7 Key Questions About Commercial Truck Accidents

7 Key Questions About Commercial Truck Accidents
7 Key Questions About Commercial Truck Accidents

If you suffered injuries in a commercial truck accident, you probably have many questions about how you will pay for your medical care and whether you can sue the at-fault party for damages.

Below, we answer some common questions we hear from Minnesota truck accident victims like you. For more detailed answers to questions about a specific truck accident that harmed you or your loved one, contact an experienced Minnesota truck accident lawyer today.

attorney for a commercial truck accident

What are my rights after getting hurt in a Minnesota commercial truck accident?

You may have the right to receive financial compensation to help you pay for medical care and other harm you have suffered. Several factors can affect the outcome of a case.

1. How Does No-Fault Affect a Minnesota Truck Accident Case?

Minnesota has specific laws dealing with vehicle accidents that differ from Wisconsin. Foremost among these is the no-fault statute. This stipulates that you don’t need to prove fault in a vehicle accident to get compensation initially from your own insurance.

This compensation, known as PIP coverage, includes medical benefits, income loss, replacement expenses, funeral expenses, and survivor’s financial loss and replacement expenses. The allotment for these benefits is a minimum of $40,000, with $20,000 going towards medical expenses and the other $20,000 covering the other losses. Victims pursue this compensation via their own insurance company rather than the party that injured them.

As the name implies, no fault needs to be proven to receive this compensation as an injured party first can pursue their own insurance for limited compensation. An injury resulting from one driver accidentally driving into a median with no fault from another party may file a claim under the statute for compensation. However, this does not mean someone injured in a truck accident cannot still file a personal injury lawsuit in addition to these No-Fault benefits.

However, here is a list of five factors you must meet to file a claim against the at-fault party.

  • $4,000 in medical treatments excluding MRI and X-ray scans
  • Permanent injury
  • Permanent disfigurement from the crash, such as a scar
  • Missing 60 days from work due to the accident
  • Death

If you meet one or more of these factors, you may file a personal injury claim in addition to receiving PIP insurance compensation.

Minnesota has a statutory wrongful death action that you may pursue if a loved one passes away in a truck accident. The claim requires a death caused by a wrongful act or omission where the deceased could have filed a personal injury lawsuit had they survived.

The statute allows family members to take on the claim on behalf of the deceased to pursue financial compensation for injuries caused by the death and pursue justice for their family member’s passing.

Many events can give cause for a wrongful death claim, including negligence resulting in a trucking accident.

Minnesota law differs from other states in that it necessitates the deceased’s spouse or next of kin to petition the court to appoint a trustee who has the power of filing the wrongful death claim and distributing any damages recovered.

The damages you can recover from a wrongful death claim in Minnesota include:

  • Burial and funeral expenses
  • Loss of deceased’s assistance, care, and services
  • Medical expenses for deceased’s injury treatments before their passing
  • Loss of deceased’s wages, income, or benefits from which their family would have benefitted

3. How Much Time Does It Take to Resolve a Truck Accident Lawsuit in Minnesota?

To resolve a truck accident lawsuit, several necessary steps may take significant time.

For example, the following steps in a claim take time:

  • Liability investigation to determine fault and collect evidence
  • Any medical or psychological treatments
  • Communications with insurance companies
  • Giving time to grasp the scope of your injuries
  • Communication with the other party to see if they will listen to negotiations
  • If you reach no settlement, the preparations for the trial and the actual trial itself. If your case goes to trial, it will take longer to conclude than if the insurance company agreed to a fair settlement.

These issues may be resolved quickly or take longer than expected. Each case is different. Getting a just settlement or pressing a claim in a trial if necessary is the most important task, and this may take time to do. While frustrating, this gives you the best chance of getting the largest and most satisfactory outcome.

4. Minnesota Truck Accident Statistics

According to the latest data, 5,369 truck accidents occurred in Minnesota in one recent year. These accidents caused 1,431 injuries and resulted in 56 fatalities. On a larger scale, the National Safety Council data reported 118,000 truck accidents causing injury in 2018-2019, and 5,005 truck accidents resulting in fatalities. Truck accidents cause a significant number of injuries.

Further statistics from the Minnesota report indicate most injuries in multi-vehicle truck accidents occur in the vehicle(s) hit by trucks. Only 13 percent of injuries in 2019 Minnesota truck accidents happened to the occupants of the truck(s) involved in accidents.

Despite the number of truck accidents remaining about the same since 2005, the number of fatalities per year steadily decreased until 2019. Trends indicate Minnesota's rural areas and townships with small populations are the most susceptible to truck accidents.

Their reasons include lower-quality, smaller roads, or a higher volume of trucks. Additionally, despite the perception that icy roads and bad conditions lead to most accidents, the report found most accidents happen in clear conditions with relatively dry roads.

The I-94 corridor is a well-known trucking route from Wisconsin into Minnesota to the Twin Cities and beyond. Due to the number of trucks that commute along the highway, it is also an area where truck accidents are likely to happen. The I-94 runs through both urban and rural areas throughout Minnesota.

