The truck's weight and size can cause severe injuries to a passenger vehicle's occupants in the accident. If you have been hurt in a truck accident, you are entitled to compensation for your injuries. However, receiving damages is easier said than done. Consequently, you require an experienced personal injury attorney who will investigate the accident, collect evidence, and prove the different case elements. The lawyers at the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm have the resources and experience to help you to win your claim.
Understanding the Different Elements of Your Case
Like in most personal injury cases involving car accidents, the primary legal theory of fault in truck accident claims is negligence. An individual is negligent when they acted carelessly or thoughtlessly, which caused injury or harm to somebody else. The defendant could be negligent by failing to do something they ought to have done or did something they should not have done.
To win your truck accident claim, you must establish the elements of negligence below:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care,
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care,
- The breach caused your injuries, and
- Your injuries resulted in losses.
Duty of Care
California's duty of care arises when the law recognizes the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, requiring the defendant to act in a given manner, typically with a standard of care, toward the plaintiff.
The laws require motorists to use reasonable care to avoid injuring other road users. What does it involve? Here are examples of requirements that California law has imposed. If the truck motorist fails to satisfy the requirements, they might be found to have broken their duty of care.
- Operating the truck at a realistic speed: All motorists should drive at a reasonable, prudent speed. An individual who operates their truck at an excessive speed in light of the prevailing weather, road, traffic, and visibility conditions could be negligent. Please note that even driving at the speed limit could be negligent if the weather conditions are bad, circumstances warrant caution like driving near an area where children are expected to cross, or visibility is low.
- Maintaining the truck's control: The truck driver should keep the truck under control. It could be capable of stopping timely. Negligence might be determined if the truck loses control, like leaving the road without an apparent reason or overturning.
- Maintaining the vehicle's equipment: The driver should keep the truck in a safe working condition. All parts should not be faulty.
- Alert: All drivers should be alert and maintain a cautious lookout for road hazards, road signals, pedestrians, cyclists, and other motor vehicles. The driver should see what a reasonably cautious person in similar circumstances would see.
Breach of the Duty of Care
The judge will consider whether the responsible party breached the duty of care by acting or not acting so that a reasonably prudent individual in a similar circumstance could do. A reasonably prudent individual is a lawful standard representing how an average individual would responsibly act in a specific situation.
The truck driver is likely to be found negligent if the prudent individual:
- knowing that the accountable person was aware then, or
- would have been aware that
their conduct could hurt a person and could have acted differently from how the defendant did in the situation.
Truck drivers can breach the duty of care by:
Violating the Trucking Hours of Service
To reduce fatigue and drowsy-related truck accidents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has imposed hours of service regulations limiting how long a driver can drive without taking a break. The number of hours changes depending on whether the truck is transporting passengers or property and the trucker's schedule, including:
- Property transporting motorists have a maximum of eleven hours after ten hours off duty. A passenger-transporting driver has up to ten hours following eight hours off the clock.
- A property-transporting motorist can't operate for more than fourteen hours after ten hours off the clock. On the other hand, a passenger-carrying motorist has a fifteen-hour limit after eight hours off-duty. The off-duty period should not exceed fourteen hours.
- A truck driver should not drive their truck for more than seventy hours after eight days or sixty hours after seven consecutive days.
Additionally, the FMCSA imposes a sleeper berth provision that requires a truck driver to take a break in their sleeper berth after driving for long hours.
If the truck driver violates the hour of service restriction, it could lead to fatigued driving and related collisions. If the trucking firm encourages its employees to break the regulation by providing incentives like bonuses for fast deliveries, the firm could be held responsible for the accident.
Truck Weight Limits
If you have even driven near a truck, you know the tractor-trailer size is enormous compared to your motor vehicle. Therefore, it is not a surprise why collisions involving trucks and smaller cars often cause severe injuries or fatality for the smaller car's occupants. As a result, the state and the federal governments have imposed regulation of the trucking industry.
It is illegal to drive a vehicle that weighs more than eighty thousand pounds in California. Additionally, twenty thousand pounds is the maximum legal gross weight on a vehicle's single axle.
Weight limits are essential. The more a vehicle becomes heavier, the more difficult it is to operate safely. If a truck driver ignores the weight limits, they increase the truck's possibility of mechanical failure or the motorist losing control of the truck. Under the circumstances, you are entitled to receive compensation.
Cell Phone Use
Probably texting while driving is the most dangerous form of distracted driving. According to a study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA), texting results in cognitive motorist distraction. That means a texting motorist is not focusing on driving.
The state of California has three laws that ban the use of a cellphone while behind the wheel, namely:
- It is illegal for drivers to use any hand-held phone while driving
- Drivers below eighteen years of age should not use even any hand-held phone while driving
- All drivers are banned from texting or using wireless devices while under the wheel
If you get injured in a truck accident caused by a distracted driver, you should bring a personal injury claim.
