If you have been seriously injured in a truck accident, you should speak with a lawyer about your legal rights. Truck accident victims often have claims for significant compensation; and, if you are entitled to a financial recovery, you will need an experienced lawyer to fight for the compensation you deserve.
Truck accident victims have clear legal rights under Florida law. In this article, we cover:
- 5 Questions to Determine Your Legal Rights After a Truck Accident in Florida
- Proving Your Legal Rights After a Truck Accident in Florida
- Asserting Your Legal Rights with the Help of a Florida Truck Accident Lawyer
5 Questions to Determine Your Legal Rights After a Truck Accident in Florida
Assessing your legal rights after a truck accident requires consideration of several different factors. Broadly speaking, these factors fall into two categories: (i) factors related to liability (what company is financially responsible for the accident), and (ii) factors related to damages (how much you are entitled to recover).
With this in mind, here are five important questions for determining your legal rights after a truck accident in Florida:
1. What Caused the Truck Accident?
The first fact you need to know is the cause of the accident. There are numerous possibilities. For example, potential causes of accidents involving 18-wheelers, tanker trucks, tractor-trailers, and other large commercial trucks include (but are not limited to):
- Truck driver negligence (i.e., speeding, tailgating, braking too late, falling asleep behind the wheel, and driving while distracted or intoxicated)
- Trucking company negligence (i.e., hiring an unqualified driver, forcing a driver to exceed federal driving hour restrictions, and failing to adequately maintain the truck)
- Shipping company negligence (i.e., overloading cargo containers, shipping unsecured or imbalanced loads, and failure to pressurize liquid cargo)
- Truck defects and maintenance issues (i.e., defective engine and transmission components, defective brakes, and failure to replace worn tires)
- Road defects and maintenance issues (i.e., potholes, sink holes, crumbling shoulders, inadequate signage, and sharp curves)
It is also important not to overlook the possibility of negligence, defects, and maintenance issues related to other drivers and vehicles involved in the accident. While truck driver negligence and truck-related issues are to blame in the majority of cases, it is entirely possible that another driver or vehicle could have triggered the crash as well.
2. What Company Is Responsible?
After determining the cause of the accident, you then need to identify the company that is responsible. Here too, there are several possibilities. For example, depending on the cause of the accident, the companies that could be responsible include:
- The truck driver’s insurance company
- The trucking company
- The shipping company
- The truck’s manufacturer (or the manufacturer of a defective component)
- A shop or dealership that worked on the truck
- A government agency or contractor
- Another driver’s insurance company or vehicle manufacturer
Keep in mind that you most likely have a claim under your personal injury protection (PIP) policy as well. PIP insurance is mandatory in Florida, and it provides coverage for medical bills and lost wages on a “no fault” basis. While your PIP coverage could pale in comparison to your total losses (the minimum required coverage is $10,000), filing a PIP claim could help you cover your bills while the rest of your case is pending.
This brings up another point as well: Multiple companies could share liability for your injuries from the accident. Oftentimes, multiple factors will combine to cause a crash; and, when this happens, it may be necessary to pursue a claim against each liable company.
3. Can the Insurance Companies Claim You Were Partially At Fault?
Under Florida law, if you are partially at fault in the accident, this limits the amount you are entitled to recover. Florida has adopted the rule of “pure comparative fault,” which means that (theoretically) you can be 99% at fault in an accident and still recover 1% of your accident-related losses. But, more often, insurance companies will claim that victims are more like 25% or 50% at fault in order to try to reduce the amount of their settlements.
When you have a claim, it is imperative that you not rely on the insurance companies’ determination of fault. But, you do need to make a realistic assessment: Based on the evidence available, does it appear that you were partially at fault in the accident? If so, this is a factor you will need to take into account as you move forward.
4. How Much Are Your Financial Losses from the Truck Accident?
Florida law entitles truck accident victims to just compensation for all of the financial losses they incur as a result of the collision. You will need to work closely with your lawyer to accurately calculate just compensation for your:
- Medical needs (including testing, treatment, therapy, and prescriptions)
- Vehicle repair or replacement costs
- Other out-of-pocket costs
- Loss of income
- Loss of future earning capacity
5. How Much are You Entitled to Receive for Your Non-Financial Losses?
Florida law also entitles truck accident victims to just compensation for their non-financial losses. Non-financial losses are those that impact your life in ways other than increasing your expenses or reducing your income. An experienced Florida truck accident lawyer will be able to calculate an appropriate amount of compensation for your:
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Anxiety, depression, and emotional trauma
- Loss of companionship and consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Proving Your Legal Rights After a Truck Accident in Florida
Knowing your legal rights is just the first step. To recover just compensation, you must also be able to prove both liability and damages. The process of proving your legal rights after a truck accident in Florida involves:
1. Discussing the Accident with Your Lawyer
It will be important for you to discuss the accident with your lawyer while it is still fresh in your mind. The more details you can provide, the better. It can be helpful to take notes before your free initial consultation, and we recommend taking 20 minutes or so to write down everything that comes to your mind.
