If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident, you have a lot of questions about the legal battles to come. What can a personal injury lawyer do for you? What unique factors affect these accident cases? What is the value of your case? We discuss the answers to these, and more questions, below. Our Maryland truck accident lawyers have years of experience in these cases, winning million-dollar verdicts for our clients. The research presented here reflects our commitment to both helping victims receive fair compensation and sharing what we have learned with our community.
- What is different about handling truck cases versus other accident cases?
- Common accident causes for trucks
- The maximum possible settlement value
- Should I settle my case or go to trial?
- Sample verdicts and settlements
- Common truck defendants
- Frequently asked questions
- Who is at fault in a truck accident?
- I was rear ended by a truck, but the company is claiming I caused the accident. How does Maryland determine fault in rear end cases?
- Who will pay my medical bills?
- Will I get a larger settlement in a truck accident case than I would for the same injuries in a car accident case?
- How do attorneys handle truck accidents differently than motor vehicle accident cases? Are trucking companies regulated by law in Maryland?
- Can I sue the truck driver's trucking company for my injuries from the crash?
- I was injured in a truck crash where a big-rig truck jackknifed. Does this mean the truck driver was negligent?
- The accident was the truck driver's fault, but my injuries were made worse by the fact that I was not wearing a seatbelt. Does this hurt my case?
- My accident occurred in Washington, D.C. but I live in Maryland. Should I hire a truck accident lawyer in Maryland or a truck accident lawyer in Washington D.C.?
- Are trucks required by the law in Maryland to carry insurance?
- Is it more difficult for trucks to brake?
- Do I need an attorney in every truck accident case?
- More information
- Our law firm
Some truck accidents—that is pickup truck, sport utility vehicles (SUV), or small truck accidents—may be handled just like any other car accident. However, 18-wheel commercial vehicle accidents are different. These crashes are especially severe, and Maryland has specific laws designed largely to help victims. Accordingly, lawyers handling these cases need to be familiar with the finer details of Maryland commercial vehicle state law and know how to handle these claims specifically. If they don't, the opposing counsel will have the advantage.
In addition to these legal considerations, lawyers must consider factors unique to truck accidents. For example, most big rig trucks maintain "black boxes" that measure various parameters that assist in determining how the truck accident occurred. Also, because there is extensive federal regulation applicable to the trucking industry, there are intricate regulations covering the use and maintenance of commercial trucks. This gives plaintiffs a treasure trove of information about the driver and their vehicle that is not available in passenger car accident cases.
Another important consideration is the preservation of critical evidence, such as the black box information discussed above. Drivers and trucking companies have an incentive to destroy evidence that does not support their version of the accident’s facts. Parties in a truck accident case have a duty to retain evidence that could be relevant to the crash if they believe it could be the subject of litigation. In order to ensure that valuable evidence is not destroyed, the plaintiff must send correspondence to the potential defendants as soon as possible to put the defendants on notice of a potential claim.
In Maryland, the destruction or alteration of evidence by a party gives rise to inferences or presumptions unfavorable to the spoliator. In other words, if a company destroys evidence, the victim might seek and receive from the judge a spoliation instruction which says to assume that the destroyed evidence contained information most favorable to the Plaintiff.
Counsel should also consider whether the company that hired the driver may also be responsible under the theory of negligent entrustment or negligent supervision. This may be the case if the company failed to properly screen or train the driver. It is amazing how many operators of large trucks, particularly big rig trucks, are improperly trained or have unacceptable driving records. There can also be a claim for negligent maintenance, a related legal theory trucking accident lawyers pursue in these cases when the company and/or driver failed to properly maintain the truck.
Legal considerations specific to truck accidents include evidence from black boxes, spoliation of evidence, and negligent entrustment or supervision.
In fatal truck accidents, 97% of fatalities are the people in passenger vehicles, not the at-fault drivers of commercial trucks. Regardless, the trucking industry is a $600 billion business and these companies have qualified counsel at their disposal to vigorously fight suits from those that have been hurt or the families left behind in death cases.Causes of Truck Accidents
Four main risks lead to truck accidents that are not present with passenger cars. This is important because, to win against the defense as a lawyer, you have to know the mechanisms behind each case and the defenses you can expect.
The first risk is simply that big rigs have a difficult time stopping, which leads to a significant number of rear-end crashes.
