Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

If you polled Maryland personal injury lawyers who handle car accident cases, most would choose Allstate as the “worst of the worst” among insurance companies to deal with on accident claims.

Personally, while I would not put Allstate at the top of my list of insurance companies I want to draw, I would not put them last, either. Don’t get me wrong. They are awful, and I hate them. Our lawyers sue them and their insureds all the time. But we are speaking in relative terms? Who are the worst three insurance companies to deal with in Maryland? Allstate is not on my list.

This post gives practical thoughts about Allstate claims in Maryland and includes a plug of why you should – in serious injury cases, anyway – hire a lawyer for your Allstate injury claim.

Tractor-trailers are typically the heaviest vehicles on the road. This makes big rig trucks very dangerous. Serious injuries and fatalities are more likely in truck-related collisions than in accidents involving standard passenger vehicles only. This is why large commercial trucks are required to carry “high-limit” liability insurance coverage.  But the limits are not high enough to give truck accident victims in many cases.

Common Causes for Big Rig Truck Accidents

Accidents with big trucks can happen for all the same reasons as any other auto accident. But the unique nature of big trucks and the commercial trucking industry make certain types of accidents more common. Common accident causes that are unique to the trucking industry include:

Last month, I wrote a bit about Jury Verdict Research, which conducts studies of jury verdicts around the country.

A recent Jury Verdict Research study of trucking accidents found that truck accident victims recover damages in 60% of personal injury trials and receive a median compensatory award of $90,000.  I find the 60% number a surprise.  With all the weapons plaintiffs’ lawyers have now to prove a case — and figure out if we have one in the first place — it is hard to fathom how we can lose 40% of these cases.

The average truck accident case involving a disc injury was $122,532. In contrast, the average median verdict in a head-on truck collision case in the study was $532,034.

Big rig trucks are dangerous.  They cause serious injuries and they kill people.  Our law firm is currently handling 5 wrongful death truck uninsured motorist truckaccident cases. It is beyond awful.

I think we have established this fact on this blog. What we have not talked about specifically is the risk to truck drivers. Driving a truck was the single most hazardous occupation in the United States last year, taking 852 lives.  Logging that many hours on the road with vehicles that are tough to control… I’m surprised the number is not higher.

Large Truck Does Not Equal Large Uninsured Motorist Policy

Compounding this tragedy is the lack of uninsured motorist benefits for truck drivers.  Commercial trucks have liability insurance requirements. Most trucks must be insured at a minimum of $750,000.  (It is a crime that this cap has not been raised in the last zillion years but that is a whole different issue.)

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truck accident driving recordA new appellate opinion offers some interesting insight into the parameters under which a plaintiff may inquire about a truck driver’s driving record and the extent to which plaintiffs’ truck accident attorneys can use cross-examination fodder like the commercial driver license manual and other safety manuals.

Fact of the Case

Briefly, a man on a bicycle was killed when he was hit by a truck.  The bicyclist was making a right turn against a red light on a white pedestrian signal.  The truck hit him, and he was dragged for several hundred feet.

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truck accident suicideIn Young v. Swiney, the U.S. District Court of Maryland was presented with an interesting, albeit depressing question: Can a suicide, two years after a truck crash, be causally related to the accident?

The Facts

There was no dispute as to liability.  The defendant trucking company sought summary judgment on plaintiffs’ wrongful death claim, alleging that there was no evidence that a reasonable jury could rely upon to establish this suicide, two years after the accident, could be causally related to the crash.   Defendant also sought summary judgment for economic losses after the suicide, claiming that his death was, “a superseding and/or intervening cause” of his death that acts as a bar to future economic losses.   As creepy as that argument is, it does logically follow that that if the crash did not cause the suicide than the economic losses should, as a matter of law, be terminated as well. Continue reading

On Monday, a man calls our office. He only has a few minutes to talk. He tells our intake specialist that his brother has been at Shock Trauma in Baltimore since the beginning of the month and that he was hit by a commercial vehicle. The man briefly describes his brother’s injuries as head, eye, shoulder, and ankle.

She didn’t get more details. But he has me, obviously, at “Almost a month and counting in Shock Trauma” and “commercial truck.” Most of our large serious injury cases are truck accident cases. We set up a meeting with the brother for the next day in my office.

An hour before the meeting, the brother calls and says that the injury victim wants to be a part of the meeting, asking our intake specialist if we can move the meeting to the hospital.

I swallow hard. I’m simultaneously happy and miserable. Sure, I can now sign up for the client directly. But I really hate hospital visits. Why? Because it makes me feel like an ambulance chaser, that’s why. Many people pride themselves on not caring what anyone else thinks. I don’t. I really care – especially what health care providers think because I really have a lot of respect for them.

I’ve probably lost a lot of cases over the years of eschewing hospital visits. But last month, our firm went on a weekend retreat to the Hyatt in Cambridge, Maryland. Great place.  The purpose of our meetings there was to become a better law firm. I’m convinced that we can never stop getting better. We are blessed to have a group of people who have been together for a long time. I think experience individually and collectively gives us a chance to continue to improve. The focus of the meeting was what I call Kaiser Sose: doing the little things other people can’t or won’t do to (1) make our clients happy, and (2) increase the values of their cases. In the spirit of that meeting, which included the theme of EVERYONE having to be accountable, I have to make hospital visits when current or potential clients ask me to come.

