Guide to a Truck Crash Lawsuit2019-11-25T19:25:15+00:00

Your Guide to a Truck Crash Lawsuit

A note from the author

Kevin Coluccio
Kevin ColuccioAttorney, Coluccio Law

We created this truck crash lawsuit guide to help our clients – and others – who have been involved in a life-changing truck crash. Understanding the basics of the legal process and the commercial trucking industry can help you make the best possible decisions for your future.

You may notice that we don’t use the word “accident” in this guide. In my 30+ years of representing injured people and their families, I have seen so much devastation caused by truck crashes. Most were not inevitable, unforeseeable “accidents”: they were the very predictable results of bad roads, bad vehicles, or bad driving choices. These preventable crashes result in thousands of injuries and deaths every year.

My firm, Coluccio Law, is dedicated to creating real and positive change in people’s lives. We take on a limited number of cases so that we can offer high-quality, personalized legal service — and get the best possible results for each client.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to contact me with questions.

Understanding the basics

For the sake of simplicity, we will often refer to commercial motor vehicles collectively as “trucks”, but this may include any of the following vehicles.

  • Semi-truck and trailer(s): a combination of a tractor unit and one or more trailers, likely the most common commercial vehicles.
  • Tanker truck: a trailer for hauling liquids, fuels and gases, which may be hazardous materials.
  • Flatbed truck: an open bed that hauls various, often oversized loads.
  • Dump truck and trailer(s): vehicles for hauling dirt, rock and debris, usually associated with construction.
  • Garbage and recycling trucks: single truck units run by companies contracted by local governments or municipalities for hauling waste.
  • Tow trucks: vehicles with tow bars or flatbeds used to remove disabled vehicles.
  • Buses: private operators or common carriers used to transport passengers.
  • Wide turn: when the rear end of a semi-truck trailer runs into a vehicle or over a passenger; also called off-tracking.
  • Jackknife: when a semi-truck trailer skids towards the truck cab at a 90-degree angle.
  • Tires blowout or comes lose: when a tire explodes or comes off the semi-truck or trailer.
  • Rear-end : when a driver fails to stop, and strikes the rear of a vehicle in front of the truck.
  • Blind spot: when a driver changes lane without assuring that it is safe to do so.
  • Rollover: when a driver loses control, and the truck slides and rolls over onto its side.
  • Load shift: when an improper load or unsecured load causes a driver to lose control.
  • Head-on: when a driver moves into oncoming traffic, creating an unavoidable collision.
  • Intersection crash: when driver fails to stop at a stop sign, yield the right of way, or runs a red light.
  • Failed route: when semi-truck or trailer en route causes damage to persons or property because of an unsafe route.
  • Failed braking: when a driver is unable to brake prior to hitting another vehicle or other property.

These are the most common causes of truck crashes. You may see one or more of these causes referenced in legal documents.

  • Speeding: the driver is operating the vehicle too fast for the road and traffic conditions;
  • Improper following distance: the driver fails to provide a proper following distance, which would allow for a safe stopping distance.
  • Improper lane change:  the driver fails to see a car in a lane next to his semi-truck and trailer and moves into the path of the car.
  • Improper maintenance: the failure to maintain the semi-truck and trailer in a safe condition that results in tire failure, braking failure or another mechanical failure.
  • Improper turn: the driver fails to anticipate and plan for “off-tracking” where the rear wheels of the trailer “cut” a corner.
  • Failed route planning: the failure to review and plan a route, which allows for the safe transport of the load.
  • Failure to recognize a hazard: failure to anticipate and recognize danger.
  • Failure to anticipate hazardous weather conditions:  failure to review and plan for weather conditions, which is required.
  • Inadequate or improper training:  failure to have the necessary training, skill and experience to safely operate the vehicle.
  • Negligent driving:  unsafe and careless driving, disregarding the safety of others.
  • Distracted driving: distraction from the focused operation of the vehicle.
  • Sleep deprivation: evidence fatigue or lack of sleep that contributes to delayed response time.

