Accidents involving semi-trucks can lead to severe injuries, significant property damage, and lasting trauma. If you have been involved in this kind of collision, you should know the legal process to protect your rights and fight for the compensation you deserve. This blog will outline the legal steps you should take after a semi-truck accident. Retaining a personal injury attorney specializing in semi-truck accidents in California helps achieve a positive outcome even faster.

Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Your health and well-being are paramount after being involved in a semi-truck accident. Even if you do not feel injured, you want to seek immediate medical attention. Some injuries, like internal bleeding or whiplash, may not manifest symptoms right away.

Undergoing a thorough medical examination ensures that any injuries are identified and treated and helps if you later need to file an insurance claim. During this examination, healthcare professionals uncover any injuries sustained in the collision, no matter how minor they may seem initially. Early detection and swift treatment prevent long-term health issues and promote a full recovery.

Additionally, this comprehensive medical assessment helps document your injuries. This documentation is invaluable should you need to pursue legal action. Your doctor’s reports, directly linking your injuries to the truck accident, will bolster your insurance claim.

It helps establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship, helping to secure the compensation you deserve for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages resulting from the accident.

Report The Accident to the Authorities

California Vehicle Code Section 20008(a) makes reporting any accident resulting in injuries or fatalities mandatory. The reporting must be done immediately to local law enforcement or the California Highway Patrol (CHP) within 24 hours of the incident.

Also, California Vehicle Code Section 16000 (a) requires a driver involved in an accident resulting in either injury, regardless of how minor or property damage exceeding $1,000, to report the accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within ten days. The SR-1 form, or Traffic Accident Report, is used for this purpose.

Reporting your car accident to the proper authorities helps protect your rights and build a strong case. When you report the accident, you trigger an official investigation. Law enforcement officers arrive on the scene to document everything from the positions of the vehicles to damage, skid marks, and other evidence. The police report is a powerful, unbiased incident record that can be useful in your insurance claim.

When contacting the authorities, provide these essential details:

  • Location of the accident.
  • Time and date of the accident.
  • A brief description of events.
  • Any injuries sustained.

Always remember to obtain a copy of the official police report. Your lawyer will use it to pursue your compensation.

Document Everything Related to the Accident

You want to document the aftermath of a semi-truck accident to build a strong case. Below is what you should document:

Capture Details

Following a semi-truck accident, the adrenaline rush can be overwhelming. However, you want to gather as much specific information as possible while the scene is fresh in your mind. Take photos and videos of the scene from various angles. Capture damage to vehicles, skid marks, debris, traffic signs, and any other relevant details.

This documented evidence strengthens your case significantly when seeking compensation for damages. The key details to capture are:

  1. Vehicles Involved

Document each vehicle's make, model, and year to identify the cars and establish a record of those involved in the incident. Also, note the license plate numbers of all the cars and trucks. License plate numbers are unique identifiers that can be used to track vehicle registrations and insurance information.

Please obtain the names and contact details of all the drivers involved in the accident. This includes their full names, phone numbers, and driver's license numbers. This information allows you to contact the other drivers and exchange insurance information.

When exchanging insurance information, record the insurance company name, the policyholder's name as it appears on the insurance card, and the policy number. You will need this information to file insurance claims and ensure a smooth resolution.

  1. Truck Details

Start by identifying the trucking company responsible for the semi-truck. Look for signage on the truck itself to find the company name and contact information. Additionally, the USDOT number, a unique identifier assigned to all trucking companies by the Department of Transportation, should be noted. This number can be used to look up the company's safety record.

You want to note the truck driver's name and their commercial driver's license (CDL) information. CDL holders are subject to stricter regulations, so this information could be important when assessing responsibility.

Also, inspect the Department of Transportation's (DOT) inspection stickers on the truck's door and note their expiration dates. A pattern of expired stickers could signal maintenance problems or negligence on the trucking company's part.

If you can do so safely, try to identify the type of cargo the truck was hauling. The nature of the cargo matter, for example, hazardous materials, and the weight of the load can also contribute to the accident. Documenting these truck-specific details strengthens your case and helps establish potential liability for the trucking company.

  1. Witness Information

Look around for anyone who may have seen the incident, for example, other drivers, pedestrians, or even people in nearby businesses. You can also approach potential witnesses if you locate them. Politely request their full names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Witnesses willing to offer their accounts of the accident can strengthen your case and help establish the facts.