The second is jackknifing, when a large truck comes to a sudden stop causing the trailer to whip around sideways. This can lead to the trailer flipping over and rolling. Jackknifing can occur at speeds as low as five miles per hour. Some large trucks are more likely to jackknife. For example, a half-empty tanker is more than twice as likely to jackknife than a fully loaded semi.
Invariably, the defense counsel will claim that the truck jackknifed because the road was slippery or because the truck was required to make an emergency stop, often claiming that a made-up vehicle caused the accident. After we have made a full investigation with the help of an accident reconstructionist, we usually find that there is no evidence of slippery road conditions or the alleged vehicle that caused the truck accident.
The third cause is the difficulty drivers have with turning big rig trucks. It is often necessary for the driver to use more than one lane of traffic when turning right to keep the rear wheels from hitting parked vehicles or the sidewalk. When these big rig drivers swing wide to complete a right turn, they often collide with unsuspecting passenger cars.
"They worked effectively with my medical providers to ensure all the medical documentation accurately told my story of physical and emotional injuries from having been rear-ended by a tractor-trailer on the Capital Beltway [in Prince George's County] on my way to work."
The final and arguably the most important cause is driver fatigue. The Federal Highway Administration's Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study underscored how fatigue exacerbates the problems that cause truck crashes. The study showed that the average truck driver only gets 4.8 hours of sleep. Additionally, the National Transportation Safety Board and The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that one or more drugs were detected in 67% of fatally injured truck drivers and that 33% of these drivers had detectable blood concentrations of psychoactive drugs or alcohol.The Maximum Settlement Value of Your Truck Accident Claim
If you have a serious injury or wrongful death claim, settlement money can be life-changing for you and your family. The question that is most likely at the front of your mind is, how much will my case be worth?
For reference, the average jury award in a truck accident case is a little over $500,000. The median award, however, is $90,000. The average is driven up by a small number of large cases, such as the 3% that are worth over $5 million.
One way to start the process of looking at settlement value is figuring out how much money a jury could potentially award you. In other words, how much money could you end up with on the best possible day in court? A less commonly understand reality is that even if a jury comes back with a $20 million verdict, the victim cannot usually collect that great an amount of money.
This is because there are caps on the amount of non-economic damages that can be collected in civil cases. For example, the cap on noneconomic damages in Maryland for truck accident cases was between $875,000 and $2,187,500 in 2020. The cap was $845,000 for any living plaintiff, $1,267,500 million for a single wrongful death beneficiary, and $2,187,500 if the victim had more than one wrongful death beneficiary. (The cap will increase again on October 1, 2020.)
Keep in mind that this cap is for noneconomic damages, which is another way of saying “pain and suffering.” There is no cap, however, on economic damages, which include future medical care, future lost wages, and loss of household services. This is why the highest value cases typically involve a victim who made a good salary and would have contributed to their family for many years.
- How a wrongful death case works
In cases where the battle is over damages, filing a lawsuit is sometimes the only way to prove to the trucking company you will not back down without a fair settlement.
Trucking insurance companies rarely pay the maximum value of claims that are in the millions. Knowing this, the first step is to figure out what your best-case scenario recovery would be. Then, determine a settlement lower than that number that you would be willing to take. Your goal should of course be to get a settlement higher than that number. However, if that minimum number is not reached, the next step is to file a lawsuit or go to trial, depending on where you are in the process.
The largest reductions in case values occur when there are issues of liability. When these cases go to trial, there is a risk of losing and getting no money if the court decides the trucking company was not at fault. A simple formula to calculate case value is to multiply the maximum value of the case by the estimated chance of success a trial. This calculus hinges on a reasonable evaluation of the likelihood of success at trial.
Most of our truck accident cases at Miller & Zois are not battles over liability but the value of the damages. The difficulty in getting good settlements in these cases is that trucking companies and their insurers want to get the best deal possible for themselves. For example, we settled three of these cases in 2016 that totaled $4 million—the combined pre-lawsuit settlement offers from those cases only totaled $725,000. You typically have to show these companies you are serious to get a good settlement, which usually means filing a lawsuit.
- Value of your case by type of injury (the suffering and medical bills associated with different injuries greatly impacts case value)
- Settlement calculator
Another way to value specific cases is to look at settlements and verdicts from past cases. It gives you some idea of how lawyers, insurance companies, and juries have valued claims that are similar to yours. This does not mean you can use these examples to predict the value of your case. They are, however, a useful tool when combined with other resources.
