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How To Prove Negligence in a Truck Accident

Being involved in a truck accident can be a traumatizing and potentially fatal experience. Many truck accidents result in serious injury, and they’re very common in the U.S.: According to government officials, in 2019, 4,805 large trucks were involved in crashes resulting in fatalities, 60,744 large trucks were involved in crashes resulting in injury, and 110,256 resulted in towaways.

Being hit by a large truck and suffering damages means you may be legally entitled to compensation. To earn these damages, you must prove the other party was negligent.

What Is Negligence?

Negligence in the context of a truck accident means someone committed an act or failed to perform an act that resulted in the accident taking place. This does not necessarily mean full blame resides on the negligent party but instead can mean they were only partially responsible.

Examples of negligence include driving while under the influence or an employer allowing a driver to operate the vehicle while under the influence, driving while fatigued, texting, speeding, failing to follow traffic signs, or driving an unsafe vehicle such as if its brakes are not maintained properly or its cargo was loaded incorrectly.

How Can I Prove Negligence?

To prove negligence, you must be able to demonstrate:

  • The defendant did or did not do something that caused the accident
  • The negligence resulted in the accident
  • The defendant suffered damages that you, the plaintiff, are legally entitled to

Proving that the other party was negligent is largely determined by how comprehensive your documentation is. If you wrote down important aspects of the accident and took photos, you will be in a far better position to gain compensation either from the insurance companies or the guilty party.

You also must establish damages. This can include medical expenses, lost wages, or permanent loss of function in some part of the body.

What Should I Do After an Accident?

What you do after an accident can be crucial in proving negligence occurred.

Accept Medical Care or Document the Scene

First, call 911. The dispatcher will ask you questions about the scene. You should expect an ambulance to show up to offer medical care to anyone involved in the accident who may have been injured. Even if you don’t believe you’re seriously injured, you should still accept medical care. Shock and adrenaline can mask pain and injury. If you discover that you were injured later, it will be more difficult to prove your case, and the insurance company will have cause to say your injuries are not as serious as you claim because you refused medical care at the scene.

If you’re not offered an ambulance ride by medics, take the time to share information with the truck driver. Names and phone numbers are crucial as well as home and work addresses. Get a photo of the truck driver’s license which will look different from a regular car driver’s license. Take photos of the scene and make sure you catch license plate numbers. Don’t just take photos of the vehicles involved but also the surrounding area. Traffic signals, debris, and skid marks can all be useful in proving negligence.

Ask the officers present for a copy of the police report, as it may come in handy.

Write an Injury Demand Letter

Sending an injury demand letter to the insurance company is how you begin negotiations. This letter is a comprehensive list of all your expenses as a result of the accident. It should include damages to property as well as medical bills. Itemize each expense so the insurance company knows exactly which cost is associated with which event. At the end of the letter, include the total dollar amount you’re asking for.

The insurance company will write you back and give a counter-offer with what they believe is the appropriate amount. You may then argue that the insurance company owes you more and include clear explanations why. This back-and-forth will continue until one of two things happens: You and the insurance company agree on a settlement or negotiations break down and you must pursue your case in court.

Keep in Mind Other Important Factors

Some aspects of the case will vary depending on the state the accident happened in. The statute of limitations is one important piece to consider, as there can be wide differences in how long you have to file a lawsuit. As a general rule, the longer you wait to act, the weaker your case is.

The insurance company may have a maximum coverage amount. If it’s a particularly high number, they’re more likely to fight harder to protect their finances.

Who Is At Fault?

This can be a tricky question to answer as there may be multiple parties involved. Because truck drivers are often employees the employer may be at fault if, for instance, they allowed the employee to drive a truck when they knew it was risky. This might mean the driver had a known problem with alcohol abuse, for example.

The employer of the truck driver will have their own insurance, and there may be an argument between both your insurance company and the employer’s insurance company as to who was at fault for the accident.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Some states have what is called comparative negligence laws. This means the amount you receive is dependent upon how much you share fault for the accident. For example, if the court determines you are 50% at fault for the accident, you will only receive 50% of the damages you demand.

There are subtypes of comparative negligence. These include:

  • Pure comparative negligence means you can receive damages even if it’s determined you were 99% at fault for the accident. This would result in you receiving 1% of damages. 13 states use pure comparative negligence.
  • Modified comparative negligence means you will not receive compensation if the amount of fault exceeds a certain percentage. For example, if you were above 50% at fault, then you may not be entitled to any compensation. 10 states follow the 50% fault rule. 23 other states use a 51% rule meaning that if your fault percentage is 51% or higher you may not be entitled to damages.
  • Slight/gross negligence replaces the percentage-based system to include two categories: Slight and gross. If the court determines your contribution to the accident to be “slight” meaning most of the fault lies with the other party, then you’re entitled to more than if your contribution was “gross” which means you were primarily responsible. Only South Dakota uses this system.
  • Pure contributory negligence means you may not be entitled to compensation if you were at all at fault for the accident. In other words, if it’s determined that you were in any way responsible for the accident, you may be barred from receiving any compensation at all. Four states and Washington, D.C. use this system.

When Should I Seek Legal Advice?

If you’ve been involved in a truck accident and want to pursue a claim, you can do it on your own, but it’s unlikely you will earn all that you’re owed without the help of an attorney with experience in truck accident claims. Contact us at Fielding Law to discuss what your options are after suffering damages as a result of a truck accident.

Sources:

https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/data-and-statistics/large-truck-and-bus-crash-facts-2019#A6

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/comparative-negligence.asp

https://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/auto-accident/evidence-car-accident-case.html

https://schneiderinjuryattorney.com/what-is-a-demand-letter-what-should-it-include/

https://jarrettlawfirm.com/5-steps-to-win-a-truck-accident-lawsuit-in-tx/

https://thefleckfirm.com/what-is-negligence/