The Breach Caused You Injuries (Causation)
The next element of negligence requires you to prove that the at-fault party's negligence caused your injuries. The truck driver might have acted negligently, but you can only receive compensation if the negligence caused your injuries. For instance, it is not fair to press charges against a texting person while driving for an unrelated accident across the street because the motorist acted negligently.
Another aspect of this element focuses on whether the accountable person could reasonably have foreseen that their conduct could cause injuries. Assume the truck driver's behavior somehow caused your injuries through a random, unexpected act of nature. In this case, the injuries could be considered unforeseeable, and the truck driver will not be found accountable.
Types of Truck Accident Injuries
According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, trucks are twenty to thirty times heavier than passenger cars. Also, most motorists spent long hours on the road and could be tired and not operating under optimal conditions. Typically, these factors create a dangerous situation for passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, and motorcyclists.
Here are the most common truck collision injuries you are likely to sustain:
Neck and Back Injuries
Neck and back injuries after an accident can result in severe and debilitating pain. They are difficult to treat and diagnose. The neck and back have tiny and fragile ligaments and bones that could be injured by the impact. The injury happens when the neck and head snap forward, but the torso stays in place. The impact can cause disc injuries, dislocation, or whiplash.
Usually, these injuries do not manifest immediately, but you can feel pain days following the crash. The injuries can cause the inability to return to work for weeks, months, or even years.
Lacerations, Broken Bones, Bruises, and Cuts
You might have suffered minor bruises and cuts from the truck collision and think you will get off easy. While bruises and cuts are less serious than spinal cord or head injuries, they still require medical attention and can result in permanent injuries.
Typically, cuts occur due to sharp metal, shattered glasses, or an unrestrained substance in your vehicle that become airborne in an accident. You should seek medical care. A cut can sometimes cause disfiguring scars or fatal infections.
Also, a truck collision involves blunt force trauma that could leave you with shattered or broken bones. While the injury is treatable, it is excruciating.
One of the catastrophic injuries caused by a truck accident is amputation. It is the removal of extremities like your entire leg or foot. Sometimes it could be caused by the truck accident, and other times it is because nerve or tissue damage to the extremity is severe that surgical amputation is necessary.
Whatever the case, your life will never go back to what it was before the accident. You must learn to live without the digit or limb.
Even when you are lucky to escape a head or spinal cord injury, you might sustain internal injuries. An airbag is tailored to protect you, but its strong force can result in blunt abdominal trauma. As a result, you might suffer spleen, bladder, pancreas, kidneys, or liver injuries.
Also, rib and torso injuries are prevalent in truck collisions. While they are not internal injuries, they can injure vital organs that surround them. For instance, broken ribs might puncture your lungs.
Any motor vehicle can cause an explosion or fire. Nevertheless, a truck presents unique risks. An explosion could be due to:
- The huge fuel tank
- The flammable or toxic cargo the truck is carrying
- The truck's electrical system challenges
The explosion or fire could cause three degrees of burn injuries, namely:
- A first-degree burn is the least serious and can recover without medical intervention.
- A second-degree injury might lead to pain and blistering through the epidermis and dermis skin layers. You should seek medical attention.
- A third-degree injury can cause dead tissues, nerve damage, and scarring. It requires extensive medical care and surgery.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries can lead to partial, complete, or temporary paralysis of the torso or lower body. The spinal cord carries messages from the brain to various body parts. If you suffer a spinal cord injury, usually, there isn't a simple fix. It could involve extensive treatments, adaptive devices, physical therapy, and surgical procedures. You could even be permanently disabled.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injury is one of the leading causes of disability and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one hundred and fifty-five people died daily due to injuries involving TBIs in 2014 alone.
A TBI happens when a sudden trauma causes your head to shake violently, strike a substance, or impale an object, resulting in physical damage to your brain or skull. Depending on the damage or force, the severity of the injury can vary from mild (slight swelling, bruising) to severe (death, brain herniation, skull fractures).
Here are signs and symptoms you might experience if you have sustained a brain injury:
- Memory loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of coordination
- Numbness and weakness in your extremities
- Redness, pain, warmth, and swelling at the injured site
- Challenges in speech
- Challenges in vision
If you experience any of these signs and symptoms after an accident, seek immediate medical attention. If you struck your head, irrespective of whether it was a shallow impact, do not wait for the signs and symptoms to manifest. Visit your physician and request a brain scan or an MRI to rule out that internal damage might have happened.
