If you've recently lost a family member in a seemingly-preventable collision with a commercial semi trailer, you may be wondering about your next steps. The second stage of the five stages of grief is anger -- and you may be virulently angry at the truck driver for causing the crash. This anger can often be channeled into a productive outcome, by using it to back and file a civil lawsuit against the truck driver or trucking company to seek restitution for the death of your loved one. However, there are a few factors you may wish to consider before meeting with an attorney. Read on to learn more about trucking liability law and the factors that can increase your odds of success inside the courtroom.
Do you have the right to sue the driver or trucking company?
If you feel a lawsuit is the necessary next step, your first task is to investigate your state's wrongful death statutes and determine whether you have the right (or standing) to sue the responsible party. Most states have laws that name the specific degrees of relationship that are permitted to sue a responsible party for the wrongful death of their family member. For example, minor children and surviving spouses nearly always have the right to sue for the wrongful death of their parent or spouse, but adult children or ex-spouses may not have this right, even if they receive financial support or alimony from the deceased person and were financially impacted by the death.
If you're unsure whether you have standing to sue, you should consult a trucking accident lawyer. Most of these attorneys will offer a free or low-cost consultation, and can help explain all the specific rights and responsibilities that come from living in your state.
What factors can increase your chance of a successful verdict?
As long as you have standing to sue for a wrongful death and evidence that the truck driver (or the company employing the driver) was acting in an irresponsible or negligent manner (which led to the death of your family member), you should be able to receive a monetary judgment from the defendant, or perhaps settle the case outside of court. However, there are several factors that -- if proven -- can allow you to receive not only compensatory damages (such as lost wages, emotional pain and suffering, and funeral costs) but also punitive damages (meant to punish the defendant or serve as a message to others).
Speed at time of accident
Many semi trucks and trailers are now equipped with a "black box" -- an electronic logging device (ELD) that records the speed and GPS location of the truck at any given time. These (or other) trucks may have a governor, or device to limit the top speed of the vehicle to the speed limit or lower. You'll want your attorney to determine the truck's exact speed one way or another to know whether this is an available argument in your situation.
Number of hours logged
In addition to logging the speed of the truck, these ELDs can calculate the number of hours the truck has been driven over a specific time period. As many states have laws limiting the number of hours a truck driver can spend behind the wheel in one 24-hour period, this device can be very important when trying to prove that the trucker (or trucking company) negligently disobeyed these laws in order to increase the speed with which the items could reach their destination.
Evidence of distraction
Distracted driving (such as texting or talking on your phone while driving) is illegal in many states. Your attorney will want to access the defendant's cell phone history and social media profiles to see whether the defendant was using his or her phone while behind the wheel. Even if the defendant wasn't distracted in the specific instance that led to the accident, establishing a habit of texting while driving can be enough to assess punitive damages.