Few scenarios are as scary as being involved in a bad car accident. Dealing with property damage and physical and emotional injuries makes it difficult to move on and heal. What’s even worse is when the crash never would have happened if a professional entrusted with driving a commercial vehicle had taken their responsibility seriously.
A general understanding of what you can expect when you file a claim can help you protect your rights after being injured. Here’s what you should know about the steps involved in a commercial vehicle accident lawsuit.
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Step 1: Contact an Austin Accident Attorney
The first step in a commercial vehicle accident lawsuit is speaking with an experienced accident attorney who is knowledgeable and has a good reputation for advocating for their clients.
When you have your first conversation with a commercial vehicle accident lawyer, they will make sure you are educated about your rights and options after being injured. That includes asking you questions about your case to help you determine whether a lawsuit is a viable option. While you may not want to hire a lawyer or end up needing one, consulting with an attorney early on to get a sense of what to expect from the process of recovering damages is far better than waiting so long to get legal help that your case runs out of time under the statute of limitations.
Step 2: Continue to Leverage Your Attorney’s Support Regarding Services and Care
Not everyone has access to affordable health care or can afford the costs associated with repairing or replacing damaged property. While most people think of their attorney only as the person helping them with their personal injury claim, they may not realize that part of advocating for clients means making sure clients are educated about all the resources available to them. That means making sure clients know:
- The long-term risks associated with not paying medical bills
- How the law protects them from harmful billing practices
- The risks of avoiding health care altogether
Your attorney can also help you find out if you have personal injury protection insurance and how to access those funds now.
For your health, you will want to make sure that you are seeking care in the best way possible — and with a lawsuit, you will need documentation of your car and medical costs. Many head and spinal injuries present in unexpected ways, either by causing pain and symptoms in other parts of your body or by appearing over such a gradual period of time that you don’t notice the slow appearance of symptoms until they are serious.
One of the most important things your attorney can do for you is help identify the full extent of your injuries and their long-term implications — and the associated costs — in order to build the strongest case for fair compensation. Many insurance companies do not want to include the cost of future care in settlement offers, and they don’t want victims to know how critical that calculation is.
Throughout the duration of your lawsuit, do not be afraid to ask your attorney questions that you might think are unrelated to the accident lawsuit itself. They just might be related, and even if they aren’t, lawyers have access to a wealth of information about services that can help people who have been victims of negligence.
Step 3: Help Your Attorney Gather Additional Evidence and Documentation for Your Case
Once a lawsuit has been filed, the period of time known as discovery begins. This is when you and the defendant — the party you are suing — get to learn more about each other, especially the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case. This is one reason why speaking with an attorney right after an accident is helpful even if you never need to sue. Attorneys can prepare you for protecting yourself during insurance negotiations, including how to set yourself up to have your rights protected should a lawsuit need to happen.
Furthermore, keep in mind that there are some steps that are advisable to take right after a commercial vehicle accident, if you are able. Any information you were able to gather during these steps can help your attorney dig even deeper in the investigation of your case.
Here are some of the most common things people do in the immediate aftermath of an accident and how they can support your case.
- Calling 911. Calling 911 provides a record of the crash, the demeanor of the person who called 911 and anyone who can be heard in the background, and access to the most immediate information about what might have happened. Getting the police to the scene also means you will have access to the official crash report (CR-3), which will provide your lawyer with important information that was collected at the scene.
- Undergoing a medical evaluation. The sooner you underwent a medical evaluation, the longer a timeline of documentation of your injuries your lawyer will have to support your claim. Even minor accidents can cause spinal injuries that have significant, long-lasting consequences — and you may not even know it at first because of adrenaline or the nature of the injury itself.
- Collecting witness information. Memories fade and witnesses move on, but if you collected the names and contact information of any witnesses or made note of what they said about what happened, your lawyer can use that to drive their investigation into the accident.
- Contacting your insurance company. If you have already contacted your insurance company before contacting a lawyer, that’s okay. However, you do not need to speak with the at-fault driver’s company, and you should always tell any insurance representative — yours and theirs — that you will not give a recorded statement until you speak to an attorney.
If you worked with an attorney while attempting to negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company before filing a lawsuit, your attorney will likely have gathered much of this evidence then as part of the negotiation process. The discovery period will also include depositions, which are out-of-court official statements made by you, the defendant, and any witnesses.
Step 4: Engage in Mediation with the Defendant
Whether you have been working with a commercial accident attorney since the accident happened or you contacted one after the insurance company tried to settle with an unfair low-ball offer, the judge will likely have the two sides try to negotiate again before the case goes to a jury. There may be new information that came up in discovery, or it may simply be that the defendant has finally decided to respond fairly to your claim.
If you are happy with the offer made during this mediation period and your lawyer advises it is a fair offer, you may decide this is the end of your lawsuit. Your lawyer will help you get paid what you deserve, and you will begin to move on with your life. Your lawyer’s job is to advise you based on the law and the circumstances of your case, so if the offer really is fair, they will let you know. However, your lawyer should also be willing to take it to a jury trial, especially a commercial accident case.
Step 5: Take Your Case to Trial for a Fair Verdict
A strong commercial accident lawsuit case can be a way to make public the negligent behavior of companies that have put public safety at risk, and many jurors see the actions of these companies for what they are. Trials for commercial accidents are often more complicated than those for personal drivers for a number of reasons.
- Number of vehicles involved. Accidents caused by drivers of big trucks have a higher chance of involving multiple vehicles. The longer it takes to slow down, the more chance there is of involving other trucks or passenger vehicles.
- Seriousness of injury. Accidents involving larger vehicles or multiple vehicles also have increased risk of fatality. In 2019, 22 percent of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in multiple-vehicle crashes resulted from crashes with large trucks.
- Complexity of trucking laws. At a minimum, commercial truck drivers are subject to the rules of the FMCSA, which regulates everything from vehicle markings to the number of hours a driver can be on the road. Even if a driver who caused an accident does not seem to have broken any obvious law, any driver or company not upholding safety regulations is likely going to find themselves facing a serious lawsuit.
- Multiple liable defendants. In a commercial vehicle accident, it can be difficult to know exactly who is legally liable without an extensive investigation. In many cases, it is not simply one party who is liable for the neglectful or reckless behavior that caused the crash, meaning that that lawsuit will need to name multiple defendants — such as the driver, the company that employs or contracts with the driver, the company that ships or receives the goods being transported, the truck manufacturer, the truck maintenance company, the government agency operating the vehicle, or the insurance company.
- Insurance companies and serious lawyers. Companies that use commercial vehicles are in business to make money, and paying out money to accident victims is not very profitable. When you file a lawsuit against a business, you will be up against people whose job it is to keep as much money in the business’s pockets as possible. When there are multiple defendants, the number of tough opponents multiplies.
The time from filing to trial can be very long, and you should be prepared for a lengthy process. However, with a supportive lawyer on your side, the process can be a bit less stressful. Lawsuits are one tool that victims have to protect their rights when they have been harmed by someone else. When it comes to commercial vehicle accident cases, victims are in an especially risky position to be taken advantage of because of the potentially significant amount of damages at stake.
How Can a Law Firm Like FVF Help?
Often, the more involved and complex a lawsuit is, the higher the potential amount of compensation. However, that means insurance companies and other responsible parties are going to fight that much harder to get victims to settle for less than the actual value of their case.
FVF wants victims of commercial vehicle accidents to be equipped with the knowledge they need to make decisions about what is best for them, regardless of pressure from insurance companies. Contact us for a free consultation about your case.