What happens after a major truck crash

Law enforcement should do a detailed investigation of any major crash. But officers have limited time and resources, and may be working multiple crash scenes at a time. They often miss key facts, witnesses or evidence.

If you have given a statement to an officer, or to an insurance adjuster, be sure to tell your lawyer. It is common for people who are in shock or in serious pain to make statements that could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. It is best to not give a statement until you have consulted with an attorney.

Quick tip: you have the right to talk to a lawyer before talking to an insurance adjuster. 

You need to be careful, even when it seems very clear that the truck driver caused the crash.

Trucking companies and motor carriers respond immediately and aggressively to crashes. They often send insurance investigators, their own company safety directors, trucking experts and a risk management team to the scene.

While injured people or surviving families are dealing with pain and losses, the trucking company is already working to gather evidence and witnesses for their defense. They are preparing for litigation—and you should be, too.

Because there are so many parties involved, it is very rare for injured people to successfully represent themselves in a truck crash case.

Hiring a lawyer

Crashes involving commercial vehicles are complex and involve unique federal and state laws and regulations different from those that apply to motor vehicle crashes.

Quick tip:  Plaintiff lawyers work on a “contingency fee” basis.

Your lawyer does not get paid a fee unless and until your case is resolved.

Hiring a lawyer as soon as possible after a crash can help. In previous cases, we have located witnesses not listed on the police report, discovered evidence not identified by law enforcement, and pinpointed causes of the crash that different from those concluded by law enforcement.

  • Contacting witnesses.
  • Getting photographs and measurements of the scene.
  • Preserving evidence.
  • Retaining crash experts who can offer professional testimony to the court on crash causes and contributing factors.
  • Locate the ECM, and have the crash information correctly downloaded.
  • Help you document your losses and injuries.
  • Review and resolve insurance problems.
  • Deal with insurance company adjusters.

Quick tip: you must send an official letter to the motor carrier requesting that they do not destroy or alter evidence— including the truck itself.

When you hire an attorney to represent your legal interests in a truck crash claim, they send letters of representation to the insurance companies. Tell anyone who contacts you about the crash, the claim, or your injuries, to talk to your lawyer.

After investigating, and gathering all the reports, bills and records, your lawyer will consult with expert witnesses to assess your claim.

When the injured people are recovered or medically stationary, the firm will commonly prepare a demand for settlement. If a person was killed in the crash, there are different legal formalities for opening an estate and calculating damages.

The insurance companies will review the demand, and may make an offer to settle your case.

But most of the time, your lawyer will need to file a complaint with the court.

Filing a truck crash lawsuit

Your attorney will prepare and file a complaint, which officially opens your lawsuit.

The plaintiff is the injured party, and the defendant caused or contributed to the truck crash.

Common defendants in a truck crash lawsuit:

  • The truck driver.
  • The motor carrier who owns the truck, and may employ the trucker.
  • A broker or shipper who owns the goods being transported.
  • The company that loaded the truck, or secured the loaded truck.
  • The maintenance shop that performed work on the truck or parts.

After the complaint is filed, the court sets a trial date and assigns deadlines for notifying the other parties, depositions, and mediation.

Your lawyer’s office will communicate with you to answer questions for discovery and prepare for a deposition.

The legal process for a truck crash lawsuit can take a long time, even several years. You can help keep your case on track by quickly responding to questions and providing documents to your lawyer’s office.

However, remember that the lawsuit process was purposefully designed to take a long time. Courts encourage parties to resolve disputes and come to a settlement agreement. A trial is supposed to be the final option, used only when other methods of resolution have failed.

Throughout your case, it is important that you trust your lawyer to have your best interest in mind.

Glossary of truck crash lawsuit terms

Commercial Driver License (CDL):2019-10-11T21:04:59+00:00

A license allowing a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, issued by the driver’s resident state.

Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV):2019-10-11T21:06:10+00:00
  • A vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds;
  • A vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver;
  • A vehicle designed to transport 11 or more passengers, including the driver, and used to transport students under age 21 to and from school; or
  • Any vehicle transporting hazardous materials, which is required to be placarded.
Complaint:2019-10-11T21:07:14+00:00

The formal legal document filed with a court to open a civil lawsuit.