The Injury Resulted in Damages
The last element of negligence is damages. You are entitled to receive compensation for your injuries. Typically, it is through monetary compensation for expenses like:
Medical Expenses Stemming from the Suffered Injuries
If you should undergo treatment or testing, or receive medical care like nursing home stays, physical therapy, and hospital stay, the defendant should compensate for medical costs. It could be costly, especially if you are permanently disabled and require extensive nursing care or adaptive devices like a wheelchair. Your medical expenses damages should include both expenses you have already incurred and the expected future costs.
It is advisable to seek medical attention immediately after the accident. Otherwise, the insurance adjuster will look for reasons to offer a low compensation amount or reject the claim. If you delay, the representative could assert that the injuries could not have been serious or were caused by something else apart from the truck accident.
Also, maintain a journal with details about your healthcare appointments, what you saw, treatments received, and whether you paid any money in a given medical visit. After you complete all your treatment, ask your physician for a copy of the medical records like diagnostic images like MRIs and x-rays. Also, collect every medical bill from all providers.
Lost income damages include payment of work you have missed because of your injury treatment or your truck accident injuries. If you took sick time or vacation days, you should be compensated for the loss of those days.
And if you are permanently unable to return to work, your compensation should be made throughout your lifetime. The same holds if you are disabled in a manner that reduces your ability to make a living, even if the ability has not been taken entirely.
How to Prove Lost Income
The best way to prove your lost wages is by getting proof from your company. Your employer can provide a letter or offer more documentation for validation. The boss should consider the following details in the letter:
- When you were employed
- A statement that you were their employee when the accident occurred
- Rate of pay
- Overtime hours
- Number of hours you work weekly
- Number of hours or days you missed work
- Bonus structure
- Lost perks
- Overtime rate of pay
Establishing your lost wages is more challenging when you are self-employed. You can prove what the income might have been by presenting your business records.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering falls under non-economic damages. It is subjective and hard to attach a dollar value. The best way to prove the damage is by using objective evidence like:
- Medical records
- Photos of physical injuries and property damage
- Comprehensive notes from your doctor
- Videos of your before and after activity level
- Testimony of your loved ones
- Expert testimonies
- Proof of your lost work time
Please note, physical injuries are not a must to recover these damages. However, the damages are more likely to be awarded when you have sustained physical injuries and:
- Your medical expenses are high
- Laboratory tests and x-rays could establish your injuries
- Recovery took time or was hard
- The injuries caused a long-term loss of function(s) or permanent disfigurement
How Pain and Suffering Damages are Determined
Every insurance provider has its policies. Consequently, offers might vary significantly.
Some companies use a formula when estimating your settlement offer. One of the most popular methods is multiplying your economic damages by a number between one and five. The more severe your injuries are, the greater your pain and suffering, and the higher the multiplier.
Ultimately, the total value of your truck accident claim depends on the following factors:
- Your economic losses
- The seriousness of your injuries
- The strength of your evidence
- The experience and competence of your personal injury attorney
- How much the insurance company or defendant is willing to spend fighting your claim
Pain and Suffering Damage Caps on Drivers
In 1996, voters in California approved Proposition 213, the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996. One of the results was the Civil Code Section 3333.4. It limits the recovery of non-economic damages in negligent conduct stemming from using a car as follows:
If you are convicted of DUI, you might not receive non-economic damages.
If you are an uninsured vehicle owner, you cannot recover non-economic damages unless a drunk driver caused the accident.
You cannot recover pain and suffering damages if you are an uninsured driver.
Family members of a victim who has succumbed to the truck accident can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, examples of designated beneficiaries include:
- Immediate family members like the deceased's children, adopted children, and spouses
- Distant family members like grandparents and siblings
- Domestic partners
- Persons who suffer financially due to the deceased's demise
Loss of Consortium
The purpose of loss of consortium damages is compensating your loved ones for losing a relationship with you. In California, the damage is precise and could compensate your spouse if they lose the capability to have a sexual relationship with you.
Sometimes, the accident might cause emotional ramifications. Usually, emotional distress should be proved using a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis or psychiatric records.
You can also receive punitive damages if you prove that the at-fault party's behavior constitutes malice. Punitive damages are not tailored to compensate you for your losses. Instead, they function to:
- Punish the defendant for acting egregiously
- Discourage other people from acting similarly in the future
There isn't a fixed standard for determining the total amount of your punitive damages. When determining whether to award punitive damages and if so, how much, the judge will consider:
- How much money will punish the responsible party and deter future wrongful behavior, considering the defendant's financial condition
- Whether there is a practical relationship between the punitive damages amount and your injuries
- How reprehensive the responsible party's actions were
Find San Diego Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
A truck accident can cause significant losses and severe injuries. To receive the compensation you deserve, you should establish all elements of the case. You do not have to go through the complicated process alone. The most effective method to satisfy all the requirements is to retain a competent accident attorney from the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm. You can schedule your initial consultation by calling 619-478-4059. Our legal team can schedule an appointment when it is convenient for you.