Truck crashes can have some of the most devastating consequences of any motor vehicle accident. Large trucks such as 18-wheelers can hit other vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians with violent force that causes life-threatening injuries.
If your loved one died from injuries they suffered in a truck crash, your family may pursue financial compensation and justice from those responsible for your loved one’s death. Continue reading to learn more about how a truck accident lawyer recovers compensation for your family if you lose a loved one in a truck wreck.
Fatal Truck Accident Statistics
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that in the United States in one recent year:
- Approximately 415,000 crashes nationwide involved large trucks. Of these, 4,444 resulted in fatalities, equating to 13.49 fatal large truck crashes per million people. Additionally, fatal truck accident rates increased by 27 percent over 10 years.
- Fatal truck accidents resulted in 1.12 fatalities per crash.
- Eighty-three percent of fatalities in truck accidents were people not riding in the truck.
- Single-vehicle fatal truck accidents (accidents between a truck and a non-motorized vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian) accounted for 22 percent of all fatal truck crashes. In comparison, 62 percent of fatal truck accidents involved two or more vehicles.
- More than half of fatal large truck accidents occurred in rural areas.
- Over one-quarter of fatal truck crashes occurred on interstate highways.
- Eighty-two percent of fatal truck accidents occurred on weekdays.
Types of Fatal Truck Accidents
The types of truck crashes that can lead to fatalities include the following:
- Head-on collisions. Head-on crashes, which involve the front of a truck colliding with the front of another vehicle, have the highest risk of fatalities since both vehicles strike each other with full force. Head-on collisions commonly occur when a truck driver drifts or veers over the centerline or median into the path of oncoming traffic.
- Rear-end collisions. A rear-end collision involves the front of a truck colliding with the back of another vehicle. These crashes can kill the occupants of the rear-ended vehicle if the collision causes the car to veer into other vehicles or rollover.
- Sideswipe collisions. A sideswipe collision occurs when the side of a truck hits the side of a vehicle in the adjacent lane. These collisions can cause the other vehicle to veer into another car, highway divider, or object on the side of the road.
- Side-impact collisions. Also called a T-bone accident, a side-impact collision involves the front of a truck striking the side of another vehicle. Side-impact accidents have a high risk of fatality because most passenger vehicles have very little crash protection on their sides.
- Underride accidents. An underride accident occurs when a vehicle wedges underneath the side of a truck trailer or the trailer’s rear overhang. Due to the height of truck trailers, an underride accident can potentially cause fatal head injuries or traumatic brain injuries.
- Rollover accidents. A rollover accident occurs when a truck flips onto its side or roof. These accidents can cause fatalities if the truck lands on another vehicle.
- Jackknife accidents. A truck jackknifes when a truck trailer swings forward, causing the trailer and truck cab to fold in like a pocketknife. When a truck jackknifes, the truck driver loses control of their vehicle and may potentially collide with other vehicles on the road.
- Cargo accidents. A cargo accident occurs when a truck spills its cargo onto the road or other vehicles. Spilled cargo that falls on other vehicles can cause fatal injuries for the occupants inside, while cargo on the road presents a collision hazard that may cause other vehicles to crash.
Common Causes of Fatal Truck Crashes
Some of the most common causes of fatal truck accidents include:
- Tailgating or following too closely
- Reckless driving, including swerving through or around traffic
- Disregarding stop signs, yield signs, or traffic signals
- Failing to yield the right-of-way
- Not using turn signals and mirrors
- Unsafe or illegal turns or lane changes
- Driving while feeling tired or fatigued
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Driving while distracted by a cell phone, food, drinks, or other objects in the truck cab
- Truck driver inexperience or lack of familiarity with routes
- Failure to conduct vehicle inspections and maintenance
- Failure to conduct pre-trip inspections
- Overloading cargo
- Failing to balance or secure cargo loads
Injuries That Lead to Truck Accident Fatalities
Large commercial trucks impart violent forces in collisions that lead to life-threatening:
- Severe lacerations and excessive blood loss
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Burns and smoke inhalation injuries from post-accident vehicle fires
- Internal organ injuries and internal bleeding
- Perforation injuries
- Crush injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Exposure to toxic or radioactive cargo
- Traumatic amputation or dismemberment
Who May Have Liability for Truck Accident Fatalities?
Multiple people and companies may be responsible for operating commercial trucks. Each of these parties may have liability for a fatal truck accident.
Parties who may bear fault for your loved one’s death in a truck accident include:
- The truck driver
- The trucking company that employs or contracts the driver
- The truck’s owner (if not the trucking company or truck driver)
- The freight company that owns the truck trailer or that loaded cargo onto the truck
- Third-party auto shops that service the truck or trailer
- The truck or trailer manufacturer
- Third-party manufacturers of parts used on the truck
- Other motorists whose negligence or recklessness triggered the truck accident
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim After a Fatal Truck Accident?
