New York Car Accident Lawyer
A Guide to Truck Accident Claims in New York
Truck accidents are among the most devastating kinds of accidents. This isn’t surprising given that a typical commercial truck weighs 20-30 times as much as a passenger car. As a result, it’s not uncommon for truck accident victims to face life-changing injuries that cause physical pain and emotional distress, all on top of lost wages, large medical bills, and other expenses.
If you’ve been injured in a truck accident in New York, this guide will help you understand your rights, as well as how truck accidents happen, how to pursue compensation, and what to expect during the legal process.
For purposes of this guide, a commercial truck may include:
- Tractor trailers
- Tanker trucks
- Flatbed trucks
- Garbage or dump trucks
- Moving trucks
- Tow trucks
- Construction vehicles
- Delivery trucks
Bus accidents can also share similar characteristics due to their size, weight, and design.
Navigating any kind of accident claim on your own is not easy, but this especially true for a truck accident. There are unique aspects of truck accidents that will affect your approach to building a case and seeking compensation.
Not only do you need deep knowledge of the law and legal process generally, but truck accidents also require special knowledge of the trucking industry and the insurance system. For the greatest chance of securing full and fair compensation for your losses, you should get the help of an experienced truck accident attorney.
Table of Contents
- Finding an Attorney for Your Case
- Common Causes of Truck Accidents
- Common Types of Collisions & Injuries
- Getting Compensation Through Your Insurance
- Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party
- Frequently Asked Questions
Truck accidents and personal injury overview
The law recognizes just how dangerous commercial trucks can be to others on the road. As a result, the trucking industry is highly regulated. In New York, truckers must follow detailed rules and regulations adopted by both the New York State Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”). Individual municipalities may also have additional laws and regulations that apply to commercial trucks.
For example, under FMCSA regulations, truck drivers carrying property generally may not drive more than 11 hours in a shift after taking at least 10 consecutive hours off duty. If they have driven for 8 cumulative hours, they also have to take a 30-minute break. In addition, truck drivers must keep an accurate logbook of their time, including all hours driven and their breaks. These rules are designed to combat fatigue among drivers, which can lead to accidents.
The trucking industry is subject to many other legal requirements, including with respect to:
- Driver training, hiring, and licensing
- Maintaining trucks
- Correctly loading cargo
- Transporting hazardous materials
- Transporting oversized loads
- Ensuring drivers refrain from alcohol or substance abuse
Even with all these regulations, hundreds of thousands of truck accidents happen every year in the United States, resulting in thousands of injuries and even death. According to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ITSMR), in 2018 there were 20,549 accidents involving large trucks in New York alone.
The causes of these accidents vary, but often, truck accidents are due to human error, such as:
- distracted driving (talking on a cell phone, texting, eating, etc.),
- speeding or breaking other traffic laws,
- fatigue or falling asleep at the wheel,
- improper maintenance,
- improper loading, or
- driving under the influence.
Even if the truck driver was at fault, however, you should know that New York is a “no fault” auto insurance state. This means that all New York drivers must carry personal injury protection, or PIP, insurance. If you’re injured in a truck accident, your PIP coverage will pay for your medical expenses up to your policy’s limits — regardless of who caused the accident. Your PIP coverage may also compensate you for certain other economic losses, such as lost wages.
However, due to the severity of truck accidents, it’s not unusual for medical expenses to quickly surpass PIP policy limits, which in New York can be as low as $50,000. If your PIP coverage isn’t sufficient to cover your costs, you may also be able to pursue compensation for your economic losses from the at-fault party (or their insurance company).
Depending on the nature of your injuries, you may also be able to sue for pain and suffering or other non-economic losses. But under New York insurance law, this is only possible if you’ve suffered certain qualifying “serious injuries.”
A New York truck accident lawyer can help you identify all possible sources of compensation. Even if you’re only dealing with your own insurer, it’s worth it to have an experienced advocate on your side. Insurance companies are focused on protecting their bottom lines, which means they’ll try to pay out as little as they can. And because they handle claims regularly, their claims adjusters are skilled negotiators. Without the help of an experienced lawyer, you may find it difficult to get appropriate compensation for your losses.
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What to do if you’ve been in a truck accident
Any kind of accident is shocking and stressful. It can be difficult to focus on anything but your recovery in the aftermath. Still, to preserve your chances of getting full and fair compensation, you should be sure to take the steps outlined below as soon as possible.
Common mistakes to avoid
In addition to the steps above that you should take, there are several things you should not do after a truck accident. These actions can seriously harm your case and your ability to get full compensation. Below are a few examples of common mistakes.
You should never admit fault for an accident to anyone. That includes the truck driver, trucking company representatives, police, insurance companies, witnesses, or anyone else. Even just saying you’re sorry can be interpreted as an admission of guilt, so it’s best to say as little as possible.
Determining exactly what happened in a truck accident often takes a thorough investigation. There may be factors that contributed to the accident that you’re not aware of. So even if you think an accident was your fault, that may not be legally accurate. And in any case, you are not responsible for determining fault.
Note that if you did contribute to an accident, New York follows a comparative negligence rule. This means that your damages may be reduced by your percentage of fault. Insurance companies also look at this rule when evaluating third-party claims. Your attorney will collect and evaluate evidence and ensure that fault is properly assigned in your case. (See Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party — The “comparative negligence” rule.).