Preserve Physical Evidence

Above all else, prioritize safety. Do not gather evidence if you feel unsafe or see any risks of further harm. If it is safe, carefully collect any debris scattered by the crash. This might include vehicle parts, fragments of the truck's load, or other items ejected due to the force of the impact. Preserve these items in a bag or container. Even seemingly insignificant scraps can aid experts in reconstructing how the accident occurred.

If any of your items were lost or damaged during the accident, try to find them and note their condition. These items may factor into your compensation claim.

Unless there is an immediate risk, try to leave the scene undisturbed. Do not move vehicles or other large objects. This avoids disturbing elements that are crucial for investigators to determine what happened. Also, do not dispose of any damaged clothing or personal items. These can become robust evidence of the physical impact of the crash.

It is advisable to wear gloves if you must handle any wreckage. This protects you from potential injury and avoids contaminating evidence. A skilled attorney can bring in accident reconstruction experts in particularly severe cases. These experts can carefully analyze the scene, collect overlooked proof, and offer detailed analysis to support your case.

Note Environmental Conditions

The conditions at the time of a semi-truck accident can significantly influence the events leading up to it and how they unfold. That is why you should note the environmental conditions present during the crash.

Start with the weather. Were the skies clear, or was visibility reduced by fog, haze, or rain? What kind of precipitation was falling—rain, sleet, or snow—and how heavily? Was it windy? Also, note the light conditions. Was it full daylight, dark, or night? All these factors can impact visibility and a driver's ability to respond to changing circumstances.

Be aware of road conditions. Was the surface dry, wet, icy, or covered in snow? Were there any potholes, debris, or construction elements that may have contributed to the accident? Also, consider the overall design of the road—were there sharp curves, hills that obscured visibility, or other design features that could have played a role?

Capture images and videos of the scene, highlighting the weather, road conditions, and any relevant environmental factors. Note your observations in writing. Do not assume everything will be evident from the photos; a written description ensures clarity. If a crash is blamed on weather, road conditions, or traffic, your documentation can help establish whether the truck driver took reasonable precautions based on the known conditions.

Obtain Official Reports

The official report written by law enforcement is critical evidence following a semi-truck accident. At the top of the list is the police report. This report is usually the first official document created and includes details such as:

  • The names and insurance information of the parties involved.
  • The precise location, date, and time of the crash.
  • A thorough description of the accident scene itself.

The police report will often include any witness statements gathered and the officer's assessment of how the accident unfolded, including any traffic citations issued. You might even find diagrams that visually depict the incident.

For complex accidents, an accident reconstruction expert may be commissioned. Their in-depth report offers an analysis of the physical evidence, such as tire marks and vehicle damage, to determine, with scientific precision, the mechanics of the crash.

Reports written by doctors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals who treated your injuries demonstrate the link between your injuries and the accident. These records will be indispensable for your claim.

To obtain reports, inquire with the responding police officers about the procedure and timeline for obtaining a copy of the police report. They will usually provide a case number and instructions. If you did not receive instructions at the scene, contact the relevant police department to request a copy of the report. There might be a small fee associated with obtaining a copy.

Notify Your Insurance Provider

Notify your insurance company after a semi-truck accident, even if you believe you were not at fault. Most insurance policies require you to report accidents within a specific timeframe. Failure to comply could cause coverage denial.

The truck driver's insurance company is likely to contact you. Involving your insurance company can shield you from aggressive tactics used to minimize their payout. Your insurance company can step in as a buffer, handling communications and advocating on your behalf.

Informing your insurance company kick-starts the process of filing a claim for damages and accessing any benefits under your policy. For example, medical payment coverage (MedPay) and underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage can be provided if the truck driver lacks adequate insurance.

When you talk to your insurance company, be prepared to give the crash's date, time, location, and a simple overview of how it happened. Have your insurance policy information readily available. Stick to the known facts and avoid admitting fault or speculating what caused the crash. It's usually wise to consult an attorney before agreeing to provide a recorded statement to any insurance company.

Protect Your Legal Rights

Collisions involving semi-trucks cause complex legal situations. You should take the following proactive steps to secure your rights and build the foundation of a strong claim:

Consult A Truck Accident Attorney

Dealing with the aftermath of a truck accident can be overwhelming, especially given the unique complexities involved. A skilled truck accident attorney becomes your invaluable companion. These attorneys possess specialized knowledge about the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and California regulations. They can skillfully untangle cases where multiple parties might share liability, from the driver to the trucking company and beyond.

