Filing a Lawsuit if You Were Hit by a Drunk Truck Driver in Pennsylvania
Commercial truck drivers are responsible for directing around 40 tons of machine and cargo at highway speeds. When they are on the job, driving a truck, there is no excuse for intoxicated driving. Federal regulations, state DUI/DWI laws, and trucking company policies often help guarantee that drivers will stay sober on the road. If you were hit by a drunk truck driver, these laws and regulations may help you prove your case against them and get compensation for your injuries.
If you were injured in a truck crash involving a drunk driver, there are some steps you need to take before you can get compensation. The national truck accident injury attorneys at the Reiff Law Firm’s The Truck Accident Team explain some of the steps to take after being hit by a drunk trucker.
First Steps for DUI Truck Accident
After being involved in an accident, you may be dazed or disoriented. Whether you are the driver or a passenger, if you are physically able to, it is important to gather everyone in the car and get to safety. If you can, pull your car to the side of the road. Since truck accidents often mean very serious injuries, you should call for medical aid. Especially if the truck driver was intoxicated, they may not have made efforts to slow down or swerve to avoid the crash. Call 9-1-1 or another appropriate emergency number in your area, and call for an ambulance. In addition, follow these steps to collect evidence after a truck crash.
Report the Accident
In most states, you must report auto accidents to the police if there is death or injury involved. Even if you are the only person injured, call the police and report the accident. It is important that police handle the aftermath of a truck accident if you suspect the other driver of driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated (DUI/DWI). Police may be able to arrest a drunk truck driver and test their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This can help you get evidence of the driver’s intoxication, which you may use later when you take them to court.
A police officer responding to an auto accident will also file a police report of the crash. This can be excellent evidence in court to show the truck driver’s fault in the crash. These reports contain evidence of where the accident happened, who was at fault, and evidence of intoxication. Additionally, if police respond to the crash, they could later testify in court as to what happened, helping you prove your case.
After you have gotten to safety and called the police, document the accident as best you can. If you need medical attention, or were unconscious after the accident, this may not be possible. If you can, take pictures of the accident scene, or have someone else do so. Police may photograph accident scenes as well, so you may be able to use their photos if you were severely injured.
You should also collect as much information you can about the truck driver that hit you. Find out their name, contact information, drivers’ license number, etc. Also find out what insurance they carry, what company they work for, and get contact info and the appropriate policy numbers for them. They may also give you information for a point of contact at the trucking company. Again, if you are too injured, you may be able to collect this info from police, later. Knowing what company hired this driver will be especially important later in your lawsuit.
Lastly, keep good records of your medical treatment and condition. Keep copies of your hospital bills and records. Also keep a journal of your pain, treatment, and how the injuries affect your life. If you are not able to write, keeping a voice recording or video journal may also help you prove your injuries and their effect on your life.
Compensation for Drunk Driving Truck Accidents
If you were injured by a drunk truck driver, there are four potential parties that may be held responsible for the accident:
The Truck Driver
First, of course, is the drunk trucker. Driving under the influence is illegal in all 50 states, and causing an injury while DUI carries severe penalties, everywhere. These laws help you prove that the driver was negligent when you sue for your injuries.
Second is an insurance company. Whether the insurance company represents the driver or the trucking company, the insurance company may be on the hook for the damages you suffered. While some states have “no-fault” insurance rules that force you to collect through your own insurance before the at-fault driver’s insurance, you may not be limited to your own insurance. Most states allow you to collect damages from the other driver if your injuries meet certain definitions of “severe,” if they meet certain dollar amounts, or if you are suing for a loved one’s death. You should seek an attorney for wrongful death caused by a drunk driver if you are suing on a loved one’s behalf.
Third, you may be able to collect from the trucking company who hired the drunk truck driver. Trucking companies may be held liable when their driver causes an accident. This usually happens in one of two ways.
First, the trucking company may be “vicariously liable” for the actions of their employees. Companies are made up of the people that work for the company, so an employee’s errors are the company’s errors. Most state courts will only reach past the driver and hold the trucking company responsible if the driver was working within the scope of their duties during the accident. For a truck driver, that means driving the truck, loading it, or unloading it. If they were off-duty when the accident happened or were driving the truck without the company’s permission, they may not be liable for their employee’s accident.
Alternatively, the trucking company may, itself, be liable for hiring such a bad driver. If a trucking company hires or keeps a driver on staff after they have a history of bad accidents or drunk driving, the trucking company is responsible for that. Putting a dangerous driver on the road is nearly as bad as drunk driving itself, and courts often make trucking companies pay for these errors, especially if the company failed to follow federal drug and alcohol regulations or hiring guidelines.
“Dram Shop” Liability
The last party that may be held responsible for a drunk driving accident, strangely enough, is the bar or restaurant that served the drunk driver. Many states have a law called a “dram shop act.” These laws, named after a very small serving of alcohol, hold those who overserve patrons responsible for accidents their drunk patrons cause. For these laws to apply, the bar, restaurant, liquor store, or other seller must have overserved the driver.
In many states, these laws only activate when the bar or other seller serves a “visibly intoxicated” person, who later gets behind the wheel. If the driver bought liquor while sober, then drank on the job, these laws may not help you. Otherwise, dram shop acts are powerful tools to hold parties responsible for overserving customers. These laws may help you get compensation if the truck driver is self-employed or the trucking company protects themselves from liability. However, courts may hold the bar or alcohol seller responsible only for their share of the accident; the driver or the trucking company may still be held accountable for their own share of the blame in causing the crash.
Damages for Drunk Tractor-Trailer Accidents
If you were severely injured in a crash with a drunk trucker, you may be entitled to various forms of compensation for a truck accident. First, any court in the nation will typically compensate you for your medical expenses after a serious injury. The responsible parties may be made to pay for your surgeries, imaging, transportation, hospital stays, doctors’ visits, and other costs. Second, you may be entitled to lost wages. Some states place limits on whether wages will be fully repaid (as opposed to repaying only a portion), and whether ongoing lost wages will also be available (as opposed to reimbursing only those paychecks you’ve already missed). Lastly, you may be entitled to damages for your pain and suffering. These damages may be “capped” at certain dollar amounts in some states, but other states may allow you to receive whatever amount a jury is willing to award.
If the truck driver or trucking company violated trucking regulations or state laws, the court may penalize them by ordering them to pay you additional damages. Since drunk driving in a commercial truck violates both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations and state DUI/DWI laws, this kind of case may award you additional damages. However, these “punitive” or “exemplary” damages are rare in most areas of the country, and may be “capped” at certain limits.
Talk to an attorney to understand what your case may be worth. Never accept any payments from insurance companies, the truck driver, trucking companies, or other sources before talking to an attorney. It may be difficult to understand what your case is worth. Our experienced truck accident lawyers may be able to help you figure this out, and fight to get you the compensation you deserve in court.
Suing for DUI/DWI Accident Injuries
If you were hit by a drunk trucker driver, talk to an attorney today. The compensation available for a lawsuit may help cover medical bills, lost wages, and the pain and suffering from a commercial vehicle accident. For a free consultation with our experienced truck accident attorneys, call the Reiff Law Firm’s The Truck Accident Team today at (215) 709-6940.