Commercial trucks are involved in fifty thousand fatal accidents every year in this country, mostly on the weekends. The percentage of commercial trucks involved in accidents annually is even greater than that of motor vehicles. Because Southern California is a high volume interstate corridor to and from Mexico, and connecting this area to the rest of the United States, a huge number of trucks pass through this area, thereby increasing the likelihood of a trucking accident. When these facts merge with the size and momentum of big-rigs, the fatigue their drivers all too frequently battle, drugs taken to fight that battle, as well as falsification of time and weight logs, makes for a potentially deadly combination. Serious injuries to the spinal cord or the head, and wrongful deaths, unfortunately, often result.
Who is Liable?
A trucker, in his or her individual capacity, can be held legally responsible to pay for your injuries if he or she failed to act reasonably in operating the rig. That is, if the trucker did not use the level of skill and caution a reasonably prudent person would use in a similar situation, then that driver should compensate the victim for all of the resultant injuries.
Because the commercial trucking industry is very heavily regulated, having laws attached to nearly every operation of the truck, the doctrine of negligence per se frequently arises in the context of trucking accidents. This doctrine holds that someone who violates the law or a regulation, and in the process of doing so causes an injury the law or regulation was designed to prevent, is negligent, period. There is no measuring of the “ordinary care,” or “reasonable person.” The question of negligence is answered in the affirmative, and the discussion turns to the extent and cost of the injuries caused. By way of example, if a trucker falsifies driving logs so that he or she can clock more miles than the limitations permit, and that trucker falls asleep at the wheel, the trucker will be deemed negligent per se, since the limitations on driving-hours was designed to prevent over-fatigue. The law will simply presume the driver was negligent, and therefore responsible to pay for the victim’s injuries.
It is not just the trucker, however, who may be liable. The legal doctrine of vicarious liability or respondeat superior will hold the truck driver’s employer liable as well. There is no need to show the employer actually did anything wrong, so long as the trucker was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of the accident.
What Compensation is Available
If you have been injured in a trucking accident, and the trucker is deemed liable, the medical bills accrued and wages lost because of the accident are recoverable. In addition, future medical bills and future lost wages can be recovered, as long as they can be ascertained with reasonable certainty. Compensation for lost earning capacity is also available. For example, if you are a construction worker and were injured in a trucking accident, so that you can no longer work in the construction field and no longer have the possibility of becoming a foreman, then the foreman-pay may be recoverable, if the you can show you had a likely chance of getting the promotion, until the trucking accident occurred.
In addition, a victim of a trucking accident can be monetarily compensated for pain and suffering, both past and future. Typically, this figure includes compensation for experiencing fear of imminent harm or death, physical pain, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Although no amount of compensation can make up for the loss of a loved one, if the victim of a trucking accident dies, California’s Wrongful Death statute allows surviving family members to recover for loss of financial support, medical expenses, funeral expenses, loss of consortium, and loss of comfort and care. These awards can ease the financial burden imposed on the family, and force the negligent trucking company or trucker to accept the responsibility.
Finally, when a person acts in conscious disregard of the rights and safety of others, the law may impose what is called punitive damages. In the context of trucking accidents, punitive damages may be awarded, given the proper circumstances, for the individual trucker’s acts or the separate acts of his or her employer. This is a sum of money paid to the injured person that is intended to punish an at-fault trucker, or the employer. This award can be greater than the compensation for medical bills and lost wages.
How to Get That Compensation
Because the trucker or the employer may be legally responsible to pay for your injuries, because there are several legal theories that allow monetary recovery, and because the measure of damages is often quite complicated, it is important that you contact an experienced attorney if you or a loved one has been injured in a trucking accident.
Also, do not speak with the trucker’s insurance company about your bodily injuries. Remember, the insurance adjuster’s job is to give you as little money as possible. If you are impatient and take a quick settlement, if you later learn your injuries require future care or you have to miss more work than you expected, you will never get that money. You can simply decline to talk to the adjuster, and refer him or her to your attorney.
At the Law Offices of Slaughter & Slaughter, we understand not only the potential severity of motor vehicle accident injuries, but also the severity of the impact these injuries have on the daily lives of the victim and his or her family members. Although no amount of money can truly compensate, we are experienced in assessing the wide range of effects these injuries can have, and are willing to fight to get you the most compensation the law will provide. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a car accident, call The Law Offices of Slaughter & Slaughter today.
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