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Illinois Truck Accident FAQ's by Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers

Truck Accidents When a commercial truck is involved in a traffic accident with passenger vehicles or pedestrians, the results are often catastrophic. Many victims suffer serious injuries or die at the scene after being crushed on impact by a significantly heavier vehicle. Other times, the crash leads to an horrific conflagration potentially causing severe burns when flammable or hazardous materials explode.

Typically, any large vehicle that requires a commercial driver’s license to operate is regarded as a commercial vehicle. Big rigs, 18-wheelers, delivery vans, cement trucks, gasoline tanker trucks, and semi-tractor-trailers are considered commercial transport vehicles, as are some classifications of standard pickup trucks.

The truck accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC appreciate the physical and emotional impact a crash can have. Below we have compiled some truck accident frequently asked questions for your review. Should you have additional questions, contact our law firm.

What Should I do if I'm Involved in an Accident With a Commercial Truck?

You should immediately report the accident to both the police and the insurance company and begin the process of hiring an Illinois truck accident lawyer.

The first thing to do, if you are able to, is report the accident from the scene and obtain a police report. Of course, this is not always possible if you have been injured in the accident. Given the size of commercial trucks, it is more likely than not that you have been injured.

To the extent that you are able, make sure that you document the scene of the accident. This means that you take pictures of the scene and get contact information of those who can be possible witnesses to the accident. If you are unable to document the accident, try to contact an attorney from the scene of the accident who can arrive at the scene and document the scene for you.

The most important thing that you need to do is to report the accident to your insurance company. This will begin the process of starting your claim. Then, your insurance company will be informed of what happened in case they are contacted by the truck driver's insurance company. Then, as described below, you will quickly need to think about obtaining legal representation because actions that you take in the immediate aftermath of an accident may determine whether you are able to receive a settlement in your case.

Do I Need an Attorney if I am Injured in an Illinois Accident Involving a Large or Commercial Truck?

While there is no legal requirement to hire an attorney, it is not always easy to represent yourself in your personal injury claim and an experienced lawyer can help you present the strongest possible claim.

You should hire an attorney if you have been in an accident with a large or commercial truck in Illinois. If you have been in an accident with a large truck, chances are that your injuries are significant. This will present many different challenges and costs to you. Due to your injuries as well as the likelihood that you will miss substantial time from work, you are likely looking at a larger settlement than you would receive in the average car accident.

At the same time, you may be dealing with a company's insurance which presents challenges on its own. An insurance company will likely not want to write a large check without at least making some effort to lower the amount of their obligation. All of this adds up to pressure on you that you likely will not be able to deal with when trying to recuperate from your truck accident injuries.

An Illinois truck accident attorney can not only deal with the insurance company, but can be a trusted advisor and counsellor as you deal with a difficult period. They have experience in addressing truck accidents and will have a better idea of what to expect since you certainly are not an expert at dealing with the issues that arise after a truck accident.

Can I Sue the Company Where the Truck Driver is an Employee?

This depends on the truck driver's employment status and what they were doing at the time of the accident.

The general rule is that an employer can be held liable for the acts of their employees if they are committed within the scope of employment. In plain English, this means that when an employee is on the job and they are negligent, anyone who is injured by their negligence may sue the company for whom they work because everything that the truck driver does is as a representative of their company. While this seems very straightforward, in practice this can be somewhat difficult if the case goes to trial because there are various factual questions that must be addressed.

One of the exceptions to this rule is that many companies try to designate their driver as independent contractors. This means that they are not employees of the company. As a result, there is no employer/employee relationship and this will usually get the company off the hook when it comes to liability. Although this seems unfair, it is the longstanding legal rule. Some states are trying to change their laws to keep companies from designating truck drivers as independent contractors, but the Illinois law remains the same. There are some exceptions to the rule based on the level of control that the company has over its independent contractors.

