Fatal Truck Crashes: What You Need to Know About Wrongful Death Claims

Your spouse or child died in an accident where the other vehicle was a large truck. Now you are wondering if there is any legal recourse for the loss you have experienced.

Fatal truck crashes are often the result of a truck driver’s negligence. According to the 2018 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics, there were 4,079 fatal automobile crashes in 2016 involving at least one large truck or bus. The difference in weight and height between a tractor-trailer and a passenger vehicle often has catastrophic results upon impact.

If your family member died as the result of a truck driver’s negligence you need to contact an attorney about filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

A lawsuit may provide you with recovery of the financial loss caused by their death. Here is what you need to know about filing a wrongful death claim.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is the death of a person resulting from the wrongful act of another. In a truck accident, the truck driver’s negligent or reckless behavior is the reason for your loved one’s death.

In a lawsuit, the Plaintiff is usually a family member of the deceased or the administrator or executor of the estate.

The Defendant is the party or parties who caused the death. This may be the truck driver, the company he works for, the truck manufacturer, or even a repair facility that performed maintenance on the truck.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Each state has laws that specify who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The state law normally allows for one or more of the following to act on behalf of the deceased:

  • The spouse of the deceased
  • A child of the deceased
  • A sibling of the deceased
  • Any other person who was financially dependent on the deceased
  • An administrator, trustee, or executor of the deceased person’s estate

When the Truck Driver is Criminally Charged

If the truck driver is charged with a crime because of the accident, you may receive restitution as a result of those charges. Your loved one is considered the victim of a crime, and the driver may be ordered by a judge to pay restitution for your loss.

Restitution only pays for economic loss; it does not cover non-economic losses you experience. An order of restitution does not prevent you from filing a separate civil lawsuit.

The criminal charges and your civil lawsuit must be filed separately because they cover different areas of law.

Lawsuits Involving Fatal Truck Crashes

In 2018 large truck crashes resulted in the death of 4,136 people. Of those deaths, 67% were the occupants of a passenger vehicle. Trucks weigh 20-30 times more than a vehicle and require 20-40% more stopping time on dry pavement.

One small error can have catastrophic results that justify filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

What you Need to Prove in Lawsuit

When you file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove that someone in the accident was either reckless or negligent. You must also prove that the reckless or negligent behavior was the direct and proximate cause of the accident resulting in a person’s death.

If there were underlying issues that resulted in the accident, such as mechanical problems with the truck, there may be more than one defendant in a lawsuit.  An attorney may decide to file against multiple defendants.

Defendants may include the truck driver, the driver’s employer, the trucking company, the truck manufacturer, a parts manufacturer, or a company that performed maintenance on the truck.

Your truck accident lawyer will determine who the actual defendant(s) will be.    

Damages Recovered in a Truck Accident Lawsuit

In a wrongful death lawsuit, there are two types of damages the attorney will request. Depending on circumstances they may also request punitive damages.

Economic damages recover your financial loss from your loved one’s death. These include costs for medical treatment received after the accident and the cost for their funeral and burial. It may also include loss of their financial support to the family through expected earnings, pension benefits, and medical insurance.

Other considerations are the loss of inheritance because of your family member’s untimely death. It may also include losing the benefit of the services that the person provided to the family such as child care, house cleaning, and yard maintenance.

Prayers for relief will request non-economic damages. These are for things such as emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.

If the defendant’s behavior is determined to be especially reckless or harmful the lawsuit may request punitive damages. These are damages beyond the compensatory damages recovered under economic and non-economic categories. They are an additional amount added to the award as a form of punishment against the defendant.

Time Limit to File Lawsuit

Every state has a statute of limitations which establishes the time frame in which you must file your lawsuit.  These vary from 1 to 3 years, with most states requiring lawsuits to be filed within 2 years of the person’s death.

If the lawsuit is not filed on time your opportunity is lost. When the statute of limitations begins tolling is determined by various factors, including the time of the accident or the time of the person’s death.

It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after the accident so you do not miss a deadline.

What a Truck Accident Attorney Will Do

Your attorney will review the truck accident report and any other information you have. They will send a letter of spoliation to the defendants notifying them of a potential claim and their obligation to preserve any evidence.

Other steps may include hiring an expert who will inspect the truck to determine if there were truck maintenance issues that may have contributed to or caused the accident.  They may also hire an accident reconstruction expert to determine the reason for the accident.

Witnesses will be interviewed and their statements taken as soon after the accident as possible. This is when memories are fresh. In the time it takes the matter to go through litigation witnesses may forget details.

Discovery will be requested which includes documents from the trucking company including truck maintenance records, insurance coverage, and driver logs.

Attorney Fees

Most attorneys in wrongful death lawsuits work on a contingency basis. This means that the attorney fees of approximately 33% of total winnings are received only if they win the lawsuit.

Your only out-of-pocket costs are for items such as court filing fees and office expenses.            

Don’t Delay

Fatal truck crashes resulting in wrongful death have an emotional impact on the entire family. Your grief prevents you from looking at the total picture of what the future will be like without your spouse, child, parent, or sibling.

Don’t wait until your opportunity to take action has passed. If you have questions, check out our other blogs for additional information.