Truck Accidents

Truck Accident Reconstruction Experts: How I Use Them

Accident reconstructionists are often used by lawyers in auto accident and truck accident cases to answer questions about how the accident occurred. An accident reconstructionist might be able to tell you who was driving, how fast the car or truck was going, whether the driver and/or occupants of the vehicle were wearing seat belts, where on the road the accident occurred, and so forth. Sometimes, they are useful in car accident cases on discreet issues. But, there is a growing sentiment in car accident cases that juries just don’t listen to accident reconstruction experts. Juries, this thinking goes, want to figure out how an accident happened on their own. They don’t need any help. (My view is not quite this strong on whether you should use accident reconstruction experts in liability dispute cases. Certainly, I don’t think they hurt in most cases.)

Reconstructing truck accidents is more complicated than car accidents, and there is a larger role for accident reconstruction experts who understand the nuances of truck accident cases and can communicate effectively with a jury. Unlike car accident cases, juries understand that they don’t understand trucks the way they understand cars.

One of the big issues our lawyers typically face in auto accident and truck accident cases is the debate as to the speed of the vehicles. The biggest difference in investigating truck accidents as opposed to car accidents is the number of different variables at play with respect to stopping or slowing. Car accidents are relatively easy, the investigator looks primarily to the skid marks and the type of surface on which the vehicle skid. Truck accidents are far more complex. Trucks generally take 30% to 75% longer to stop than a car. Because large commercial trucks are more difficult to stop, a truck accident reconstructionist must include other variables beyond the usual friction values to calculate vehicle speed, such as brake balance and brake lag time. If speed calculations do not include these adjustments, then the calculated speed of the truck will be off base and Plaintiff’s theory as to the speed of the truck can look ridiculous and inconsistent with the witnesses to the accident. In cases like this, the truck accident lawyer needs to find a neutral accident reconstructionist to recreate the speed of the truck and to take into account all of the relevant considerations.

Settlement Value of Rear End Truck Accident Claim

A Jury Verdict Research study found that the median award in rear-end truck accident cases throughout the country is $93,909. Remarkably, plaintiffs recover damages in only 63 percent of truck accident cases that go to verdict. That study is based on verdicts rendered throughout the United States from 1997 to 2007. I wish I had newer data but this is all we have.

There is a lot of confusion about median and average verdict data in accident cases. Lawyers who are not exactly math wizards, except when computing 40%, use median and average interchangeably. This study provides median, not the average truck accident verdict. Clearly, the average truck accident verdict would be substantially higher because a full twelve percent of the verdicts in rear end truck accident cases are over $1 million. There is a lot of debate about which figure is better but, certainly, the median figure is more useful in computing case values.

Generally speaking, rear end accident cases are less serious than most other types of truck accidents. But, when you are dealing with big rig trucks, that conventional wisdom goes down the tubes. There is a great deal of wrongful death rear end accident truck claims, just because rear end accidents are common and large trucks kill.

Truck Accident Spoliation

In just about every truck accident case, the truck driver or the trucking company destroys evidence. You would think – particularly the big companies – would understand the importance of keeping these records. But they more often than not get destroyed either innocently or to destroy evidence.

The most common defense is the “I did not realize I had to keep this” defense, which is why it is important for truck accident attorneys to get out a spoliation letter sooner rather than later. But there are some things that have to be maintained under federal law:

  • All documents related to the maintenance of the truck. This is a huge catch all that covers just about anything related to the use of that truck. This arguably swallows everything you might want to gather up in evidence on the history of that truck, leading up to the accident. See Department of Transportation Interpretations of Part 395, Federal Register, Vol. 62, No. 65, page 16370, et seq.
  • The Driver Qualification File: Such a file must be kept by the trucking company for each driver it employs and for three years thereafter. 49 C.F.R. §391.51.
  • Annual Inspection Report:. Trucks must get an annual inspection and the report must kept for 14 months. 49 C.F.R. §396.21.
  • Repair Records: Repair, maintenance, and inspection records indicating their date and nature must be kept while the truck is either housed or maintained for a period of one year or for six months after the motor vehicle leaves the motor carrier’s control. 49 C.F.R. §396.3 (c).

It is really not too much to ask trucking companies to follow federal law. And, in discovery, there can be reparations from the trial judge for their failure to play by the rules that good truck accident lawyers must seek as the case leads up to trial.

Traffic Deaths: A Gruesome Map

David Stratton, a defense lawyer with Jordan Coyne & Savits, provides a link on his blog to an interactive map that shows the location of road accident fatalities between 2001 and 2009. If you allow yourself to move past the dry statistics and really think about what you are seeing – even for an instant – it is terribly depressing. It makes me wonder: exactly how much would it cost – in time and money – to cut this figure in half? Lower the speed limits? Require car makers to build safer cars? More restrictions on truck drivers? I’m not saying we should do this. But I sure would like someone to do an estimate so we can figure out what the tab would be.

How Much for the Wrongful Death of a 25 Year-Old Girl?

