Large commercial vehicle accidents often result in severe and catastrophic injury and death. A fully loaded commercial truck can weigh up to 40 tons, which is 20 to 30 times the size of the average car on the road today.
Passenger vehicles are simply no match for the weight and size of a tractor trailer, semi-truck, box truck, or other large freight-bearing vehicle. Small vehicles tend to experience heavy damage when they collide in an accident with a large truck or bus.
If you’re considering legal action on behalf of a family member or loved one who was killed in a commercial vehicle accident, it’s vital that you seek out the guidance of a Nebraska personal injury lawyer with experience in large truck wrecks.
The team of attorneys at Berry Law have combined decades of experience and knowledge that you need to recover fair compensation and pursue the justice the deceased individual deserves.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death suits are civil actions that victims’ families can bring against the person or company responsible for their loved one’s death. It’s another avenue for filing a claim for an individual who would likely have had grounds to pursue a personal injury lawsuit if he or she had survived the accident. The settlement from a wrongful death suit can help survivors maintain their financial responsibilities while they focus on their grief.
Many victims of commercial trucking accidents are not killed immediately following a crash. Instead, they may suffer a serious injury that requires hospitalization, surgery and other supportive measures to keep them alive. The types of injuries seen in trucking accidents include:
Victims may fight through their initial injuries, only to succumb days, weeks or months later and ultimately pass away as a result of the accident. During this time, medical care and rehabilitation expenses often reach astronomical sums, leaving the victim’s family members left trying to pay off medical debt and manage other financial obligations.
While the death of a family member is devastating enough, when the deceased person’s financial contribution to the household suddenly stops, it can add an additional layer of trauma for those left behind. Without monetary compensation, families may face eviction or the prospect of filing for bankruptcy while they try to pick up the pieces of their lives following the loss of a loved one.
When the outcome of a commercial vehicle accident is death, a victim’s surviving relatives may be advised to pursue a wrongful death suit against the responsible parties. Wrongful death is any death resulting from an intentional act or another person’s negligence.
The majority of large truck accidents are the result of negligence or recklessness. If another person or entity’s behavior was responsible for the untimely death of your family member, a wrongful death suit may be the best option to receive the compensation your family needs to recover financially.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim on Behalf of a Deceased Person?
States having different laws regarding who is eligible to file a wrongful death suit on behalf of a deceased victim. Most states allow the next of kin or an individual who represents the victim’s estate to file a wrongful death claim. This typically includes a spouse or domestic partner, children or other close relatives, especially if they are deemed to have been financially dependent on the victim.
The parents of a deceased child may also file suit. And in some cases, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles have done so depending on the unique circumstances of a situation. For individual questions about whether someone is eligible to file suit for wrongful death, consult a wrongful death claims attorney.
Types of Commonly Deadly Truck Accidents
Rollover accidents are particularly deadly for both truck drivers and others on the road, accounting for nine percent of all large truck crashes and resulting in more than half of all truck driver fatalities.
Due to their high center of gravity and heft, semi-trucks and tractor trailers are at increased risk for toppling onto their sides while making certain defensive driving maneuvers, turning too quickly, speeding, or engaging in overly aggressive or reckless steering.
These vehicles are also vulnerable to accidents caused by blind spots. A truck’s blind spot is an area the driver can’t visualize using either their mirrors or their eyes without turning their head and diverting attention from the road before them. The larger a vehicle is, the larger its blind spot is likely to be.
Blind spots limit a driver’s ability to see smaller vehicles when they’re attempting to merge, pass, or cutting in front of traffic, causing the vehicles to collide or forcing the smaller vehicle off of the road entirely.
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Common Causes of Large Truck Accidents and Injury
Following a commercial vehicle accident that ends in a fatality, an investigation may be conducted by law enforcement and by those entities that regulate commercial transport. Many of these fatal truck wrecks share similarities leading up to the accident that likely contributed to the outcome.
Driving a truck involves long, often monotonous hours on the road, which increases the risk of fatigue-related truck accidents or falling asleep at the wheel. Due to demand for faster delivery times, drivers may feel under pressure to travel more miles in shorter periods of time without breaks, trading efficiency for safety.
Drivers and trucking companies who don’t follow the stringent guidelines regulating the allowed number of logged driving hours to rest period ratios may be held liable in the event of a wrongful death if it’s proven that fatigue played a role in the accident.
Along with fatigue, boredom and loneliness may also contribute to distracted driving behaviors on the road. Drivers who use electronic devices like cell phones to keep in touch with friends and family or to conduct business are at an increased risk for accidents.
Likewise, flipping through music or podcasts to pass the time and the use of handheld GPS navigation devices may contribute as well. Along with other diversions, these devices take a driver’s attention from the road, which can lead to tragedy.
Load and Freight Issues
Overloaded or unbalanced loads can make large trucks top-heavy and prone to rollover crashes. Trucks carrying hazardous materials such as gasoline or industrial chemicals may leak in the event of an accident, causing damage to the lungs or skin. Hazardous materials carry a higher risk of igniting following a crash, leading to serious burn injuries.
