The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported that there were 4,630 traffic fatalities nationwide involving large trucks or buses in 2018. That same year, 936 New Yorkers died in traffic accidents — 74 involving trucks — according to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research.
According to the website PolicyAdvice, an average of 130,000 Americans are injured every year in accidents involving trucks, with truck accidents rising 52% since 2009. Overall, truck accidents account for 74% of all traffic fatalities.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident in Syracuse, New York, or the surrounding communities of Rome, Watertown, Fort Drum, Utica, or throughout Jefferson County, contact Nichols Law Office, PLLC. Attorney Craig K. Nichols has helped countless other accident victims over the past three decades fight for and obtain the just compensation they deserve.
Trucks are truly the behemoths of the road. Big rigs — semis, tractor-trailers, 18-wheelers, or whatever you may call them — can weigh up to 80,000 pounds or more, whereas your vehicle might not top 5,000 pounds. Serious injuries, disabilities, and fatalities are often the result of a collision with a large truck.
New York is a “no-fault” insurance state, which means that you must first file with your own insurance company for any damages, including medical expenses, repairs to or replacement of your vehicle or other property, or lost income.
To go further and file a legal claim against the other driver, you must have suffered a serious injury, defined by law as:
Permanent limitation of use of a body organ or member
A significant limitation of use of a body function or system
Substantially full disability for at least 90 days
If your injury rises to one or more of those levels, you then have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit allows you to claim damages for non-economic factors such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other losses that are not covered by your automobile insurance.
The statute of limitations for a personal injury claim in New York is three years from the date of the injury. A wrongful death lawsuit by a family member of the deceased must be filed within two years of the victim’s death.
Under the concept of vicarious liability, other parties than the driver may be held responsible for the accident that caused your injuries. Most accidents are caused by driver fatigue, distracted driving, alcohol or drug use, or simply speeding, but factors beyond driver error may be involved, meaning other persons and entities may also be liable.
To establish liability beyond the driver, you must first determine the category of the driver, of which there are three:
Owner-operators who own their trucks and either operate them as independent contractors or lease them to a trucking company.
Company drivers who are employees and drive for a trucking company that owns the vehicle.
Independent owner-operators who drive their own trucks for their own company.
Establishing the category of the driver is important for determining who is responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle. If the truck accident involved issues of poor maintenance, then a lawsuit could potentially be filed against the person or company responsible for the maintenance. You will no doubt need the services of a personal injury attorney to research ownership and establish who was responsible for maintenance.
Liability also may be attributed to the manufacturer of the truck if the accident is the result of faulty brakes or other mechanical malfunctions. Those who load the cargo, if the cargo is at all responsible for the injuries suffered in the accident, may also be liable. Even if the accident is due to driver error, the parent company could also be responsible if they forced the driver to operate the vehicle for too many hours or to go too long without sleep or rest stops.
Another factor to consider in a personal injury lawsuit is the concept of pure comparative negligence that New York law recognizes. Under pure comparative negligence, a jury will be asked to decide the percentage of fault of both the plaintiff and defendant. If you as the plaintiff sue the driver for $100,000 in damages, and the jury finds you to have been 20% at fault, then your reward would be reduced by that percentage to $80,000.
Since New York is a “pure” rather than “modified” comparative negligence state, you can still collect damages if you’re found to be more than 50% at fault, but you would then be responsible for the remaining percentage. If you’re found, for example, to have been 90% at fault for the accident, you could still collect 10%, but you would then be on the hook for the other 90%, and the other driver could sue you.
When you are involved in an accident, your first concern must be the safety of you and your passengers. Pull the car over to the side of the road, if possible, to avoid being in further harm’s way.
New York law requires you to report any accident that results in injury to law enforcement. If anyone’s injuries need immediate assistance, request medical help while making your 911 call to the police. If the injuries can wait, make sure that the injured parties are examined as soon as possible. Seek medical attention even if your injuries seem minor. Injuries can get worse with time. You’ll also need proper medical documentation for filing your insurance claim and later if a lawsuit ensues.
While at the scene, use your cell phone to take pictures of everything possible, even road signs that may show your location or possible violations of traffic laws. If there are witnesses, get their statements and contact information, if you can. And of course, obtain detailed driver and insurance company information. When the police finish their investigation, request a copy. In short, document everything.
Though the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim is three years, insurance companies expect to be notified as soon as practicable. After you’ve reported the accident to your insurance company, allow your personal injury attorney to carry out all further negotiations. Don’t go it alone. Insurance adjusters are notorious for low-balling or denying claims in any way they can.
If you were involved in a truck accident, you need an experienced attorney. Nichols Law Offices, PLLC, has helped countless others like you pursue the compensation they deserve in the aftermath of serious accidents. If you’re in the Syracuse, New York area, call to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation and put together a plan to move forward.