Truck Accident Lawsuits
Truck accident lawsuits in Georgia deal with a complex maze of federal motor carrier law, state-level statutory obligations and established case law. There are numerous theories of liability upon which drivers, motor carriers, owner/ operators and manufacturers can be held accountable.
Add to that the fact that most crashes involving commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds typically involve multiple vehicles, and the issue of compensation gets even more complicated. It’s important if you’re injured in a crash with a large truck that you are properly represented.
Atlanta truck accident lawyer Stephen M. Ozcomert has prevailed in numerous motor carrier litigation actions, obtaining sizable settlements and verdicts for those harmed by careless truckers.
In some instances, a lawsuit may not be necessary, as claims can sometimes be resolved through negotiations with insurers. However, most claims are denied or offers for settlement are far too low given the circumstances. In those cases, we will pursue litigation. These cases too may be resolved in a pre-trial settlement, possibly in the course of mediation, but they are put on track to be litigated in court.
We want our clients to understand not only their legal rights, but what they can expect from the legal process. You need a lawyer because trucking accident claims involve:
- Complex federal and state safety regulations;
- High stakes (trucking companies and insurers will fight you every step of the way to protect their bottom line);
- Expert witnesses (often accident reconstructionists, truck mechanics and medical experts).
One of the first steps in any case is determining liability. Georgia is an at-fault state, meaning the driver who is negligent is liable to pay damages to those injured/ affected by that negligence.
All motorists have a duty of care to operate their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner. Truckers in many cases have a heightened duty, and are statutorily required to limit their hours on the road, make sure the truck they operate is in good working condition/ properly loaded and that they are alert and sober. In addition the driver, your attorney may seek to hold liable the trucking company owner/ operator, the lessor of the truck, the owner of goods being transported, the company responsible for loading/ shipping, the trucking maintenance/ repair firm and possibly the manufacturer. No two cases are going to look the same.
A carrier or truck owner may be vicariously liable for the negligent actions of a trucker, or they might be directly liable if there is evidence of negligent hiring, entrustment or retention.
In terms of recovering damages, there could be several sources. Consider that O.C.G.A. 46-7-12 requires motor carriers of household goods or passengers to obtain indemnity insurance or self-insurance before they can receive a certificate to operate in the state of Georgia. Statutes require intrastate carriers to maintain a minimum coverage level of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. Because this rarely is enough to fully compensate Atlanta truck accident victims, most commercial vehicles carry $1 million or more in liability protection.
Beyond this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires motor carriers and freight forwarders to carry public liability insurance (which includes coverage for bodily injury to others) to carry between $750,000 and $5 million in insurance, depending on commodities transported. Vehicles weighing under 10,000 carrying non-hazardous freight need only carry $300,000 minimum. Commercial passenger vehicles must carry between $1.5 million and $5 million minimum coverage, depending on how many passengers they transport.How Truck Accident Lawsuits Work
If you or a loved one is involved in a truck accident, chances are it won’t be long before you received a phone call from one or more insurance companies. What you must understand about this correspondence is that your best interests are not the insurer’s priority. It is technically possible for you to negotiate with an insurance company on your own, but that is not advisable, especially in an Atlanta truck accident case. This is for two reasons:
- Your injuries/ losses are likely far more significant than your typical fender-bender;
- There is a high possibility that more than one defendant may be responsible for damages.
Many settlement agreements include provisions that require you to sign off on any future claims to damages – even against other responsible third parties. Before you agree to anything, you should at least have a discussion with a personal injury lawyer. Initial consultations are free, and we can provide you with a general understanding of your rights, filing deadlines (statutes of limitations) and possible causes of action.
When you get an attorney involved, you can expect an initial investigation of the facts. This will include documentation and official records from first-responders and witnesses, data from the truck’s “black box” or in-cabin camera, medical records and, if applicable, autopsy reports. We’ll also be examining the extent of your wage-related losses, as most truck accidents necessitate at least some time off work or school as those affected focus on recovery.
If settlement negotiations are not fruitful, we will file a lawsuit. After the lawsuit is filed, there will be additional investigation/ fact-gathering from both sides. This process is called “discovery.” Both sides will exchange documents and other physical evidence, submit to written and oral questionnaires of witnesses and key participants (depositions) and possibly gain insight from expert witnesses, such as accident reconstructionists.
At any point prior to the trial, there is a possibility the case could be settled out-of-court if both sides can work out a settlement that is reasonable. However, if there is a stalemate, the case will move to the trial phase.
It’s possible that there may only be one or two issues decided at trial. For example, it’s not uncommon in a truck accident case that a defendant carrier will agree the driver was negligent, but they may not agree plaintiff’s injuries are as severe as claimed or that the injuries were proximately caused by the crash. They may point to pre-existing conditions or other factors. In those instances, the court won’t need to decide liability, only how much you should receive in damages.
The statute of limitations for filing a truck accident claim – whether for personal injury or wrongful death – is two years, per O.C.G.A. 9-3-33.
Truck accident litigation can be very complex and quite lengthy. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced injury attorney in Atlanta who can help you navigate it.
If you have been injured in a Georgia truck accident, contact Atlanta Truck Accident Attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert at (404) 370-1000.