Atlanta truck accident lawyers know that when tractor trailer vehicles are involved in collisions, especially at highway speeds, death and serious injury are sadly the norm. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported more than 4,200 large truck crash deaths in the U.S. in 2016, an increase of 3 percent from the year before. About one quarter – 104,000 – of the 475,000 police-reported large truck accidents nationally resulted in severe, often life-altering injury.
These tragedies are sudden, random – and often due to the same safety lapses we see over and over on Georgia roadways. As longtime Atlanta truck accident attorneys, we have years of successes, fighting case-after-case against careless drivers, scofflaw truck companies and bad faith insurers. The reality is these Georgia truck accident claims can be tough cases with high stakes for the victims.
Of course, no monetary settlement or verdict will bring back your loved one or adequately repay for a lifetime of physical pain and suffering wrought by debilitating injury. The goal of truck accident claims and lawsuits is to secure for those directly impacted the just and necessary financial resources – now and in years to come – to ensure the best possible medical care and the means to weather the financial upheaval. Truck crash claims aren’t win-lose scenarios: You’ve already lost. This is about making sure the individuals and companies legally responsible pay just and fair compensation.
Large Trucking Companies Required to Carry Higher Insurance
Georgia’s general auto insurance laws require all drivers to maintain a minimum $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident for crash-related injury liability costs. Heavy trucks, however, are known to cause more substantial damage. Their liability limits are higher, as set by both state and federal law. The rates are similar, based on weight and category of transported commodities, with Georgia law applicable to intrastate trucks and federal law governing trucks bound for interstate travel.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules require most large trucks over 10,000 pounds to have between $750,000 and $1 million in liability coverage (with a few exceptions that may require up to $5 million). Trucks weighing less than 10,001 pounds of non-hazardous freight need to maintain $300,000.
These figures may sound significant, but in the aftermath of a truck accident, it’s no windfall. Just to give you an idea, FMCSA data from more than a decade ago showed the average cost of a police-reported truck crash was about $91,000. That was based on 2005 data. Factoring inflation and assuming injuries were serious or fatal, the medical bills, lost wages and funeral expenses alone could far exceed that under-six-figure sum.
Of course, just because a truck accident defendant is insured doesn’t mean securing fair compensation will be easy.
Fighting for Fair Compensation After Georgia Truck Accident
Georgia truck accident claimants usually have the option to pursue claims numerous against defendants (further complicating settlement negotiations or litigation). These usually include:
The truck driver.
Tractor-trailer operators who fail to inspect their rig, drive too fast, drive impaired, distracted or for too many hours at a stretch can be liable for causing a crash. Employers of negligent drivers can be held vicariously liable, meaning plaintiffs don’t have to prove the company itself was directly negligent. Vicarious liability is rooted in the old English doctrine of respondeat superior. But defendant carriers often fight back by asserting the drivers weren’t “employees,” but rather “independent contractors. The designation is often arbitrary and can be refuted in court by weighing the specifics of that arrangement against state and federal employment law. But you’ve got to have an attorney prepared to handle that level of complexity. One high-profile case of vicarious liability in a Georgia trucking accident involved a truck driver accused of fatigue and distraction causing a 2015 collision killing five nursing students and seriously injuring two others. Based on evidence of the driver’s negligence, seven claims were resolved for roughly $100 million, mostly through pre-trial settlements.
The trucking company.
In addition to behind held vicariously liable for the negligence of truck drivers, truck companies can also be held directly liable for corporate policies that may have contributed to the crash, such as failing to ensure trucks were regularly maintained or that drivers were medically cleared, sufficiently trained and routinely drug screened.
The truck company’s insurance company.
Georgia law pertaining to truck accidents is somewhat unique in that plaintiffs can directly file injury claims against trucking insurance companies – either alone or in conjunction with claims against the driver and/ or trucking company. That’s not the case for other crash claims or even truck accident lawsuits in many other states. In 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta ruled in Bramlett v. Bajric, that this right to direct-file against truck company insurers extended to interstate as well as intrastate carriers.
Sometimes in Georgia truck accident lawsuits, courts will allow an award of punitive damages to plaintiff (not typically allowed in other crash cases), as outlined in O.C.G.A 51-12-5.1, to penalize, “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression” or want of care amounting to conscious indifference.
There may also be grounds to assert claims for product liability (if a truck manufacturer’s unsafe vehicle or component contributed to the crash) or third-party negligence against other drivers.
Will I Have to File a Truck Accident Lawsuit and Go to Trial?
Although some truck injury claims may not require a lawsuit, it’s unlikely you would get a fair deal – especially with a tort as complex as a trucking accident – without at least some negotiation. Truck companies and insurers know truck crash claims are high stakes. Favorable settlements on the first offer or counteroffer are rare. An experienced Atlanta truck accident lawyer is invaluable in this process, freeing you from direct and stressful negotiations.
It is not in your best interest to sign any paperwork from an insurance adjuster following a truck crash before talking to an injury or wrongful death lawyer. They work on a contingency fee basis in Georgia, so you don’t pay upfront.
It can be tempting to just sign the paperwork, get a settlement and move on. However, your damages are probably more than you realize. Even if you did, it’s probably not a judgment call you can wisely make while recovering from injuries or reeling from a sudden death.
Even if a trucking company or insurer admits liability, it’s not uncommon for them to assert claimant’s injuries aren’t as severe as they say. Although it’s easy enough to show receipts for medical bills, establishing the full scope of your damages also requires the skill of an experienced Georgia injury lawyer, and likely several witnesses. An expert financial witness can attest to projection of future losses, including earning capacity and benefits, while personal witnesses can give the court impassioned testimony of depth of pain and suffering and extent of life enjoyment lost.
Working with a compassionate, experienced Georgia truck accident law firm is your best chance of recovering full and fair damages after a serious crash.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta truck accident attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.