After an 18-wheeler accident, victims can expect the trucking company and its insurer to try to settle the case. These parties will try to downplay the victim’s injuries and exaggerate the victim’s role in causing the crash. As evidence is uncovered, settlement talks will heat up. While most accident cases settle out of court, a trial may be necessary.
What is a semi-truck accident case and how does it work?
A truck accident lawsuit is a type of personal injury claim. These claims are formal demands for compensation that are filed in court by the victims of a truck accident. These accidents are sometimes referred to as:
- semi-truck accidents,
- big rig accidents,
- 18-wheeler crashes,
- tractor-trailer crashes, or
- commercial truck accidents.
Truck accidents like these are often far more severe than a typical auto accident involving passenger vehicles. Passenger vehicles and cars tend to weigh around 4,000 pounds. Big rigs usually weigh around 30,000 pounds when they are empty of cargo. When full, federal regulations limit their weight at 80,000 pounds.1 All of this extra weight brings far more force into a collision. That force can lead to drastically different injuries.
The person who has suffered those injuries deserves to be compensated by the person who caused the crash. That is what an 18-wheeler accident lawsuit is designed to do. By gathering evidence of the crash, the victim and his or her attorney can show that they were not responsible. They can then demand compensation for their legal damages from the at-fault party. Those legal damages can cover the victim’s:
Settlement offers are frequently made very early after the crash. They can start well before the lawsuit is filed. The trucking company’s insurance company may approach the victim in the weeks after the crash and make an initial offer. This offer is made to look reasonable, though it is almost always far less than what the victim actually deserves.
Victims who establish an attorney-client relationship with an experienced attorney from a reputable law firm tend to see better settlement offers.
After the lawsuit is filed and evidence of the crash is uncovered, settlement talks get more intense. Most 18-wheeler cases are settled out of court. However, if no settlement is reached, the case will go to trial. There, a jury will determine
- who was at fault for the accident and
- how much compensation the victim deserves.
Most truck accident cases are filed by the victim and his or her personal injury lawyer. If the accident was fatal, the victim’s loved ones can hire a truck accident attorney to file a wrongful death claim on the victim’s behalf.
How long do they take?
Truck accident cases can take anywhere from a few months to several years after the crash to resolve.
The severity of the injuries makes a big difference.
If the victim is fully recovered a month after the accident, it can speed the process up. This is rarely the case, though.
Many truck accident victims suffer severe injuries that require extensive medical treatment that can last years. Because it may remain unclear what the victim’s medical needs are, the costs of their medical expenses will be uncertain, as well. In these cases, it is often wise to wait to file the truck accident lawsuit until the victim’s treatment plan is settled. Sometimes, lawyers will wait to file the lawsuit until just before the statute of limitations has expired. This can mean that several years have passed since the crash, and the lawsuit is only just beginning.
Once the personal injury case has been filed in court, it often takes a year or two to make it to trial. However, the vast majority of personal injury claims are settled before that.
What are some common injuries after an 18-wheeler accident?
Truck accidents involving 18-wheelers are often severe. Some of the most common and serious injuries that victims suffer after being hit by a large truck include:
- broken bones,
- head injuries, including traumatic brain injuries,
- neck injuries,
- injuries to the spinal cord,
- dismemberments and disfigurements,
- back injuries,
- shoulder injuries,
- life-threatening cuts or lacerations,
- nerve damage,
- whiplash, and
- chronic pain.
Additionally, fatal injuries are disproportionately common in accidents involving large commercial vehicles.
What is the average truck accident settlement amount?
Because severe injuries are so common, settlement amounts for accidents involving an 18-wheeler truck are generally far higher than for normal motor vehicle or car accidents. However, no two cases are the same. This makes it impossible to determine an “average” settlement amount because there is no “average” truck accident case. However, 18-wheeler settlements can range from as little as a few thousand dollars to over $10,000,000.
Some of the most important factors in determining the settlement amount will be:
- whether the victim was partially at-fault for the accident,
- the shared fault rules in the state where the accident occurred,
- the extent of the victim’s injuries,
- whether the injuries will prevent the victim from working or earning an income in the future,
- whether the victim has close enough relations to support a loss of consortium claim,
- how badly the truck driver was driving,
- whether the trucking company was following the law or behaving recklessly,
- the victim’s occupation, which will influence the extent of his or her lost wages and potential earning capacity, and
- the age of the victim.
Because the costs of these crashes are so high, and because it is foreseeable that trucking companies would try to cut costs by only keeping a minimal amount of liability insurance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires most trucking companies to carry at least $750,000 of coverage on their liability insurance policy.2 This amount, however, has not changed since the law was passed in 1980.
Many severe trucking accidents are above the average settlement amount. In these cases, the policy limits on the trucking company’s insurance coverage might be met. This can leave the victim under-compensated. This makes it even more important to see a truck accident lawyer. They can know who else can be held liable for the crash. (Also see our page on the average settlement for car accident neck and back injuries.)