An Illinois jury awarded $1.275 million to the family of a 25 year-old woman who had almost completed her nursing degree and was killed while driving to her job at a hospital. Tired driving appeared to be the cause of the car accident: the Defendant just fell asleep and hit the Plaintiffs’ decedent.

The damages only trial lasted four days. The jury heard four grueling days of testimony from the family. Not that a tragedy like this can get worse, but this young girl had already been through a lot: surviving two kidney transplants only to be senselessly killed by someone driving down the road.

You hate to say only $1.275 million. That is a lot of money. That said, it seems like an extremely low verdict for the death of a 25 year-old girl. In Maryland, jury awards are cut in cases like this – it is unlikely there was significant economic damages for the family of this young woman. Still, juries in Maryland and in most states are not told about a cap and I think, just symbolically if nothing else, the award should be higher for a 25 year-old girl who overcomes such adversity to survive and thrive.

Also not mentioned in the article: was their sufficient coverage? I would think there was – usually you don’t put on a four day trial without a good liability policy. But who knows?

You can read a story about this verdict here.

Trucking Companies: Finding Their Insurance and Assets

There is a good article in the Lawyers Logbook this month on the shell games trucking companies play to buy the minimum insurance – $750,000 for most big rigs under federal regulations – and play shell games by taking advantage of corporate structuring to minimize liability when they kill someone.

 

Trying to Decrease Bus Accidents

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued as many imminent hazard orders in the last two years, getting rid of more unsafe bus and truck companies, than the prior 10 years combined.

Buses are incredibly safe. If you are in the bus. This shocks parents but it is probably true: your child is better off with an unsafe bus driver taking her to school than you. But if you are in a bus’ path, it is a different story obviously, particularly for pedestrians.

You can read the DOT release here.

Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages

A critical component of damages in wrongful death car accident cases is loss of services of the survivors from the victim. Loss of services is a dumb legal expression we would do best to get rid of. Solatium damages is an awful phrase, too. But at least it does not imply in the definition that the loss is pretty much someone doing less for you. (Noneconomic pain and suffering damages is a little better, I guess. We will use that.)

In Maryland, we describe these wrongful death damages to a jury as “mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education where applicable.” Most states use similar strange language but the gist of it is: what has really been lost – calculating everything – from the death of this person?
Here are the statistics nationally on noneconomic pain and suffering jury awards:

The study provided some more interesting data:

Loss of Services Awards to Spouses of Decedents to Age 49

  • Award Median: $1,000,000
  • Award Average: $1,799,530

Loss of Services Awards to Spouses of Decedents Age 50+

  • Award Median: $742,591
  • Award Average: $1,790,938

Overall Loss of Services Awards in Death Cases:

  • Award Median: $900,000
  • Award Average: $2,834,460

I’m not surprised by the gap between victims under 50 and those over 50. It is probably cold and unfair. But jurors do have a clear understanding of life tables and the idea that loss is relative. In Maryland, this is not ultimately a big issue in wrongful death cases because of the cap on non-economic damages.

Lane Change and Merger Accident Cases

The hardest car accident cases to try are he said/she said accidents where there are not natural facts that make one version more likely than another. The classic example of this scenario is lane change/merger accidents. Which car came over into which lane? Even a good accident reconstructionist struggles to be able to put the pieces together. So it often comes down two factors: (1) which version seems more likely (incredibly subjective), and (2) which driver has more credibility (incredibly subjective squared).

According to a Jury Verdict Research study of jury verdicts in these types of cases, the results are what you might intuitively expect: 50/50. The JVR study found car accident plaintiffs win about 48 percent for lane change collisions and 45 percent for merging collisions. The average verdict is $47,807.

We have tried and won these cases. But our firm is going to turn down most lane change or merging crash cases unless there is something compelling that makes us think we are going to win the case. We need two things to move forward in a lane change or merge crash case: (1) a very serious injury (sad but true commentary on the real world), and (2) a client that is extremely credible.

Personal Injury Settlement Calculator

Google “personal injury settlement calculator.” A lot of people get on-line looking for a personal injury settlement calculator as if there is some formula that will calculate the amount of money they will get for their personal injury car accident claim.

The reality is that trying to find a calculator to determine your personal injury settlement is fool’s gold. Please trust me, if you find an answer on the Internet that values your car accident settlement, it is utter nonsense.

Generally speaking, the personal injury settlement formula for a car accident cases is:
Past and Future Medical Bills
+
Past and Future Lost Wages
+
Past and Future Pain and Suffering Damages

How does that formula apply to you? The first two you may be able to knock down pretty simply if there are no future medical bills or future lost wages. But, ultimately, the money in personal injury car accident cases is your pain and suffering damages. And there is no personal injury settlement calculator that you can find that is going to give you pain and suffering damages that are specific to you. Because each case – your case – is unique.
Our website does discuss some of the major factors of case value that apply in most personal injury cases.

If you still feel like you just need some sort of personal injury settlement calculator and you don’t care that the result that it churns out are stupid and useless of no help at all, go here. These kind folks pretend there is a formula. Granted, these people are not lawyers, they are a consulting company that presumably generates leads for accident lawyers by creating a website called… wait for it… Personal Injury Calculator.