2. Conducting an On-Scene Investigation
Once you engage a law firm to represent you, the firm will conduct an on-scene investigation. The purpose of this investigation is to gather as much forensic evidence as possible, and it is important that the investigation take place as soon as possible—ideally before any key evidence (i.e., skid marks or roadside debris) disappears. Your law firm will send an investigator to the scene who has experience with forensic techniques and who knows how to preserve evidence so that it remains admissible in court.
3. Gathering Evidence from Other Sources
The scene of the accident is just one potential source of evidence in commercial truck accident cases. Depending on the circumstances involved, your law firm may be able to collect evidence from a variety of other sources as well. This may include:
- Inspecting the truck, your vehicle, and any other vehicles involved in the accident
- Contacting the investigating police department to obtain a copy of the accident report
- Obtaining traffic camera or surveillance camera footage of the accident
- Speaking with eye witnesses
- Requesting the truck driver’s (or another driver’s) phone and employment records
- Requesting the truck’s maintenance history
- Securing other forms of evidence through legal means
4. Obtaining a Comprehensive Assessment of Your Medical Needs
In addition to proving how the accident happened and what company is responsible, you also need to prove the extent of your accident-related losses. This starts with ensuring that you receive a comprehensive diagnosis and that you have a clear understanding of your long-term medical needs. Oftentimes, this will involve seeing multiple doctors who specialize in a variety of different areas.
5. Documenting Your Injuries’ Day-to-Day Effects
Proving your losses also involves documenting your injuries’ day-to-day effects. What are your daily pain levels? Is your pain worse in the mornings or at other times of day? How often do you miss work? How much time do you spend traveling to and from your doctors’ offices? Do you struggle to spend meaningful time with your family members and friends? These are all effects that could heavily influence the value of your claim—and they are just a sampling of the effects your lawyer will want you to document on a daily basis.
Asserting Your Legal Rights with the Help of a Florida Truck Accident Lawyer
So, you’ve determined liability, you know how much you are entitled to recover, and you have the evidence to prove it. Now, how do you assert your legal rights?
1. Filing Your Claim (or Claims)
The first step is to file your claim (or claims) with the appropriate company (or companies). As discussed above, depending on the facts of your case, you may be able to recover all of your losses through a single claim, or you may need to file multiple claims in order to fully recover your losses. Your lawyer will be able to determine what is necessary and take appropriate legal action on your behalf.
2. Presenting Evidence of Liability
As warranted, your lawyer will present evidence of liability. Your lawyer will also dispute the other side’s countervailing evidence—including any evidence suggesting that you may share responsibility for the accident.
3. Presenting Evidence of Damages
Once liability has been established, the focus will shift to damages. Your lawyer will use the evidence that you provide and that he or she gathers and creates to present a convincing case for just compensation.
4. Negotiating for a Favorable Settlement
Most truck accident cases lead to settlement negotiations at this stage. If it is clear that you are entitled to compensation, your lawyer will argue for maximum compensation, while the other side will argue for a much smaller amount. You and your lawyer will discuss a reasonable settlement range in advance; and, if the other side makes an offer, your lawyer will help you make an informed decision about whether to accept or reject.
5. Going to Court in Florida if Necessary
The final step, if necessary, is to take your case to court. If the other side refuses to consider a reasonable settlement offer, your lawyer will prepare your case for trial. It is still possible for your case to settle at this stage (and many cases settle right before, or even during, trial), but at this point you will need to be able to rely on your lawyer to fight effectively for the full financial compensation you deserve.
Discuss Your Case with a Florida Truck Accident Lawyer at Silva & Silva
If you need to know more about your legal rights after a truck accident in Florida, we encourage you to contact us promptly for a free, no-obligation consultation. To speak with an experienced Florida truck accident lawyer in confidence, call 305-445-0011 or tell us how we can reach you online now.