Fatal Truck Accident Lawyer
Statistics About Fatal Truck Accidents
Even though truck manufacturers have taken steps to make trucks safer, it has still not reduced the number of fatalities in truck accidents. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 4,102 reported deaths that resulted from accidents involving large trucks in 2017. This number has increased by 30 percent since 2003. In accidents involving a passenger vehicle and a truck, 97 percent of the fatalities were occupants of the vehicles that collided with the trucks. This is because of the disparity in size between passenger cars and large trucks.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, most fatal truck accidents in 2016 occurred in rural areas.
- 61 percent occurred in rural areas
- 27 percent occurred on Interstate highways
- 15 percent fell into both categories by occurring on rural Interstate highways.
Truck Accident Wrongful Death Claim
If a loved one has been killed in a truck accident, the family can file a wrongful death claim. A truck accident wrongful death claim is one that is brought by the family to recoup for the damages that they have suffered for the loss of their loved one. Wrongful death claims can include the following compensation:
- Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before they died
- Any medical bills incurred by the deceased to treat their injuries before they died
- Financial support that the loved ones would have received had the deceased still been alive
- Costs for the funeral and burial
- Any kind of emotional support or nurturing that the deceased would have provided
- Loss of consortium for the spouse or partner
A truck accident wrongful death lawsuit is a special kind of tort that is brought by the family since the deceased cannot bring it on their own. While it is different in some regards, there is also a commonality with a regular personal injury claim. The common element is that the plaintiff will have to prove that someone has been negligent, and that their negligence caused the death.
The Test for Negligence
In order to successfully prove that another party was negligent, there are certain elements that must be shown. This is the same for any personal injury suit, including truck accidents. Each of these elements must be demonstrated in court in order to successfully recover from the defendant. These elements are as follows:
- The defendant must owe a duty of care to others. For example, truck drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road.
- The duty of care must be breached by the truck driver not acting as a reasonable driver would. For example, travelling at an excessive speed or making an illegal turn are instances in which the trucker would not be upholding their duty of care.
- The defendant must be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s loved one’s death. In other words, the death would not have occurred but for the defendant’s actions. If the truck driver was involved in an accident, but they were swerving to avoid a third driver that was doing something wrong, the truck driver would not be the proximate cause of death.
If the defendant has been negligent, the court will also look at the actions of the deceased to make sure that they were not to blame for the accident. Some states will not allow plaintiffs to recover any damages at all if the deceased driver was negligent in any way. Most states will reduce the amount of the plaintiff’s recovery by the amount the deceased driver was negligent. In many states, if the plaintiff’s loved one bears more than half of the responsibility for the accident, they cannot recover anything in court. This rule for allocating damages is called comparative negligence.
Suing the Truck Driver’s Employer
When filing a truck accident wrongful death lawsuit, it is important to be able to sue either the truck driver’s employer or the company for whom they are transporting the freight. Many trucking companies will make their truck drivers independent contractors in order to both avoid having to pay them certain benefits and to escape liability for their actions. However, this does not completely preclude the company’s liability in the event that the truck driver causes an accident. It is vital to have the company as the defendant since they have access to more funds that could compensate a family for the loss of a loved one.
The court will likely look at the specifics of the situation in order to see whether the driver’s actions can be attributed to the company. Usually, an employer will be liable for the acts of the employee committed within the scope of their employment. When a driver is on a route for the company or returning from the drive, the company would ordinarily be found liable for an accident. The legal question revolves around whether the truck driver’s actions were within the scope of their employment.
As mentioned above, many truck drivers do not work for the company on whose behalf they are hauling the goods. Companies have now turned to more complicated structures where the drivers are not their employees. If the company cannot be found liable, families could only turn to the individual truck driver and their insurance to obtain compensation for the loss of their loved one.
The good news for families is that the company’s designation of the driver as an independent contractor is not the end of the story in terms of the company’s liability. Companies are not simply allowed to call a driver an independent contractor without an analysis of the exact relationship between the driver and the company. For example, if a driver is required to receive a certain minimum wage or benefits than they are treated as an employee. Similarly, if the company has the ability to direct the driver’s route or manner of performance then the driver is not treated as an independent contractor.
Truck Accident Wrongful Death Jury Awards
Jury Verdict for $4 million in Chicago (2019) – A 7-year-old girl was struck and killed by a tractor driver.
Jury Verdict for $9.264 million in Illinois (2007) – A laborer was struck by a dump truck while working on a water project. The trucker failed to exercise due care to avoid hitting the person and received a traffic citation for the incident. $8 million of the verdict was for the loss to society.
Jury Verdict for $25 million in Florida (2018) – A 20-year old student was riding her bicycle through an intersection and collided with a dump truck. The jury awarded her family $25 million even though the student had cocaine and alcohol in her system at the time of the accident. Regardless, the truck driver proceeded through the intersection too quickly and failed to properly check their mirrors. The verdict was substantial even though the jury found that the deceased bore 20 percent of the responsibility for the accident.
Jury Verdict for $15 million in Illinois (2017) – A 60-year old woman was killed when she was rear-ended by a truck that was traveling 60 miles per hour. The woman had stopped for an accident ahead of her, but the truck driver did not allow adequate time to stop his vehicle. The plaintiff introduced dashcam video evidence that appeared to show a drowsy trucker behind the wheel.
Jury Verdict for $11.05 million in California (2019) – This case did not even involve an accident where a truck hit another driver or a pedestrian. Instead, it involved a case where a driver died after he crashed into a truck that was illegally parked on the side of a road. There was a dispute over whether the truck pulled over to the side of the highway due to a mechanical failure or because the driver needed to relieve himself. In any event, it shows that wrongful death claims against trucking companies are not limited to collisions.
Have You Lost a Loved One in a Truck Accident?
The Eichholz Law Firm can help families who have lost loved ones in accidents involving trucks such as tractor-trailers and 18-wheelers. It is essential not only to have legal representation, but to also have effective counsel due to the high dollar value of a potential verdict or settlement. The trucking company will likely work to create a strong defense to avoid liability given the amount of money at stake, but an aggressive truck accident wrongful death lawyer can counter them.
Call The Eichholz Law Firm today for a free consultation and to find out how we can help you file a truck accident wrongful death lawsuit.
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2017”, United States Department of Transportation, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/data-and-statistics/large-truck-and-bus-crash-facts-2017. Accessed July 23, 2019.
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “The Large Truck Crash Causation Study – Analysis Brief”, United States Department of Transportation, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief. Accessed July 23, 2019.
- Nolo. “Trucking Accidents: Common Causes & Liability”, Nolo, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/trucking-accidents-common-causes-liability-30156.html. Accessed July 23, 2019.
- IIHS. “Fatality Facts 2017 Large trucks”, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/large-trucks. Accessed July 23, 2019.