Things you should know after being involved in a semi-truck accident.

We here at the firm handle a large number of semi truck accident cases. Those are cases involving big rigs, 18 wheelers, usually on the freeways, either Highway 97, Highway 58, 62, or Interstate 5, so often it's the main arterial highways because that's where truckers are generally driving in higher numbers, and it's also where greater speeds are involved. 

As anyone can imagine, an accident or a collision involving a semi-truck versus a pedestrian or a passenger vehicle can be pretty catastrophic for those either as a pedestrian or in the passenger vehicle, given the size and weight difference between the semi-truck and either the pedestrian or the passenger car.

People ask all the time, "Well, I was involved in this accident, it was pretty clear liability." By way of example, a case coming up for trial. The person is in a passenger car on I-5 just south of Eugene, an interstate trucker is following behind, traffic stops because it's raining and people are hydroplaning, so it slows down. I think there's an accident, so it stops ahead. The trucker doesn't see the traffic stopped, doesn't pay attention, rear ends the vehicle, it's at a full stop, at 65 miles an hour. You can imagine the damage it's done to the vehicle and the passengers inside.

A case like that, should the person hire a lawyer? My position is they should at least consult with a lawyer, at least understand what's involved in a truck accident case, how the insurance there works, what regulations and rules need to be paid attention to, perhaps what expert witnesses need to be gathered and what their damages would look like, so on and so forth. Generally speaking, yes, it's good to at least consult a lawyer, if not engage that law firm in representing yourself in a truck accident case. 

Here are some examples as to why. First of all, truck accident insurers are highly aggressive. They usually deal with large policy limits. As a matter of federal law, the minimum for an interstate trucker, the minimum limit of insurance for a big rig is 750,000 dollars. If it's licensed to haul hazardous material, it goes up to a million dollars. 

Often there's policies that are over and above those figures, for trucks that are on the road. The insurance carriers have good reason to pay attention to what's going on and good reason to care, because not only are they insuring large vehicles that can do a lot of damage, they're protecting large semi trucks that are also traveling at high speeds. Coupled with that, they have insurance limits. If they go out and do a lot of damage, the insurance carrier itself could be tagged 750,000 dollars or more, because of the injuries that were caused by that bad truck driver. 

What happens there, because their liabilities so high, and the likelihood of a significant liability required to pay out to an injured party is so high, they get this team involved. The minute a truck driver's involved in an accident, usually their insurance carrier requires them to call one, their dispatcher, and then two the insurance carrier. Often times, if it's bad enough, if it's a fatal or severe injuries, they will literally fly investigators in to the scene, while the truck's still on the freeway, or have them drive in from the nearest large city, while the truck's still on the freeway, to take photograph's, to document, to interview witnesses, to be the first one to talk to people in an attempt to minimize their liability. 

It's not uncommon, it's not unheard of, that these people hide evidence, that they change evidence, that they deny certain facts, were true, even though it was readily available and visual at the scene. You're already up against the gun in terms of a very coordinated system set against finding liability on the part of the truck driver, as well as set against requiring big payouts to injured parties. 

You got difficult insurance companies, you have the response team. In addition to that, most people don't understand the rules and regulations that involve trucking. There's a Federal motor carrier safety act, that requires truckers to, for example, can only work a certain number of hours, can only drive a certain number of hours during the week. That's broken down day-by-day. 

There are rules and regulations involving pre-trip inspections. They have to inspect their equipment, and their loads pre-trip to make sure nothing's going to malfunction and cause injury. In addition to that, there's trucking data. Most trucks now have onboard computer systems, that are recording data. Be that GPS, be that steering input, be that acceleration input or braking input, vectoring in terms of whether they're turning and how fast they're turning and where the momentum's shifting, so on and so forth. There's a vast amount of data that can be collected as a part of the truck itself, that needs to be analyzed. Most people don't even realize that data's there, nor do they have the tools necessary to analyze the data, understand what the heck it means. There's that, as well as potentially visibility studies. 

Just by way of example, I had this case in Medford where a pedestrian, a gentleman, was walking across the intersection in a crosswalk, a marked crosswalk, with the light in his favor. The walk signal and there's a semi truck stopped to his left against a red light. Semi truck's looking at this red light. Pedestrian starts to cross. Suddenly, the semi-truck looks to his left, sees it's, clear and tries to make a right on red.

Unfortunately for our client, he couldn't get out of the way. He was run over and killed at the scene. It was just an awful situation for everybody involved. The trucking ... You would think that'd just be common sense. Trucking carriers liable, right? I mean, he ran over a pedestrian who was walking with the light in their favor. The insurer for the trucking company said, "Nope. We're not responsible. In fact, the pedestrian's responsible, because they should have realized that truck driver couldn't see them and either not used the crosswalk, or gotten the heck out the way when the truck started moving." 

We had to then, engage an expert to do a visibility study. We tracked this particular truck down. We knew the height of the driver, through depositions, the height os his torso. We knew where the seat was positioned. We knew, of course, the height of our client, and where he was standing in the intersection through eyewitness statements, and then how he proceeded, where he was in the crosswalk relative to the front of the truck through eyewitness statements. We were able to piece it all together and figure out that, not only could the truck driver see our client as he was on the sidewalk and started to walk off into the crosswalk, but he could see his head all the way across in front of his truck, until he ran him over, including the point where he ran him over. 

Through that visibility study, we were able to prove liability, and ultimately, force the insurer to settle with the family for the loss of their loved on. That's just one example of the tact that insurance carriers take in trucking cases and the length that the truck accident attorneys or the clients have to go through in order to prove liability on an otherwise seemingly straightforward case. 

You have attorney's that are knowledgeable in the area of the law, understand what the rules, regulations, requirements of truck drivers are. They have the ability and the understanding of which experts are needed and why, and can arrange those experts to do visibility settings, do scene studies, do accident reconstructions, so on and so forth. And then, also, and just as importantly lawyers have a very good sense, particularly those like us, who practice in this area, almost exclusively. 

I mean, we only do personal injury and much of our caseload is, involving truck accident cases, is the ability to understand the person's injuries, to make sure they're seeing the right practitioners, to have those injuries evaluated properly, be that through orthopedic surgeons, through neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, counselors, vocational experts, economists, and so on and so forth, to come to a realistic and true value of the amount of damages that they'd be entitled to by and through their client against a truck carrier. It's a whole conglomeration of things. 

Lawyers, this is not an area that's easy for a lawyer, who's up to speed on the law generally, and understands the court system, and can practice law, and is licensed to practice law in the state of Oregon. You ask any lawyer to come and handle a truck accident case; it's above many lawyers heads. It's just so specific and unique an area of law, both on the liability side, the investigation side, as well as the injury and damages side, that there's only a handful of firms that specialize in this area. Thankfully we're one of them.