Giving too much information to the insurance companies
Your auto insurance policy likely requires you to notify your insurer of any accidents and cooperate with their investigation. However, you should only give the details required by your policy. If you have an attorney, they can and should communicate on your behalf, as insurance companies will be searching for reasons to reduce or deny your claim.
You also should not sign anything from your insurer until you’ve consulted with an attorney. That includes settlement offers, medical release forms, or other documents. Signing certain paperwork could hurt your right to pursue full compensation. Medical release forms may also give the insurance company access to your entire medical history, and they may use previous injuries or conditions as an excuse to reduce or deny your claim.
Also keep in mind that you do not have any obligation to talk to the trucking company or another party’s insurance company. In fact, it’s best not to talk to them at all. Instead, take down the insurance company’s information and contact an attorney right away.
Waiting too long to act
If you’re dealing with injuries, trying to find a lawyer may seem like a daunting task. But it’s important to do this as soon as possible. Your attorney will be able to jump into action on your behalf to preserve evidence, talk to witnesses, and start building your case.
There are also strict deadlines — insurance claims with your own insurer have to be filed within 30 days. A law called the “statute of limitations” also limits the time for filing a personal injury lawsuit. In New York, the statute of limitations generally gives auto accident victims three years from the date of the accident to start a lawsuit.
While three years might seem like a lot of time, investigations and negotiating with the insurance companies may take longer than you expect. To make sure you have plenty of time to negotiate and file a lawsuit if necessary, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible after your accident.
Talking about your accident on social media
Many people use social media to keep their friends and family updated on major life events. But if you’re in an accident, you’ll need to remember that insurance companies sometimes spy on social media accounts, looking for evidence they can use to reduce or deny your claim. This may even be true for your own insurance company. For this reason, you must be very careful about what you post on social media after an accident. In fact, it’s best not to post anything at all until you’ve resolved your case.
While this may seem extreme, posting photos or updates related to your accident or recovery may be used against you. And even seemingly unrelated posts, such as photos of you on a trip or enjoying a hobby can make it seem like you’re “fine” even when you’re not. If you need to give updates to your friends and family about how you’re doing, you should do it privately.
Agreeing to a settlement too soon
Seeing mounting medical bills and expenses while dealing with recovery is stressful. It may be tempting to accept a quick settlement so you can get cash quickly. But as noted above, the trucking company and insurance companies (including your own) will be focused on protecting their bottom line — not giving full and fair compensation. They will resist paying out full compensation, which means that early settlement offers are usually much lower than you actually deserve.
If you accept a settlement offer too soon, there’s nothing you can do to take it back. Once you accept a settlement, you give up your right to pursue the claim any further. To make sure you get full and fair compensation, you should speak to a personal injury attorney before accepting any offer.
Finding an Attorney for Your Case
One of the most important things you need to do after any auto accident is find a lawyer you trust to help you through the process. Many people make the mistake of thinking they can handle an accident claim on their own through their own insurance. But even your own insurer will be more concerned with protecting their own financial interests than giving you full and fair compensation. You cannot rely on them to explain your rights, advise you on the best course of action, or focus on your best interests above all else.
When a commercial truck is involved, it’s even more critical to have the right attorney. Commercial policies are very valuable, which means insurance adjusters working on these cases will be highly skilled negotiators. Trucking companies also typically have experienced and aggressive investigators and attorneys on their side, all searching for ways to minimize any payments to you. Their deep pockets and resources and high motivation to protect their own interests make it difficult to get what you deserve.
By hiring your own experienced attorney, you’ll be able to even the playing field. In particular, your attorney will:
- help you understand your rights;
- investigate your case and identify all legally responsible parties;
- establish the potential value of your claim;
- handle all accident-related communications and negotiations with third parties, including the insurance companies;
- gather evidence, such as trucking company records, black box data, safety logs, and medical records;
- engage appropriate experts to support your case, such as accident reconstructionists and medical experts; and
- navigate complicated court procedures and legal requirements.
In other words, your lawyer will handle the heavy lifting throughout your case, so you can focus on your recovery.
What to bring to a legal consultation
When meeting with a potential attorney, you should bring any evidence you have with you. This may include:
- medical records (bills, diagnoses, MRI/CT/test results, etc.)
- photos or videos of the accident scene, the vehicles, and/or your injuries
- any contact information you have for the trucker, the trucking company, their insurer, and any witnesses
- the police report
- your own written account of what happened before, during, and after the accident
- any other relevant information or documents
All of this will help the lawyer better understand what happened. If your attorney believes they can help you and you decide to work together, they’ll proceed with a more thorough investigation.
The sooner you start the process, the better. A proper investigation and building a case can take some time. There are also strict deadlines for filing insurance claims and lawsuits. If you miss these deadlines, you may no longer have the right to pursue any compensation.
What to look for in an attorney
Your attorney can have a big impact on the success of your case, so you should choose one carefully. Here are a few things to look for when hiring a truck accident lawyer:
When choosing a lawyer, you should also be wary of any attorney who claims they can get you money fast. While getting compensation quickly sounds great, especially if you’re facing medical bills or you’re unable to work, this may not be in your best interest.