The other question is what the employee was doing at the time of accident. They must have been engaged in job duties at the time that they had the accident. If they were taking the company truck on a personal errand or were driving to or from work, the employer may not be held liable since the accident was not within the scope of their employment. There are many other factual questions that come into play and an Illinois truck accident lawyer can help you establish and prove the facts of your case.

How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Truck Accident Lawyer to Represent Me?

You will pay nothing upfront or out of your pocket and the lawyer is only paid if you are.

An Illinois truck accident lawyer works for you on a contingency basis. This means that they do not bill you upfront or on an hourly basis. Instead, you will sign a representation agreement with your truck accident lawyer that will state their payment in terms of the percentage of your recovery. If you do not receive a settlement or win the case that goes to trial, you do not need to pay the lawyer for their services. The representation agreement will spell out whether you are responsible for certain other court costs in the event that you do not win your case. The rule is that everything must be in writing ahead of time.

An Illinois truck injury lawyer will usually be paid about one third of your settlement amount as compensation for their services. They must tell you about their fees at the time that you hire them and you will agree to their fee in writing. There are no oral fee agreements that are allowed. In the event that your case goes to trial, the lawyer may receive a slightly higher percentage of the jury award because trials require the attorney to expend their time and effort, and they take risk that they will lose the case. The lawyer's fee comes straight out of the settlement amount and they are paid from it.

Usually, an attorney will not accept every case that is brought to them because they are paid on contingency. If they are not successful in helping you recover for your injuries, they will not be paid. Therefore, they will want to minimize the risk that they are working uncompensated time because it hurts their ability to earn a living. While you may hesitate to hire a lawyer since they receive part of your settlement, not having legal representation can make the settlement process more difficult for you.

Should I try to Settle my Truck Accident Case With the Insurance Company?

You should try to reach a settlement agreement but must be prepared to take your case all the way to trial if necessary.

Most times, both parties to the case want to avoid a trial if they can. Let's face it, trials are expensive and they take time and they introduce uncertainty for everyone. As an injured plaintiff, you want to know that you will be receiving money and will want it in your account sooner rather than later. At the same time, the insurance company may not want you in front of a jury because they could then be facing a large jury award, especially if you are a sympathetic plaintiff who has been badly hurt. In other words, in most cases, everyone has an incentive to settle the case and that is usually what happens.

However, settlements often are not reached overnight. Instead, they may be the product of lengthy and protracted negotiations. Also, this is with the assumption that everybody is negotiating in good faith. The insurance company may not make you their best offer and often, they will not even make you a good offer at all. Oftentimes, you will need to file a lawsuit because without it, the insurance company may never make you a fair offer. Sometimes, they may not even settle until the eve of the trial.

Know that an overwhelming majority of truck accident cases will result in a settlement. Comparatively, very few of these cases will ever go to trial. Unless your claim is totally without merit or you are very clearly at fault, the insurance company will likely make you a settlement offer. However, it is often difficult for the average person to know the value of their claim. The insurance company does know exactly how much your claim is worth because they have an army of statisticians, specialists and lawyers. Properly valuing your claim is one reason why you would need an Illinois truck accident attorney because your lawyer will have experience in dealing with these types of cases.

What Needs to be Proved in a Truck Accident Lawsuit Involving Personal Injury?

In order to prevail in a lawsuit, you will need to prove that the driver of the truck was negligent which means that:

  • You were owed a duty of care
  • The duty of care was breached
  • You were injured
  • The other driver caused your injury

In every case involving personal injury, you will likely hear the word “negligence.” This is shorthand for a four-part test that you must prove in order to show that the defendant should be held liable for your injuries. However, each element of the case may be disputed if your case goes to trial.

The first element of the test is that the other driver owed you something that is called the “duty of care.” This is almost always met. When you are a driver on the road, you owe this duty to every other driver who shares the road with you. It means that the driver must follow some standard of behavior when driving to act as reasonable driver would. Then, you must prove that the driver breached this duty of care and acted unreasonably. What is considered to be unreasonable must be proven at trial. However, some things such as speeding and otherwise driving dangerously would be considered to be unreasonable.