- 2019, Virginia: $1 Million Settlement Our clients' 79-year-old mother is passenger driving with her sister heading to a wedding on a highway in Roanoke, Virginia. Her vehicle is struck by the truck behind them. She suffers a T2 vertebra fracture and dies the next day. Miller & Zois represented the victim's five children.
- 2018, Maryland: $1 Million Settlement A four-year-old boy is riding his bike in an alley in Dundalk. A tow truck driver parked his vehicle in the alley and exits the vehicle. He gets back in this truck, and as he exits, he hits the boy’s handlebars, causing him to lose his balance and fall under the back tires of the truck. He is killed instantly. The trucking company argued the accident was the boy's fault but paid the entire $1 million policy after eight months of litigation. Miller & Zois represented the boy’s family.
- 2016, Maryland: $1.55 Million Settlement A young man runs out of gas on the side of the road and a friend comes to give him a can of gasoline. Then, a truck driver who simply is not paying attention drives off the roadway and kills him. The defendant offered $725,000 at a pretrial mediation, forcing a lawsuit. Miller & Zois represented this young man's family.
- 2016, Maryland: $1,500,000 Settlement A young man has car trouble and pulls to the side of the road to make repairs. A truck veers off the road and kills him. Miller & Zois represented the victim's mother.
- 2016, Maryland: $1,000,000 Settlement A 52-year-old man is killed after getting hit by a truck that ran a stop sign. No settlement offer was made on the case, so we filed a lawsuit in Worcester County. The case settled before the pretrial conference. Miller & Zois represented the victim's family in the claim.
- 2016, Oregon: $352,550 Verdict A 55-year-old female is driving her pickup truck with a kayak on the back. The defendant is operating an eighteen-wheel semi-truck when he fails to stop for a line of vehicles stopped due to road construction. The truck strikes two vehicles and then strikes the rear of the plaintiff's vehicle, pushing her forward. The truck flips over and spills the gas it was carrying. The woman sustained brain and shoulder injuries, cognitive loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the collision. A jury awarded her $277,550 in economic damages, such as medical expenses, and $75,000 for non-economic damages.
- 2016, Georgia: $650,000 Settlement The plaintiff is traveling eastbound when a dump truck, traveling westbound, turns left in front of her. The sudden left turn by the dump truck causes a collision, and the plaintiff sustains a left hip dislocation, a posterior dislocation of the femoral head, and a multi-segmented fracture of her hip wall. The parties settle for $650,000.
- 2016, Oregon: $40,000 Settlement The plaintiff is a passenger in a semi-truck being driven by her boyfriend that is partially loaded. As they approached a curve in the road, the driver loses control and the truck tips over onto the driver's side, sliding off the road into an embankment. The driver claims that the engine compression brake malfunctioned in the truck he was operating in the scope of his employment with the trucking company. The plaintiff sustained injuries to her knee, neck, and back along with a concussion. The parties settled the case for $40,000.
- 2016, New Jersey: $430,000 Settlement A man in his late 30's is driving his vehicle when a fully loaded dump truck traveling the opposite direction crosses over the center line and collides with his vehicle head-on. The man fractured his hand and wrist, both treated by surgery. He also sustained a left shoulder separation that required surgery. The defendant argued that the man made a good recovery but settled the case before trial for $430,000.
- 2016, Washington: $18,500,000 Settlement A 44-year-old male is riding his motorcycle on an on-ramp prior to dawn. Without any warning, a truck makes a U-turn across the on-ramp and shoulders in an attempt to go northbound. Due to the darkness, the plaintiff does not realize his entire path is blocked until it is too late. He attempts to avoid the truck by applying his brakes hard, and crashes to the ground. As a result, he sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, fractures to all the bones in his left wrist, a fractured jaw, an open pelvic fracture, a low-back fracture, a left leg fracture, and internal damage to his arteries and urethra. He sued the driver and the company, and the parties settled for $18,500,000.
- 2016, Oregon: $13,921,922 Verdict A 58-year-old man is crossing the street in a marked crosswalk on a "walk" signal. A garbage truck makes an illegal right turn and strikes the man. His left leg is severed, and he has fractured ribs and chest injuries. He brings a claim against the garbage company and his wife brings a claim for loss of consortium. The company admits liability but disputed damages. A jury awarded the man $3,021,922 in economic damages, $10,500,000 in non-economic damages, and $400,000 for loss of consortium.