A lawyer who says they can resolve a case quickly isn’t necessarily a good lawyer. And a case taking several years, like many personal injury cases do, doesn’t mean that the attorney is bad. In fact, the best way to ensure maximum compensation is to thoroughly prepare and negotiate a case.
Unfortunately, there are many law firms who are more interested in quick payouts than getting maximum compensation. Instead of aggressively advocating on your behalf, they quickly resolve cases for smaller amounts. The smaller amounts are acceptable to these law firms because they can make up the fees by taking on a larger volume of cases. But that only benefits them, and not you, as the client. If you come across a law firm that settles a lot of cases quickly, you should consider it a red flag.
Looking for the best truck accident lawyer in New York?
At Rosenblum Law, we understand the devastating effects a truck accident can have on your life. We’ll thoroughly evaluate your situation and determine the best course of action for your particular circumstances. If we’re able to take on your case, we’ll guide you through the legal process and fight on your behalf for maximum compensation. We also have relationships with medical and accident reconstruction experts who we can bring on to support your case if needed.
In addition, if we’re not the right law firm for you, we provide guidance for those looking for help selecting the best law firm for their case. We have a large network with dozens of law firms that we have pre-screened to ensure that you will get the best law firm for your specific case.
For a free consultation, call us today at 888-235-9021 or contact us through our website at www.rosenblumlaw.com/contact. We’re passionate about helping all our clients get the compensation they’re owed — and we won’t take a fee unless we win a settlement or verdict for you.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Truck accidents happen for many different reasons. But it’s often not easy to determine the exact cause without a thorough investigation. Some contributing factors may not be obvious, and there also may be more than one cause.
Still, it’s important to figure out the cause or causes of an accident, as it will determine who you can pursue compensation from — whether that’s the truck driver, trucking company, and/or another third party.
Below are some common causes of truck accidents. To figure out what happened in your accident, it’s best to get the help of an experienced truck accident attorney. Your attorney will know what evidence to look for, how to interpret it, and explore all possibilities. They’ll also be able to engage experts, such as accident reconstructionists, to make sure they have a complete understanding of what happened and how.
Driver error is a major cause of auto accidents generally — and truck accidents are no exception. According to ITSMR, in 2018 human factors caused 16,405 large truck accidents in New York alone. And according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), in 2018 at least one driver-related error was recorded for 32% of fatal truck accidents across the United States. Speeding was the leading cause in these accidents.
Other examples of truck driver errors include:
- Failure to yield
- Unsafe lane changes
- Sharp turns
- Failure to use signals
- Other traffic violations
While most commercial vehicle drivers are skilled at handling such large and complex vehicles, when they do make mistakes, they should be held accountable. If a trucking company failed to properly hire, train, or supervise a driver, they may be held legally responsible as well. An employer trucking company could also be held responsible for the negligent acts of an employee truck driver under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. (See Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party — Identifying responsible parties.)
Driver errors happen for many reasons. Below are a few factors that may contribute to a trucker’s ability to drive safely.
Overloading or improper loading
Properly loading a truck is important to the safety of everyone on the road. There are generally three types of loading errors that may contribute to truck accidents:
Both federal and New York law limits the weight of commercial vehicles. But sometimes businesses overload their trucks to increase their profit, putting others on the road at risk. There is never a reason why a company should overload a truck. Overloading makes it more difficult for the driver to maneuver and brake. It can also cause mechanical failure or tire blowouts due to the strain on the truck.
Proper distribution across a truck’s axles is one of the most important aspects of transporting cargo. Sometimes, the facility loading the cargo may be responsible for improperly distributing a load. Or, a trucker may fail to redistribute their remaining load after a delivery as a way to save time. Either way, when a load isn’t properly distributed, the truck may become unbalanced, making it more difficult to control. Improper distribution may also cause mechanical failures if an axle is consistently overloaded.
A truck’s load must also be properly secured. Otherwise, the cargo may shift, affecting the driver’s ability to control the truck. The cargo may also fall off of the truck, creating obstructions in the roadway or even hitting other vehicles.
Mechanical / equipment failures
All vehicles should be regularly inspected and maintained for safety reasons. But trucks in particular are subject to a lot of wear and tear due to long periods on the road in all kinds of conditions. Under federal regulations, the owners of commercial trucks must strictly follow a maintenance schedule and keep records of such maintenance.
But maintenance and repair means that a truck will be taken out of service — and the owner can’t use it to make money. Unfortunately, some trucking companies fail to properly maintain their trucks so they can continue making a profit. Or they may rush through maintenance, resulting in inadequate repairs. Drivers may also ignore issues they notice because of the pressure to keep on schedule and make deliveries as fast as possible.
Failure to inspect, maintain, or repair a truck can lead to issues like tire blowouts, inadequate lights, faulty brakes, and other equipment failures — all of which may cause accidents that injure others. Sometimes, truck parts may also be inherently faulty due to design or manufacturing problems. In these cases, the designer or manufacturer may be found at fault for any accidents resulting from these flaws.
Weather or road conditions
In bad weather, slippery roads or poor visibility cause a lot more accidents. And even on a nice day, the glaring sun may make it difficult to see. Damaged roads, construction, and other poor road conditions can also cause accidents. According to ITSMR, 2,577 truck accidents in New York in 2018 were due to environmental factors.
