Complete Guide for Winning Your Truck Accident Case
Commercial truck accidents in Arizona may produce devastating injuries. These injuries may be permanent, including traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, crushing injuries, and amputations, along with broken bones, lacerations, disfigurement, and organ damage. If you suffer injuries in a truck accident, you should consult a skillful trial attorney. You should retain a Phoenix truck accident lawyer with a strong reputation because this can influence whether you are offered a reasonable settlement from defendants and their insurers, and it should increase your potential for a favorable verdict should the case go to trial. Freddy Saavedra is ready to fight for every dollar that you deserve.
Truck accidents can result in devastating injuries that necessitate expensive medical care and taking time off from work. Many people are concerned that they will not be able to afford an attorney. However, most truck accident attorneys, including our firm, work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they will not get paid unless they obtain a favorable outcome in the form of either a settlement or a verdict at trial. This arrangement means that a truck accident attorney will need to work up your case even before filing suit to see whether you have a strong claim.After the Accident
After a truck accident, you may have an opportunity to take photographs of the accident scene. These photographs may help establish liability and damages. Generally, it is wise, if possible, to take photographs of the damage to the vehicles, other damage at the site, and injuries immediately after the accident. The passage of time and what it brings in terms of weather and witnesses’ memories can affect the preservation of evidence. Accordingly, photographs taken immediately after the accident can be important to putting together what happened to cause the accident.
You should also seek medical care after a truck accident in which you were injured. This can be important because the medical records will document what the doctor found to be the extent of your injuries, and they will also show a treatment plan. Both these things can affect how much your case is worth. The extent of your injuries will partly dictate the compensation that would be appropriate to address the harm that you suffered.
Sometimes, after a complicated accident, it is important to retain an accident reconstruction expert. This expert can look at multiple contributing causes and determine which causes are relevant to your claim. Among other things, the expert will likely look at data in the black box and the logbook.The Black Box and Logbook
The black box is an electronic control module or event data recorder, which is similar to airplane black boxes. Truck manufacturers started using these black boxes to defeat warranty claims. Most trucks made since the 1990s have a black box integrated into engine components. The black box stores data about the physical properties of the truck, and this data can be critical to showing what happened before the accident. Information that may be recorded can include the truck’s speed just before the crash, whether there was deceleration or acceleration, whether the brakes were applied, how often the truck went above a predetermined speed limit, whether the trucker was wearing a seatbelt, whether the airbag deployed, daily truck activity, whether cruise control was being used, tire pressure, communications between the truck driver and the trucking company, GPS location information, and the number of hard stops between stops.
Often, the black box needs to be compared to the truck driver’s logbook. Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, interstate truck drivers must keep logbooks detailing their hours of service and truck maintenance. The FMCSA regulations also specify how long the truck driver can operate a vehicle between rest breaks. For example, a truck driver can drive at most 11 hours in a row after 10 hours off duty. A truck driver also cannot drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after going on duty after 10 back-to-back hours off duty. A truck driver can drive only if eight or fewer hours have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes.
The black box data can be compared to a truck driver’s log to determine whether the truck driver was violating hours of service regulations related to how much time they can drive without breaks. Sometimes truck drivers falsify their hours of service logs. This may be done with the tacit permission or even the overt encouragement of the trucking company, which owes a duty to check the logbook and supervise the truck driver in keeping accurate records. If a trucking company acted intentionally to encourage falsified logbooks, it may be open to claims for punitive damages.Establishing Liability
You may be able to recover compensation if you can establish liability. The circumstances will dictate which theory of liability is appropriate. Often, truck accidents are at least partially due to a truck driver’s negligence. You may be able to recover damages under a theory of negligence if you can show a duty of reasonable care, a breach of the duty of reasonable care, causation, and damages. The duty to use reasonable care can be breached in many ways. A truck driver who drives while fatigued, drives drunk, fails to obey traffic signals or signs, speeds, weaves, tailgates, or drives aggressively may be found by a jury to have breached the duty to use reasonable care. There needs to be a causal link between the truck driver’s breach of the duty to use reasonable care and the injuries and losses arising out of the truck accident.
The analysis should not stop there. Often, there are multiple victims in a truck accident. They may all be bringing claims against the truck driver’s insurance policy. Sometimes an accident victim’s full scope of damages will exceed the coverage available, especially when there are multiple claimants. Accordingly, it is important to bring in all potentially responsible parties into the claim.
A trucking company may be held vicariously liable for a truck driver’s negligence in the course and scope of employment. This means that it may be held responsible for the negligence, and it can be held accountable for damages if the truck driver is determined to have been negligent.