Your family may have a right to file a wrongful death claim after losing a loved one due to a fatal truck accident.
Under California’s wrongful death statute, only specific individuals may file a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The decedent’s spouse or domestic partner
- The decedent’s children
- Any grandchildren of a deceased child of the decedent
In addition, other individuals may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit if they can show financial dependence on the decedent at the time of their death.
These individuals include:
- A putative spouse—the spouse of a void or voidable marriage who had a good faith belief in the validity of their marriage to the decedent
- Any children of a putative spouse
- The decedent’s stepchildren
- Any surviving parent
- The decedent’s legal guardian (if the decedent’s parents have died)
The decedent’s personal representative may also file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of any surviving family members.
Financial Recovery Available in a Fatal Truck Accident Claim
While no money can bring a loved one back after a fatal truck accident, your family deserves to seek compensation to cover the expenses and losses you incur due to your loved one’s passing. Compensation will provide your family with a measure of justice from those responsible for the fatal truck accident.
A fatal truck accident claim can provide your family with financial relief for:
- The future financial contributions and support your loved one would have provided to your family had they survived the truck accident
- The value of services your loved one performed in your household, such as childcare or home maintenance and repairs
- The loss of any gifts or benefits you would have received from your loved one
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- Costs of medical treatment for your loved one’s fatal injuries
- The loss of your loved one’s affection, care, companionship, comfort, assistance, society, guidance, and moral support
- A spouse’s loss of intimacy with the decedent
How a Lawyer Can Help Your Family After Losing a Loved One in a Truck Crash
A truck accident attorney can help you and your family after a fatal truck accident by pursuing your family’s legal rights on your behalf. A lawyer can give your family the space to grieve and heal from your loved one’s passing while fighting to secure the financial relief you and your family deserve.
An attorney can take care of all the details of preparing and pursuing your family’s legal claims, including:
- Investigating the crash to obtain evidence to prove fault
- Identifying at-fault and liable parties
- Determining the amount of available insurance coverage and other potential sources of financial compensation
- Documenting your family’s financial expenses and losses from your loved one’s death
- Preparing persuasive arguments for your family’s right to recover compensation for non-economic losses such as the loss of your loved one’s companionship or guidance
- Negotiating with trucking company representatives, insurance adjusters, and defense lawyers on your family’s behalf to pursue a fair and full settlement
- Filing lawsuits in your family’s case and going to trial if necessary to demand accountability and justice for your loved one’s death
Frequently Asked Questions About Fatal Truck Accidents
Common questions families may have about their legal rights after a loved one’s death in a truck accident include the following:
How Long Do I Have to File a Claim After Losing a Loved One in a Fatal Truck Accident?
Under California Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 335.1, you must file a lawsuit within two years after losing a loved one in a fatal truck crash. You could lose your right to seek compensation in civil court if you file your lawsuit after this two-year deadline. For this reason, you should not delay speaking to a truck accident attorney about your family’s legal options so you can make sure you timely file your claims.
What Steps Should My Family Take After We Have Lost a Loved One Due to a Fatal Truck Crash?
To protect your legal rights and prepare for a fatal truck accident claim, your family can:
- Gather any evidence you may have from the accident scene, such as photos and videos, insurance and employer information from the truck driver, contact information from any eyewitnesses, dashcam footage, or copies of police accident reports.
- Notify your loved one’s auto insurance provider of the accident.
- Collect bills, invoices, and receipts of any expenses your family incurred due to your loved one’s passing, including final medical bills, funeral and burial invoices, and bills for household services.
- Start a diary or journal to document the emotional pain and difficulty with daily life you and your family experience due to your loved one’s passing.
- Avoid discussing the truck accident or your family’s claim on social media.
Finally, talk to a truck accident attorney about your family’s legal options and seek financial relief for your losses.
How Long Does a Fatal Truck Accident Claim Take?
No one can say with certainty how long it may take your family to pursue compensation after losing a loved one to a fatal truck crash.
Different circumstances will affect the timeline of your family’s case, including:
- The financial losses your family has incurred due to your loved one’s passing
- The number of parties liable for the truck accident and your loved one’s death
- The number of other people injured in the crash
- Whether your loved one may share any responsibility for causing the accident
- The complexity of the evidence from the truck accident
- The policy limits of any applicable insurance coverage
- The skill and resources of your legal counsel
- Whether your family must file a lawsuit to pursue your compensation claims
- The availability of the trial court and the schedule imposed on your court case
A Personal injury lawyer can tell you more about how long your case might take during your initial consultation.