A truck accident lawsuit allows an injured party to pursue financial compensation for the injuries, property damage, and other losses they suffered as a result of the collision. Many such cases start as liability insurance claims against the at-fault parties. However, if the at-fault party lacks sufficient insurance to cover the victim’s losses or refuses to settle the claim fairly, the injured party may file a lawsuit demanding compensation.
In this post, we will discuss what steps you should take before filing a truck accident lawsuit, how a truck accident lawyer can help with your case, and what you should expect during the litigation process.
What Steps Should You Take After a Truck Accident?
You can strengthen your eventual truck accident lawsuit if you:
- Get the driver’s license, registration, employer, and insurance information.
- Talk to any eyewitnesses for a statement or their contact information.
- Report the accident to law enforcement.
- Take photos and videos of the accident scene, including vehicle damage, skid marks, traffic controls, visible injuries you suffered, and lighting, weather, road, and traffic conditions.
- Seek immediate medical attention to diagnose any injuries you sustained in the crash. Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations and instructions.
- Keep copies of bills and invoices and gather your pay stub or other income records.
- Notify your auto insurance company, as your policy likely requires you to do so.
- Contact a truck accident lawyer to discuss your legal options for pursuing a compensation claim or lawsuit.
Hiring an Attorney to Help You With a Truck Accident Lawsuit
You don’t have to pursue a truck accident lawsuit on your own. A lawyer can handle all the details of your compensation claims, from the initial investigation of the accident through a court trial if necessary.
How an Attorney Can Help You
An experienced truck accident attorney can prepare and pursue your legal claims as you focus on your medical treatment to recover from the injuries you suffered in the crash.
Specifically, they can:
- Investigate the crash to recover valuable evidence
- Evaluate the facts to identify all potentially liable parties and applicable insurance coverages
- Document your injuries and losses to help prove your right to compensation
- Consult with accident reconstruction, medical, vocational, and financial experts for opinion testimony to bolster the strength of your case
- Draft and file insurance claims and demand letters to begin pursuing financial recovery from at-fault parties
- Negotiate with the trucking and insurance companies to obtain a fair settlement
- File a lawsuit in your case and manage the litigation on your behalf if the liable parties won’t settle
- Advocate your claims at trial to fight for a verdict in your favor
How to Find a Qualified Truck Accident Lawyer
You may be unsure of where to find a right truck accident attorney, especially if you have never previously hired legal counsel.
Some places to look for prospective attorneys include:
- Referrals from family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers: You may wish to start with referrals from people you know and whose opinions you trust. These referrals can give you detailed insights into how a particular attorney works.
- Referrals from other attorneys you have hired: If you have hired attorneys for other legal matters, you might contact them for referrals to truck accident attorneys they know and whose work they trust.
- Bar association legal directories: State and local bar associations usually have directories of attorneys in different areas of law.
- Internet searches: You can also search the internet for truck accident attorneys in your area. Be sure to look over their reviews, client testimony, case results, and any awards they have received.
You should gather a list of several truck accident attorneys and meet with them to better decide which lawyer or law firm might have the best working relationship with you.
The Initial Consultation With a Truck Accident Attorney
Most truck accident attorneys offer prospective clients a free initial consultation. The initial consultation allows the attorney to listen to the person’s story and determine if they may have a viable legal case. A consultation also allows the prospective client to ask questions of the attorney to decide whether they’re a good fit.
Here are some questions that can help you make an informed decision:
- How long have you practiced law?
- How long have you practiced personal injury law?
- What percentage of your caseload involves truck accident claims?
- Have you handled cases similar to mine?
- How often do you secure compensation in truck accident cases?
- How often do you go to trial? How often do you win?
- Will you handle my case yourself or hand it off to another attorney?
- How frequently should I expect to speak with you?
- How quickly do you respond to emails or phone calls?
- How involved will I be in preparing my case?
The Statute of Limitations on Truck Accident Lawsuits
Every state has a statute of limitations on personal injury claims that governs how long someone has in which to file a lawsuit. For example, California gives you two years from a truck accident to file a lawsuit against any at-fault parties. Filing a lawsuit after the statute of limitations expires on your truck accident claim risks losing your right to seek financial compensation for your injuries, since the trial court can permanently dismiss an untimely filed claim.
The Lawsuit Process
Once you have decided to file suit, the process will usually proceed along the following steps. Remember that settlement negotiations will likely continue throughout the lawsuit, and that you can agree to drop the suit in exchange for a settlement at any point before the verdict.
The first steps of filing a truck accident lawsuit involve investigating the facts and circumstances of the crash. Your attorney will need persuasive evidence of the truck driver’s or trucking company’s fault to win your case.
To that end, they will gather, demand, or commission:
- Truck driver hours-of-service logs
- Logs from the truck’s event data recorder, or black box
- Post-accident drug/alcohol test results from the truck driver
- Pre-trip inspection records
- Cargo and load manifests
- Radio dispatch logs
- Camera footage from the truck cab
- Truck maintenance and repair records
- Police accident reports
- Surveillance and traffic camera footage
- Eyewitness testimony
- Photos and videos of the accident scene
- Post-accident vehicle inspections
- Reports compiled by accident reconstruction experts
Once your attorney has gathered evidence for your case, they will draft an insurance claim or demand letter to send to the trucking company or their insurer. A demand letter notifies the trucking company of your compensation claim. The letter will describe the evidence supporting your claim, document your injuries and losses, and demand a certain amount of compensation to resolve your case.
