Under the law, a settlement in an accident is an agreement between the victim and the defendant before or after a court action begins. Sometimes, the victim and the defendant could end the case without a trial. The court could enforce the settlement for out-of-court settlements to prevent the defendant from breaching the agreement. The defendant could face charges if he/she breaches the contract. Most semi-truck accident victims and defendants prefer making settlements out-of-court to avoid costs like legal fees and finding expert witnesses. They also opt to do so to save time and avoid the stress associated with trial. If you or a loved one is involved in a semi-truck accident, you need a personal injury attorney to help you get the deserved settlement for the damages.
Semi-Truck Accidents in California
Each year, thousands of people are killed in semi-truck accidents in California. Here are some of the leading causes of semi-truck accidents:
- Truck driver fatigue.
- Improper cargo loading.
- Inexperienced truck drivers.
- Distracted truck drivers.
If you were injured in a semi-truck accident where one of these factors contributed to the accident, you could recover damages from the party at fault.
Things You Should Understand About Settling A Semi-truck Accident Case
After your involvement in a semi-truck accident, there are three key things you, your loved ones, and the general public should understand regarding settling a truck accident case. They include:
- A settlement can be made anytime from the first day after the accident and before the trial jury returns with a verdict.
- Trucking companies are only legally obligated to carry $750,000 in liability insurance.
- The range of settlements from a semi-trailer or other large truck accident is huge.
Settling a Truck Accident Case
A truck accident case can be settled anytime immediately after the truck accident, and the time the jury delivers the judgment. A representative from the insurance company could approach you any time after the accident with a settlement offer. If you accept the offer, your truck accident case ends because you waive your rights to bring a lawsuit by accepting the settlement. Quick settlements often end the claim process long before most accident victims realize it has started.
The settlement can also be offered or accepted before the jury returns with a verdict. This means the lawsuit proceeded to trial without settling out-of-court.
Most truck accident settlements are made immediately after the victim establishes an attorney-client relationship with a reputable personal injury attorney or immediately after filing a lawsuit. Often, most insurance companies view these steps as indicating that you know your rights and your willingness to invoke them. Therefore, the insurance company will make reasonable settlement offers when they see that they will deal with a truck accident attorney. Unfortunately, most accident victims have financial problems that make them take quick offers. Therefore, quick offers often prevent the victims from receiving their deserved settlement. Additionally, if an insurer knows that you have a financial problem, he/she will delay the lawsuit to put financial pressure on you.
Trucking Companies And Insurance
Federal regulations demand that every trucking company must carry liability insurance. The liability insurance covers the expenses of a personal injury lawsuit, cushioning the company from financial strain. The minimum liability coverage is $750,000. This amount was set in 1980 after the enactment of the Motor Carrier Act. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has never increased the amount since 1980.
Typically, the trucking company is only required to carry $750,000 in liability coverage to meet the requirements of the law. While three-quarters of a million seem to be substantial, it is often not enough to cover most moderate truck accidents. Severe car crashes, particularly those that lead to fatal, life-changing, or severe injuries, have more significant damages than that. Fatal commercial vehicle crashes involving large trucks are worse, and most wrongful death lawsuits settle for higher amounts.
California has a minimum requirement law for the company's liability insurance to cater to accident victims. The trucking company can be liable through the ''respondeat superior doctrine'' if its driver causes an accident. The trucking company could be required to meet the expenses of the truck crash claim, even if their driver caused the truck to hit the passenger car. However, if the company has only the FMCSA’s minimum accepted policy limits, the coverage will run out even before the accident victim is compensated fully. The truck company must get the remaining truck accident compensation from its business bank accounts. The accident victim could end up not getting what he/she deserves if those accounts are low.
The Average Settlement Amount For A Semi-truck Accident
The settlement for semi-truck crashes often ranges between a few thousand dollars to over $10 million. However, giving an average settlement amount could be misleading because two trucking crashes cannot be the same, and there is no average lawsuit.
There is a wide range of settlement amounts because of the legal damages you are entitled to recover. The possible outcome the defendant will likely encounter will inform their settlement offers out of court. The following are the legal damages you are entitled to recover in a semi-truck accident case:
- Punitive damages.
