How to Get a Fair Settlement in Your Truck Accident Case

If you've been in a crash with a commercial vehicle, make sure you're prepared to negotiate for compensation.

By , Attorney (UC Berkeley School of Law)

An accident with a large commercial truck can be both more serious and more complicated than an accident with a passenger vehicle. Because vehicles like tractor-trailers are so much larger than cars or even SUVs, you may have more significant property damage or injuries. You may also be dealing with a trucking business that's trying to minimize or deny its liability and financial responsibility.

If you're in this situation, it's important to know something about how settlements work in truck accident cases. That includes understanding why you probably need help from a lawyer to negotiate a good settlement, and the factors that determine how much money will fairly compensate you for the harms you've suffered.

Truck Accident Compensation: Insurance Settlements Versus Personal Injury Lawsuit Settlements

When you're seeking compensation for a vehicle accident, the term "settlement" can have different meanings:

  • A personal injury settlement is an agreement in which the plaintiff in a lawsuit agrees to give up their claim in exchange for financial compensation from the defendant.
  • An insurance settlement is compensation you receive from the at-fault person's (or company's) insurer. You don't have to sue anyone to receive an insurance settlement, and sometimes the process can be pretty straightforward. But if your claim is more complicated or serious—for example, if you were seriously injured, or the other side refuses to admit fault—negotiating an insurance settlement can be a time-consuming and challenging process.

Insurance Settlements

This article focuses on personal injury lawsuit settlements. But many of the same principles also apply to insurance settlements. For example, in both situations it's important to know what your claim is worth and to gather the evidence to prove it.

It's also crucial to understand that you may need to start working with a lawyer even before you're seriously considering filing a lawsuit. If you try to handle a complicated or high-stakes insurance claim yourself, you may hurt your chances of getting the compensation you think is fair.

We'll talk more below about why having a lawyer is so important if you sue a trucking company and are hoping to receive compensation by settling the lawsuit. The same logic often applies to the process of negotiating appropriate compensation with a trucking company's insurer.

Settling a Truck Accident Lawsuit

For a variety of reasons, most vehicle accident cases end with settlements. So, while you should be prepared for the possibility that your case could go all the way to a trial and a jury verdict, keep in mind that this isn't the likeliest outcome.

A key reason to work with a lawyer to put together a strong lawsuit is that it puts you in the best position to negotiate a settlement. The parties can agree to settle a case at any point in the vehicle accident lawsuit process—even while the jury is deliberating or while the case is being appealed.

Establishing a Reasonable Settlement Amount for Your Truck Accident Claim

There's no one-size fits-all formula for determining fair compensation for a truck accident. But you can put yourself in the best position to negotiate a settlement by collecting evidence of how the accident happened and how you've been harmed by it. There are also some best practices for dealing with an accident that are especially important when you're seeking compensation from a company, as opposed to an individual driver.

Understanding Your Damages

"Damages" is the legal term for the losses you suffer in an accident. This includes:

  • the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle and any other property
  • medical bills and other costs required to treat your injuries
  • compensation for other economic losses caused by your injuries (like lost wages), and
  • compensation for your pain and suffering.

Gathering Evidence of Your Damages

Right after an accident, your most important priorities are ensuring that you and everyone else involved are safe and receive necessary medical care. But there are other things you should do as soon as possible that will be become important as you attempt to negotiate a settlement.

If you're able to do so, you should create a record of what happened by, for example:

  • calling the police so there will be a police report of the accident
  • taking pictures of the accident scene (including damage to your vehicle)
  • getting the names and contact information of any witnesses who saw what happened, and
  • writing down your own description of what happened.

In addition to gathering evidence right after the accident, you should also keep careful records of the costs associated with the accident, like medical bills and money spent repairing your vehicle. Any company negotiating a settlement will require this kind of documentation of your damages.

Protecting Your Truck Accident Claim

There are also things you should avoid doing after an accident with a commercial truck. For example:

  • Don't say the accident was your fault while you're still at the scene and haven't had a chance to process what happened.
  • Don't deal on your own with the trucking company, the driver, or their insurance companies—work with your insurance carrier or an attorney.
  • Don't accept a quick settlement offer before you know your damages, especially if you have injuries that may require further treatment or long-term care.

These are important things to keep in mind after any serious vehicle accident. But they can be particularly important if you're seeking compensation from a trucking company. These companies generally have the incentive, the resources, and the experience to take advantage of mistakes people make in the aftermath of an accident.

How a Lawyer Can Help With Your Truck Accident Settlement

If a truck accident claim leads to a lawsuit, it's usually because there are significant disputes over questions like who's responsible for the accident, or the amount of compensation that should be paid to the plaintiff.

Resolving issues like this can be time-consuming and complicated. So it almost certainly makes sense to work with a lawyer if you file a truck accident lawsuit. For the same reasons, a lawyer can help make sure you get a fair settlement.

Establishing Your Damages

As you can see from our discussion above, proving your damages in a truck accident lawsuit can require a lot of work to gather and organize evidence, as well as legal arguments over which of your expenses are actually the defendant's responsibility. A lawyer will have the resources and expertise to handle this part of your case.

Proving Liability for the Accident

A defendant that thinks they might lose a trial is more likely to settle a case on terms favorable to the plaintiff. So, establishing the defendant's liability is a key part of settling a truck accident lawsuit. An experienced truck-accident attorney should be able to handle issues like:

  • A company's liability for its driver's actions. A trucking company will want to argue that it's not responsible for its driver's negligence because the driver was an independent contractor, not an employee. Your lawyer should be able to decide if this defense is valid in your case and, if it isn't, make sure the company doesn't avoid responsibility.
  • Holding multiple defendants responsible. Compared to a regular car accident, an accident involving a commercial truck is more likely to have multiple defendants. These can include not only the driver and their employer, but also, for example, the company responsible for performing maintenance on the vehicle. Your lawyer should know how to identify all of the potential defendants and decide if you have a good case against each of them.
  • Showing violations of state and federal safety rules. The trucking industry is heavily regulated. For example, federal law has requirements for how much rest drivers need and how often they must be drug tested. A lawyer familiar with these rules can identify when they've been broken, which could have serious consequences for the defendants in your case.

Handling Legal Strategy and Settlement Negotiations

You should expect the defendants in your truck accident case to have significant financial resources and good lawyers. They will do their best to deny responsibility for the accident and to minimize the extent of your injuries and property damage. In addition, they will have extensive experience negotiating settlements, and won't be uncomfortable with difficult (even heated) conversations.

For these reasons, it will almost always make sense to leave settlement negotiations to your own lawyer. A lawyer who specializes in these kinds of cases will have the same expertise as the defendants' attorneys, and will know how to approach tough negotiations.

Your attorney can also make sure you understand your options, and help you decide on the right legal strategy. For example, knowing how your state handles liability when multiple people (or companies) are at fault may influence decisions about who to add to your lawsuit.

Next Steps in Your Truck Accident Case

Whether you're trying to negotiate a settlement, or are in another phase of your truck accident claim, you can learn more about what to do after a vehicle accident.

If you want to know more about your settlement options, or have other questions about your situation, you should find an attorney you're comfortable with, and who has the right experience to help.

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