If you are injured in a truck accident caused by the driver of a semi-truck, tractor-trailer or other commercial vehicles, you may be entitled to seek compensation from the driver, the trucking company that owns the truck, and other parties that may share some liability for the accident.
In most truck accident cases, the claim for compensation is settled before the case goes to trial. Most truck accident claims are resolved through a negotiated settlement with the insurer representing the trucking company. However, the truck accident settlement process itself has its own complexities.
What Is the Settlement Process for a Truck Accident in Indiana?
If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident in Indiana, the process for settling your truck accident claim begins with collecting important information at the scene of the accident. If someone needs emergency medical attention or there has been significant damage to vehicles involved in the accident, you should call 911 and report the accident. A law enforcement officer will respond and fill out an official accident report, which will be relied upon by insurers as an impartial account of what happened.
The accident report will include:
- The names and contact information of every individual involved in the accident
- License plate numbers and make/model of each private vehicle involved in the accident
- The USDOT or state ID number for each commercial vehicle involved in the accident
- Driver’s license numbers and/or insurance information for all drivers and the company contact information for commercial drivers
- Names and contact information of any eyewitnesses to the accident
If you have injuries that require emergency treatment, you should allow an ambulance to take you to the hospital for treatment. If you do not need emergency care, you should still visit a doctor within 24 hours and have a medical evaluation. You may have injuries that a medical professional will recognize that are not readily apparent at the accident scene.
Once you’ve gotten home from the hospital following your accident, you will need to contact your insurance company to report the accident. If the accident was not your fault, you may be entitled to file a claim against the at-fault truck driver’s insurance and seek compensation for your medical expenses and lost wages.
If you have an experienced truck attorney representing you, the attorney will investigate the accident and gather documentation to support your claim and submit a demand letter to the insurance company or companies that are liable. Having supporting documentation of the driver’s fault such as witness statements can improve your chances of resolving the claim.
After you’ve filed a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurer, the process of trying to negotiate a settlement of your claim starts.
Typically, the insurance companies will try to determine fault for the accident under Indiana’s modified comparative negligence rule. Under this rule, an injured party can receive compensation so long as he or she is less than 51 percent at fault for the accident.
If the insurance company determines that you were partially at-fault for the accident (but less than 51 percent at fault), it may offer you compensation that deducts your share of fault from your total recovery. For example, if you have $100,000 in damages and you are 10 percent at fault for the accident, your recovery will be reduced by $10,000, or 10 percent of $100,000. Determining fault can be one of the most heavily contested issues in any truck accident settlement proceeding.
What Are the Benefits of Settling after a Truck Accident?
In settlement negotiations with the insurance company, you may be offered less than the full amount that you’ve calculated that you should receive. Even though you may be entitled to a larger amount if you were to win your case at trial, there are several benefits to settling your claim following your truck accident. They include:
- Lengthy litigation: It often takes years for a lawsuit to go from the initial filing all the way to trial; an appeal can add months or even years. All the while you are still waiting on compensation for your injuries and damages.
- You may have to testify: In some truck accident cases, the trucking company or their insurance company will argue that the injured driver was partially at-fault for the accident. As a result, you may be called to testify at trial to establish whether you bear some fault for the accident and whether you really suffered the injuries you claim.
- Increased legal fees: Although most truck accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, many fee agreements with truck accident attorneys will increase the attorney’s percentage of compensation if the case goes to trial because litigation involves more work for the attorney.
- Lost privacy: Settlements can be private, meaning that you don’t have to let anyone else know the amount of money you recovered. However, trials are public, meaning that all the evidence about your accident, your injuries, and the compensation you recover are part of the public record.
- Loss of control: When you settle, you have some control over the result of your case. If you go to trial, the outcome is unpredictable. You hand that control over to a jury. No matter how confident you are in your case, a jury may see things differently and you may walk away with nothing.
Finally, trucking companies also enjoy benefits in a settlement, including the ability to resolve the matter without admitting any liability.
What Factors Should be Considered Before Agreeing to a Settlement?