Damages:2019-10-11T21:07:32+00:00

Financial compensation for a person who suffered injury or loss, determined by a settlement agreement between parties or by a jury at trial.

Defendant:2019-10-11T21:07:59+00:00

The person or company against whom the plaintiff files a lawsuit.

Demand:2019-10-12T00:35:37+00:00

The document prepared by your lawyer that describes the event and details the injuries and damages so that the parties may negotiate a settlement before a lawsuit is filed.

Deposition:2019-10-12T00:36:01+00:00

An in-person interview of a party or witness, conducted under oath.

Discovery:2019-10-12T00:36:56+00:00

The process of obtaining facts, documents and evidence from other parties in a lawsuit, including:

  •  interrogatories,
  • requests for production,
  • and depositions.
Driver log:2019-10-12T00:37:31+00:00

The required documentation of the hours in which a driver operates and rests during his/her travel.

Electronic Control Module (ECM):2019-10-12T00:37:52+00:00

A small electrical component on a truck that provides pre-crash, post-crash information about speed, braking and other data -similar to the black box on an airplane.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA): 2019-10-12T00:38:46+00:00

The federal government agency responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of motor carriers commercial drivers and commercial motor vehicles.

See: What does the FMCSA do?

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR):2019-10-12T00:39:04+00:00

The rules issued by the FMCSA, the minimum regulations for motor carriers and commercial drivers.

Interrogatories:2019-10-12T00:39:31+00:00

Written sets of questions and answers exchanged by parties as part of discovery.

These are often accompanied by requests for relevant documents – requests for production.

Interstate:2019-10-12T00:39:49+00:00

The transport of goods by a business in one of the following ways:

  • From one state to another;
  • From one state to a place outside of the U.S.;
  • From one state through another state or a place outside of the U.S.; or
  • Between two places in a state as part of trade, traffic, or transportation that starts or ends in another state or a place outside of the U.S.
Intrastate:2019-10-12T00:40:10+00:00

The transport of goods by a business exclusively within a state.

Litigation:2019-10-12T00:40:30+00:00

The legal process of resolving disputes by negotiation and/or the court system.

Major Accident Investigation Team (MAIT):2019-10-12T00:40:47+00:00

The law enforcement unit sent to investigate a crash involving serious injuries or fatalities.

Mediation:2019-10-12T00:41:06+00:00

A meeting between the lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant, with a neutral third party (mediator) who tries to help resolve the case.

Mediation is required in Washington State cases.

Motor Carrier:2019-10-12T00:41:27+00:00

A company that employs commercial drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles.

Plaintiff:2019-10-12T00:41:50+00:00

The person or party filing a claim or lawsuit for damages after a truck crash.

Safety Director:2019-10-12T00:42:05+00:00

A person employed by a motor carrier to train its drivers and to investigate incidents, including crashes.

Statute of Limitations:2019-10-12T00:42:26+00:00

A law (statute) limiting the time an injured person has to file a lawsuit. In Washington State, injury claims must be filed within 3 years after the date of the incident. However, there are exceptions depending on the type of claim, or the age of the victim, or other factors.

Washington State Patrol (WSP):2019-10-12T00:42:46+00:00

The Washington State law enforcement agency that usually investigates major truck crashes.

Witness (Expert):2019-10-12T00:43:01+00:00

A person hired to review the facts of a particular aspect of your case and give opinions, based on their education and expertise.

Witness (fact):2019-10-12T00:43:18+00:00

A person who may give evidence of facts to the court, usually a witness to the crash.

About Coluccio Law

Coluccio Law is a premier Pacific Northwest law firm dedicated to representing plaintiffs in truck crash lawsuits.

For more than three decades, lead attorney Kevin Coluccio has been working to protect seriously injured people and the families of those who have died. He has extensive experience working on cases involving commercial vehicles, professional drivers and motor carriers, and a detailed knowledge of the relevant laws, duties and regulations.

Kevin Coluccio’s work has earned over $300 million dollars for his clients.

Questions? Send a message.