Personal Injury Issues with Commercial Truck Accidents

Car accident injury cases involving commercial semi-trucks or "big rigs" have unique legal issues that will affect the settlement or trial outcome.

An injury case involving an accident with a semi-truck or big rig will present some unique issues. Semi-truck operators must follow a number of federal and state regulations and are required to carry insurance with higher limits than standard vehicle drivers. Additionally, parties other than the semi-truck driver may share financial responsibility.

For these reasons, a person injured (the plaintiff) by an at-fault semi-truck driver (the defendant) has a better chance of reaching an injury settlement that matches his or her damages than a plaintiff in a “standard” car accident. This article discusses the factors involved in an injury settlement after a semi-truck accident and gives some examples of past settlements.

State and Federal Regulations Set Standards for Conduct and Insurance

Semi-truck operators, owners and manufacturers must follow a wide variety of state and federal regulations. How much weight a rig can haul, how long a driver can go without rest, and quality control in manufacturing and repair are just a small fraction of the kinds of conduct regulated in the trucking business.

In any given accident where the plaintiff is not at fault, chances are that one of the defendants violated a statute or ordinance. This is important for settlement purposes because proof of violation of a statute or other regulation greatly increases a plaintiff’s odds of winning at trial. The higher the odds of winning at trial, the more willing a defendant is to settle before trial.

Another important aspect of state and federal regulation is the higher insurance requirements imposed on owners and operators of semi-trucks. For all practical purposes, a defendant in any kind of case will only be able to settle for an amount he or she can actually afford -- or the maximum amount allowed by his or her insurance company (i.e. the policy limit).

The higher minimum policy limits of semi-truck insurance set by law mean that even if the driver or employer only carried the minimum amount, the plaintiff will not be stuck with a small settlement. This is often not the case with the minimum required insurance in “standard” car accident cases.

The Effect of Multiple Defendants on Settlement

When multiple defendants are involved in a lawsuit, and depending on the facts, they may all be equally responsible for paying the plaintiff’s damages, or they may only be responsible for the damages they caused.

For example, a tired driver may share partial responsibility for an accident with the manufacturer of faulty tires. The plaintiff will be able to sue the driver or the driver’s employer as well as the manufacturer. If it is unclear just how much each defendant is at fault, the manufacturer could be required to pay more than its half of the damages if the driver doesn’t have enough insurance and assets to pay his or her half.

A drawback of multiple defendants with unclear proportions of fault is that a settlement may be more difficult to obtain, and a trial more likely. It may be clear that the plaintiff was not at fault for the accident, but the defendants may prefer a trial to settlement because they cannot agree on their proportions of fault, and who owes what. It is also possible for a plaintiff to settle with one defendant and then sue the other defendants for the balance of the damages determined at trial.

See Driver vs. Company Liability in Commercial Truck Accidents for more on the multiple defendants issue.

Examples of Semi-Truck Settlements

Note: The following are examples of settlements where the defendant was at fault and the plaintiff suffered significant damages. Simply because an accident involves a semi-truck does not mean the driver or other party is automatically at fault and willing to offer a high settlement.

  • A plaintiff was driving her car when struck head-on by a semi-truck. She suffered two broken legs and multiple fractures, required several months in the hospital, several surgeries and lengthy rehabilitation to walk again. She received a $1,850,000 settlement from the defendant’s insurance company.
  • A plaintiff was rear-ended by a semi-truck and required fusion of neck vertebrae. He received a settlement of $350,000.
  • A plaintiff was in a collision with a tractor trailer and required surgery for a shoulder injury. He received a settlement of $275,000.
  • A semi-truck struck a plaintiff due to a defective part. The plaintiff was severely injured and had a leg amputated. He received a settlement of $3,750,000.

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