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Clients with every kind of case often want to ask how much their claim is worth. As I have explained elsewhere on this site, case values are analyzed on a case by case basis.
The math changes drastically when dealing with a corporate defendant and cases have significantly more value according to juries.
First, let’s discuss typical car accident case evaluation so we can understand how it differs from trucking cases. If we were to discuss the most common variety of car accident claim, it would be a moderate impact with soft tissue injury that healed up completely after Emergency room care, primary care physician or orthopedist and physical therapy. Although it is unfair to describe that experience as cookie-cutter because when you are the victim going through it, it is no fun, that is what the industry does. Most insurance companies will look at a generic soft tissue injury involving repair bills over $2500 as having a modest value. What does that mean? If you have ER and physical therapy totaling around $5,000 then you would see an insurer of last resort like United Auto come in with an offer between $5,000 and $6,500. A higher-end insurance company would still evaluate the case at around $7500-10,000, depending on the circumstances. In my experience, a jury will award around $12,000 to $15,000 if you go all the way to trial. (although you have to remember you pay increased attorneys fees and litigation costs in litigation so do not lose sight of your net in pocket number)
Cases involving confirmed disc herniations, torn ACLs, torn meniscus, torn rotator cuffs, and broken legs are worth far more, obviously. The question of value always comes down to how does the jury feel about the severity of your experience.
Now, take the same exact fact pattern but imagine that the defendant who hit you was a semi-truck 18 wheeler. The same case has a settlement above $25,000 and with the right facts, can be worth in excess of $40,000. Why is that? There are a few key reasons.
1) Who is the Defendant:
In Georgia, you cannot tell the jury that there is car insurance protecting the defendant. When you file suit, you cannot sue the insurance company, only the driver. As a result, when you go to trial, there is a human being sitting at the other table. The jury may not assume that insurance will pay for the judgment being rendered. They may hesitate to financially cripple a nice defendant.
In a trucking case against an 18 Wheeler Driver, the suit is against the driver and the company both. For cases against interstate carriers, you can actually name the insurance company as a defendant in what we call a direct action. Juries have an innate anger against truck drivers as everyone has had at least one near-miss with them. More importantly, they know that the company can afford to pay the judgment either from their own finances or they will assume that the tractor-trailer carrier has insurance to cover the verdict.
2) Records and Rules:
When you sue a defendant driving a passenger car, they are subject to the rules of the road and little else. Speeding, failure to yield following too closely, don’t text and driver. That’s the size of things. In egregious cases involving drunk driving, there are different rules in play, but for basic car accidents in Atlanta, the rules are simple.
When it comes to tractor-trailers, it is a completely different ballgame. First, 18 wheelers are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. This is a series of rules passed by the Department of Transportation with Congress behind it and all drivers are subject to the requirements. See our detailed article on some of the Federal Regulations that apply to tractor-trailers in Georgia.
a) Tractor-trailer drivers have to stay in the rightmost two lanes on an interstate. This is a state law and is a CDL manual requirement. If they are outside of those lanes, they are in violation of the law.
b) A truck should not follow another truck or any motor
vehicle pulling another motor vehicle closer than 300 feet.
c) “Left Turns: Slow down when making a left turn. You must get into the lane nearest the centerline. Make sure no one is attempting to pass you. Look for traffic
approaching toward you, and to the left and right. Your vehicle should be just
to the right of the centerline as you make your left turn. Watch your off-track
while you are turning.”
d) “Know where you want to turn ahead of time. Never make a last-minute
decision. Check both mirrors for other vehicles and pedestrians to
determine if it is safe.”
Taking the last example, we have a case involving a motorcycle rider who was killed in Atlanta when a tractor-trailer took a left turn from the right lane of a road with 2 lanes in each direction. The motorcycle rider could not avoid the truck and died in the collision. Had the tractor-trailer driver just checked his mirrors, he would have seen the motorcycle behind him and stopped his turn. Then again, had he not been turning left from the right lane, he never would have put the motorcycle rider in the position either.
The point is that there are numerous rules that unsafe semi drivers break that lead to bad accidents. A jury is much more inclined to an award a full verdict for damages if they can see clear rules that were violated by the defendant.
Even soft tissue cases against tractor-trailer companies have significant value. Examples of smaller trucking cases in the last year:
Immense for the client.
In a case settled in October 2014 by a law firm we will not name, the lawyer under settled the case because they are inexperienced at trial. The facts were a bobtail tractor-trailer sideswiped a car. Liability was admitted. The plaintiff had er care followed by a double level cervical fusion. That is a very serious surgery with lifelong implications. The plaintiff had $160,000 in medical bills. The lawyer settled the case for $390,000. For a tractor-trailer defendant with major surgery, the value should have been at least $750,000, if not $1,250,000. The reality is, there are a lot of lawyers with no backbone who would rather take less than half the value rather than associate a competent trial lawyer. As a plaintiff, you need to demand to see evidence that the lawyer you are working with actually tries cases in a courtroom. Ask them who their last Judge was and call the Judge’s office to confirm the case was tried to jury.
The bottom line is when you are considering hiring a lawyer for an Atlanta tractor-trailer accident, sit down with them in person and ask detailed questions about their strategy and mastery of the rules applicable to commercial truck drivers.