Given the size discrepancy between commercial tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles, it is easy to see why the majority of injuries and deaths in accidents involving the two generally affect the occupants of the passenger vehicles. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety explains:
- Commercial trucks are 20 to 30 percent heavier than a passenger vehicle
- These trucks require 20 to 40 percent more distance to come to a safe stop
- Semi-trucks have a higher ground clearance, providing enough space for a smaller vehicle to slide beneath them in an accident
- Commercial trucks make wide turns, causing a risk to other drivers in adjacent travel lanes
- These trucks also have large blind spots on all four sides so that the driver may not see other vehicles traveling alongside it
In one recent year, about 450,000 crashes involved commercial trucks in the United States, and 23 percent of these crashes involved injuries. If you were injured in a truck accident, you’ve likely had well-meaning friends and acquaintances suggest that you should contact a truck accident attorney and sue the truck driver. While this may constitute an option available to you, how can you know for sure? Here are some questions to ask a truck accident lawyer to learn more about your rights.
Schedule Your Free Consultation
Cases involving individuals who have been injured in accidents involving commercial motor vehicles fall under the umbrella of personal injury law. Accident victims hoping to recover compensation for their injuries should therefore seek out a personal injury lawyer with experience in truck accident cases. Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation for prospective clients. This is the opportunity for injured accident victims to describe their truck accident to a lawyer and to ask questions about how the lawyer might help them.
You can find listings of personal injury attorneys who are licensed to practice in your state and who are located close to you through a simple internet search. Look at the websites of the attorneys presented, and read reviews of their services that have been written by former clients, to come up with a shortlist of candidates who have specific experience in handling truck accident matters. When you find two or three attorneys that you’d like to meet with, call to schedule a consultation. Not every attorney provides consultations for free, so be sure to ask if there are any fees associated with the meeting before agreeing to a time.
While consultations are extremely helpful for both the prospective client and the attorney, time is limited. Once you’ve scheduled your consultation, you will want to prepare for the meeting. Part of this preparation means gathering all of the documentation you have about your case, including the police report, any photos taken at the scene, medical or car repair bills you’ve already received, and an accounting of the wages you’ve lost due to being too injured to work or required to miss work for medical appointments.
Part of this preparation also includes writing down a list of questions you want to ask the attorney. Below is a sample list of questions, along with the reason why this question is important.
Questions You Should Ask
What Is Your Experience With Cases Like Mine?
The attorney will likely give you a quick rundown of his or her experience with the law, including how long he or she has been practicing. While general legal experience is important, it is equally important that he or she has experience specifically with truck accidents. Truck accidents are not quite the same as other motor vehicle accidents, due to the amount of insurance truck drivers are required to have, the federal and state regulations they’re required to follow, and the higher chance that the trucker who caused your accident isn’t local.
Truck accidents often produce multiple liable parties and motor carriers often employ corporate attorneys to protect them from legal claims made against their drivers. The injuries caused by truck accidents are often more severe than those caused by other types of motor vehicle accidents and may result in permanent disability. These are all issues that an attorney learns about through experience. Be wary of an attorney who has never represented the victim of a truck accident or has limited experience in this practice area.
How Many of Your Truck Accident Matters Have Settled Favorably?
You may have heard it, and it’s true: The majority of personal injury cases—including truck accident cases—settle before they ever reach the courtroom. Because of this, your attorney needs only have experience with truck accident cases, but also experience with negotiating a favorable settlement for one. The attorney you meet with should provide information about how many truck accident cases he or she has settled favorably, as well as the value of many of those settlements (though not all, since some of them are confidential).
How Many Truck Accident Cases Have You Taken to Trial?
Although most accident cases settle out of court, an experienced truck accident attorney should be comfortable with the notion of taking your case to trial, and confident in his or her ability to guide it to a successful outcome in the courtroom. In addition to asking about the attorney’s comfort level, you should also inquire about past jury verdicts he or she has obtained for truck accident clients at trial.
How Many Cases Does Your Firm Represent Each Year?
Be wary of small law firms that take on too many cases at a time. Every case requires—and deserves—personal attention and focus, which is often hard to get if a firm is trying to juggle too many cases at once. An attorney who is over-extended frequently fails to respond to client calls, misses deadlines, and underperforms in and out of court.
Do You Send Solicitation Letters to the Homes of Potential Clients?