After you show that the truck driver acted unreasonably, you must then show that you have suffered and injury. If you have proven your injury, you must then demonstrate that it was the truck driver who was the proximate cause of your injury. In other words, you would not have been hurt but for the unreasonable actions of the other driver. You need to prove all four of these elements, and if you fail at any one of them, there will be no finding of negligence.

What Parties may be Responsible in a Trucking Accident Involving Injuries or a Fatality?

After a simple car accident, it can be quite easy to determine responsibility. The other driver normally will carry most of the fault. This is the case with other kinds of incidents too. Bicycle, motorcycle, and pedestrian crashes follow similar patterns. However, trucking accidents trigger different legal and business issues. This will make your job harder when identifying who is responsible for your truck accident injuries. To be concise, anyone’s unreasonable conduct that contributed to your damages (economic or non-economic) may be found liable in court. Here are some profiles of common parties held responsible in Illinois truck incidents.

  • The truck driver.
  • The truck driver’s employer.
  • The entity that owns the trailer.
  • Any vendor or party that worked on or for the truck or trailer including repair shops.
  • The maker or seller of the truck or trailer.

Every new defendant opens up a new spring for recovery including insurance party. Plus, if the truck accident caused death or serious injury, your attorney will need to determine all possible defendants and categories of recovery before it is too late.

What Makes Truck Accident Cases Different From Other Types of Motor Vehicle Crashes?

Truck accident cases differ from other kinds of motor vehicle crashes because the laws surrounding them. Trucking is a business, more so than regular automobile traffic. Plus, trucks present greater dangers due to the size and speed at which they move. Thus, the federal government and many state governments have passed various laws (including The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation Act) related to trucking.

These statutes cover everything from insurance coverage to trucker background verification. They touch upon common trucking issues like truck weight and driving under the influence but also other things you might not be familiar with. When accidents and lawsuits arise, these laws govern. It is important to work through them with an attorney to discern the complicated and unique legal issues that will arise in a truck crash case.

How Long do I Have to File an Illinois Truck Accident Lawsuit?

Plaintiffs have two years to file a lawsuit after a truck accident in Illinois if they sue for negligence related to personal injury or wrongful death. 735 ILCS 5/13-202. Most plaintiffs sue for negligence. It means the defendant acted unreasonably and caused the crash as well as the plaintiff’s damages. Plaintiffs have years two years as well to make a products liability claim following a trucking crash. 735 ILCS 5/13-213. In that scenario, claimants must show that a defective product (such as a tire) let to a crash and injury after being used reasonably and foreseeably.

How Long Will it Take to Settle a Truck Accident Case?

It may take a few months to even a couple of years to settle a truck accident case filed in Cook County Circuit Court. There are a number of reasons for why this process takes so long. Identifying the facts and party at fault can be quite cumbersome. Then, understanding the laws of Illinois that give right to recovery and what that recovery may be can test even the smartest lawyers.

Finally, convincing the defendant of your ability to win at trial and by how much will prove tricky. This assumes settlement arises. If the matter goes to trial, it can last another year or two. Therefore, truck accident victims in Illinois should move swiftly and consider contacting an attorney as soon as feasible.

How are Illinois Trucking Lawsuits Valued?

In nearly all cases, your lawsuit will be valued at the total of your economic and non-economic damages.

Generally, your truck accident lawsuit will pay you for the compensatory damages that you have suffered. You may also be able to get punitive damages depending on the actions of the driver, but this type of damages is rare in a truck accident case. In order to receive punitive damages, you will have to show an extreme degree of callousness and recklessness on the part of the truck driver.

