Due to size disparities and the basic laws of physics, any collision between a commercial truck and a passenger car is likely to result in serious injuries and significant property damage.
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If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, you may not fully understand your legal options or what to expect in the civil justice system. The following information provides a basic overview as to how a truck accident lawsuit normally proceeds.
An experienced lawyer at Steelman, Gaunt & Horsefield, Attorneys at Law in Rolla, MO, will be able to answer any specific questions you might have about your particular truck accident case.
A personal injury action arising from a commercial vehicle accident will begin with a complaint, usually accompanied by a summons. A complaint is a legal document that lays out the claims that the "plaintiff" (the person or business bringing the lawsuit) has against the "defendant(s)" (the person, people or legal entity being sued). The summons lets the defendant know who the plaintiff is, in what court the case is being brought and how long the defendant has to respond to the complaint. In short, the complaint tells why the defendant is being sued, and the summons gives the defendant guidance about how to reply.
The defendant has to file an answer within a certain time (usually less than 21 days) after receiving the summons and complaint. The defendant's response must include what portions of the complaint, if any, the defendant admits to, what specifically the defendant contests, what defenses the defendant may have to any of the allegations made in the complaint, and whether the defendant has claims against the plaintiff or any other party. Along with the answer, the defendant may include a counterclaim against the plaintiff, or a related third party claim against another person or business.
Instead of filing an answer, a defendant could file a motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss can raise a number of defenses that, if proven, would warrant that the case be dropped. These include: lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, lack of jurisdiction over the person, insufficiency of process, insufficiency of service of process, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and failure to join a party.
If the defendant does not respond to the complaint within the allotted time frame, the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant. When the defendant's answer contains a counterclaim or a third-party claim, the party against whom that claim is made also has to answer within a certain time.
In most lawsuits, the majority of the effort and time is spent on discovery. This is the process in which parties exchange documents and other information about the issues relevant to the litigation. Discovery can take four forms: written interrogatories (questions which must be answered under oath); document production; requests for admissions (asking the other party to admit certain facts); and depositions (formally transcribed and sworn statements taken in front of a court reporter or other court officer). If discovery disputes arise, parties can bring motions for the court to rule upon, like motions requesting that the other side be compelled to provide requested information.
After the end of the discovery process, in many cases, one or both of the parties may try to dispose of the case (or a portion of it) with a motion for summary judgment. Basically, facts that are not in dispute (either because the parties agree upon them or because application of the law to the facts dictates a particular result) are presented to the court, and then the court must decide if the case can move forward.
Resolution of the lawsuit
The parties can voluntarily resolve all their issues through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) such as mediation or a negotiated settlement instead of proceeding to court. The parties could also agree to binding arbitration. Some states require litigants to go through some form of ADR before proceeding to trial.
If the parties cannot come to an agreement using ADR methods, and the matter is not disposed of by motion, the case will go to trial. In most civil cases, either party can choose to have a jury. At trial, the attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge or jury then decides any unresolved issues. Once a decision has been reached, the judge will order that a judgment be entered.
Either or both parties can appeal a judge's decision to a higher court, but it is fairly uncommon for civil cases to be overturned by appellate courts. Importantly, negotiated settlements and arbitration awards usually cannot be appealed if both parties agreed to the terms beforehand.
How your own liability may affect the outcome
Even if you were careless and partly caused an accident with a commercial truck, in most states you can still get at least some compensation from anyone else who was also careless and partly responsible for the accident. The amount of the other person's liability for the accident is determined by comparing his or her carelessness with your own. That party's portion of liability determines the percentage of the resulting damages he or she must pay. This rule of apportioning responsibility is known as "comparative negligence" or "comparative fault." In most jurisdictions, you cannot recover anything if your own carelessness or negligence was 50 percent or more responsible for the accident.
There is no set formula for arriving at a precise percentage of each side's comparative negligence. During negotiations, your attorney, the other side's attorney and your respective insurance adjusters will discuss all of the factors that might have caused the accident. At that point, the question of your own carelessness or negligence will be considered, along with all the other factors that determine how much your claim is worth, such as the seriousness of your injuries, your past and future medical expenses, the extent of the property damage involved, etc.).
Speak to a trucking accident lawyer
It is hard to say how long all these steps will take in your particular commercial truck accident case. The entire process can take from as little as a few months if a negotiated or mediated settlement can be reached, to as long as a few years for highly contested litigation. Generally speaking, the less money at stake, and the more issues that can be resolved before trial, the smoother and faster the lawsuit will proceed. An experienced attorney at Steelman, Gaunt & Horsefield, Attorneys at Law in Rolla, MO, can explain all the steps involved in truck accident litigation and can effectively guide you through each stage.
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