In these situations, it might seem like no one is at fault — after all, no one can control the weather. But when a driver chooses to drive when it’s not safe to do so, they may still be at fault. They may also be found at fault if they don’t drive in a way that’s appropriate for the conditions. Examples of negligent driving in poor weather may include:
- Driving at unsafe speeds for the conditions — even if they’re under the speed limit
- Following another vehicle too closely
- Failing to use headlights when visibility is poor
- Driving a vehicle that isn’t properly maintained (e.g., with worn tires or broken tail lights)
Common Types of Collisions & Injuries
Due to the size, weight, and design of commercial trucks, when they hit another vehicle, the consequences are often serious. According to the FMCSA, 4,415 fatal crashes involved large trucks in 2018. Each of these crashes resulted in, on average, 1.12 fatalities — and in 82% of these cases, the fatalities were not the occupants of the large truck. There were also 107,000 additional truck crashes in 2018 that resulted in injury.
Below are a few common types of truck collisions and injuries. Understanding exactly how the accident happened and the full extent of your injuries are both crucial to a successful claim. So you should get the help of a lawyer who is familiar with different types of truck accidents and common injuries.
Common types of truck accidents
A few common types of truck accidents include:
Common truck accident injuries
Regardless of the type of collision, truck accidents have a higher risk of catastrophic injury and death compared to other auto accidents. But even if you feel fine immediately after a truck accident, some injuries, such as organ damage, can take days or even weeks to become apparent. So it’s important to pay close attention to how you feel in the aftermath of an accident. If you feel pain or anything else unusual, you should get medical attention right away.
Some common truck accident injuries include:
- Head and brain trauma
- Neck and back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries (including paralysis)
- Broken or shattered bones
- Lacerations and cuts
- Loss of hearing, speech, or sight
- Organ damage
- Loss of limbs
Many of these injuries require significant medical treatment. You may need to spend time in the hospital or get surgery, rehabilitation, or physical therapy. Or you may experience permanent disfigurement, disability, or lifelong pain. You also may not be able to work, take care of your family, or perform your usual daily activities. In other words, your expenses and losses from injuries can add up quickly, and it’s not easy to calculate the full financial impact.
To properly evaluate your losses and seek the right amount of compensation, it’s important to work with an experienced truck accident lawyer. A good attorney will engage the right medical experts to get a better understanding of your injuries and their immediate and long-term effects.
Getting Compensation Through Your Insurance
As discussed in earlier, New York is one of a handful of states with a “no fault” auto insurance system. This means that if you’re injured in an auto accident, including a truck accident, your own insurance company should be your first stop for compensation. How much you’re able to recover from your insurer will depend on your policy limit.
If this compensation isn’t enough to cover your losses, or if you suffered certain serious injuries, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. See Getting Compensation From an At-Fault Party.
Below is a summary of what you should know when pursuing compensation from your own insurance company.
“No fault” insurance
“No fault” insurance is also known as personal injury protection, or PIP, and it’s required by law in New York. If you or someone else covered by your policy is injured in an auto accident, your own auto insurance company will generally pay for certain economic losses up to your policy’s PIP limit — regardless of who caused the accident.
Basic New York no-fault auto insurance coverage generally pays for:
- Medical and rehabilitation expenses
- 80% of lost wages up to a maximum of $2,000 per month for up to three years from the date of the accident (less offsets for state disability, worker’s compensation, and federal social security disability benefits)
- Up to $25 per day for up to a year from the date of the accident to reimburse reasonable and necessary expenses such as transportation to medical providers and household help
- $2,000 death benefit payable to the estate of a person eligible for no-fault benefits who’s killed in an auto accident
If your economic losses exceed your policy’s limits, you may be able to pursue additional compensation from the at-fault party. (See Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party.)
To be eligible for PIP benefits, you must follow strict procedures, including providing written notice of the accident to your insurer within 30 days of the accident. It’s best to get the help of an attorney to navigate this process.
The right to sue for pain and suffering
As noted above, it’s possible to sue an at-fault driver for non-economic damages like pain and suffering if you sustain certain serious injuries as defined under New York law.
Under New York Insurance Law § 5102(d), qualifying serious injuries include:
- significant disfigurement
- loss of a fetus
- permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system
- permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member
- significant limitation of use of a body function or system
- a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than 90 days during the 180 days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.
You’ll need objective medical evidence showing a serious injury in order to proceed with a lawsuit. And the sooner you collect such evidence, the better. If you’re not able to show evidence of a serious injury, your case will be dismissed. In Nicolas v. Pierre, for example, two of the defendants made a motion to resolve the case in their favor before trial on the grounds the plaintiff didn’t suffer a “serious injury.” They submitted medical reports in support of their motion that the court found sufficient, and the plaintiff was not able to submit strong enough countering medical evidence of a “serious injury.” As a result, the court held in favor of the defendants.
As the Nicolas case shows, whether your injuries qualify as serious under the New York law may be disputed by the defendants. And different medical experts can come to different conclusions. A personal injury attorney can help you determine if you have a qualifying serious injury, as well as collect the right evidence and engage the right experts to support your case.