When you’ve been presented with a settlement offer by the other side, some considerations you should keep in mind when deciding whether to accept the settlement include:
- Liability: As a modified comparative negligence state, in Indiana if an injured party bears any fault for his or her accident and injuries, any compensation he or she receives should be reduced by his or her share of fault. If the settlement offer you receive claims that you were partially at fault for your accident, you will want to consider whether you agree with that determination of fault.
- Severity of your injuries: Insurance companies will often try to downplay the severity of your injuries by pointing to evidence in your medical history to argue that your injuries were from pre-existing conditions.
- Whether the crash involved fatalities: If your loved one was killed in a truck accident, it may lead to a wrongful death settlement. You may be entitled to seek punitive damages where wanton or reckless conduct was involved in causing the accident.
- Amount of insurance coverage available: Any settlement offer is necessarily limited by the amount of insurance coverage available. Some trucking companies only carry the minimum amount of coverage required by law, while other companies may have multiple layers of coverage, which can sometimes make it difficult to ascertain the maximum extent of coverage available in your case.
How Does Minimum Liability Insurance Policy Affect My Truck Accident Case?
When you’ve been injured due to a truck driver’s or trucking company’s negligence, you will likely file a claim for compensation against the trucking company. The amount of compensation you ultimately receive in your case may be affected by Indiana’s requirements for minimum liability insurance limits for large trucks and trucking companies. State law sets the minimum amount of coverage that trucking companies must carry; these amounts include:
- For for-hire companies transporting non-hazardous materials in vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of less than 10,000 pounds, minimum liability coverage of $300,000 is required
- For for-hire companies transporting non-hazardous materials in vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or more, minimum liability coverage of $750,000 is required
- For companies transporting hazardous materials, the minimum liability coverage amounts range from $1 million to $5 million
It’s important to remember that many trucking companies only carry the minimum amount of coverage required by law. These amounts are significantly higher than the minimum amounts required on passenger vehicles because of the greater harm that a truck accident may cause.
How Can I Calculate a Truck Accident Settlement?
The amount of money you may receive in a truck accident settlement will depend on the amount of damages you have sustained, including:
- Past and future medical expenses to treat injuries
- Lost wages from missed work
- Lost earning potential if an injured victim cannot return to their job
- Pain and suffering
- Lost quality of life
Although economic damages like medical costs and lost wages and earning potential can be calculated by adding up bills and invoices, non-economic damages like pain and suffering or lost quality of life can be harder to quantify. Many insurance companies will often calculate non-economic damages by applying a multiple to the economic damages, with the multiplier depending on the severity of the truck accident victim’s injuries.
How Long Can the Settlement Process Take?
It can be difficult to predict how long a truck accident settlement will take. Several factors will affect the complexity and length of any settlement process:
- Investigation of the accident: In some accidents, it may be necessary for a truck accident attorney to hire accident reconstructionists and mechanical experts to examine the accident scene and the vehicles involved in the accident to determine whether the accident was caused by a driver’s negligence or was the result of a mechanical defect with the truck or another vehicle in the accident.
- Uncovering available sources of compensation: Because victims of accidents tend to suffer expensive injuries, attorneys will spend time identifying all possible sources of compensation for the injured party so that they have the best chance at a full settlement of their losses.
- The length of medical treatment: Severe injuries take a long time and a lot of money to treat. In the early stages of treatment, it may be difficult to pinpoint how long it will take an accident victim to recover and how expensive their treatment will be. But any truck accident settlement will provide compensation for the injured party’s medical expenses after the settlement is finalized. A settlement may be delayed until the total future medical costs become more certain.
Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer in Indianapolis, IN
When you’ve been injured in a truck accident caused by the negligence or recklessness of a truck driver or trucking company, you deserve to be compensated for your injuries and damages. Our attorneys are experienced at investigating Indiana truck accidents and negotiating with insurance companies to settle claims to our clients’ advantage.
Let the experienced Indianapolis truck accident attorneys of Craig, Kelly & Faultless help you understand your rights and options and guide you through the settlement process.