Some law firms employ runners to deliver letters to the addresses of individuals who appear in accident reports, soliciting their business. If your lawyer needs to drum up business by pouring over accident reports and sending letters to the homes of accident victims, be wary of whether he or she has the experience and professionalism that your case deserves. Many of these lawyers work with high volumes of clients with a quick turnover of cases, which indicates a lack of personal attention and the willingness to wait for that fair settlement, even if it means going to court to get it.
Do You Have the Resources Needed to Handle My Case?
There are a lot of issues to investigate in a truck accident case. Some key evidence may constitute electronic data stored on the truck’s “black box.” Other evidence may reside in the record-keeping systems of trucking companies who are none-too-eager to cough up information. Determining fault for the accident may involve hiring experts and conducting details forensic analysis. An experienced attorney will often turn to experts in accidents, the trucking industry, and the medical field to help him or her make your case. A firm that lacks the necessary resources to uncover and analyze important evidence, and to work productively with experts, is not the firm for you.
What Are the Weaknesses in My Case?
Perfect cases are rare. Most cases have weaknesses. Whether you were partially responsible for the accident or you had a pre-existing injury, you can feel safe sharing these “unhelpful” facts with the attorney so that he or she has an opportunity to limit take them into account in giving you a sense of your rights. Everything you tell the attorney remains confidential, even if you do not hire that attorney.
What Can I Do to Make My Case Stronger?
An attorney guides you through the legal process of obtaining compensation for your injuries. However, it is still your case, and you can take steps to help it succeed. Asking the attorney what you can do to improve your chances of a successful outcome may give you additional insight into what the lawyer thinks of your case.
Is My Case Worth Pursuing?
Lawyers cannot tell you, at an initial meeting, what your claim is “worth.” It takes time to evaluate a case to determine the amount of damages a client has suffered and should seek to recover through legal action. An attorney may, however, give you a broad idea of whether the case has enough potential merit to pursue.
Will You Personally Be Representing My Case?
Many times, an experienced attorney will meet with prospective clients and then—when he or she agrees to take the case—will hand much of the work over to other, less-experienced attorneys. While the law firm’s staff is important and helpful to your case, you should find out how much involvement the attorney you meet with expects to have.
How Will You Handle Communication With Me?
Clear and helpful communication with your attorney is vital to the success of any personal injury matter. A case can progress very slowly for a time and then suddenly pick up speed. Whether things are moving fast or slow in your case, you should receive regular updates in a form that is most convenient for you. You should never have to wonder if, when, or how you will hear from your attorney.
In addition to finding out how and when communication will take place, you should also find out who your point of contact is, in case you have a question that won’t wait for the attorney to contact you.
How Do You Charge for Your Services?
Virtually all personal injury lawyers work on a contingency-fee basis. This means that you don’t pay for the lawyer’s services unless you obtain a settlement or jury award. Even so, some lawyers work for a flat fee and some charge by the hour. Ask how the lawyer charges for his or her services and what is included in those fees.
Are There Other Costs That I Need to Pay?
Even if your lawyer works on a contingent-fee basis, there may be costs during the case that you will be expected to pay. Some of those costs may include filing fees, copies, a room rental for witness depositions, or even the experts involved in the case. Be sure to ask for a list of these incidental costs so that you can properly prepare for the expense.
What Percentage of Your Cases Are Referrals From Other Lawyers?
You want an attorney who is known for providing superior services and has gained the respect of other professionals in his or her industry. Lawyers will often refer cases to other lawyers who have a strong reputation in a particular area of the law. A lawyer with a good percentage of referred cases is a lawyer who is trusted by others in the legal community.
What if the Case Doesn’t Result in a Settlement or Award?
If your case doesn’t result in compensation through a settlement or award, or you decide to hire a different attorney in the middle of the process, what happens? Will any fees be due? You should ask the attorney how he or she handles situations such as this.
How Long Does It Usually Take to Settle a Case Like Mine?
A lawyer can’t see into the future and give you a definitive answer to a question like this. But he or she can give you a rough estimate, based on the details of your case and experience from cases he or she has already represented. While you want an attorney who can get results as soon as possible, understand that personal injury cases often involve a waiting game. They can take a lot of time, and patience can work in your favor.
Do You Have References?
An experienced attorney should have many satisfied clients, and some of these clients should be happy to speak with you about their experience with the firm. Just as you wouldn’t second-guess a potential employer asking you for references to see how you work with others and how confident others are in your abilities, an attorney should not second-guess your request for references, so don’t feel uncomfortable for asking.