A Guide for Handling Big Rig & 18-Wheeler Trucking Accidents
The United States is blessed with a vast interstate highway system, where we rely on big rig trucks to move products and deliver items to citizens across the country. There are approximately 2 million big rig trucks in operation in the U.S. – and about 500,000 are involved in accidents each year. Of these, at least 5,000 accidents result in death, with almost all of the fatalities happening to the individual not driving the big rig. Miami is home to one of the largest ports in the country, meaning big rigs traverse up and down I-95 constantly. If you have been injured in an eighteen-wheeler accident, it is important to seek out legal counsel as soon as possible.
First Things First – Seek Medical Attention
If you are injured in an accident, the health and safety of yourself and anyone else involved are of paramount importance. Call an ambulance if anyone is injured and make sure they seek medical treatment immediately.
Next, make contact with the police. Make sure the police interview all relevant witnesses and parties involved, and speak with them yourself if possible. If that is not possible, try to call a relative and tell them the details of the case. Memories recorded at or near the time of the accident happening can be crucial evidence in an accident and injury case.
If you are able, take photos of the accident, including injuries, damage to vehicles or the highway, skid marks, and witnesses (with their permission). If possible, take down the witness information yourself and keep it in a safe place. It will be difficult to remember to do all of this in the aftermath of an accident, so keep an ‘accident kit’ in the glove compartment of your car with a checklist, a file folder, and a notebook for important information.
Who Can You Sue After a Trucking Accident?
If you believe that you were not at fault in the accident, then you should seek out the advice of a competent personal injury attorney. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, you may be able to assert different claims against multiple defendants.
The Truck Driver
If the person driving the 18 wheeler at the time of the accident was an independent owner, you could make a claim against the driver personally, as well as his or her insurance company. However, this could be problematic, particularly if the driver is uninsured or underinsured, and with very little resources. Thankfully, most of the time in Florida, drivers are usually employees or agents of a larger company that may carry their own liability.
Companies are responsible for the actions of their employees if they are negligent within the course and scope of their employment under the theory of vicarious liability. So, if the truck driver was acting without care and caused the accident, while they were delivering goods for that company, then the company may also be sued. Additionally, one of the most common reasons for an 18-wheeler accident in Florida is because of driver fatigue. Sometimes companies fudge the rules about driving time with their employees in order to meet deadlines and earn a higher profit. Drivers are required, under federal law, to work only 70 hours a week – but it is common for employees to push this amount, causing accidents.
Of course, if there are multiple parties involved, it will take some investigation to determine and allocate liability, such as if a third party owns the truck, rented by the company, who then hired the driver to deliver the products. A qualified personal injury attorney will be able to help you develop a claim against the responsible party.
If a company manufactures faulty truck parts, or has repaired them poorly, and it caused the accident, then you might have a cause of action against the manufacturer. Sometimes, these kinds of claims require expert witnesses, such as an accident reconstruction expert, or a mechanic, to determine whether or not the repairs were done to a sufficient standard.
Damages in a Big Rig Accident in Florida
“Damages” is the legal jargon for the potential compensation you could receive if a judge or jury decides you were the victim of an eighteen wheeler accident caused by someone else. Of course, the type and amount of damages you receive are dependent upon the damage you actually suffer, as well as which court hears your case. Sometimes, federal law controls the case instead of Florida law, if the truck was carrying goods across state lines. In this case, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations could apply.
Economic and Non-Economic Damages
Generally speaking, damages are divided into two categories: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are ones that can actually be calculated – things like medical expenses, lost earnings, expenses for child care, and any other money that you lost which was a foreseeable result of the accident. Non-economic damages are more difficult to calculate, and they are designed to compensate the psychological or emotional damage suffered by the victim. These can be things like pain and suffering, physical disfigurement, and mental anguish.
It is often necessary to hire a medical expert to show the judge how an injury has affected your life and that of your family, particularly when the damage is not obvious, like with a brain injury, where the victim can look entirely normal but has significant obstacles in functioning. Many traumatic brain injury “TBI” victims are unable to work at the same level they used to, if at all. Sometimes they have difficulty with processing emotions or speech and have issues with their short-term memory. All of these can have a serious impact on your daily activities, which must be shown to the court in order to be compensated. Florida generally caps non-economic damages, limiting the amount that someone will be able to recover. There is no cap on economic damages in traditional personal injury cases.
