Would it surprise you to learn that the United States is the global leader in the number of commercial vehicles on the roads — with over five times the number of vehicles in use than the runner-up?
We understand that the aftermath of a collision with a commercial vehicle is a time of confusion and uncertainty. Having to make decisions under these conditions is difficult and stressful, which is why speaking to an injury attorney as soon as possible — even if you have no idea whether you want to file a lawsuit — is crucial. Every decision you make, from whether you seek medical care to how you communicate with insurance companies, may potentially impact the value of your case, should you find yourself in a position to seek recovery from a negligent commercial vehicle driver or company.
Estimating the value of a personal injury case is extremely difficult until the specific circumstances of the case are deeply understood, such as how the accident is likely to affect your future and what the law allows for in cases like yours. However, a close evaluation of the factors that will be considered in your case will help you better understand what to expect and help you ask the right questions during your initial case consultation and beyond.
What Kinds of Vehicles Count as Commercial Vehicles?
A commercial vehicle is any motor vehicle being used to transport goods or paying passengers. From semi trucks to Amazon delivery vans, if the vehicle is owned by a company and used primarily for business purposes, it’s classified as a commercial vehicle. Because of the sheer size of most commercial vehicles, collisions between commercial vehicles and passenger cars — or cyclists or pedestrians — are often especially serious.
Unfortunately, commercial vehicle accidents are numerous as well. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that more than 4,000 people were killed in crashes involving a large truck or bus in 2011, with over 112,000 injured in the same year.
No matter how large or small the vehicle, when a commercial vehicle is involved in a collision, it’s important to think about the special considerations that may make your case more complex.
What Factors Affect Commercial Vehicle Settlements?
While you likely would be no less traumatized from an accident with a driver in their personal vehicle, the added layer of a commercial driver being involved in a collision does make a difference in how damages are determined.
- What caused the accident? If the cargo was overloaded — or incorrectly loaded — or the vehicle had a manufacturer’s defect, a careful investigation will bring it to the surface. Reconstructing the accident, interviewing witnesses, and possibly reviewing the black box data will all be involved in determining who was doing what at the time of the collision. Knowing what happened is essential to understanding who is liable — and to what degree negligence played a part.
- Who is liable? If poor maintenance was to blame for the commercial vehicle’s brakes not functioning properly, but speeding contributed to the driver’s inability to stop in time to avoid the collision, both the trucking company who was responsible for the maintenance and the driver may share liability.
- Is the driver a contractor? While rideshare collisions may not count as commercial vehicle accidents exactly, their complexity with regard to collisions involving non-employee drivers is similar to independent contractors driving commercial vehicles.
- Is there a criminal investigation? In the event that the driver was engaged in criminal behavior, such as drunk driving, there may be a criminal investigation of the collision. An ongoing criminal investigation can delay access to certain kinds of evidence under public information requests.
- How severe are the damages? A 2017 verdict awarded a Texas victim of a truck accident $140 million after the truck driver was found to be in violation of multiple federal and state regulations. Generally, the more severe the injuries and property damage, the higher the amount of compensation awarded.
When Might You Be Eligible for Compensation in a Commercial Vehicle Accident?
Sometimes, an accident truly is just an accident. In those cases, as long as the insurance companies respond appropriately and provide the necessary compensation to each party, a lawsuit may not be the best avenue to seek recovery. However, although commercial insurance policies have much higher limits than personal liability policies, obtaining fair settlements from insurance companies can still be tricky, especially if carelessness or recklessness on the part of the driver, trucking company, or manufacturer played a part in causing the collision.
In most situations, when the following criteria have been met, it is possible that filing suit may be the best way to ensure your rights are upheld:
- The commercial vehicle driver (and company) had an obligation to act in a reasonably safe manner — merely being on the road generally covers this.
- The parties responsible were negligent in failing to uphold their safety obligation, putting you in danger.
- This negligence led to your crash and your injuries.
- You suffered calculable damages because of the accident.
A commercial vehicle accident attorney will represent your best interests when going up against insurance providers and trucking companies so that you get a settlement that fairly compensates you for your injuries.
What Determines the Value of Your Commercial Vehicle Settlement?
The amount of damages awarded in personal injury cases, including car accidents, is impacted by what are known as value drivers. These are factors that add value to your case and are used to calculate the amount of your compensation, regardless of whether that amount is decided by your coming to a settlement agreement or awarded by a jury at trial.
If you decide to hire an attorney, they will strategize by calculating compensation using value drivers — just like the insurance companies will. However, the law allows for victims of car accidents to consider multiple factors when seeking compensation, such as the:
- Extent of injuries, including any fatalities
- Length of recovery from injuries
- Cost of current and future medical expenses
- Amount of current and future lost earnings
- Pain and suffering caused by the accident
- Strength of evidence against the driver
- Driver’s purpose for being on the road
- Location of the alcohol consumption
- Presence of any comparative fault factors
These factors can be divided into two categories of compensatory awards: economic and non-economic harms and losses. If you and your lawyer can prove that the other party behaved in a grossly negligent way — for instance, a driver who causes an accident while high on stimulants — you may also be able to seek punitive damages, a form of financial recovery allowed by law simply to punish the other party for their particularly egregious behavior.
In Texas, which is a comparative negligence state, it is also possible that you may share some of the legal liability if it is determined that any of your actions contributed to the collision or its severity. That means that if you are found to have played a 10% role in causing the collision, for example, your compensation will be reduced by 10%.
Generally speaking, the more complex the case — the more potential parties who are liable, the higher the amount of lost wages, medical bills, and other compensation — the more the potential compensation. However, it also means the longer the case may take to resolve. The more money that is on the line for the insurance provider to pay out or the trucking company to lose, the harder they will fight it.
Being informed about what to expect in the event that you must seek compensation in a commercial vehicle accident settlement or judgment is crucial. That’s why FVF offers a free, no-pressure initial case consultation. We want you to feel equipped to make decisions that are in your best interest, regardless of what insurance companies may try to pressure you into. Contact us today to get started on reviewing your case.