Our economy depends on large trucks to transport goods. If you recently bought something from a grocery or appliance store, it likely got there via truck. In fact, trucks move 71 percent of all freight in the United States, per trucking.org. Indeed, our society couldn’t function without trucks on the road.
However, the prevalence of these large vehicles has negative consequences as well—serious traffic accidents. Fatal truck accidents are part of the reality in which we live. According, to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, over 4,000 people were killed in truck accidents in just one recent year. Most of these fatalities were passenger vehicle occupants.
These fatal accidents not only end a life prematurely, they often leave the bereaved with a litany of problems, including emotional trauma, medical bills, loss of income, and an unsure financial future. Of course, many people will explore legal avenues to obtain relief for themselves and their families.
A lot happens before a legal claim is even filed and being informed of the process is critical to making the right decisions after such a life-changing event. Furthermore, many laws, regulations, and customs govern fatal truck accidents and their aftermath, whether or not they were followed correctly may be relevant to your legal strategy.
At the Scene
In most jurisdictions, the law requires that all vehicles remain at the scene of the accident. A driver caught fleeing an accident, especially one where a fatality occurred, could end up with serious fines and even prison time.
The police and emergency medical personnel will arrive at the scene to treat the injured and ask questions. The police will gather information about the accident by analyzing the scene and talking to witnesses. The evidence gathered by the officer, in addition to his opinion on what caused the accident, will be compiled in an accident report. This report may prove very valuable later on in the event of a lawsuit. The officer’s report is also valuable as a means of proving fault for an insurance claim. Additionally, both police officers and medical personnel can testify in a trial proceeding if need be.
An investigation will follow any serious accident. Local law enforcement will likely investigate whether there was criminal wrongdoing. Additionally, federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may become involved, especially if the accident took place on the interstate.
The NTSB could deploy a team of experts known as a go team. The go team will analyze the scene of the accident and its aftermath, talk to witnesses, and gather other important information. The go teams, and the NTSB generally, are particularly interested in why serious accidents occur and what can be done to prevent them.
The Carrier’s Obligations
The carrier is required to take certain steps after the accident. Firstly, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires the carrier to register any accidents involving their vehicles within one year. To register, the carrier must describe the accident and where it took place and give the name of the driver and the truck number.
The family of the deceased may wish to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In this context, a wrongful death lawsuit claims that the accident, and the decedent’s death, were caused by the wrongdoing of another party.
Wrongful death lawsuits are often brought under a theory of negligence. To prove negligence, the plaintiffs must demonstrate that the defendant owed the decedent a duty of care, the defendant violated that duty, the death occurred, and the death was caused by the defendant violating its duty of care. For example, if the accident occurred because the truck driver ran a red light, he could be sued for negligence.
Many different parties can be sued as part of a negligence claim. If the truck driver made a serious mistake that could have been avoided by better training, the trucking company could be liable. If the local government failed to properly maintain the roads and that contributed to the accident, they could be liable as well.
Obtaining enough evidence to bring a successful wrongful death lawsuit may require an extensive investigation. The plaintiff’s lawyer may talk to witnesses, take sworn statements, and consult experts.
A successful wrongful death lawsuit will result in an award of damages. Damages are a monetary sum awarded by the court to compensate the plaintiffs for their losses. In legal vernacular, damages are often described as intending to make the victims whole again.
The court will look at a variety of factors to determine how much damages a plaintiff is owed, including:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Medical bills
- Loss of income
- Loss of financial support (especially if the decedent was the breadwinner)
- Loss of consortium
In rare cases, the court will award what are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages go beyond what’s necessary to compensate the victim to punish the defendant. The court only grants an award of punitive damages for especially reckless conduct. The judge wants to make it clear to the defendant and society that such conduct is not acceptable. For example, if a truck driver was going 100 miles per hour in a school zone at the time of the accident, this conduct may warrant punitive damages.
When a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help You
Every fatal truck accident is tragic, but some are made more heart-wrenching by the fact that they were both preventable and the result of wrongdoing. So much attention is given to the victim, and rightly so, but those they leave behind are often left to pick up the pieces.
Exorbitant hospital bills, spiraling debt, loss of income, and an unsure financial future are dropped in the lap of the decedent’s loved ones, all while they’re still grieving. Returning to anything resembling normal may seem implausible.
However, there’s no need to suffer in silence. If you lost a loved one to a fatal truck accident because another party was irresponsible, you have rights under the law. With the help of an experienced truck accident attorney, you may obtain financial compensation through the court system.
Meet with an attorney right away. Fatal truck accident lawsuits are often complex and may require extensive investigation. Additionally, many jurisdictions impose a statute of limitations requiring you to file a truck accident claim within a certain time after the accident, those who fail to do so forever forfeit their right to legal recourse—so call a truck accident lawyer today.