- 2016, Alabama: $2,275,000 Settlement A woman and her minor son are walking on the shoulder of a highway after their car is forced off the road by another vehicle. A commercial truck strikes them, killing the woman and causing severe injuries to the son. The defendants deny liability. The parties settle, including $2,175,000 for the wrongful death claim and $100,000 for the personal injury claim.
- 2016, Massachusetts: $3,500,000 Settlement A 56-year-old is driving his motorcycle when the defendant's waste disposal truck drives into the motorcycle's lane of travel. The motorcyclist attempts to stop but ends up sliding under the truck. The other driver does not see him, so he does not stop his truck. The man gets rolled over and dies at the scene. His estate brings a claim against the trucking company, alleging the driver had restrictions on his license and was prohibited from operating the vehicle. The defendant denied liability, but the parties settled in mediation for $3,500,000 in a confidential settlement agreement.
- 2016, Pennsylvania: $1,500,000 Settlement A 65-year-old plaintiff is driving his motorcycle when a truck negligently enters his lane of travel and pushes him into the concrete barrier. The man dies shortly after, and the parties settle prior to trial for $1,500,000.
- 2016, Pennsylvania: $10,500,000 Verdict A woman is driving her vehicle through an intersection when a Mack truck carrying 50,000 pounds of sand swerved to avoid another vehicle encroaching in the intersection. The Mack truck tipped over onto the woman's car, dumping the sand onto her vehicle and killing her. Her estate alleges that the dump truck driver was negligent, while the truck company blamed the accident on the vehicle encroaching into the intersection that the dump truck attempted to avoid. In their decision, a jury found the dump truck driver 35% liable, the company who loaded the truck with too much sand 15% liable, and the other driver 50% liable for the crash. They awarded the woman $1,5000,000 in survival damages and $9,000,000 in wrongful death damages.
- 2016, New Jersey: $875,000 Settlement The plaintiff, a man in his 70's, is going for his morning walk. The defendant's landscape truck has its lights on, but the plaintiff walks into the street due to a blocked sidewalk. The landscaping truck strikes the plaintiff. The man suffered a lacerated spleen, fractures and spent the remainder of his life, approximately 10 months, either in rehabilitation centers or hospitals. The defendant driver argued that the man suddenly walked into the road. The case against the driver settled for $875,000.
- 2016, Florida: $1,400,000 Settlement The plaintiff is driving an air conditioning repair truck. The defendant is driving a linen delivery truck and, after waiting for a drawbridge to come down, claims he is forced to accelerate his heavy truck to make it over the bridge. However, this acceleration causes his truck to rear-end the plaintiff's truck which is stopped for a red light on the other side of the bridge. The collision caused the plaintiff to suffer a cervical disc herniation and rotator cuff tear, resulting in three surgeries. He sues the driver of the truck and the truck company, arguing that the driver had plenty of time to stop, had he been paying attention. The case settled before trial for $1,400,000.
Responsibility for an accident lies with the driver who made the mistake that caused the crash. Maryland law defines what car or truck drivers, may do on the roadway. There are specifics particular to truck accident cases that make determining liability more nuanced.
Unfortunately, you cannot recover anything in Maryland if you are partially to blame for the accident. This is called contributory negligence. In many other jurisdictions, under a legal theory called comparative negligence, the amount of truck driver and the trucking company would be liable for the percentage of fault a jury attributes to their negligence.
Usually, the more significant battle in truck accident cases is over damages. Trucking companies and their insurance companies and lawyers want to pay you far less than your claim is worth.
In Maryland, there is presumption of negligence in rear end accidents. In other words, the law assumes the rear-ending truck was negligent unless the truck driver's attorney can proffer evidence that shows otherwise.
Some medical bills and lost wages will be paid through your insurance policy. These policies are usually quite small and cannot cover all of your medical bills. Ultimately, the medical bills will be paid out of the settlement or verdict that you receive.
The problem for victims is that your bills are owed long before your case is ripe for a settlement. What do you do? Our lawyers use our contacts and ability to persuade healthcare providers to wait to get compensated out of any settlement. This tactic can be challenging and tedious to implement. But it works far more often than not.