- Loss of consortium.
- Loss of support and funeral expenses if the accident resulted in a fatality.
- Pain and suffering.
- Costs of repairing or replacing damaged property.
- Lost wages and earning capacity.
- Medical bills or medical expenses.
In most states in the United States, however, the personal injury statutes reduce damages by the percentage of fault you brought in the truck accident. In this case, your compensation could reduce drastically. In other states, you could be held responsible for the accident that you caused. Some factors could significantly change your settlement amount, including:
- How badly the truck driver was driving the vehicle.
- The conduct of the trucking company before the accident.
- Whether you have a spouse, children, or other family members who can bring a loss of consortium claim.
- Your occupation and education level.
- Your age.
- Whether the injuries will permanently deprive you of the capability to earn an income in the future.
- Whether your injuries are permanent or if they led to physical disfigurement.
You need to seek the services of a skilled truck accident attorney in this case. Your attorney will stress how the above factors could increase the value of your claim.
Maximizing Your Injury Settlement
After your involvement in a truck accident, you need to consult a personal injury attorney to build a solid case to maximize your injury settlement. Some of the methods your attorney could use include:
Investigating Your Injury
When investigating your case, your attorney will endeavor to obtain the proper evidence to help ensure you maximize your recovery. Your attorney could get substantial evidence by doing the following:
- Taking pictures of visible physical injuries.
- Taking the information, names, and statements from witnesses.
- Taking property damage photos.
- Taking accident scene photos.
Your attorney could also obtain contemporaneous reports like:
- Specialty surgical records.
- Diagnostic treatment study records.
- Primary care physician records.
- Prompt care records.
- Emergency room records.
- Witness statements.
- 911 transcripts.
- Police reports, and
- Any other medical documentation involved with the treatment and care of your injury.
Your injury attorney could also discuss the importance of giving detailed and accurate histories to all medical providers. An attorney accumulates and organizes all of this information to maximize the recovery or settlement on your behalf.
Your attorney will work with you to ensure you make a good impression in front of any finders of facts. The people you need to create a good impression include:
- Independent medical examiners.
- Medical providers.
- Defendant’s defense attorneys.
- Insurance adjusters, and
- Other persons you could come in contact with.
Other Methods Your Attorney Could Employ To Maximize Your Settlement
Several other methods are available for your attorney to use to maximize your settlement, including:
- Retaining experts to be used as independent witnesses or controlled witnesses to provide information about past lost wages, future lost wages, cost of future medical treatment, and the need for ongoing future healthcare.
- Seeking out expert witnesses who can help you gather evidence to show the liability of the at-fault parties for your injury.
- Working with you to gather the evidence about your future healthcare like prescriptive pain medications, surgeries, medical device implantation, physical therapy, replacement, maintenance, life plans or nursing home care, or expert consulting services to give or render opinions on future medical needs.
Structured Settlement In Semi-truck Accident
A structured settlement is a payment plan resulting from a personal injury case in which you sue the at-fault party seeking compensation. A structured settlement allows the at-fault party to compensate you without paying a single lump sum of money at once.
Structured settlements are voluntary, and you and the defendant agree to them. The court could order you to work together to reach an agreement or a structured settlement. The agreement can occur after the court passes the judgment. However, the defendant can also broach a structured settlement subject to stop your injury case from going to trial.
A structured settlement can be offered in several situations, but it is generally used when you have suffered a debilitating injury in a truck accident. This type of compensation plan provides tax-free payments to you or your family. You can use the money to pay for lifetime medical costs and care or replace lost income if you can no longer work.
How Structured Settlement Works
Typically, the agreement for structured settlement follows a personal injury lawsuit. You will first be required to file a claim against the defendant in court. After the defendant receives the claim notice, he/she will try to negotiate and agree on a structured settlement prior to the claim proceeding to trial. The court could also allow the lawsuit to proceed and provide a structured settlement after the judgment.