Your attorney will also act swiftly to secure vital evidence, like maintenance records or black box data, that might otherwise disappear. Most importantly, they can stand up to powerful insurance companies and aggressively negotiate for the fair compensation they deserve.

Filing a Lawsuit

When insurance companies refuse to offer a fair settlement, filing a lawsuit may be the only way to secure the compensation you truly deserve for your injuries and damages. Be aware that California has a two-year "statute of limitations," a hard deadline for initiating a lawsuit. Consulting an attorney ensures you do not lose your right to take legal action.

The lawsuit formally begins with your attorney preparing a "complaint." This document outlines the accident details, the extent of your injuries, and the basis of your legal claim against the responsible parties.

Once filed, the discovery phase begins. This is where your legal team and the opposing side gather evidence and exchange information. This might involve written questions and answers known as "interrogatories," formal interviews conducted under oath, also called "depositions,"  and requests to produce relevant documents.

While all this is happening, your attorney is carefully building your case, assembling evidence, and potentially lining up expert witnesses such as crash specialists and medical experts who can provide persuasive testimony. The stronger your case, the greater your leverage in settlement negotiations or, if necessary, at trial.

Mediation or Settlement Conference

Truck accident cases can often be resolved outside the courtroom through mediation or a settlement conference. In mediation, a neutral third party helps you and the other side negotiate a settlement everyone can agree on. Mediation can be voluntary or court-ordered. Anything said during the process is confidential.

A settlement conference involves a less formal meeting, sometimes before a judge, where all parties attempt to reach a compromise and avoid a full-blown trial. The judge might indicate how they would rule if the case were tried, aiding negotiation.

Why consider these options? Firstly, trials are time-consuming and stressful, but settling your case is usually faster and less emotionally draining. Secondly, you have more control over the outcome of your case when you negotiate a settlement. And finally, trials are expensive, and those costs eat into the compensation you might receive.

Trial Preparation

Your case will proceed to a formal trial if negotiations or mediation cannot reach a settlement agreement. If you have chosen a jury trial, the first step is jury selection. The selection process is where both sides work to choose jurors they believe will be favorable to their case. Then come the opening statements, with each side laying out their case and the evidence they intend to present.

Your attorney takes the lead, presenting your case by calling witnesses, introducing physical evidence, and, if relevant, using the expertise of specialists to support your claims. The defense does the same; both sides can cross-examine any witnesses the other side calls.

After presenting evidence, each side makes a closing argument. This is their final chance to recap the case's key points and try to persuade the judge or jury. If it is a jury trial, the judge provides detailed instructions on how the law applies to the case. The jury then deliberates in private until they reach a verdict. Finally, the verdict is announced in favor of you, the plaintiff, or the defendant.

Receiving Compensation

If you secure a settlement or win your truck accident case, your compensation is intended to address the damages suffered from the accident. Damages you could receive include:

  • Medical expenses, including past and future medical expenses.
  • Lost wages. These make up for income lost due to your inability to work due to the accident. These include past income losses and reduced earning capacity.
  • Property damage to compensate for the damage to your vehicle and other personal property damaged or destroyed in the accident.
  • Pain and suffering cater to physical pain, emotional trauma, and mental anguish.
  • Disability and impairment. If a truck accident leaves you with permanent disabilities or impairments, you may be entitled to significant compensation to cover the lifelong impact.
  • Loss of consortium. Severe injuries from a truck accident can disrupt the relationship between spouses or close family members. Loss of consortium recognizes this impact and allows for compensation.

Find a Truck Accident Injury Lawyer Near Me

Semi-truck accidents are devastating events that cause severe injuries with significant financial consequences. Maneuvering the justice system alone can be overwhelming, even if you are not at fault. A skilled truck accident attorney understands the specific laws governing trucks, from federal safety regulations to state-specific rules.

Furthermore, truck accidents often involve multiple parties who could be held liable. Your attorney will investigate to pinpoint everyone responsible, increasing your chances of a larger settlement. Preserving key evidence requires immediate action, and your attorney knows how to secure things like maintenance logs or electronic data that could support your case. A seasoned attorney will fight aggressively and negotiate with your insurer to obtain the maximum compensation you are entitled to.

At the Truck Accident Injury Attorney Law Firm, we will handle your case so you can focus on getting better physically and emotionally. If you have been involved in a truck accident in California, contact us at 888-511-3139 for your free legal consultation.