Truck accidents can result in catastrophic, life-altering injuries. A fully loaded 18-wheeler can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, whereas the average passenger car only weighs around 4,000 pounds. In the event of a collision between a commercial truck and a passenger car, it is the occupants of the car that are at risk of sustaining life-threatening injuries.
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Commercial Truck Accident?
Depending on how the accident happened and what caused it, one or more of the following parties can be held liable in a commercial truck accident claim:
- The truck driver
- The truck company
- The company or contractor responsible for loading the cargo
- The company that manufactured the truck or the defective part that caused the accident
Determining liability in a truck accident claim can be considerably harder compared to other types of personal injury cases, as the direct cause of the accident might not necessarily be the proximate cause.
For instance, if a truck driver runs a red light and crashes into your car, you would naturally assume that the driver is the one who can be held liable for the accident. However, the investigation might show that the truck’s braking system was defective and the driver could not stop the truck, meaning the company that manufactured the defective brakes is liable.
In the aforementioned scenario, the accident was caused directly as a result of the truck driver crashing into your car. The proximate or primary cause, which is what you need to prove in your claim, was the manufacturer’s negligence.
It is critically important to engage the legal services of an experienced truck accident lawyer to handle your claim. Truck accident cases need to be investigated carefully, as only a detailed investigation can reveal the actual cause of the accident and the parties that can be held liable for the damages you suffered. A personal injury law firm will have the resources to thoroughly investigate the accident and discover the liable parties.
Burden of Proof in a Truck Accident Case
If you have been injured in a truck accident, you have every right to hold the at-fault party accountable for their negligence and recover damages. As the plaintiff, you are required to prove the following elements in order to recover damages from the at-fault party:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care.
- The at-fault party breached their duty of care.
- The breach of duty was the proximate or primary cause of the accident.
- You suffered injuries and monetary losses in the accident.
It should be noted that even though the burden of proof is on you, the standard of proof required for establishing liability in civil cases is considerably lower compared to criminal cases.
In a criminal case, the defendant can be convicted only if their guilt can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution needs to show that based on the available evidence, the only logical explanation that anyone can derive is that the defendant must have committed the crime they are accused of perpetrating.
In a civil claim, on the other hand, you are only required to prove the at-fault party or defendant’s liability by what is called a preponderance of the evidence. You need to show that based on the available evidence, it can be determined that more likely than not the act of negligence or breach of duty caused the accident and created damages.
The At-Fault Party’s Right to Defend Themselves in a Truck Accident Case
It is important to mention that in a civil claim, the at-fault party has the right to defend themselves against your accusations. Particularly, in a truck accident claim, you can expect the at-fault party to mount a vigorous defense. They know that if found liable, they might have to pay you, the truck accident victim, a substantial amount of compensation for medical expenses and other damages.
Typical Defenses Used by At-Fault Parties in Truck Accident Claims
Shifting the Blame to the Truck Driver
One of the reasons truck accident claims are different from car accident claims is because the concept of vicarious liability is applicable to truck accidents.
If you are injured by a passenger car driver, you can hold them directly responsible for your injuries (assuming the accident was not caused by vehicular malfunction) and recover damages.
On the contrary, if you are injured by a truck driver, you might be able to hold the truck company liable – even if the accident was caused by the driver’s negligence. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer can be held financially responsible for the negligent actions of their employees.
With vicarious liability, the truck company can be held liable for an accident caused by their driver if they were performing a work-related duty or acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred.
Depending on the type of cargo they transport, commercial trucks in Michigan are required to carry anywhere from $750,000 to $5 million in liability coverage. If a truck company is found liable for an accident caused by its driver, it might have to pay out a substantial amount of compensation – as truck accidents typically result in catastrophic injuries.
Knowing this, the truck company might argue that the driver was not performing a job-related duty and was acting outside of the scope of their employment when the accident happened.
Your Michigan truck accident lawyer can counter this defense by finding out exactly what the driver was doing when the accident happened, what kind of work the driver was hired to do, the level of control the truck company has over the driver’s activities, whether the actions of the driver at the time of the accident fall within the scope of actions that the truck company should reasonably expect out of their drivers, and so on.
Once they have all the information, your Michigan truck accident lawyer can determine whether the truck driver in question was acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred and hold the truck company liable.
It’s one of the most common defenses used by at-fault parties in truck accident cases. Michigan follows a modified version of the doctrine of comparative negligence, meaning your compensation can be reduced in proportion to the extent to which you were responsible for the accident. For instance, if you are found to be 25% at fault for the truck accident, your compensation will be reduced by 25%.
The more worrying aspect of Michigan’s comparative negligence doctrine is that if you are found to be 51% at fault for the accident, you will lose the right to recover non-economic damages from the at-fault party. Your compensation will be strictly limited to the economic damages you suffered.
This can be a problem, as non-economic damages like pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and diminished quality of life generally tend to account for a significant portion of damages in truck accident cases. If your compensation is only limited to economic damages, you will only receive a fraction of what you deserve.
There are many ways the truck company might use comparative fault defense. These include:
- You were distracted at the time of the accident and failed to see the truck.
- You cut the truck off and braked suddenly, which caused the truck driver to rear-end you,
- You were not wearing contact lenses or glasses at the time of the accident, which made it harder for you to notice the truck.
- You failed to signal while changing lanes.
- You took an over-the-counter or prescription medication, which made you drowsy or altered your consciousness in some way, as a result of which you could not drive as carefully as you would have under normal circumstances.