The court will sometimes order punitive damages for particularly reprehensible behavior – such as if the 18-wheeler driver was drunk or under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident, or if he was driving recklessly immediately before. These are not often granted, and they are within the full discretion of the court to award. Punitive damages are also capped at either three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000.00, whichever amount is greater (Fla. Sta. Ann. § 768.73).
Florida is a comparative negligence state which means that if you are held to be negligent – even by a small amount – your recovery will be limited by the amount you were negligent. In other words, if you are suing the truck driver, but a court determines that you were speeding, and apportion 30% of the cause of the accident to you, then your damages would be reduced by 30% (and you would stand to receive only 70% of what was actually awarded to you). It essentially apportions fault between parties involved in the accident.
In Florida, the party asserting negligence must show that the party who injured you had a duty to not injure you, and failed to meet that duty; that the duty was related to your injury; and the party’s failure to meet his duty is what actually caused your injury.
If a person dies as the result of an eighteen wheeler accident in Florida, that person’s family will be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party responsible (Florida Statutes 768.19). A personal representative must bring the wrongful death claim, filed on behalf of the victim’s estate and any of their surviving family members. Claimants in a wrongful death lawsuit may be able to receive compensation for the loss of companionship, mental and emotional suffering due to loss of a child, the value of support the victim had provided to his or her surviving family members, and any medical or funeral expenses borne by the survivors or the victim’s estate.
Common Mistakes in Big Rig Accidents
Accepting a Denial of Claim
Insurance companies are hired to make accident claims go away. Most of them will try to convince victims that they have no case to pursue, or that their claim is bogus. Do not take the insurer’s word for it – they are not representing your best interests.
Failing to Thoroughly Research the Trucking Company and Other Corporations
Sometimes, insurers have a bigger policy than their claimants may realize. Employers could offer supplemental insurance, or the victim themselves might have uninsured motorist coverage. If you fail to do your research and look for every possible source of coverage, you could be walking away from a significant sum of money.
Not Getting Expert Witnesses Involved – And Not Soon Enough
Sometimes claimants do not want to spend money on an expert witness, especially if the case is in its early stages. Remember, insurance companies want claims to go away as soon as possible. Once the company is aware of the possibility of a claim, they will mitigate their exposure. Getting an expert witness in early enough can allow them to examine evidence while it is still available, or interview witnesses while their memory is fresh. Also, you to be on an even footing with the insurer who has no doubt spent money on their own experts to mitigate harm. When you are negotiating with them, an expert witness contradicting their own can be a persuasive leverage tool.
Waiting Too Long
In addition to the reasons listed above, evidence, in any case, starts to dissipate over time. By acting early, you are preserving evidence, memories, and putting pressure on the other parties to act. Additionally, in Florida, you must file a personal injury lawsuit within 4 years of the date of occurrence, or you lose the chance to litigate, and a two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits. Waiting around only helps the wrongdoer’s case.
Why You Should Consider a Personal Injury Lawyer
Usually, the first step in any personal injury case is to try to achieve a settlement without having to go to court. An insurance company will almost always try to mitigate their losses and send out a fairly low offer to the victims if they believe their client is at fault. If you speak to another party’s insurance company, then whatever you say could be used to assign fault – either to you, or someone else. If you hire an attorney to speak to the insurance company for you, then you will not have to worry about accidentally admitting fault.
Secondly, the attorney will be able to estimate how much the damage is worth and negotiate a much more favorable outcome than you would be able to on your own. Personal injury attorneys deal with insurance companies every day on almost every type of injury imaginable. Attorneys know their chances of success with a trial, and what is a fair amount to ensure their client is taken care of, without running the risk of getting a lower verdict at trial.
If comparative negligence becomes an issue, then an attorney will be able to mitigate your involvement in the action, and possibly even keep damaging evidence from being shown to the jury if the case proceeds to trial. Personal injury lawsuits can be complex. You must have an understanding of the procedural rules, the rules of evidence, and very often know how to aggressively cross-examine opposing experts. If you have suffered an accident caused by someone else that affects your livelihood and quality of life, an attorney should be by your side to ensure you get every penny you deserve.
Additionally, truck drivers and their companies are highly regulated, with both state and federal laws. You need someone who understands how to litigate in each realm, and how to interpret both sets of law. A good personal injury lawyer will be familiar with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, and Florida statutes and regulations, particularly Chapter 316 of the Florida Statutes.
If you or a loved one has suffered harm as the result of an eighteen-wheeler accident in Florida, speak to a Miami truck accident lawyer as soon as possible. The Law Offices of Prosper Shaked works doggedly to ensure their clients are awarded the compensation they deserve. Call today at (305) 694-2676 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.