Negotiating with insurance companies
While you may think insurance is supposed to protect you, unfortunately even your own insurance company won’t necessarily have your best interests in mind. As a result, they may delay or even deny your claim in an effort to protect their bottom line.
That means you can’t rely on insurance companies — even your own — to explain your rights, provide advice, or offer fair compensation for your losses. And since insurance adjusters deal with auto accident claims on a regular basis, they’ll likely have an advantage against you in negotiations. They’re also experienced and skilled at digging for details and information that could damage your claim and allow them to pay less.
This is a big reason why you should have an experienced truck accident attorney on your side. Your attorney can handle all communications and negotiations on your behalf, including with your insurance company. You should not give any detailed statements, sign a release for your medical records, or accept any offers from an insurance company until you’ve consulted your lawyer. Your attorney can help make sure that you don’t make costly mistakes and that the insurance company is handling your claim appropriately. If your attorney can’t reach a fair settlement with the insurer, they’ll also be able to file a lawsuit for you.
Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party
Truck accident victims often end up with expenses that far exceed the limits of their PIP coverage. In this case, you may be able to pursue additional compensation from the at-fault party, such as the truck driver or the trucking company (or their insurance companies).
Under federal regulations, commercial trucks are required to have much greater liability coverage than a passenger vehicle. The minimum required insurance coverage for a large truck is $750,000. Depending on what the truck is carrying, it may need to carry even more — for example, in the case of hazardous substances, the truck would need $1-5 million of insurance coverage.
Note that you can only sue an at-fault party for non-economic losses such as pain and suffering if you sustained a “serious injury” as defined under Section 5102(d) of the New York Insurance Law. (See Getting Compensation Through Your Insurance — The right to sue for pain and suffering)
Statute of limitations
If you’re injured in an accident, you should consult an attorney and start the claims process as soon as possible. Under New York’s statute of limitations, you only have three years from the date of an accident to file a lawsuit. For lawsuits against certain defendants, such as municipalities, you’re also required to file a Notice of Claim within 90 days of the accident.
Once the statute of limitations has lapsed, if you try to file a lawsuit, the court will dismiss your case unless a rare exception applies. It doesn’t matter how strong your case would have been.
While three years may seem like plenty of time, you should not wait to get started. Negotiating directly with insurance companies to get compensation may also take longer than you think. The trucking company may even try to drag this process out.
In addition, the best evidence is often available right after an accident. The sooner you act, the stronger the case you can build. Rushing to build a case can result in mistakes that can harm your ability to get compensation. The trucking company and their representatives will also start gathering evidence and building their case immediately, and it’s best not to give them a chance to get ahead.
Keep in mind that you also have to file any no-fault claim with your auto insurance company within 30 days. Your attorney will handle meeting all deadlines, which is why it’s important to talk to one as soon as possible.
Valuing a truck accident case
Valuing a case isn’t an exact science. The amount of compensation you’re able to receive will depend on your specific injuries and the impact they’ve had on your life. But to properly value your case, you’ll generally have to wait until you’ve reached “maximum medical improvement.” This means you’ll have to recover completely, or as fully as you’re likely to.
Some injuries will have long-term or lifelong effects, such as pain, disfigurement, or disability. Some injuries may also require ongoing treatment to provide temporary relief or prevent further problems. You can only assign an appropriate value to your case if you can establish the costs of all past and any expected future treatment, as well as the effects the injuries will have on your life.
Your attorney, with the help of medical experts, will estimate the appropriate amount to seek in your case. During settlement negotiations, your attorney will advise you on whether a settlement offer is a fair reflection of your case’s value. And if your case goes to trial, the judge or jury will decide how much to award based on the evidence and testimony. Your damages can fall into three categories:
Economic damages include compensation for monetary losses relating to your claim. Such losses may include past and future medical expenses, lost wages because you’re unable to work (or limited in the type of work you can do), and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Non-economic damages include compensation for things like pain and suffering, diminished quality of life, disfigurement, disability, and impairment. Spouses, children, and parents of injured patients may also be able to recover damages for loss of companionship and other benefits of a family relationship that were lost due to your injuries.
These types of damages are more subjective and more difficult to calculate. But generally, when deciding how much to award in non-economic damages, the judge or jury will consider the nature of the injury, its severity, and the impact on one’s life.
Punitive damages are reserved for extreme cases involving egregiously negligent, reckless, or willful conduct. They are rare, as they’re not intended to compensate a victim, but rather to punish the defendant for their conduct. Unlike some other states, New York doesn’t limit the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in a case.
Identifying responsible parties
Truck accidents are often more complex than accidents involving passenger vehicles. This is because there can be multiple defendants.
For example, under the legal doctrine called respondeat superior, it’s possible for a trucking company to be indirectly liable for an employee truck driver’s negligent behavior. In addition, if a trucking company is subject to FMCSA regulations, they can always be responsible for a driver’s negligent conduct. This is because FMCSA Regulations no longer distinguish between “employee” and “independent contractor” drivers. All drivers for trucking companies subject to FMCSA regulations are legally considered employees of truck carriers. A trucking company can also be directly liable for in cases such as negligent hiring, training, supervising, or maintenance.
