In Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio and other states, the principle of comparative fault prevails in legal disputes involving the payout of damages. Put simply, if this were visualized like a pie, the more you’re at fault for an incident in which you were hurt, the smaller your slice. A few states, such as Tennessee, include a form of modified comparative negligence where if a jury finds an accident victim to be more than 50% responsible, they cannot recover anything.
In both cases, the stakes are high for any accident victim as they seek to recover compensation for their injuries. A defense lawyer’s primary goal in these cases is to push the victim over the line of 50% responsibility, or at least reduce their client’s share of the blame as much as possible. This can seem inconceivable in the case of trucking accidents: Unless the injured party is another truck, there is almost always a power imbalance between large commercial vehicles and private automobiles on the road.
According to the National Safety Council, just below 5,000 large trucks were involved in deadly crashes in 2018, representing a 1% increase from the prior year and a 51% increase from nine years before. Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that a majority of fatal crashes were not on the highway, happened during daylight hours and outside of work zones. Some 21% of truck drivers involved in deadly crashes had at least one prior speeding conviction, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as a higher-than-average percentage of previously recorded crashes.
Combine these numbers with the record of an industry known for overworked and often insufficiently trained drivers, a victim’s liability for a tragic accident would appear to have a low likelihood. Even so, your level of fault could be increased by the tactics of a trucking company, which will attempt to deflect ultimate responsibility for the crash onto you in an effort to drive down the amount of money they will owe.
There are several common methods of deflection. In the aftermath of an accident, your state’s Department of Transportation will work with highway patrol or local law enforcement to probe its circumstances. Investigative teams will attempt to build a story of what happened based on the evidence. Often, trucking companies will field their own investigators to go to the crash scene and collect evidence they will use to attempt to influence the outcome of the investigation. This could include checking the speedometer, or examining the computer on your car to exploit how quickly you hit your breaks during the encounter.
More broadly, you may be confronted by your own driving record, including past incidents of speeding or accidents involving other vehicles. If it’s been a while since your vehicle has been tuned up, or you have an essential car part like a slippery break or non-working gear shift that has never been replaced, these too could work against you.
Accidents can have a physical and emotional impact on their victims. In addition to serious physical injuries that can leave you unable to work or take care of your family (or yourself), studies have long suggested that anxiety, depression and PTSD-like symptoms can arise in the aftermath of a crash, including in those with no prior history of mental health conditions. The more severe or bizarre the collision, the worse these effects can be.
Still, defense lawyers will frequently try to minimize the extent or impact of your injuries, either by claiming that a simpler, less expensive medical treatment could resolve them, or attempting to dispute the permanence of an injury by asking that their own experts examine you. Sadly, mental health difficulties and the consequences of emotional distress – such as phobias, loss of sleep or appetite, or heightened anxiety – are considered harder to quantify than physical ailments and typically present higher hurdles.
A skilled, experienced personal injury attorney can help build a robust case for recovering damages that navigates through the potential tactics of a trucking company. We can develop a legal strategy that is tailored to the unique circumstances of your case and the foreseeable challenges by their defense. If you or someone you know has been affected by this, schedule a consultation with us today.