- You have a medical condition that prevented you from noticing and reacting to the oncoming truck in a reasonable time.
- Your vehicle was not maintained properly, as a result of which you could not stop your vehicle or take evasive action at the right time.
- You failed to take evasive action after noticing the oncoming truck, even though any reasonable person in your position could have.
- You were not wearing a seat belt, which significantly contributed to the severity of your injuries.
As mentioned above, under the law, the truck company – or any other at-fault party for that matter – has the right to defend themselves against your accusations. The problem is that truck companies in Michigan are known to use these defenses even in cases where the truck accident victim had nothing to do with the accident. In the absence of effective legal representation, the injured party might not be able to recover the compensation that they are actually entitled to receive.
Pre-Existing Injuries or Medical Conditions
If you had an underlying medical condition at the time of the accident, the at-fault party might argue that your injuries were caused partially or largely as a result of your condition. A skilled and motivated truck accident attorney can counter this defense by producing relevant evidence from your medical history and current medical records. If necessary, your attorney may also call highly rated medical specialists as expert witnesses to negate the defense of the negligent party.
Failure to Mitigate Damages
The law states that as a plaintiff, you have a duty to take reasonable steps to mitigate the damages caused by the accident. These steps include:
- Getting medical help as soon as you possibly can.
- Only getting the treatment that you actually need.
- Following the doctor’s instructions carefully.
- Not doing anything that can make your injuries worse.
- Meticulously maintaining your medical records.
If you fail to take any of these steps, the at-fault party might argue that you deliberately failed to mitigate damages, just so you can inflate your medical bills and get more compensation from them.
Use of Social Media
In many cases, truck accident victims tend to undermine their own cases by posting damaging information on social media. Many people believe that what they post on their social media accounts is their private information and cannot be used against them in a civil claim, but they are completely wrong. Consider the following scenario:
You are stuck in traffic. You decide to check your social media and post something like “What can be worse than getting stuck in traffic when you are rushing to a meeting?” Shortly after you post the message, a truck crashes into your vehicle and you get injured.
When the at-fault party’s insurance company investigates your claim, they will easily find out that you posted the message shortly before the accident and use it to make the argument that you were distracted at the time of the accident and as a result share some of the fault.
Let us now consider another scenario: A truck hits your car. You are in pain and in a state of shock, but not visibly injured. You decide to post something like “Just got hit by a truck! Thank God I’m alive!” on your social media account.
Based on the aforementioned message, the at-fault party’s insurance company can make the argument that your injuries are not as serious as you claim since you managed to post a message on your social media account right after the accident.
Remember – everything you post on social media is time-stamped and can be easily tracked down by the at-fault party’s insurance company. Even if you set your account to private, they can still get the information they want.
Moreover, representatives from the at-fault party’s insurance company might try to follow you on all your social media platforms to gather the information that can be used to undermine your claim. You should be wary of any new person who starts following you on social media after an accident.
The best way to avoid the complications that might stem from inappropriate social media usage is to avoid using social media completely until your personal injury claim is resolved.
Attacking truck accident victims is by far the worst tactic used by insurance companies to devalue their claims. For instance, the insurance company might try to find out if you have ever been charged with traffic violations like speeding or if you have ever been convicted of DUI in the past. If they find something, the insurance company might make the argument that based on your history of reckless driving, it is reasonable to assume that your own actions might have contributed to the accident to a significant extent.
In case of a wrongful death claim resulting from a truck accident, the insurance company might try to make the argument that you and your family members were not close with the deceased and that your intangible losses (pain and suffering and emotional anguish) are not as significant as you claim.
Insurance companies are known to spin even the smallest of issues (such as marital discord) into gigantic blame on the victim, just so they can reduce the amount of damages related to emotional distress that you can receive from them. It is so important to have competent Southfield car accident lawyers and truck accident lawyers on your side in these cases.
Damages You Can Recover in a Truck Accident Claim
The amount of compensatory damages you can recover in a truck accident claim depends on a number of factors including:
- Your age.
- Severity of your injuries.
- Whether you are physically or cognitively disabled as a result of your injuries.
- Whether your earning capacity has been affected by your disability.
- Whether you might require medical care in the future.
- Whether your disability might prevent you from doing things that you enjoyed doing prior to the accident.
- Whether your disability might prevent you from performing your duties as a spouse or parent.
Under Michigan law, you can recover tangible (economic) as well as intangible (non-economic) damages from the at-fault party. These include:
- Medical expenses
- Estimated cost of future medical treatment and care
- Rehabilitation expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Diminished quality of life
Maximize Your Personal Injury Compensation with Help from Trusted Southfield, MI Truck Accident Lawyers
At The Lobb Law Firm, we know the defenses that truck companies – as well as other liable parties – tend to use to deny liability in truck accident cases. We have a team of committed and resourceful Southfield truck accident lawyers who can counter the at-fault party’s defenses and arguments, prove their fault and liability with the right kind of evidence, and get you the compensation you deserve.
Our personal injury law firm has successfully handled numerous complicated truck accident cases over the years and has earned a reputation for taking on large trucking companies and their insurers. Even if you were involved in a multi-vehicle accident, our Michigan car accident attorneys and truck accident attorneys will work diligently on your behalf to identify all the parties that can be held liable, file a claim against them, and recover the maximum amount of compensation possible.
Call our law firm today at 248-591-4090 or get in touch with us online to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Southfield truck accident litigation lawyer. We are proud to fight for the rights of the residents of Southfield, MI, and the surrounding communities.