Depending on what caused an accident, other potential defendants could include:
- The owner of the truck
- The loading facility
- The owner of the truck’s cargo
- The manufacturer of the truck or its parts
- The designer of the truck or its parts
- The mechanic responsible for maintenance of the truck
Multiple parties can quickly complicate your case. In Pierre v. Providence Washington Insurance Company, for example, the plaintiff was hit by a tractor-trailer and won a judgment against the driver and the owner of the tractor cab. The plaintiff discovered that the trailer was actually owned by another party and forwarded the judgment to the trailer owner’s insurance company for payment.
The trailer owner’s insurance company refused payment on the grounds they were not properly notified of the accident under the policy. This led to the plaintiff seeking legal action against the insurance company.
Ultimately, the court found that the insurance company was responsible for paying the judgment. It reached this conclusion because under federal law, motor carriers must register with the federal government and show they have adequate financial resources for accident judgments. And the tractor owner’s insurer issued a liability insurance policy to the trailer owner to satisfy this very requirement.
As the Pierre case shows, identifying all responsible parties will likely require a thorough investigation, as well as knowledge of relevant laws, the trucking industry, and the insurance system. It isn’t easy to do on your own. Different damages may also be covered by different parties and their respective insurers. This is yet another reason it’s best to get the help of an experienced truck accident attorney.
Elements of personal injury claim
To win a truck accident lawsuit, you have to prove four things, called the “elements” of your claim:
Building a truck accident case
Truck accidents require specialized investigations. To successfully bring a claim, you’ll need the help of an experienced truck accident attorney and experts to thoroughly and accurately conduct the investigation. In general, the more serious your injuries, the more complex your case will be. This is because serious injuries typically require more complicated medical evidence — and the defendants are more likely to aggressively defend the case.
It’s also important to move quickly. Not only is there a time limit for filing claims, but evidence can disappear quickly and witnesses can forget key details. For example, under federal regulations, certain truck company records are only required to be maintained for a limited time. A driver’s record of duty status and supporting documents must be kept for only six months. Other evidence, such as photos of injuries, vehicle damage, and road conditions, is also best collected immediately after an accident. If you wait too long, you may no longer be able to get this critical evidence.
Common truck accident evidence
Insurance companies and juries in a lawsuit will consider a variety of factors when determining fault. Evidence in a truck accident case may include:
- Data on the truck’s operation from the truck’s “black box”
- Data from onboard communications systems and GPS systems
- Maintenance and inspection records
- The truck driver’s logbook
- Records on the driver’s qualifications, training, and drug and alcohol screenings
- Load documents, such as bills of lading, weight tickets, dispatch instructions, and delivery documents
- Photos of the accident scene (by the parties involved, police, or witnesses)
- Medical records
- Traffic camera, dash cam, or surveillance footage
- The police report
- Witness statements
- Breath, blood, or urine test results for alcohol or drugs
- Cell phone records (documenting an active call or texting)
Truck company records may be especially helpful evidence. For example, FMCSA regulations require that commercial truck drivers keep a record of their driving time to make sure they don’t violate Hours of Service regulations. If they exceed the permitted number of hours, and the logbook reflects this, it may bolster an argument that the driver caused the accident due to fatigue.
The truck’s “black box” may also be helpful in proving fault. Like airplanes, most large commercial trucks today have a black box. This is a device that records data on the truck’s useage and the driver’s habits. It includes information on how long the trucker has been driving and what the driver was doing just before the accident. It can also provide evidence of brake usage, steering changes, and speed. All of this data can make it easier to determine who was negligent in an accident.
The role of experts
Experts are another important part of building a truck accident case. Sometimes the negligence is so obvious that expert testimony isn’t necessary. But in many other cases, attorneys must work with experts to reconstruct the accident and examine parts of the truck so that they can determine exactly what happened and how.
When choosing a lawyer, you should look for someone who has access to highly qualified experts. The defendants will have their own experts testifying on their behalf, and having the right experts on your side can have a big impact on the outcome of your case. The more qualified the expert, the more believable the expert will be to the judge or jury at trial.
The “comparative negligence” rule
Sometimes, more than one person contributes to an accident. In this case, New York follows a “comparative negligence” rule.
In most accident cases, the jury will have to calculate, based on the evidence:
- the total damages for the plaintiff, and
- the percentage of fault that each party is responsible for.
Under New York’s pure comparative fault rule, your damages will be reduced by a percentage equal to your share of the fault. As an example, if the jury finds that your losses equal $100,000 in damages and that you were 20% at fault, under New York’s rule you would get 80% of the damages, or $80,000.
Unlike in some other states that use a comparative fault rule, in New York you can recover damages even if you were more at fault than the other driver. For example, if your damages were $100,000 and you were 90% at fault, you could still recover $10,000 in damages. The flipside, of course, is that you could be responsible for 90% of the other party’s damages.
The consequences of this rule is reflected in Spier v. Barker. In this case, the plaintiff’s convertible was hit by a tractor-trailer and ejected her from the car, as she was not wearing a seatbelt. On appeal, the court held that the plaintiff’s failure to use her seatbelt could be considered by the jury in determining whether the plaintiff contributed to the severity of her injuries — and that her damages could be reduced accordingly.
