Personal Injury Case After Commercial Truck Accident

Car accidents involving commercial trucks or "big rigs" often present unique legal issues that could affect your settlement.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Here's what to know if you're making a vehicle accident injury claim after an accident with a commercial truck or big rig:

  • Commercial truck drivers usually must follow federal and state regulations when operating their vehicles, and violations of these rules can make it easier to prove fault for the accident.
  • Shipping companies and other commercial truck owners are typically well-insured, compared with passenger vehicle owners.
  • More than one party might share financial responsibility for an injured person's losses after a commercial truck accident.

Let's take a closer look at these points and more.

Trucking Regulations, Operation, and Insurance

Truck operators, owners, and manufacturers must follow a wide variety of state and federal regulations, including rules related to:

  • how much weight a truck can haul
  • driver testing for use of controlled substances
  • how long a driver can go without rest between driving shifts
  • licensing and operator safety
  • freight safety, including transportation of hazardous materials, and
  • use, maintenance, and inspection of vehicles and equipment.

In any given commercial truck accident, a truck driver, owner, or operator might have violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation aimed at safety.

This is important for traffic accident injury settlement purposes, because proof of violation of a statute or other regulation greatly increases an injured person's odds of winning in court. And the higher the odds of winning in court, 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. Defendants in any kind of case are able to settle only for an amount they can actually afford—or the maximum amount allowed by their insurance company (the policy limit).

Because commercial trucks are required to carry more insurance by law, people injured in commercial truck accidents ("plaintiffs") typically won't be stuck with small settlements. This is often not the case with the minimum required insurance in non-commercial car accident cases.

Multiple Defendants Means More Complicated Settlements

Depending on the facts, when multiple defendants are involved in a lawsuit, they may be equally responsible for paying the plaintiff's damages, or they may only be responsible for the portion of damages they caused.

For example, a fatigued 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. The manufacturer might end up paying more than half of the damages if the tires were more than 50% responsible for the accident, or if the driver's insurance and assets aren't enough to cover part or all of the damages.

A drawback of suing multiple defendants is that it might be more difficult to reach a settlement, and a trial more likely. It might be clear that the plaintiff wasn't at fault for the accident, but the defendants might prefer a trial to settlement because they can't agree on their share of fault, and which defendant owes how much. It's 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 and Company Liability in Commercial Truck Accidents for more about multiple defendants.

Examples of Semi-Truck Settlements

Here are some examples of commercial truck accident settlements. In these cases, the defendant was at fault and the plaintiff suffered significant damages.

  • A plaintiff was driving her car when she was 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.

Just because an accident involves a semi-truck doesn't mean the truck driver or owner is automatically at fault and willing to offer a high settlement. The plaintiff still has to show that the defendant (truck driver, owner, operator, manufacturer, or other entity) was negligent (careless) and caused the plaintiff's harm.

Next Steps After a Commercial Truck Accident

Having the right lawyer on your side can make a big difference if you decide to make an injury claim after an accident with a commercial truck or big rig. Financial recovery in these kinds of cases often includes:

An experienced lawyer will put your best case together and work toward the best outcome. Learn more about when to hire a car accident lawyer. You can also fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to connect with a lawyer for free.

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