On the other hand, the court could provide a qualified assignee to work with the victim and the defendant to negotiate the conditions of the structured settlement. An eligible assignee could come in handy if both you and the defendant need to agree on the following:
- How much will the payments be.
- Whether any supplemental payment will be made.
- Whether the payments may increase at any time.
- How many payments will you receive.
Unfortunately, this could take longer since there could be disagreement regarding what makes a fair settlement. However, the defendant can provide funding for an annuity once the terms are agreed upon. The structured settlement comes from this annuity, where the defendant does not pay you directly.
After the defendant provides the money, the qualified assignee will take it and buy an annuity contract. Insurance companies sell annuity contracts, and in addition to structured settlements, you can use them to generate additional income in retirement.
Advantages Of Structured Semi-truck Accident Settlements
A structured settlement is advantageous to victims of semi-truck accidents. It is tax-free compensation. Therefore, you should not worry that the payments will affect your tax liability. Other advantages of this payment plan include the following:
- Payments are guaranteed and earn interest over time.
- Receiving structured payments can make managing recurring medical expenses or other costs associated with an injury easier.
- It could be possible to negotiate settlement terms that allow for lump payouts in the future or an increase in benefits over time.
- Annuity payments could be tailored to suit the recipient's lifestyle or needs.
Unlike a lump sum payout, you could earn more from a structured settlement when interest is factored in. A lump sum is often attractive, but you could be tempted to squander the money. You will still risk losing the money even if you choose to invest the lump sum. The loss could occur if the investment fails to pay off.
Disadvantages Of Structured Semi-truck Accident Settlements
A structured settlement has several benefits, but it also has some disadvantages you should consider. Some of the disadvantages include the following:
- Withdrawing money from a structured settlement prematurely could lead to tax penalties, and you could also pay surrender fees.
- You could sell a structured settlement annuity for cash, which means you no longer have the right to receive those payments.
- Structured settlements are often unchangeable once finalized, meaning you have little flexibility if the original payment terms are no longer ideal.
- Punitive damages and compensation for legal fees you receive outside of the structured settlement arrangement could be taxable.
If you expect a structured settlement, you first need to understand the terms you agree to before signing anything. This will give you ample time to change or request the agreement before it takes effect.
There are questions frequently asked by the victims of semi-truck accidents regarding settlements in California. Some of the questions include the following:
What Should Be Included In A Settlement Agreement?
The most important thing to include in the settlement agreement is the terms you want to be part of the final judgment. For example, the agreement could just state the money the defendant must pay you. The agreement could also specify the timeline for the payment. Finally, there could be an admission of liability.
When Is A Settlement Agreement Binding?
The jurisdiction that presides over the semi-truck accident case often determines when a settlement agreement is binding. In most states in the United States, a settlement agreement is binding once the victim and the defendant sign it. A settlement document can be enforceable in the law, even handwritten. However, in other states, a settlement agreement cannot be binding until it's presented in court and signed by the judge.
Can I Overturn A Settlement Agreement?
If the settlement is defective, the law allows you to overturn it. For example, you could overturn the settlement agreement if it is made under duress or fraud. The defendant's misrepresentation or mutual mistake could also be grounds for you to overturn a settlement agreement. However, it is not easy to overturn a settlement agreement. You have to provide sufficient evidence that there is a reason to invalidate the settlement.
Is An Offer Of A Settlement Binding?
A settlement offer is not binding until the victim of the accident agrees. A settlement offer is only a proposal to resolve the lawsuit. The victim and the defendant must agree to solve the case mutually and prepare the necessary documents for the offer to be binding. By itself, a settlement is not binding without the agreement from the victim.
Find A Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
After your involvement in a semi-truck accident, you need to seek the service of an experienced personal injury attorney. Since truck accident cases are complicated, your attorney will put you in the best strategic position to receive a fair settlement by creating a solid case. At the Truck Accident Injury Attorney Law Firm, we pride ourselves on being experienced and reputable attorneys in California. We will compassionately guide you through every step of your case, whether to take the case to trial or negotiate the best settlement. Contact us today at 619-754-7667 to speak to one of our attorneys.