Note that insurance companies will also use the comparative fault rule when evaluating your case. This rule is a major reason why you should not admit fault to anyone and get the help of a lawyer to help ensure fault is properly allocated.
The litigation process
If you and your attorney decide to proceed with a lawsuit, below is an overview of what you can expect. While this may seem intimidating, your attorney will handle the entire process on your behalf and guide you every step of the way.
The amount of time it takes to go through the litigation process varies from case to case. It will depend on how complicated your case is, how busy the court is, and how willing the parties are to cooperate and negotiate. In general, however, preparing a truck accident case and going through the entire trial process can take several years.
Suing a Canadian or Mexican carrier
Out-of-state truck drivers are common on New York roadways. Sometimes, you’ll even see truckers from Canada and Mexico.
Canadian and Mexican truckers may be allowed into the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for limited purposes. They must be picking up goods for delivery in Canada or Mexico, or delivering goods from Canada or Mexico. They are only allowed to make one or two stops, and generally can’t move goods between destinations within the United States.
If you’ve been injured by a Canadian or Mexican truck, the important thing to know is that foreign truckers are still subject to U.S. and New York laws, rules, and regulations. All drivers, including Canadian and Mexican ones, also must have valid insurance, so there’s a good chance you’ll have a source of compensation.
Still, dealing with a foreign trucker may make your case a little more complicated. If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a foreign carrier, it’s important to have an attorney who is familiar with NAFTA and how it may impact your claim.
Rental truck accidents
While rental trucks are often smaller than other types of trucks, they’re still more difficult to control than a passenger vehicle, especially with heavy or improperly secured loads. They’re also large and heavy enough to cause serious damage in an accident. Still, rental companies like U-Haul, Ryder, or Penske will rent vans and trucks to drivers even if they don’t have any experience operating a larger vehicle. This can lead to accidents, as many of these customers do not know how to properly maneuver the truck, check blindspots, or load cargo.
In some cases, the rental truck company could also be held responsible for an accident involving one of their trucks. For example, if the rental company rented a truck to an unlicensed or an obviously intoxicated driver, they could be liable for an accident caused by that driver. Or if the rental truck company didn’t properly maintain the truck, the company could be responsible for an accident caused by mechanical issues.
If you’ve been injured in a rental truck accident, it’s important to get the help of an experienced attorney. Your attorney will help determine the cause of the accident, who should be held responsible, and identify all possible sources of compensation.
Settlements and mediation
Throughout the entire legal process, your attorney will negotiate with the other side to try to resolve the case out of court. Resolving a case out of court is called a “settlement.”
A settlement may be reached through direct negotiations. The parties may also agree to mediation. Mediation is a proceeding where a neutral third-party, called the mediator, helps the plaintiff and defendant reach a settlement. Mediators are often retired judges, attorneys, or other court personnel.
There are no set rules for a mediation. Instead, it’s usually guided by the mediator’s own style and method. The mediator will listen to both sides and make sure everyone gets a chance to tell their story and ask questions. The idea is that this process will help both sides come to an understanding and fair compromise. Of course, sometimes that isn’t possible. If you can’t reach a compromise through mediation, you can still proceed with your case in court.
Both sides to a lawsuit usually prefer to settle, because it helps avoid the lengthy, expensive, and uncertain trial process. But defendants still want to pay out as little as possible, and sometimes they may not offer a fair settlement, especially early in the process. It’s best not to rush settlement negotiations. In general, the faster you settle, the lower the settlement amount. Fast settlements are typically for an amount much less than your case is truly worth.
It’s also important to never accept a settlement offer until you’ve consulted with an attorney. You need a skilled negotiator on your side to get the best possible outcome. Your attorney will review all evidence and engage the right experts to confirm a fair value for your case. If you can’t reach a fair settlement, your attorney should be prepared and willing to go to trial.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, you likely have a lot of questions about your case. Below are answers to some common questions we receive about truck accidents in New York. But keep in mind that every case is different. If you’d like to discuss the specifics of your case, you should contact a New York truck accident attorney.
Under New York’s no-fault auto insurance system, your own auto insurance is responsible for your medical expenses up to your policy’s PIP limit. This is true regardless of who was at fault.
But because truck accidents often result in serious injuries, your policy may not be sufficient to cover your injuries. In that case, you may also be able to pursue compensation from an at-fault third party (or their insurer). (See Getting Compensation From Your Insurance and Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party.)
Promptly reporting any accident is likely required under your policy. If you fail to do so, it may be considered a breach of our policy and your insurance company could raise your rates or even cancel your insurance.
While you should give the facts required by your policy, you should not offer any extra information or give any detailed statements until you’ve consulted with a lawyer. If you’re tempted to give an explanation of an answer, you should consult with your attorney to determine the best way to answer the question. In fact, it’s best to have your lawyer handle all communications with the insurance company on your behalf.
If anyone else’s insurance company contacts you, you should refuse to speak to them. You do not have any legal obligation to tell them anything. Instead, take down their contact information and tell them that your attorney will reach out to them on your behalf.
See Getting Compensation From Your Insurance — Negotiating with insurance companies for more information.
Hit-and-runs are a serious offense. Whenever there’s an injury or property damage, everyone involved must wait for the police to arrive. Hit-and-run drivers are subject to penalties, including fines, jail time, and license suspension.
