People Often Lose Unlosable Truck Accident Cases
The surest way to lose an unlosable truck accident case is for the victim to assume that the case is unlosable in the first place. I've spent my career, now in its fourth decade, litigating commercial truck accident cases. My job gives me a unique perspective, not only on how commercial truck accident cases are won, but also on how they're lost. Sadly, I've had the misfortune to see numerous instances where a victim loses a seemingly unlosable truck accident case.
Before I continue, let's take a moment to pin down what I mean when I talk about unlosable truck accident cases. These are cases where someone suffers a serious injury or death and it's plain as day that a commercial trucking company or its driver are 100% to blame for the crash. In a previous article, I discussed some of the more egregious ways I've seen trucking companies and their defense attorneys escape liability. Rather than cover the same ground, I will discuss common mistakes that cause people to lose unlosable cases.
The following are the 3 biggest mistakes, which can lead to losing an unlosable truck accident case:
- The victim did not get help.
- The victim waited too long to get help.
- The victim got the wrong help.
Most Victims Need Help even with Unlosable Truck Accident Cases
What's the first step a victim should take to resolve a crash? If you're like most people, the answer is that you file a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company. Since the vast majority of crashes don't result in injury, and in those that do, the injuries are minor, filing a claim makes perfect sense. However, commercial truck accidents involving serious injury or death are not your typical crash. Simply filing a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company is unlikely to resolve the claim in a satisfactory manner.
Let me explain why this is so. First, the claims process is set up by insurance companies to look out for their interests. While the television commercial make it seem like the claims department is a service designed to quickly resolve disputes, the truth is it helps the insurance industry efficiently sort through millions of claims every year. While an insurance company has an interest in quickly resolving minor claims, paying for all of the losses victims incur as the result of a commercial truck accident can be expensive for an insurance company. This means the trucking company and their insurer have a strong incentive to take advantage of the full protection offered to them under the law.
The most important protection that the law affords trucking accused of injuring another motorist is the presumption of innocence. While it may be obvious to you that the truck driver is 100% responsible for your losses, and even the police report can put them at fault for the crash, the only entity that can declare them responsible for the crash is a jury. This may not sound like a big deal, but allow me a moment to unpack what this means.
If a commercial trucking company or their insurers want to dig in their heels, they can deny liability for causing a crash up until a jury returns a verdict, and victims are powerless to do a thing about that. The only way to get most insurance companies out of this defensive shell is with the credible threat that you can go out there and get that jury verdict. A large number of people don't understand that this is how the law works, therefore they go through the claims process, unaware that the trucking company's insurer is free to deny a claim, not matter how well documented the liability is.
A number of victims I've spoken to over the years tried to do exactly that, before reaching out to me. I told them that the insurance company will continue to string them along, unless they can present the credible threat of prevailing at trial. I've also spoken to people who figured that part out on their own, but decided to handle the matter and file suit on their own. For most people, not getting help has the potential to ruin a solid case.
The best way to illustrate how going it alone can ruin a case is to go over some of the tasks victims need to accomplish to win in front of a jury. They must be able to:
- Properly draft a lawsuit
- Answer defense attorney motions
- Draft and respond to interrogatories
- Collect evidence
- Get evidence admitted into court
- Subpoena documents
- Depose witnesses
- Hire compelling expert witnesses
- Hire a credible accident reconstructionist
- Secure treatment for injuries
- Track down medical bills from providers with an accompanying affidavit
- Get a court to admit evidence
- Request a trial date from a court
- Attend and conduct court-mandated mediation
- Try the case before a jury, adhering to court rules
- Persuade a jury that the trucking company is to blame for the crash and resulting injuries
This list is by no means every skill needed to litigate a case, but you get the idea. If an accident victim possesses these skills (and more), then that victim may be able to successfully handle a serious injury or fatal commercial truck accident case. But if we're being honest, how many people possess those skills outside the legal profession? Most people don't grasp just how much goes into resolving a commercial truck accident case, so they try to go it on their own. The risk they take is that if they screw up even a one of those steps, they could irreparably damage their case. Some of the toughest conversations I've had in my career involved telling people who had unlosable cases that because they didn't get the help they needed, there was nothing I could do to salvage their case.
Some Victims Wait too Long to Get Help with Their Case
Victims need to obtain whatever help they need in a timely manner. Under Texas Law, a personal injury claim is only valid for 2 years from the date of the accident. This is known as the statute of limitations. After this time, the case is no longer actionable.
As a practical matter, the statute of limitations gives trucking company defense attorneys a powerful motivation not to resolve a dispute for long as possible. For instance, I recently spoke with someone who had a rock-solid injury claim, resulting from a commercial vehicle crash. The insurance company and their attorneys assured the victim that the claim would proceed quickly, as soon as all the documentation was in order.
They would request the victim send over bills, records, really any piece of paper would do. Then, as soon as they received the requested information, they would ask for more. The victim I spoke with went back and forth with the insurance company for 2 years. With each request, the insurance company's attorneys assured the victim that the dispute would be resolved with those documents. As soon as the 2 years passed and the victim had not filed suit, the insurance company's attorneys informed the victim they denied the claim and had closed the matter. They ran out the clock on the claim and the victim's ability to recover her losses. Timely help would have likely prevented the disastrous outcome in this case.
Outside of the previously discussed scenario, another reason that getting the right help is because of the time-sensitive nature of evidence. Witnesses go back to their lives, trucking companies repair damaged vehicles, and video recordings end up deleted. There's no predicting ahead of time which evidence will prove crucial in a case. That is why it's best to secure all of the evidence as quickly as possible.
