over the allotted legal number of hours
  • Whether the driver deviated from the intended route and destination
  • Whether the driver was taking medication
  • Whether the driver was drunk or high from alcohol or drugs

You’ll find some of the information you need in the official police report. But don’t expect the truck driver, who will undoubtedly have a lawyer, to hand over any confidential or potentially incriminating evidence without a subpoena.

Get the Help You Need to Win

Insurance companies think in terms of damages, meaning the financial value of the harm caused to you. It’s no surprise that for insurance companies it all boils down to money, and truck accident claims are no different.

Property damage claims can usually be settled directly with the insurance company. Property damages include the costs to repair your car, hire a rental while it’s in the shop, or the value of your vehicle if it’s totaled. These damages also include items damaged or lost in the accident like glasses, computers, clothing, and your trunk full of groceries.

Bodily injury claims are a different story. You may not be able to get fair personal injury compensation on your own.

Bodily Injury Damages

If you’ve fully recovered from soft tissue injuries and only missed a few weeks of work, you can probably negotiate directly with the adjuster for a good settlement.

Your claim value is the total of your medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and a nominal amount for pain and suffering.

Soft tissue injuries include:

  • Scrapes, bruises, and minor cuts
  • Sprained or torn ligaments, tendons, or muscles
  • Minor burns
  • Whiplash and back strain

We’ve made it easier for you to demand compensation with this sample Semi-Truck Accident Demand Letter.

Hard injuries are serious, potentially life-threatening injuries that often have a permanent effect on your quality of life.

Hard injuries include:

  • Fractured bones
  • Amputations
  • Scars, especially facial scars
  • Third-degree burns
  • Spinal cord and other debilitating back injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries, including concussion
  • Internal organ damage

Hard Injuries Are High-Dollar Claims

Severe injury and wrongful death claims arising from semi-truck accidents are complex and expensive claims. Thanks to the FMCSA liability insurance rules, there can be millions of dollars on the table after a big rig crash.

Insurance companies won’t pay large settlements without a fight. They will leave no stone unturned to find reasons to deny your claim or reduce your compensation. You’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney to get the insurance companies to pay the true value of your claim.

The truth is, insurance companies routinely make lower offers to claimants who don’t have an attorney. You have too much at stake to risk handling severe injury claims on your own.

Let your attorney fight the big battles for you. Even if you, or your deceased loved one, had a pre-existing condition or was partially at fault for the accident, in most cases your attorney can overcome those challenges.

Your attorney won’t get paid unless you do. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.

Semi-Truck Accident Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>