A trucking company also can be held directly liable for its own negligence in hiring, training, or supervising the truck driver. You will need to show that the trucking company failed to use reasonable care in these activities. For example, if a trucking company conducted a background check that revealed that a job applicant had a history of DUI, but it hired him as a truck driver anyway and looked the other way when there were signs that he was still driving drunk, you may be able to hold the trucking company liable for negligent hiring and negligent supervision. Similarly, if there was a wide turn accident, and it turns out that the truck driver did not know how to properly make wide turns, resulting in a squeeze play, it may be possible to hold the trucking company accountable for negligent training.
Another potentially responsible party is a truck manufacturer. You may be able to hold a truck manufacturer liable if you were injured in a truck accident caused by a defective truck component. For example, if you were injured because a truck’s brakes were defective, and the truck rolled into you even though the truck driver hit the brakes in time, you may be able to recover damages by bringing a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. In Arizona, product liability lawsuits can be pursued under theories of negligence or strict liability. Under a strict liability theory, you will need to show that the defendant made or sold a defective product that was unreasonably dangerous, and the product caused your injuries. Claims can cite design defects, manufacturing defects, or failures to adequately warn or instruct.
Other potentially responsible parties include a mechanic or a third-party loader. Their negligence may give rise to a claim for compensation.Comparative Negligence and Comparative Fault
Often, defendants in an Arizona truck accident case raise the defense of comparative negligence or comparative fault. This means that they want the jury to look at whether the plaintiff and other parties were also at fault for the accident. Arizona follows the doctrine of pure comparative negligence. As a plaintiff, your damages will be reduced by an amount equal to your percentage of fault. However, you can recover damages even if you were more than 50% at fault for the accident. You cannot recover damages, however, if you intentionally contributed to an injury or death.
In Arizona, courts historically employed the doctrine of joint and several liability when faced with multiple at-fault defendants. However, at this point, Arizona follows a rule of pure several liability. This means that each defendant is held accountable only for damages that are proportionate to their actual fault. The court will enter separate judgments against each defendant for the amount that is owed. For example, in a truck accident case, fault may be apportioned with 50% fault to the truck driver, 25% fault to the trucking company, 10% fault to a third-party loader, and 15% fault to you. If the damages were $1 million, you could recover $500,000 from the truck driver, $250,000 from the trucking company, and $100,000 from the third-party loader.Damages
Damages include economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses may include medical costs, doctors’ bills, hospital bills, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and replacement services. They may also include out-of-pocket costs for such items as medical mileage, a rental car, parking fees, and medical equipment, such as crutches or even a wheelchair. Economic losses also include lost wages and related losses, such as loss of benefits, sick days, bonuses, or reduced earning capacity as a result of catastrophic injuries. Economic losses may include future damages. In some catastrophic injury cases, it may be necessary to retain an expert on the issue of future wage loss.
Non-economic damages may include loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium, and disfigurement. These are not concrete harms, and they are connected to the intangible harms that a jury believes are likely to have affected you based on your specific injuries. Personal characteristics may be factored into the calculation. For example, if you are paralyzed in a truck accident, and you used to play basketball in a recreational league and worked in a factory where you were on your feet all day, a jury may assume that your loss of enjoyment of life and mental anguish are higher than for someone who lived an extremely sedentary life watching television for recreation and working in an office job before the accident. Non-economic damages can vary significantly depending on a plaintiff’s personal characteristics and ability to present well at trial. They also can vary significantly based on the attorney whom you select to tell your story to an insurance adjustor or jury.
If your loved one died in a truck accident due to the fault of another party, it may be possible to recover damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death damages may include funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, lost income, the pain and suffering of the decedent, the lost value of care and companionship and guidance, the lost value of household services, and pain and suffering because of an untimely death.
Under Arizona law, a plaintiff can seek punitive damages in a truck accident case, but only when the defendant’s conduct was particularly harmful, wrongful, or wanton. It would be appropriate to ask for punitive damages if the truck driver or company (or another party) was reckless, was grossly negligent, or intended to harm. For example, it might be appropriate to seek punitive damages if a trucking company knowingly put an alcoholic truck driver on the road and looked the other way at blatant falsifications of his logbooks and positive drug tests. You must have clear and convincing evidence that wanton disregard or willful or evil motives motivated the defendant’s improper actions or omissions. This is a very high standard of proof.Retain a Seasoned Phoenix Attorney
Your truck accident case may have long-term consequences, so it is important to seek counsel from an attorney whom you can trust, and who has experience in these potentially complicated claims. A seasoned attorney can make sure to get an accident reconstruction expert out to the scene when this is warranted and hire appropriate experts in case your damages claim is complex. Your lawyer can present your case persuasively to an adjustor, or to a jury, to make sure that you obtain the maximum compensation to which you are entitled. The Saavedra Law Firm represents truck accident victims in Phoenix, throughout Maricopa County, and across all of Arizona. Call us at (602) 753-8917 or complete our online form.