There are 3 key things to know about truck accident lawsuit settlements: They can happen at any time between the accident and the trial verdict, there is a huge range of settlement amounts, and the trucking company’s insurance coverage may not cover all of it.
What are 3 things to know about truck accident cases?
There are 3 things that trucking accident victims, their loved ones, and the general public should know about settling a truck accident case:
- a settlement can happen at any time – from the first days after the accident to the moment before a trial jury returns with a verdict,
- the range of settlements from a semi-truck accident is huge, and
- trucking companies are only legally obligated to carry $750,000 in liability insurance.
As every personal injury lawyer knows, each of these important facts can drastically alter a truck accident case.
When do truck accident settlements happen?
A settlement can happen anytime between the immediate aftermath of the truck accident and the moment a jury delivers a verdict.
This is very important for victims to remember. If a representative from an insurance company approaches them in the days after the crash and makes a settlement offer, accepting that offer ends the case. By accepting the settlement, the victim waives his or her rights to bring a lawsuit. This can end the case before many victims even realize that it has begun.
The last point when a settlement can be offered and accepted is right before the jury returns with a verdict. This would mean that the case made it all the way to a trial without being settled out-of-court.
Many truck accident settlements happen soon after the lawsuit is filed, or soon after the victim established an attorney-client relationship with a reputable personal injury attorney. Insurance companies see either of these developments as a sign that the victim knows their rights and is willing to invoke them. When insurance companies see that they are going to have to deal with a truck accident attorney, they will start to make reasonable settlement offers.
However, many victims have financial obligations that keep them from prolonging their case. This can prevent them from receiving what they deserve in a settlement. Some insurers know this and will delay cases to increase the financial pressure on the victim.
What is the average settlement amount for a semi-truck accident?
For tractor-trailer accidents, settlements can range from a few thousand dollars to well over $10 million. Saying what an “average” 18-wheeler settlement amount would be is inherently misleading. No two trucking accidents are the same, so there is no “average” case.
The wide range of settlement amounts is due to the legal damages that victims are entitled to recover, should their case go to trial. The potential verdict that the defendants would face will inform their settlement offers, outside of the courtroom.
The legal damages that the victim can recover from the defendants include:
- medical bills or medical expenses,
- lost wages and earning capacity,
- costs of repairing or replacing property damage,
- pain and suffering,
- loss of consortium, and potentially even
- punitive damages.
However, the personal injury laws in most states will diminish those legal damages by the percentage of fault that the victim brought into the motor vehicle accident. This can drastically reduce the compensation that the victim will recover. Some states will not hold defendants liable for accidents that the victim mainly caused.
For example: Bill is left paralyzed after a big rig hits him head-on. A jury finds that he has suffered $50 million in legal damages for medical treatment related to his spinal cord and head injury, as well as his traumatic brain injury. However, the jury also finds that Bill was 80 percent responsible for the auto accident because he was running a red light. If the vehicle accident happened in California or Florida, where pure comparative negligence is the law,1 Bill would be entitled to recover only $10 million. If the commercial truck accident happened in Texas, though, Bill would be entitled to nothing because he was more than half at fault.2
The shared fault laws of the state where the accident occurred are only one factor, though. The following factors can also significantly alter the settlement amount:
- whether the victim’s severe injuries are permanent or not, or if they led to physical disfigurement,
- whether the injuries will permanently deprive the victim of earning an income in the future,
- the age of the victim,
- the victim’s occupation and education level,
- whether the victim has a spouse, children, or other family members who can bring a loss of consortium claim,
- the behavior of the trucking company before the crash, and
- how badly the truck driver was driving the vehicle.
A skilled truck accident lawyer from a local law firm can stress how these factors, as well as others, increase the value of the victim’s claims.
Do trucking companies have to carry insurance for personal injury cases?
Yes, federal regulations require trucking companies to carry liability insurance. This insurance protects the company from financial ruin by covering the costs of a personal injury case.
However, the minimum liability coverage is only $750,000.3 This amount was set when the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 was passed. Since 1980, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, of FMCSA, has never increased it. Because of inflation, this minimum amount is only a fraction of its original value.
This means that trucking companies only have to carry $750,000 in liability coverage to comply with the law. While three-quarters of a million dollars sounds like a significant sum, it does not even cover many moderate truck crashes, anymore. Severe car accidents, especially those that cause fatal, life-altering, or serious injuries, have far more legal damages than that. Severe commercial vehicle accidents involving large trucks are even worse. Most wrongful death claims settle for more.
The low minimum requirement for the company’s liability insurance policy matters for victims. If a trucking company’s driver causes a severe crash, the trucking company can be held liable through the respondeat superior doctrine. The trucking company would have to pay for the costs of the truck accident claim, even though it was their driver who actually caused his truck to hit the passenger vehicle. But if the company only has the FMCSA’s minimum mandated policy limits, that coverage will likely run out well before the victim is fully compensated. The rest of the compensation would have to come out of the trucking company’s business bank accounts. If those accounts are low, the victim may never get what he or she deserves.
- Li v. Yellow Cab Co., 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975) (California) and Florida Statutes 768.81 (Florida).
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.
- 49 CFR 387.9.