Serious or catastrophic injuries are not uncommon in a truck accident and many result in death. When the truck driver or trucking company is responsible for a fatal truck accident, the surviving family could pursue compensation for their expenses and losses through a wrongful death claim.
How is fault established in a fatal truck accident?
There are a variety of ways to establish fault in a deadly truck crash. An accident reconstruction expert can perform an investigation and piece together the events surrounding the incident, for example. Testimony from the expert can help establish what likely caused the collision and how the truck driver’s actions contributed to it.
Another way to establish fault is through drug and alcohol testing. In fact, truckers must submit to a test for alcohol and controlled substances if an accident causes serious injuries or fatalities. If the truck driver was also killed in the crash, an autopsy could reveal if there was any alcohol, controlled substances, or other drugs in his or her system.
If the family is able to return to the scene of the accident and take pictures, these could also be useful in proving fault. If the scene has been cleaned up, inquiries can be made into photographs that others took, such as investigators on the scene. If the crash took place at an intersection, cameras may have captured the incident. Obtaining statement from any eyewitnesses could also be helpful.
What are some causes of truck accidents?
As families work with their attorneys to establish fault for the accident, they may look to some of the common causes of these accidents. Driver fatigue can lead to serious accidents, for example. Truckers travel long distances for hours at a time, which can impede alertness and performance behind the wheel.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires truckers adhere to hours-of-service limits and track their hours in a logbook or using an electronic on-board recording device, but some truckers may fail to abide by these rules. Distracted driving is another cause of truck accidents. Even though truckers aren’t allowed to use handheld mobile devices, some do so anyway.
Other distractions in which a trucker can partake include:
- fidgeting with paperwork;
- drinking; and
But distractions come in other forms, such as becoming fixated on an external object (passing an accident scene, looking at a billboard). Tailgating can also cause a deadly accident. Slamming into the back of a smaller vehicle, even at a lower speed limit, can be devastating. Trucks take much longer to stop, especially when the roads are slick, so maintaining a safe distance is critical.
Other causes include speeding, impairment (alcohol, drugs) and lack of experience with a large truck. However, keep in mind that parties other than the truck driver could be liable for the accident, too.
What are the next steps?
In addition to accident reconstructionists, photographs and eyewitness testimonies, there are a host of other types of evidence important to these cases. Families may work with their attorney to draft a spoliation letter, for instance, and send it to the trucking company that employs the driver.
The spoliation letter informs the trucking company that the family is pursuing a wrongful death claim and instructs the company to preserve certain types of evidence, like:
- hours-of-service records;
- the driver’s personnel file;
- truck maintenance reports/records; and
- the truck itself.
The family has two years from the date of the death in which to file a claim for wrongful death. In it they may present evidence not only of fault, but of their damages as well. Recovery of compensation may benefit dependents like the spouse and any children. A judge or jury will determine damages as seems “fair and just.”
Fair and just compensation can cover the following: mental anguish, loss of companionship, loss of guidance, loss of the decedent’s income and services, and expenses for medical treatment prior to death and reasonable funeral costs.
The Miley Legal Group helps families who lost a loved one in a fatal truck accident pursue compensation for their expenses and losses. Call (304) 931-4088 to schedule an appointment.