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 vast 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 you, your 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-trailer or other large truck crash is huge, and
- trucking companies are only legally obligated to carry $750,000 in liability insurance.1
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 you to remember. If a representative from an insurance company approaches you in the days after the crash and makes a settlement offer, accepting that offer ends the case.
By accepting the settlement, you waive your rights to bring a lawsuit. This can end the case before you 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
- you established an attorney-client relationship with a reputable personal injury attorney.
Insurance companies see either of these developments as a sign that you
- know your rights and
- are 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, you may have financial obligations that keep you from prolonging your case. This can prevent you from receiving what you deserve in a settlement. Some insurers know this and will delay cases to increase the financial pressure on you.
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 you are entitled to recover, should your 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 you 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 support and funeral expenses if the crash resulted in a fatality,
- 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 you brought into the motor vehicle accident. This can drastically reduce the compensation that you will recover. Some states will not hold defendants liable for accidents that you mainly caused.
For example: Bill is left paralyzed after a trucker driving 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,2 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.3
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 your severe injuries are permanent or not, or if they led to physical disfigurement,
- whether the injuries will permanently deprive you of earning an income in the future,
- your age,
- your occupation and education level,
- whether you have 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 your 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 $750,000.4 This amount was set when the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 was passed.5
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. If a trucking company’s driver causes a severe crash, the trucking company can be held liable through the respondeat superior doctrine.6
The trucking company would have to pay for the costs of the truck accident claim, even though it was their driver who actually caused their truck to hit your passenger vehicle. Though if the company only has the FMCSA’s minimum mandated policy limits, that coverage will likely run out well before you are fully compensated.
The rest of the truck accident compensation would have to come out of the trucking company’s business bank accounts. If those accounts are low, you may never get what you deserve.
Are you a truck accident victim? Contact us for a consultation.
- 49 CFR 387.9.
- Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 804 (California); Florida Statutes 768.81. See also N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 1411.
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001. See also N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1; NRS 41.141.
- 49 CFR 387.9.
- H.R.6418 – Motor Carrier Act of 1980.
- For example, Moreno v. Visser Ranch, Inc. (