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Can I Sue Someone Personally After a Truck Accident?

Indiana is a major hub in the US trucking industry. The state ranks fifth in the country for commercial freight traffic, with 724 million tons of goods and materials moving through every year. The roadways are busy with truck traffic and the drivers are often racing against deadlines and don’t get enough sleep. Unfortunately, these conditions and the number of trucks and cars on the road all too often lead to accidents between a truck and other vehicles on the road.

In 2019, police reports revealed that an estimated 538,000 large trucks were involved in collisions on U.S. roads. The accidents resulted in 5,005 fatalities, 71 percent of which were car occupants. In Indiana, 149 trucks were involved in fatal accidents that year. Given the size and weight of many trucks, it isn’t surprising that a crash involving one can be serious, causing significant injuries that can impact the rest of your life. Can you sue the driver personally for your injuries? Maybe. Here’s what you need to know about truck-car collisions and lawsuits.

Understanding Truck Accident Causes

Though truck drivers aren’t always liable for the accidents they are involved in, their actions are frequently responsible for the crash. The most recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study found that the truck driver held responsibility in 55 percent of the crashes in the study. The researchers revealed the following truck driver-related causes:

  • Driver decision-making was involved in 38 percent of the crashes. The behaviors in this category include driving too fast for conditions, following too closely and misjudging vehicle speed.
  • Driver recognition errors led to 28 percent of the accidents. These errors include distracted driving and lack of attention.
  • Non-performance issues caused 12 percent of the collisions. When a driver has a heart attack or other health issue or falls asleep at the wheel, it is a non-performance issue.
  • Performance concerns such as overcorrection played the primary role in nine percent of the accidents in the study.

In addition to driver behaviors, other factors may come into play that contribute to the accident.

If a third party loaded the truck wrong, a weight shift could cause a trucker to lose control of the truck. This would mean the third party held at least some of the liability for the accident. If a part on the truck was defective, the truck manufacturer may be liable. Determining fault isn’t always easy, but a personal injury lawyer who has experience trying semi-truck cases in court can help you navigate the complexities of your personal injury case.

Is the Trucking Company Ever Held Liable?

Indiana employs the concept of “Respondeat Superior” in holding employers responsible for their employee’s actions. Under this theory, the trucking company may be held liable in an accident involving one of its drivers.

The company may only be held liable if the driver’s actions were wrongful and if the driver was performing duties related to the job and in the service of the employer. However, if the trucker involved is an independent contractor, the trucking company is not held responsible for the driver’s negligence.

Understanding Indiana’s Negligence Law

An important factor in personal injury lawsuits in this state is the concept of comparative fault. Liability for an accident is based on who is at fault for the accident. Comparative fault allows that more than one person can contribute to a car crash.

When filing an insurance claim or suing another party in court for injuries sustained in an accident, the insurance company and the court examine the facts of the case to determine what role each driver played in causing the crash. Even if it seems the truck driver’s actions led to the car accident, you may be deemed at least partially responsible for your injuries.

Modified Comparative Fault

Indiana uses a modified comparative fault rule. This law has a tremendous impact on settlements for personal injury cases in truck-vehicle collisions. In a true comparative fault system, if you sue the truck driver or the trucking company for damages related to your injuries and the court finds that you are 25 percent responsible for the accident, you still receive compensation. However, you are awarded 75 percent of the calculated compensation amount because you hold some of the blame for the accident.

In this state, if the court finds that you’re 25 percent responsible, your compensation is the same as in the above example. However, if the court finds that you were more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, you aren’t entitled to collect any damages.

Proving Liability in an Accident Involving a Semi-Truck

Accidents involving trucks can be complicated given the number of potential parties that may be responsible for the crash. Determining liability is key to receiving compensation for your losses. A personal injury attorney can help you gather the evidence you need and build a case against the at-fault party.

If you’ve been involved in a truck accident in Indiana, the steps you take after the incident can lend support to your claim, including:

  • Calling 911
  • Taking photos and videos if at all possible
  • Gathering the contact information for the others involved in the accident
  • Getting the name of and contact information for the driver’s trucking company and insurance provider
  • Getting eyewitness contact information
  • Seeking medical assistance immediately even if you don’t think any of your injuries are serious and if an ambulance is called to the scene, accept assistance
  • Contacting your insurance company

You will likely hear from the trucker driver’s or trucking company’s insurance provider. You are not obligated to talk to them and you may not want to until after you’ve consulted with a personal injury attorney. You also do not need to accept a settlement offer.

How an Attorney Can Help

When you work with experienced personal injury attorneys, they can help you gather the evidence you need to build a liability case against the driver, company or other at-fault parties. Any information you collect at the scene, along with police reports, witness testimony, medical provider testimony and qualified opinions can be used to determine who was most at fault for your injuries.

Pursuing Damages

Frequently, injuries sustained in an accident with a truck are serious and can have long-term implications. Compensation should cover more than your current medical bills. Damages may also include compensation for lost wages, rehabilitation, physical and emotional therapies, future medical bills, and reduced work capacity. If your case involves a truck driver’s willful negligence, you may also be able to collect punitive damages.

Filing in Time

If you’ve been in an accident with a truck, you need to take quick action. In Indiana, there is a statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit. You have two years to file, and the clock starts ticking on the date that the accident occurs. However, if the driver is employed by the state of Indiana, certain rules apply that require that you provide the government entity a Notice of Tort Claim within 270 days. The timespan is shortened to 180 if the employer of the truck is a political subdivision in Indiana. If notice is not provided with the allotted amount of days, you will lose the right to file suit against the government entity even if suit is filed with the two year statute of limitations.

Getting Legal Assistance for Your Personal Injury Case

Hensley Legal Group understands how challenging it can be to get your life back to normal following a collision with a semi-truck. Our team is here for you, and we’ll be with you every step of the way. You can count on us for individualized attention from the first phone call until your case is closed. Let us help you through this difficult process. Get in touch today to schedule a free case review.

Sources:

https://www.in.gov/indot/multimodal/freight/

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813110

https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-analysis-brief

https://www.uslaw.org/files/Compendiums2017/Transportation17/Indiana_USLAW%20Transportation%20Compendium_2017.pdf

http://184.175.130.101/legislative/laws/2019/ic/titles/034#34-51-2