5. What Happens in a Truck Accident Investigation?

Any legal claim needs to be substantiated by sufficient facts, and once a trucking accident happens, it must be investigated properly for the rest of the process to move along. Multiple courses of action may start simultaneously once an injury occurs, such as medical treatment and communications with insurance companies, but the investigation itself allows the pressing of your claim. The usual claim involved is negligence, which must prove four elements: duty, breach, causation, injury/damages. These legal elements generally entail the following elements:

1. Duty

You must prove a legal duty exists between the person who injured you and yourself. In truck accident cases, this duty means that all drivers must drive reasonably and not break any traffic laws.

2. Breach

A breach takes place when the party that injures you by act or omission breaks their established legal duty.

3. Causation

Causation simply means the actions or inaction of the other party directly caused the crash and your possible injuries.

4. Injury/Damages

The last element needed is proof of injuries directly caused by the other party.

To prove these elements and create a successful claim, you may need a lawyer to:

  • Conduct interviews with witnesses, police officers, and other public officials who may have responded to the scene
  • Work with a professional accident reconstructionist to get a better picture of the accident
  • Visit the accident scene itself to take photographs and take other evidence
  • Go through potential federally-mandated driver qualification files if a commercial truck driver was involved
  • Interview passengers in the vehicles to get a better picture of what happened
  • Examine the vehicles themselves to determine if there were any problems with the mechanics. For example, faulty breaks may have led to a collision.

6. What Specific Rules and Regulations Apply to Truck Drivers In Minnesota?

Commercial truck drivers in Minnesota are subject to additional rules and regulations, more than just the duty to drive reasonably, as with every car on the road. Some crucial regulations are implemented by a host of federal statutes aimed specifically at scrutinizing truck drivers and their vehicles to make them and other drivers on the road safer.

Under 49 C.F.R § 392, the federal government places additional regulations on commercial truck drivers and companies to distinguish them from everyday car drivers. This statute contains sections stipulating the inspection of cargo, the prohibited passengers in commercial vehicles, and the additional responsibilities of being ill or fatigued as a truck driver. Average drivers might make these considerations, but commercial truck drivers are held to a different standard to uphold their regulations.

Under 49 C.F.R § 393, all the different accessories and parts of commercial trucks required for safe driving are laid out. These parts include brakes, lights, windshields, ramps, and any other small auto part. Each truck component is held to the utmost scrutiny to ensure the trucks are in working condition and safe for their drivers and others on the road. Trucking companies must closely follow these regulations to help shield them from liability. Therefore, if any truck involved in an accident violates this statute, it creates additional problems for the trucking company.

Under 49 C.F.R § 395, additional regulations are placed upon truck drivers dealing with the hours they are allowed to drive. This is an integral factor that distinguishes truck driving from regular vehicle operation. Usually, it may be entirely up to the average driver of each vehicle to determine how long they should drive. The statute differentiates between property-carrying vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles. Property-carrying vehicles can only have their drivers drive for up to 14 hours at a time, and they must have at least a ten-hour break before taking on another shift. Passenger carrying vehicles are only allowed to drive up to ten hours on end before needing at least an eight-hour break.

Each of these and additional federal regulations apply to commercial truck drivers in Minnesota, and each could play a part in the facts of a trucking accident. For example, a commercial truck driver could be found in violation of one or more of these federal regulations, which places more pressure on them to offer a fair settlement.

7. Is it Possible to Sue a Truck Driver’s Trucking Company?

Yes, but not always. When considering a legal remedy after an accident, you must know whom to hold liable for giving you just compensation. If a truck driver injures you, an important consideration is if they are employed by someone other than themself. This is because, generally, under legal theory, an employer can be responsible for the wrongful acts committed by their employees.

This legal theory is known as respondeat superior, which is a Latin phrase translating into “let the employer answer.” In some situations, you may apply this theory and sue the trucking company, but in others, you might not.

To pursue this theory, you must establish that the truck driver who injured you was working for a trucking company when they caused you injury. Additionally, the truck driver must be within the scope of their employment.

For example, if a truck driver is off the clock and causes you injury in a personal vehicle, you generally cannot sue the trucking company for your injuries. On the other hand, if a truck driver injuries you while performing a routine delivery within the scope of their employment, you would generally be able to hold the trucking company liable for your injuries.

One additional consideration needed is if the truck driver is an independent contractor. Under the legal theory of respondeat superior, independent contractors may or may not be beholden to their employer. Generally, if the employer contracting the independent contractor exercises significant control and supervision over the driver, they bear more responsibility for the injuries their drivers cause.

There are situations in which it is perfectly reasonable to hold a truck driver’s company liable for your injuries, but there are other situations in which it is impossible. Each case is different and requires a legal assessment of the facts.

If a truck accident harmed you or a loved one in Minnesota, do not hesitate to contact a personal injury attorney today and receive an initial case evaluation free of charge.