A person who has been struck by a large commercial vehicle can potentially suffer serious injuries. In some cases, a truck accident can be life-changing if not fatal. Even at low speeds, the sheer mass of many commercial trucks can result in significantly greater force impact than commuter vehicles. Any person who has been involved in a truck accident should do two things: seek medical attention and consult with a personal injury attorney.
What to Do After a Truck Accident
A person who has been involved in a collision with a truck has two imperatives: to both protect himself/herself from a personal injury lawsuit (if the truck driver is injured) and be prepared in case he/she needs to file a personal injury lawsuit.
At the scene of the accident, if the person is able to do so, he/she should do the following:
- Stop and pull over. Remember that it is illegal to leave the scene of an accident in NJ.
- Call the police. Even if the accident appears to be property-damage only (no injuries), the insurance companies of both the commuter driver and trucking company will likely want a police report.
- Exchange information. All parties should swap contact and insurance information. If one or more parties are not a driver (e.g. a passenger), then the names, addresses, and contact information for such individuals should be shared. If a police report is filed, this information will almost certainly be in the final report.
- Take pictures. Take a video or photo of the entire accident scene including all sides of all vehicles involved. The camera on one’s mobile phone is usually sufficient for this. If this can’t be done on the scene, then a person should at least photograph their own vehicle as soon as possible after the accident.
- Seek medical attention. Due to the sheer size of commercial trucks, it is always best to get examined by a medical professional after an accident.
- Avoid representatives from the trucking company. If the trucker works for a large commercial company, the firm will likely send an insurance adjuster and/or attorney to speak to the victim. Do not talk to them! If they want to speak to you on the scene, refuse and insist that your attorney reach out to them at a later date.
The chaotic and jarring experience of being in an auto accident often means one or more of these steps may be overlooked. As such, in the aftermath of an accident, one should ensure he/she does the following:
- Report the accident to the insurer. In order to pay any kind of benefit, the insurance company will need to be informed of the accident. This may entail filling out a lot of paperwork.
- Seek medical attention. Even if one is taken to the hospital at the scene, it may be necessary to get examined in the days or weeks after the accident. Sometimes injuries take time to manifest, and other times a specialist may be required to diagnose one.
- Keep a file. In addition to any photos or videos and other information gathered at the scene, a person should keep a central file (both digital and hard copy) of all records relating to the accident. This includes doctor appointments and bills, rental car or taxi/Uber receipts, and the police report itself. Such records will be critical when filing a personal injury suit.
- Contact an attorney. Regardless of whether the commuter or trucker is at fault, it is important to consult with an attorney following an accident. An attorney can advise on the quality and likelihood of a case and help ensure that money is recovered in a timely manner.
How Truck Accidents are Different from Auto Accidents
When a driver is in a collision with another commuter vehicle, this person will have to deal with both insurance companies. However, when a person is involved in an accident with a commercial truck, he/she may be up against a large commercial insurance company. These large corporate insurance firms will often send representatives and/or attorneys to the accident scene in an effort to prevent a personal injury lawsuit, regardless of who was at fault. While they are not necessarily dishonest individuals, their job demands that they make every effort to shift liability away from the truck driver and the trucking company at large. This may mean recording conversations while one is in a state of shock and trying to get one to make self-incriminating statements. In some cases, they often ask victims to sign paperwork which, unbeknownst to the victim, forfeits the right to sue.
The worst part is that whether insurance representatives show up at the scene or not, a person could be contacted in the days or weeks following the accident by such individuals. As such, it is critical that a person not discuss the truck accident with anyone from the insurance company or the trucking company without first speaking to a lawyer. Also, do not let them record any conversations that do occur. Instead, it is best to refer them to one’s attorney or simply hang up—there is no legal obligation to speak to them.
When a Family Member is Killed in a Truck Accident
Truck accidents carry a high risk of fatality. As such, if a family member is killed in a truck accident, his/her loved ones may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. While money will not overcompensate for the loss of life, it may provide both a measure of justice and ensure financial stability for those left behind. A family member can sue even if he/she was not in the vehicle at the time of the accident and did not witness it. In such situations, it is critical to hire an attorney right away to ensure that any necessary evidence to prove liability is fresh and accessible.
What Should I Bring When I Meet With a Personal Injury Attorney?
As mentioned earlier, a person should maintain a file of records relating to a truck accident should he/she need to file a personal injury lawsuit. If one has not been maintaining such a file, then he/she should get started right away. Ideally one should bring the following materials (or as many of them as can be gathered) to a meeting with an attorney:
- ID and personal contact information
- Contact information of the trucker, as well as his/her insurance details
- The police report
- All medical records related to the accident (including both diagnoses and bills)
- Photos or scans (MRI, CT, etc.) of physical injuries, where applicable
- Witness information (statements and/or contact info)
- Photos and videos of the vehicle(s) and scene
- A detailed report of property damage (e.g. mechanic’s assessment of the vehicle and/or photos)
- Any other relevant details or information
What is the Statute of Limitations for Truck Accidents in New Jersey?
New Jersey allows a person to file a personal injury claim against another person or trucking company within two years of the date of the crash. This is known as the “statute of limitations.” The two-year limit is intended to ensure that no person/company is liable for the rest of their life for a specific incident.