The average settlement for the same injuries is higher in a truck accident case than in a car accident case. There are three reasons why this is so. First, trucking company insurers do not typically have in-house counsel to defend claims. They pay more to avoid having to engage in prolonged litigation and trial. Second, trucking companies and their insurance companies are more just used to large settlement costs than auto insurers. Finally, trucking companies are often embarrassed by the accident and know that it reflects on them as a business. This is particularly true if the driver was not properly trained or did not comply with state and federal trucking safety regulations.
There are several factors unique to truck cases: (1) Maryland and federal regulations that apply, (2) the types of claims that can be brought against trucking companies, (3) the nature of the investigation required by lawyers, (4) the tactical jurisdiction issues regarding the most appropriate venue for the injury victim, and (5) the manner in which many truck crashes occur, such as the problems associated with turning. Hiring an attorney who is well versed in these issues is essential.
In most truck accident cases in Maryland, yes. It depends on the relationship between the truck driver and the trucking company. If such a relationship is demonstrated, the company can be held legally liable for the truck driver's negligence under a legal theory known as respondeat superior, which means that the agent is responsible for the principal. The trucking company may also be liable under the theories of negligent entrustment or negligent supervision if they failed to adequately screen drivers they knew or had reason to know were untrained or unsafe truck drivers. There can also be a claim for negligent maintenance of the truck itself.
Usually, a truck jackknifes due to the truck driver's negligence, often because the driver locked up the breaks. Because a truck driver could theoretically jackknife without driver error, the defendant's counsel will seek to avoid liability by arguing that the truck jackknifed due to unforeseeable slipperiness of the road or an emergency turn to avoid another vehicle. We have found that this argument can usually be defeated after a full investigation of the physical evidence.
Under the Maryland Transportation Code § 22-412.3, the fact that you were not wearing a seat belt cannot be used against you at trial. (But in the future, wear your seat belt, it may save your life.)
There are many potential places to file a lawsuit in this type of situation. You must consider the best venue given all of the factors, such as which jurisdiction has a cap on damages, the reputation of the juries in a particular jurisdiction, convenience of the injured party, the attorney's subpoena power over the witnesses, and a whole host of other factors. Your case may be filed where the trucking company is incorporated or does regular business, or where the trucking accident occurred.
Yes. Commercial vehicles traveling in interstate commerce must carry $750,000 of insurance for bodily injury and property damage. Maryland also imposes the same limit for trucks traveling within Maryland.
The minimum liability insurance allowed by trucking companies depends upon their freight:
- $ 750,000 for vehicles over 10,000 pounds carrying nonhazardous freight
- $1,000,000 for those hauling hazardous materials and oil
- $5,000,000 for trucks operating portable tanks, capacity over 3,500 gallons, passenger trucks
Compared to cars, the stopping distances for trucks are much longer, particularly for 18-wheel trucks. There is a correlation between the size of a truck and the likelihood of a rear-end truck accident. On roads that are wet and slippery, there is an even greater disparity between the braking capabilities of passenger vehicles or motorcycles and large trucks. Failure of trucking companies to properly maintain their brakes aggravates the problem. Over 53% of trucks that cause wrecks have at least one brake safety violation. The main culprit is brakes that are not adjusted.
In truck cases, you almost invariably want to engage a lawyer. This is because the value of cases varies wildly and because there are so many things that need to be done to secure evidence.
- Trucking company’s insurance
- Types of truck accidents
- Risks associated with the size and weight of big rig trucks
- Sample cross-examination: transcript of the cross-examination of a driver in a Baltimore City case where the jury awarded our client over $1 million
At Miller & Zois, we have had cases referred to us by inexperienced lawyers where the offer was multiplied by ten after we entered the case. There is a small world of lawyers who regularly handle truck cases; just like there is a small world of lawyers defending these claims. We all know each other. If your lawyer has the respect of the trucking company and its lawyers, that will have an impact on how they value your claim. There is no question that the best truck accident lawyers will get more for their clients.
The Maryland truck accident attorneys at Miller & Zois handle a large number of truck personal injury cases. The majority of our serious injury and death case cases come from other lawyers who seek out our firm as co-counsel because we have the experience and the resources to maximize the value of these claims. For a free consultation, call our truck accident lawyers at 800-553-8082 or go online. Our office is located in Baltimore, Maryland.