So I drive down to Baltimore to visit the hospital. I’m planning to meet the brother in the hospital lobby. This makes me feel better because it gives me some cover other than the guy who looks like a lawyer going up alone. While I’m fidgeting in the lobby, the brother calls the office and just asks, inexplicably, if I can just come up to the room.

Shoot. Now I’m uncomfortable. But I sneak by the front desk without getting a visitor’s badge pulling off that “I am regular here, I know where I’m going” look, simultaneously feeling James Bond clever and a complete loser. Because I’m so clutch, I add difficulty by screwing up the “600-630 this way” arrow, having to suspiciously double back again. Thankfully, no one is paying attention because, you know, they are tending to badly hurt people and I’m in Baltimore City and I’m not carrying a weapon. Continue reading

Last week, in Hendrix v. Burns, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals dealt with the question of what plaintiffs’ lawyers can admit into evidence in a car accident case when the defendant stipulates to liability.

In car accident cases, many defense lawyers loathe admitting responsibility. There is always a chance that the jury will hate the plaintiff and accept some insane version of how an accident happened.

But, the best thing that can happen for the plaintiff is for the defense lawyer to deny responsibility in a case because it diminishes the defense lawyer’s credibility on the plaintiff’s injuries. If you are plaintiffs’ counsel, you want to get the jury mad at the defendant. Jurors give more money when they are mad. This is hard in traffic collision cases because it is hard for jurors to get mad at a negligent driver who makes what they can perceive to be an accident that they could easily make themselves.defendant drunk driver

Smart attorneys for plaintiff frame the case, not as an accident, but a choice the defendant made. “The defendant in this case chose not to pay attention.” But still, we all know that we have failed to pay attention while driving and it could have, under the wrong circumstances, lead to a car accident.

In Hendrix, the call to stipulate to liability was a no-brainer for State Farm who defended the case. The defendant was drunk. He tried to flee the scene of the accident, but his damaged car wouldn’t let him. He was in the middle of some road rage dispute. A picture-perfect bad guy defendant for the jury to hate.

State Farm did what they should do, file a motion in limine to exclude the introduction of evidence that the defendant was drunk, that he had been involved in a “road rage” incident with another driver and was crazily chasing that driver when he ran the red light, that defendant attempted to flee after the accident, and also that his criminal record included DUI convictions.

Plaintiff’s lawyer did what smart ones do in a case like this. He brought a battery case for the road rage, arguing that has been put to bed since law school doctrines like transferred intent. He brought a negligent entrustment count. He also smartly argued that a part of Plaintiff’s pain and suffering was seeing the defendant drunk and trying to flee the scene of the accident. This is doing everything you could do to put your client in a position to maximize her damages.

Does this have anything to do with the level of damages in a personal injury case? It depends on your world view. If you think damages should be calculated in a hermetically sealed box, it shouldn’t be admissible. From this perspective, it shouldn’t matter whether the defendant was a crackhead on his 6th DWI or a nun with a 40 years history impeccable driving.

Yet, somehow, that she was a nun would come out on direct. Why? Because the insurance defense lawyer is trying to minimize damages by suggesting that this nun is a sweetie and she will have to pay this verdict out of her pocket.

Why do we let the nun say she is a nun? Context matters. But once you agree that the fact that she is a nun should be admitted, doesn’t the dam break open when the defendant is drunk. Isn’t that context – like the nun – that the jury should consider? Continue reading

A defense lawyer who regularly defends truck accident cases was telling me recently how many plaintiffs’ lawyers rarely ask the questions that really scare him in deposition or in discovery. Car accident lawyers figure, “Hey, it is a truck accident. A truck accident is just a big car, right? It is really not. There are too many nuances to truck accident cases.

truck accident claims

Heavy trucks can be simply lethal

One typical miss: inquiry on how much the truck weighed. Some estimate that 30 percent of tractor-trailers and dump trucks are overweight. I’m guessing that is high.  Sometimes, advocates for plaintiffs get a little carried away, and the result is hyperbole.

But truck accident cases disproportionately involve overweight trucks not only because heavy trucks cause more accidents because they are less safe, but also because truck drivers and companies willing to go overweight are similarly willing to take other chances with fatigued drivers and improperly maintained trucks.

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It is easier to file a lawsuit against a trucking company than a truck driver. This is true because human beings are likely to feel more comfortable placing blame on a big business than pinning it on one, possibly sympathetic, truck driver. We humans are folksy like that.

Juries are not told of the existence of insurance in traffic collision cases, leaving the juries wondering who is footing the bill. Most juries get it, but they are not entirely sure because it seems so unbelievably odd that no one mentions insurance. The collateral source rule is not understood by the public.trucking company coverage

I had a trial once in a truck accident case where we did clearly point to the commercial defendant. He was a great guy. We tried to leave him out of it as much as possible. But after the verdict, one juror was extremely concerned that the defendant driver – who left an “I don’t have two nickels to rub together” impression – would have to pay out of his pocket after the verdict. “That nice Mr. So and So is not going to have to pay for this, is he?” The take-home message for me: you have to make crystal clear the corporate entity is the one on the hook, not the likable driver.

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