Driving Under the Influence
A truck driver who gets behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not only taking a risk with his or her own life, but with the lives of other drivers on the road as well. The use of alcohol and drugs among truck drivers and trucking company employees is not uncommon, and can certainly play a role in any accident.
When it comes to the trucking industry, time is money. Drivers may be dealing with unreasonable delivery demands and deadlines, causing them to feel the need to speed in order to protect their delivery times and bonuses. Combined with the size and weight of a large commercial vehicle, speed is a particularly deadly contributor to trucking accidents.
Poor Vehicle Maintenance
The law requires trucks to be in good working order before they are allowed to operate on U.S. highways. Sometimes, trucking companies dangerously delay repairs and maintenance to save time and money, with disastrous results. Dangerous equipment failure can lead to accidents when the vehicle malfunctions while on the road.
For example, a trucking company may be held liable if a tire flies off of a large truck and strikes and kills another driver. The court could find the company or the maintenance contractor negligent for failing to conduct routine inspections of their fleet of vehicles.
How Is Liability Determined in a Truck Accident Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Defendants in a wrongful death claim can be anyone who caused or contributed to the victim’s death because of their negligent or intentionally harmful actions. Large truck accident wrongful death suits often involve multiple defendants, including:
- The truck driver
- The trucking company
- The truck owner
- A freight manufacturer or cargo loader
- Freight owner
- Trucking maintenance company
- The manufacturer of a defective vehicle part
- A bar that served too much alcohol to a truck driver
Your attorney will help to establish liability in your wrongful death suit, as well as handle investigating the accident and negotiating with insurance companies so that you and your family can focus on grieving your loved one.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Commercial Vehicle Accident?
Damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death suit include economic, non-economic, and punitive compensation.
These damages include the cost of medical treatment prior to the victim’s death, loss of financial support, funeral and burial expenses, and more. If the deceased was the head of household, with members relying on their salary to live, your attorney may suggest suing for:
- Loss of anticipated future earnings
- Loss of benefits like a pension plan or medical insurance
- Loss of inheritance due to the individual’s untimely death
Economic damages may also include the value of goods and services that the victim would have contributed to the household had he or she survived, such as child care.
These damages can compensate families for the victim’s pain and suffering prior to his or her death, for the emotional distress of the survivors, and for loss of consortium, which is the end of a relationship due to one party’s passing.
What does a Personal Injury Lawyer Do During a Wrongful Death Case?
Hiring an attorney with a background litigating wrongful death suits is important to the success of your case. Once hired, an attorney will go to work for you. These are just a few of the steps he or she may take as the case proceeds in the court system:
Draft an Evidence Preservation Letter
An attorney can draft a preservation of evidence letter instructing the trucking company not to sell or destroy evidence in their possession that is pertinent to your wrongful death claim before it can be examined by your legal team.
Such notice should be sent as soon after a wreck as possible to maintain the integrity of the evidence available. This could include truck maintenance records or data from a truck’s black box that may aide in determining the cause of the accident.
Your legal team will examine the at-fault vehicle and other vehicles involved in the accident. They will likely want to photograph and analyze the wreckage, looking for clues as to what happened. This process could include hiring experts in engineering and accident reconstruction who can paint a picture for a jury of what occurred on the day of the crash.
A plaintiff’s attorney in a wrongful death case is responsible for gathering documents relevant to the case and investigating evidence of regulation violations within those documents. This could include driver’s logs, maintenance records, and other documentation for the purpose of determining liability and building a case.
For example, records can reveal a driver who drove too many consecutive hours without a rest period or inadequate drug testing policies within a trucking company. An attorney may also be on the lookout for possible vendor relationships, like a maintenance contractor responsible for truck repairs, which could lead to a liability determination as well.
Your attorney will interview witnesses of the accident, trucking company employees and others in recorded depositions. The resulting transcripts can be used as evidence if your case goes to court.
Witness testimony is often crucial in receiving a favorable judgment in a wrongful death claim, and it’s important to take statements while memories are still fresh. The longer you wait to talk to witnesses, the greater the odds that facts will be lost or forgotten.
It’s very common for an attorney to bring in experts who can help determine if there were maintenance issues that contributed to an accident. Accident reconstruction experts, engineers, mechanics and accident forensic specialists evaluate variables like road conditions and other factors that may have caused a wreck. Their opinion holds merit with juries since they are specifically trained to be experts in their fields.
Contact Our Truck Accident Wrongful Death Lawyers
Let your attorney work for you. While money can’t bring back what’s been lost, wrongful death suits provide families a sense of closure and justice by holding the responsible party or parties accountable for their actions.
Pursuing a wrongful death claim can honor the memory of the deceased and maybe even help to prevent future negligence by those at fault. Contact the team at Berry Law to get started with a free consultation today.