Compensatory damages are intended to put you in the same position as if your truck accident never happened. These are generally broken down into economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are meant to pay you back for the actual losses that you have suffered. These include medical bills that you have had to pay as well as payment for time that you have missed and will miss in the future from work. These damages are more readily quantified although there may be some dispute as to the amount of lost wages.

Non-economic damages include pain and suffering and mental anguish. These types of damages are more subjective and open to dispute among the parties. Non-economic damages are intended to compensate you for the trauma and the difficulty of the experience. In 1995, Illinois had tried to cap non-economic damages by law at $500,000 but the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional so non-economic damages can be unlimited.. Pain and suffering is where your verdict can get quite large when your case goes in front of a jury. In a truck accident settlement, the insurance company will try to value your pain and suffering using a multiplier of your actual economic losses. Your attorney will need to be vigilant because this is where insurance companies try to keep you from getting what you deserve.

What are Some Examples of Truck Accident Settlements?

Below are some sample truck accident settlements involving Illinois cases. While these may be instructive, you should consult with a lawyer when valuing your particular case.

$335,000 SETTLEMENT; TRUCK ACCIDENT; ILLINOIS.

Here, the plaintiff was backing up his car in a suburban town. He did not spot a truck directly behind him. They crashed into each other. The plaintiff was hurt badly. He herniated his disc at the C6 point. That left him with lots of bills, pain, and even a disability. There were actually two defendants in this lawsuit. The first was the actual truck driver. The other was DHL. DHL oversaw the dock where the accident happened. It tried to put the blame squarely on the driver. Yet, it did not want to test its theories in court. DHL settled for $135,000. The trucker gave $200,000 to the plaintiff.

$1,100,000 SETTLEMENT; TRUCK ACCIDENT; MISSOURI.

This was not a normal truck accident case. The plaintiff worked for Consolidated Trucking. His truck clipped the back of a car and swung around over ditch. As he tried to leave his vehicle, another truck came flying into the back of his. That crash sent him over a ditch, nearly fifty feet downwards. The man fractured several bones. He sued the other trucker. He also sued that trucker’s boss. He claimed negligence. He sought damages for pain, bills, and lost wages. Since the defendant was speeding and on the road too long, it made the plaintiff’s own errors less relevant. The defendants recognized as much when they offered to settle. The plaintiff received the figure listed above for his losses.

$10,900,000 SETTLEMENT; TRUCK ACCIDENT; ILLINOIS.

Here, a trucker crashed into a state trooper on the side of the road in the north suburbs of Chicago. After the accident, a fire erupted and the cop lost his life. His new wife survived him. She sued the trucking company (UVL) for wrongful death. Apparently, the trucker had been on the road too long. Also, he made no effort to avoid the accident. Similarly, the defendants could not make a real effort to avoid civil liability. When they settled just about one year later (a short time for this kind of case), they realized their legal options were limited. The woman recovered over $10 million.

$22,520,000 JURY AWARD; TRUCK ACCIDENT; ILLINOIS.

In this case, a young woman brought a wrongful death lawsuit. She did so after her husband was struck and killed while repaving roads on the Illinois tollway. An Overnite trucker slammed into the deceased man’s vehicle and that collision left him dead. The surviving wife was carrying child when the incident occurred. Aside from wrongful death, the complaint also listed negligence as a contributing factor. The trucking company pointed the finger at other parties. In the end, a jury decided these attempts were in vain. It saddled the transportation company with an 8-figure judgment.

$18,500,000 JURY AWARD; TRUCK ACCIDENT; INDIANA.

This truck accident happened on I-74 in Indiana. A Werner truck slammed right into the plaintiff head-on. The man’s car was sent flying across the road. He sustained major brain damage and required medical attention for the rest of his life. He could no longer work or play the same way again. He sued Werner and the trucker. Both refused to settle. The matter went to trial. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff. It ruled that the defendants were completely at fault. The plaintiff recovered one of the largest trucking accident verdicts in state history.

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