Life After a Catastrophic Injury Involving a Semi Tractor Trailer
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 4,229 people died and 90,000 people were injured in traffic crashes involving large trucks in 2008. The fatality statistic accounts for 11 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2008, although large trucks made up only four percent of all registered vehicles. These comparisons show that collisions involving large trucks are much more likely to be fatal and to cause serious, catastrophic injuries to vehicle drivers and their passengers.
While the number of large commercial vehicles involved in fatal and serious injury crashes has fallen over the last decade, according to data from NHTSA, they are still happening and almost always result in catastrophic injuries to the passengers in the other vehicles. But for those victims that do survive catastrophic truck wrecks, the decline in numbers is meaningless. Their lives - after a wreck or a collision with a large tractor truck - are irrevocably changed.
Long-Term Consequences of Catastrophic Accidents
Georgia construction business owner Scott Graham is an example a catastrophic injury victim that endured overwhelming life changes after a traffic crash involving a commercial vehicle. As reported by the Cedartown Standard & the Rockmart Journal, in 2006, Graham was paralyzed from the chest down when he was t-boned by a container truck on his way to a work site for his business, Graham Construction.
Along with permanent paralysis, Graham suffered significant injuries to his lungs, bowels and stomach. He spent nearly a half a year recovering from his injuries. Graham entered therapy, scared that he would never be able to sit up on his own. He had to relearn balancing himself, sitting, turning his body, and other basic physical activities.
Amazingly, Graham still works on construction sites operating large excavation equipment. He has had to retrofit all his equipment with hand controls, as well as devices to hoist him into the machines.
Graham's recovery and return to his occupation is inspirational and, unfortunately, probably not typical for catastrophic injury survivors. Clearly, many victims face long-term rehabilitation, having to learn new skills and relearning old ones, potential job loss and retraining for another occupation, and modifications to make homes, vehicles and work environments accessible. Many victims and families will never achieve any results close to Graham's return to his job and some level of independence.
Being Made Whole? Damages After a Serious Injury
Traditionally, in our civil justice system, a victim can sue a negligent party for damages that would make a victim whole, or return the victim to the position he or she was in before the negligence occurred. In catastrophic injury cases, it is hard to say that any victim or family could ever be made whole after these tragedies. But victims are entitled to a number of different types of damages following a serious personal injury including:
- Medical expenses
- Future medical treatment and rehabilitation
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disfigurement
- Property damages
Victims who settle with defendants or win damages at trial generally use the compensation to catch up on a medical expenses and household bills, make modifications to their homes and vehicles, obtain education and training for new jobs, learn new daily living skills, or be made as comfortable as possible while living with their limitations and disabilities.
Who is At Fault?
After some tractor trailer collisions, the fault at first may not be entirely clear and obvious. While trucking companies and their insurers and investigators rush to the scene to immediately begin clearing themselves of liability and putting their own spin on the "facts", the driver in the passenger vehicle rarely has this advantage. The trucking company's insurer may offer a quick settlement to the motorist and attempt to assign some or all of the blame for the collision to the victim. It is rare that an initial, low-ball offer of settlement should be taken. Trucking companies and their insurance companies often offer to unsuspecting victims or to their inexperienced attorneys, at the beginning, a very low percentage of what a serious case may ultimately be worth in an attempt to buy a significant case for a small fraction of what the case is really worth.
In fact, many factors from distracted driving to driver fatigue to poor maintenance or training may have led to or contributed to the crash of a tractor trailer truck. Without a careful investigation, the victim and his\her family may never know the true reasons for the wreck or the true value of the case. The victim may have significant claims against the semi driver, the trucking company, maintenance shops, truck and parts manufacturers, an insurance company, or even a governmental entity, if dangerous road design, an improper signal or signage was a factor in the crash.
These complex cases may require significant financial resources to investigate, hire the right experts, and pursue a verdict or a significant settlement for the victim. Victims should retain a knowledgeable and experienced trial lawyer as soon as possible. If possible, investigators and accident reconstructionists representing the victim, should be sent to the scene and take measurements and photographs before valuable evidence about the crash is lost or destroyed. That is why it is important for victims and families of victims to talk with experienced trucking attorneys as soon as possible so they will have time to investigate the wreck, the scene, the truck driver and the trucking company as soon as possible. Driver logs, maintenance logs, cell phone records, GPS records, damaged vehicles and other sources of information can provide an account of the condition of the driver and the commercial truck to determine whether other defendants besides the driver and the trucking company are liable and should be sued. It is important to have your attorney get copies of these documents as soon as possible and/or to send spoliation letters so that the potential defendants will be liable for spoliation if they fail to keep pertinent records and key information.
Victims of catastrophic trucking collisions are at an extreme disadvantage from the start. Chaos, confusion and serious injuries immediately after a collision can delay or prevent the victim and his or her family from immediately investigating and pursuing a claim against the truck driver and trucking company. A knowledgeable attorney, who has handled tractor trailer and other trucking cases and who is retained as early as possible, can provide valuable guidance and level the playing field during this difficult time.