NJ does require that a person first attempt to settle with the insurance company before filing a personal injury claim. A trucking insurance company may attempt to drag this process out, which is why it is critical to begin as soon as possible.
Note that once the statute of limitations passes it is highly unlikely that a person will be able to bring a NJ truck accident lawsuit. However, there may be some exceptions, so it is always best to consult with a NJ personal injury lawyer before giving up.
What Does Insurance Cover in a Truck Accident?
The ability to file an insurance claim as a result of a truck accident depends on the type of insurance the non-truck driver has: limitation on lawsuit (also known as the verbal threshold) or no limitation (also called no threshold) on lawsuit. Those whose insurance has a verbal threshold may not receive payment for non-economic losses (i.e. “pain and suffering”). There are certain exceptions to this, which include:
- Broken/fractured bone
- Death of a loved one
- Loss of an unborn child
- Permanent injury/disability
- Scarring or disfigurement
A person can also file a personal injury protection (PIP) claim with their own insurance company for medical expenses. In some cases, a person can file a PIP for non-medical expenses, such as:
- Lost wages due to disability or other inability to return to work (temporarily or permanently)
- Expenses related to tasks that injury makes temporarily difficult or impossible (e.g. mowing the lawn or caring for young kids)
- Funeral expenses for a loved one that was killed in the accident
Auto Insurance and NJ Truck Accidents
New Jersey requires drivers to have no less than a basic policy with minimum coverage in case a driver is found to be at fault in an accident. This state-mandated minimum includes:
- Bodily Injury Liability, which can pay up to $15,000 for each person or $30,000 for all persons injured in auto accidents that the insured causes.
- Property Damage Liability, which can offer up to $5,000 for property damaged as a result of an auto accident that the insured causes.
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP), which pays the policyholder and anyone else covered by the policy $15,000 per person per accident.
Some drivers may choose to pay for greater coverage in case of an accident. If the truck driver is an independent contractor, he/she may have similar payout limits. However, large trucking companies almost certainly have greater liability limits. The exact limit will depend on the company and its insurance policy.
Also, keep in mind that New Jersey uses what is called a “modified comparative fault” model for determining how much monetary compensation is awarded in trucking and other auto accidents. This model pays out a proportion of the estimated award based on how much at fault each driver is. For example, a judge may determine that a person is entitled to $200,000 in medical bills not covered by insurance as a result of a collision with a truck. If the person is found to be 40% responsible for the accident, then he/she will only get 60% of percent of the $200,000, or $120,000. If a person if found to be more than 50% at fault for a crash, then he/she will not receive any compensation through a personal injury lawsuit.
What Can be Used to Determine Fault in a NJ Truck Accident?
Insurance companies (as well as juries in a personal injury lawsuit) use a variety of factors to determine how much each driver is at fault in a truck accident. This can include:
- Photos of the accident scene (taken by police, witnesses, or the parties involved)
- Details of the police report
- Witness statements, which can include vehicle passengers and bystanders
- Traffic camera footage or surveillance camera footage
- Dashcam footage
- Breath, blood or urine test results for alcohol or drugs
- Cell phone records (for evidence of an active call or texting)
- Any statements made to the trucking company’s insurance adjuster and/or attorney
Case Law Analysis
Types of Injuries Caused by Truck Accidents
Many injuries caused by truck accidents require medical treatment such as surgery, rehabilitation, and physical therapy. The person may also require a medication regimen including painkillers, anti-inflammatory, antibiotics (to eliminate or reduce infection), and more. In addition to treatment, injuries from a NJ car crash may make it difficult or impossible to return to work, to maintain normal family relationships, or to even perform basic everyday activities (such as showering or eating). In such cases, a New Jersey personal injury attorney is usually required to help recover the damages for such injuries.
Some of the most common injuries associated with auto accidents include brain damage, broken bones, burns, dismemberment, lacerations and cuts, leg and foot injuries, ruptured or herniated discs, and spinal cord injuries. Keep in mind that many injuries do not manifest right away, especially back or neck injuries.
Why Hire A Personal Injury Attorney After a Truck Accident?
It may seem obvious but many people mistakenly believe they can handle a personal injury case on their own or through their auto insurance. Unfortunately, while most people have very little experience with personal injury lawsuits, many trucking companies deal with them regularly (a cost of doing business).
As such, the trucking company likely has an attorney on retainer doing everything imaginable in order to:
- Harm the reputation of the victim
- Claim that the injuries happened before the accident and were not related to it
- Terminate or complicate the case before the victim can even see a courtroom
Thus, anyone who has been involved in a truck accident must be proactive and contact an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney who will be able to represent his/her interests and prevent opposing counsel from presenting him/her in a negative light.
Truck Accident Statistics
There were more than 450,000 truck accidents in the United States in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. Of those, 106,000, or 23.5%, involved injuries. Thankfully, only 1% of all crashes (4,237) resulted in death that year. Approximately 5% of accidents listed faulty vehicle equipment as a factor.
Common Questions About Truck Accident Injury Cases
Who Should I Contact About My Truck Accident Injuries?
If you or someone you love has been injured in an auto accident, contact the attorneys at Rosenblum Law. Our experienced and skilled attorneys have won many cases with positive results. To speak directly to one of our attorneys call 888-235-9021 or email us today.