Let me give an example where obtaining timely assistance helped a client. I had a client whose car was rear-ended by a dump truck, while waiting to make a left turn into a parking lot. The client sustained serious injuries in the crash, but the trucking company denied responsibility for the crash, claiming that my client was not using their turn signal, prior to the crash. What the trucking company defense lawyer didn't know was that a business in that shopping center had security cameras that recorded the entire incident. They clearly showed that my client's left turn signal was in use at the time of the crash. Helpfully, they also showed that the dump truck driver didn't even apply the brakes until it was too late.
While the fallacious turn signal argument would not have torpedoed the entire case, had it stuck, it could have greatly reduced how much of their losses my client could recover. The video put the issue to bed, but only because my client acted quickly. This is because the store in question only stored their recordings for 30 days, after which time they deleted them. Had my client waited too long to get help, that video, and the benefit it provided for the case, would have been lost.
The takeaway is time is always a pressing concern for victims. Waiting too long to seek help potentially sabotages otherwise strong cases.
The Wrong Help Can Be Almost as Bad as No Help
Like every other area of life, experience matters. Let me give you an example. Recently, I received a phone call from a victim in a commercial truck accident case. The victim had a slam-dunk fact pattern. While sitting at a red light, a commercial vehicle failed to slow for the light and rear-ended their car, pushing it into the intersection. As a result, the victim spent a month in the hospital and were just getting back on their feet. The victim had recently fired the attorney who was "working" on the case. They did so because they felt that the previous attorney hadn't done enough work to advance the case.
The victim asked if I could look over the case file to see if their suspicion was correct. It turned out that the case file showed that their hunch was spot-on. The victim's former attorney had not inspected any of the vehicles, pulled data from the truck necessary for an accident reconstruction, or even begun the process of obtaining certified copies of the victim's medical bills, which are the bare minimum steps needed in a commercial truck accident case. As best I could tell, the sum of the attorney's "work" on the case consisted of several phone calls to an insurance company claims adjuster.
For many people unfamiliar with this area of the law, it may appear that the attorney was working on the case, slowly, but working nonetheless. What I saw was an attorney who appeared to be attempting to resolve a commercial truck accident case as if it were any other car crash. This isn't surprising, because most attorneys will only handle one or two truck accident cases in a career, but the problem is, an attorney can't treat a commercial truck accident case as if it's just another car wreck.
In a typical car wreck cases, if the damages are bad enough, an insurance company has more to lose by playing games with the case than if they quickly resolve it. In such cases, an attorney may only need a few conversations with an adjuster to resolve the matter. However, in a commercial truck accident case, the insurer has more at stake, and as a consequence, they demand that victim prove absolutely every point of contention, from who caused the crash to the victim's losses.
At best, treating a commercial truck accident case like any other wreck wastes valuable time. At worst, I've seen it destroy what should have been solid personal injury or wrongful death claims. Some of the toughest calls I take are from people who had seemingly unlosable truck accident cases unravel because their attorney found himself in over his head.
How Do Victims Avoid Losing "Unlosable" Truck Accident Cases?
The best way to avoid losing an "unlosable" truck accident case is understand that even if the facts all point to the commercial truck causing the wreck, the legal system is set up to force victims to go through the steps of proving their claim. To put that another way, even "unlosable" cases can be lost when the victim doesn't take the steps necessary to ensure their claim prevails.
The good news for victims is that, when the facts are on their side, avoiding a bad outcome doesn't require them to put in a lot of work. In fact, following a 3-step checklist after a crash can help most victims avoid the pitfalls that will arise in their case. Those steps are:
- Honestly assess whether or not you have the tools to resolve your dispute on your own — If a crash results in only property damager or truly minor injuries, most people have the skills to work that out with the trucking company. For a more serious injury or wrongful death, it's important for victims to look through my previous list of steps and honestly assess whether or not they can complete those tasks. If they can't, getting help is necessary, because the chances that the matter will resolve itself satisfactorily are slim-to-nonexistent.
- Obtain needed help as soon as possible — Lawyers for the trucking company begin working on their defense immediately. At the same time, the evidence you need to make your case begins to deteriorate. So even if your claim is beyond doubt, the tables start tilting against you moments after the crash occurs. Add on top of this that most victims are often injured too severely to quickly take action to secure their interests, and the trucking company almost always has a head-start in the dispute. This is it why it is so important for victims or their family members to act as quickly as possible.
- Not all help is the right help — Crashes not only upend victims' lives, they often find themselves in uncharted legal territory. Even people who recognize they need help to resolve their dispute with a trucking company fail to appreciate that not all help is equal. Even attorneys with only a website and an office they rent by the hour will be more than happy to say that they can provide you with the help you need. This creates another problem for victims. How do victims get the help they need?
It's important the remember, in any matter, the dispute belongs to the victim. It's the attorney's job to use their skill to resolve the dispute, but at the end of the day, an attorney doesn't suffer a lot of consequences for destroying an unlosable case. This means that the victim has every right to carefully consider who they accept help from, including asking tough questions about the lawyer's experience, qualifications, resources, and demanding a detailed plan to resolve the case. Any victim who doesn't feel 100% confident in what a lawyer tells them should look for an attorney who checks all the boxes.
If there's one point that I can't stress enough even seemingly unlosable truck accidents cases can be lost. No matter how much the truck driver is to blame for a crash, it's still on the victim or their surviving loved ones to make that case. I know from litigating hundreds of commercial truck accident cases that there are no short-cuts in these disputes. Whether it's a victim's mistake or due to an attorney who is out of his depth, the sad reality is that people lose "unlosable" truck accident cases all the time.