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Semi-Truck Accident 101: Everything You Need to Know

July 23, 2021 By Flora Templeton Stuart

After a wreck with a semi-truck or other commercial vehicle, there can be a lot of uncertainty regarding your physical, emotional, and financial future. Truck accident litigation is complex and obtaining fair compensation can be difficult, especially if you have been seriously injured. The best way to protect yourself is to know what to look out for after a semi-truck accident and take the necessary steps to maximize your settlement.

What Are “Trucks” in Personal Injury Cases?

Depending on the context, a truck can mean anything from an SUV or pickup truck to an eighteen-wheeler. Although ‘truck’ is a broad term encompassing several types of vehicles, including personal pickup trucks and other light duty vehicles, federal laws and regulations place additional constraints on what can be considered a ‘truck’ within the context of a personal injury case.

The FMCSA uses the term ‘commercial motor vehicles’ to describe a class of vehicles characterized by their signature weight and size and primarily used for commerce. Vehicles falling within this category are:

  • Those having a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Designed to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver
  • OR transporting hazardous materials in quantities requiring the vehicle to be placarded.

Some of the most common types of big trucks cited in personal injury cases include:

  • Semi-Trucks
  • Tractor Trailers
  • Truck Tractors
  • Box Trucks
  • Garbage Trucks
  • Tankers
  • Buses
  • Moving Trucks

What Damages Can I Collect after a Semi Truck Accident?

The toll that a semi-truck accident can take on your physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing can be jarring. After the wreck, victims are often left with thousands of dollars in medical bills, lost wages, and other losses. They may also develop chronic pain, have trouble completing household tasks, or endure emotional distress in the months or years following a collision.

To obtain compensation for these injuries and losses, or damages, victims can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. In Kentucky, there are two types of damages available for victims of trucking accidents:

Economic Damages

Economic damages, also known as general damages, provide compensation for the true monetary losses that a victim suffers as a direct result of the accident. Compensatory damages may include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earnings
  • Repair/replacement of damaged property

Non-Economic Damages

 Non-economic damages provide compensation for the damages that are not objectively measurable through documentation or billing. Non-economic damages are more difficult to calculate than economic damages, but they can be a substantial part of the final settlement. Some examples of non-economic damages are:

  • Pain & suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are typically reserved for those whose behavior is considered grossly negligent or especially harmful. They are unique in that they are intended to punish the at-fault party and deter others from engaging in similar behavior, rather than compensating the victims.

Statute of Limitations for Kentucky Truck Accidents

Kentucky semi-truck accident victims have only a short period of time, known as the statute of limitations, to file a lawsuit and recover damages. In most cases, this will be two years from the date of the accident or two years from the last date of payment of PIP benefits. If you do not file suit within that time frame, you may no longer be eligible to recover compensation for your injuries and losses stemming from the accident.

However, there is one major exception to the two-year rule. If the accident results in a fatality, the family of the victim or their estate may pursue a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased. Wrongful death claims can be filed for up to one year after the person’s death or one year from the appointment of the estate’s personal representative.

Car Accidents vs. Truck Accidents: What’s the Difference?

On the surface, car and truck accidents share many similarities. Both involve a collision between vehicles and the terms are often used interchangeably. However, from a legal standpoint, they couldn’t be more different. Below are some of the biggest differences between car and truck accidents:

The Cause of the Accident  

For the most part, there is considerable overlap in what causes both car and truck accidents.  Driver inattention, speeding, tailgating, and drunk driving are responsible for the vast majority of accidents in both categories. However, there are a few contributing factors seen in semi-truck accidents that are not found in other motor vehicle accidents.

Semi-trucks have additional parts and components that are subject to flaws, defects, and wear and tear. Tire and brake malfunctions on big rigs are especially dangerous, accounting for roughly 35% of all trucking accidents. While proper maintenance can greatly reduce the risk of mechanical problems, any trucker will tell you that mechanical problems are just part of the job.

On top of mechanical issues, the vehicles themselves and their purpose creates even more risk factors. The biggest vehicles on the road are also the most difficult to operate. Changing lanes, backing, and slowing down become especially tricky. Even with years of training and practice, maneuvering a 10,000+ pound vehicle at any speed can be a challenge. Add an extra 10,000-60,000 pounds of unsecured cargo to the mix and the potential for danger skyrockets. 

The Parties Involved 

One of the key differences between a car and truck accident is the number of people who can share liability for the accident. When an accident between two cars occurs, the at-fault party and their insurance company are generally the only entities to seek compensation from.

Trucking accidents are unique in that there are several people who are responsible for the safety, maintenance, and upkeep of the truck. Each must take great care to ensure that the vehicle is running smoothly and safely, including the:

  • Truck driver
  • Trucking company
  • Owner of the truck
  • Manufacturer of the truck or its parts
  • Maintenance company
  • Cargo loaders
  • Other vendors

If any of these groups or their employees fail to perform their duties and an accident happens, they could be liable for any damages stemming from the wreck. It is also possible for two or more parties to simultaneously share liability. In these cases, it is important to speak with a Kentucky truck accident lawyer as they can be extremely complex.

The Severity of Injury

Other vehicles don’t stand a chance against the massive size and weight of semi-trucks, which is why many victims are left with permanent or life-threatening injuries. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), semi-trucks represent roughly 4% of registered vehicles but play a role in over 11% of all traffic fatalities. While both types of vehicles are capable of causing devastating injuries or death, accidents involving semi-trucks typically have far more serious consequences for both the drivers and passengers. 

The Total Settlement

As the severity of the injuries in a trucking accident increase, so do the damages. Generally speaking, the more hurt you are the more bills you have, thus increasing the total amount of damages you are able to collect. If a victim sustains only minor injuries and does not require surgery or long-term care, they may only receive a small amount in compensation. For those that are seriously injured and need substantial medical treatment, a six-figure settlement is far more likely.

The required insurance coverage is much greater on commercial vehicles, with liability minimums ranging from $750,000 to $5,000,000 depending on the type of vehicle and their cargo. A big settlement won’t come easy, though, as trucking companies are notorious for having teams of attorneys and insurance representatives on their side to limit their financial responsibility. As soon as a wreck occurs, packs of investigators, adjustors, and lawyers are deployed to collect evidence and build a defense against you. They will use every trick in the book to pay crash victims the lowest dollar amounts possible for their injuries and losses, which is why time is of the essence.

 

Author Photo

Flora Templeton Stuart

Flora Templeton Stuart is the lead attorney and founder of the law firm Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers, established in 1976. Flora goes to work every day to make a difference in her community and the lives of her clients. When you call you will get a personal representation and an attorney who truly cares.