If you were injured in a truck accident and the driver immediately disappeared (or gave false information and left), your PIP coverage will still cover your medical expenses up to your policy limit. If your costs exceed your PIP limit, you can also look to your own auto insurance policy’s uninsured motorists coverage for compensation. Uninsured motorist coverage is required in New York.
If you don’t have your own auto insurance policy, you may be able to get compensation under the policy of a family member who lives with you. If you’re not covered by any policy, the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC) may be a source of compensation.
If the hit-and-run truck driver is eventually located, you may also be able to pursue compensation through their insurance or a lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can help you explore all potential avenues of compensation.
See Getting Compensation From Your Insurance and Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party for more information about getting compensation.
It’s usually difficult to know if you can file a lawsuit without consulting an attorney. An attorney will first have to establish that the deadline for a lawsuit under the statute of limitations hasn’t passed. He or she will then review any available evidence to determine whether the facts support a claim.
Even if a lawyer can’t help you pursue compensation from the truck driver or another defendant, it’s still worthwhile to get the help of a lawyer to get maximum compensation from your own auto insurance.
See Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party for more information about pursuing a lawsuit.
The value of your case will depend on many factors. There’s no “standard” amount of compensation for an accident or any type of injury.
Your attorney will work with investigators and medical experts to determine how much to seek based on the circumstances of the accident, your injuries and their impact on your life, your expenses, and the conduct of the defendants. Possible damages may include:
-economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses;
-non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering, impairment, or disability;
-punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was especially egregious.
Once you hire an attorney, they’ll be able to assess an acceptable compensation range for your losses. (See Getting Compensation From an At-Fault Party — Valuing a truck accident case.)
Personal injury attorneys typically offer an initial consultation free of charge. It’s also standard for personal injury attorneys to take cases on a contingency basis. This means that you won’t have to pay them up front. Instead, their attorneys’ fees will come out of any money they win for you in a verdict or settlement.
Personal injury attorneys usually advance litigation expenses as well, such as fees for depositions, copying records, and engaging experts. These expenses will also be reimbursed from any verdict or settlement.
In New York, the statute of limitations generally only gives you three years from the date of accident to file a lawsuit. This deadline may only be extended in very limited circumstances. Note that this is the deadline for starting a lawsuit. It maybe resolved much later.
Some types of lawsuits also have shorter deadlines. For example, if you’re suing a municipality in New York (like New York City), you’ll have to file a Notice of Claim within 90 days of the accident.
If the statute of limitations passes, your lawsuit will be barred and you won’t be able to recover compensation from the defendant. When you consult with an attorney, they’ll be able to confirm whether the statute of limitations has lapsed, and if not, how much time you have left to file a lawsuit.
(See Getting Compensation From an At-fault Party — Statute of limitations.)
It’s possible. If the defendant and their insurance company won’t agree to a fair settlement, your case may go to trial and you’ll have to appear in court. Throughout the litigation process, you’ll also have to attend other proceedings, such as negotiations, depositions, and medical examinations. Your attorney will guide you through the entire process.
Every case is different, so there’s no set time period for resolving a claim. If a case is particularly strong, it may settle in a matter of months. Other cases that go through trial can take years.
The first step is consulting with an attorney. Your attorney will review all available evidence and if they agree to take your case, they’ll investigate further and start to prepare your case. They’ll also begin negotiations with the defendant and their insurer. If they can’t agree on a fair settlement, they may proceed with filing a lawsuit. The attorneys will continue to negotiate, and there will be a period of discovery and motions. If the parties still don’t reach a settlement during this time, the case will go to trial.
The above process can take a lot of time. How long your case takes will depend on the complexity of the case, the strength of the evidence, and how busy the court is. The cooperation of the defendants, their insurer, and other parties involved in the case will also affect the timeline.
Lawsuit records will generally become part of the public record. That includes your filings and the rulings in the case. While not every case will be picked up by the media, it is possible. Settling out of court, however, allows you to keep many sensitive details and the settlement amount private. Your attorneys can also draft the settlement agreement in a way that obligates the parties to keep the details confidential.
If your loved one died as a result of a truck accident, you should contact an experienced truck accident attorney right away to evaluate your case. You may be able to bring a wrongful death action and pursue damages for funeral expenses, loss of companionship, and other losses. While money can’t truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, it can help provide a sense of justice and help provide financial stability for those left behind.
The sooner you start the legal process, the better. Preparing a wrongful death lawsuit requires a great deal of investigation and the best evidence is available soon after an accident. There are also legal deadlines for filing a wrongful death action.
If you have other questions about a potential truck accident case, you should contact a lawyer right away. As noted above, there’s a time limit for filing a claim. If you wait too long, it may be too late to file a lawsuit.
At Rosenblum Law, we understand the devastating effects a truck accident can have on your life. We’ll thoroughly evaluate your situation and determine the best course of action for your particular circumstances. If we’re able to take on your case, we’ll guide you through the insurance and legal processes and fight on your behalf for maximum compensation.
For a free consultation, call us today at 888-235-9021 or contact us through our website at www.rosenblumlaw.com/contact. We’re passionate about helping all our clients get the compensation they’re owed — and we won’t take a fee unless we win a settlement or verdict for you.