If pre-litigation settlement efforts fail, your attorney will file a complaint to continue pursuing your claim. Filing a complaint begins the lawsuit process. Your lawyer must serve a copy of the complaint and the court summons on the opposing parties in your case, or defendants. The defendants can file a response to your complaint, known as an answer, to admit or deny the allegations in your complaint.
The Discovery Process
After the parties file their initial pleadings, they proceed to discovery, where they exchange documents and information and depose relevant witnesses to narrow the disputed issues for trial.
The most common tools used in discovery include:
- Interrogatories. Interrogatories ask questions to obtain relevant information from a party. Frequent topics of interrogatories include information about the employment relationship between the truck driver and the trucking company, what actions the truck driver took before the crash, and what the truck driver saw before the crash.
- Requests for the production of documents. Requests for the production of documents (RFPs) demand copies of documents in a party’s possession, custody, or control. RFPs may ask for documents such as cargo/load manifests, the truck driver’s hours of service logs, truck maintenance records, or pre-trip inspection reports.
- Depositions. Depositions allow parties to obtain testimony from witnesses, including the drivers involved in the accident, bystanders who saw the crash, representatives from the trucking companies, or expert witnesses retained by the parties to provide opinion testimony.
- Requests for admission of facts. Parties may send each other requests for admission of facts that list factual statements the receiving party must either admit or deny. Courts treat admitted statements as undisputed facts at trial.
Discovery allows parties to seek a broad range of information. They can request any evidence reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
Pre-trial Motions and Settlement Negotiations
During and after discovery, parties may submit motions to the trial court. Pre-trial motions narrow issues for trial and identify the evidence for submission at trial.
Typical pre-trial motions include:
- Motions to admit or exclude evidence
- Motions to strike witnesses, testimony, or expert reports
- Motions to bifurcate trials, meaning to hold separate trials on different issues, such as liability and damages, or to hold separate trials for each defendant
- Motions for summary judgment, which argue that no genuine issues of material fact remain and the facts require the entry of judgment for the moving party as a matter of law
Parties may also continue settlement negotiations pending trial. Negotiations may occur informally between the parties and their legal counsel, or the parties may choose to participate in a more formal negotiation proceeding such as mediation.
The Trial Process
At trial, each party will present evidence and witnesses to a jury or a judge sitting as the fact-finder. Parties can cross-examine each other’s witnesses to challenge the reliability of their testimony. At the end of the presentation of evidence, the jury or judge will consider the evidence and issue a verdict ruling on the issues on trial.
A trial begins with jury selection, provided a jury is to hear the case. In some cases, the parties might agree to a bench trial, in which case a judge conducts the trial alone. Attorneys for each party will get to question prospective jurors to determine if they have any biases, conflicts of interest, or other personal beliefs that render them unsuitable to sit on the jury. After jury selection, each party will present an opening argument to summarize their theory of the case and the evidence they expect to present at trial.
Following opening statements, the “plaintiff”—the person bringing the suit—will present their evidence and witnesses. Defense counsel can cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses. Once the plaintiff’s counsel finishes presenting its case, the defense counsel may present its evidence and witnesses, with the plaintiff also getting to cross-examine defense witnesses.
At the close of evidence, each party can present closing arguments summarizing the evidence and arguing how it supports their theory. Then, the jury or judge will deliberate on the evidence and render a verdict to decide liability for the truck accident, the plaintiff’s damages, or any other issues on trial. The trial court will incorporate the verdict into a judgment.
Post-trial Motions and Appeals
After the verdict and judgment, either side may file post-trial motions to correct perceived errors.
These motions may include:
- Motion for a directed verdict/judgment notwithstanding the verdict: A motion for a directed verdict asks the trial court to order the entry of a verdict in the moving party’s favor because the undisputed facts entitle them to judgment as a matter of law. A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict asks the trial court to enter judgment in the moving party’s favor if the jury’s verdict has no reasonable basis.
- Motion for a new trial: A motion for a new trial asks the court to conduct a new trial with a new jury because errors during the trial affected the fairness of the proceedings or the reliability of the outcome.
- Motion to amend or vacate the judgment: A party may move to amend or vacate the judgment to correct errors or because the evidence does not support the damages award.
Either party aggrieved by the verdict or judgment that cannot obtain relief in a post-trial motion may file an appeal once the trial court enters final judgment.
The appeal asks an appellate court to review any alleged errors during the litigation, such as:
- Denials of pre-trial motions to dismiss or for summary judgment
- The trial court’s rulings on discovery motions
- Evidentiary rulings by the trial court
- Denials of motions to strike prospective jurors for cause
- The trial court’s jury instructions
- Denials of motions for mistrial
- Denials of motions for directed verdict or judgment notwithstanding the verdict
- Errors in the trial court’s calculation of damages
Any party wishing to appeal a judgment must file a notice of appeal with the trial court. The appealing party must serve the notice of appeal on the opposing party and obtain a record of the trial court proceedings.
A Truck Accident Lawsuit Is Easier With an Experienced Attorney
Filing a truck accident lawsuit requires an investigation of the crash to recover evidence of the truck driver’s or trucking company’s fault. However, truck accidents often involve many pieces of complex evidence, which is difficult to acquire without legal experience. Furthermore, the court system can become overwhelming if you’ve never handled a lawsuit.
Hiring a personal injury lawfirm in Bakersfield means having someone to take the burden and stress of litigation off your shoulders, while also improving your chances of recovering maximum compensation.
Best of all, most good lawyers work on contingency, which means there is no upfront cost to retaining their services. Instead, they collect a portion of whatever compensation they secure for you.