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Should you settle or file a lawsuit after a truck accident?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted November 19th, 2015

Serious commercial truck accidents – and serious cover-ups –are more common than you may think

truck lawsuit

I received a call earlier this week to voluntarily mediate a truck accident pre-lawsuit where I represent a man who was critically injured. Unfortunately, the first thing that came to my mind was the question of what negligent acts the attorney wants to bury by trying to settle the case early.

And that thought comes from lots of experience watching trucking companies and the attorneys who represent injury victims and families of those who were killed try to bury or hide incriminating documents or sweep negligent acts under the rug.

According to the FMCSA, in 2013, there were 30,057 fatal crashes on the nation’s roadways, 3,806 (12.7%) of which involved at least one large truck or bus. In addition, there were an estimated 5,657,000 nonfatal crashes, 385,000 (6.8%) of which involved at least one large truck or bus.

Previous studies have shown that in most cases, these truck accidents are largely a result of driver error. Often, most wrecks involving 18-wheelers are due to:

  • Truck driver fatigue,
  • Inexperienced truck drivers,
  • Distracted driving,
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol, medication, and
  • Failing to safely signal or failure to correctly turn the truck.

The cost of medical care in catastrophic truck wreck cases alone can easily reach into the millions of dollars.  And when the injuries appear so serious, sometimes the insurance adjusters try to contact the accident victims. Or attorneys representing the trucking company attempt to reach the plaintiff’s attorney to offer pre-mediation as an alternative to filing a lawsuit. From there, the question many inexperienced attorneys and lay people will often ask  is, “Do I sue or should I try to settle out of court?”

The truth is, there’s no cookie cutter answer to this question. In fairness, there are experienced defense lawyers I know well who I have litigated prior cases with and we can reach a fair settlement without having to file a lawsuit from time to time.

But the risks are much higher in truck wreck cases, especially those involving injury or wrongful death, than with other types of cases. In the cases where I agree to pre-mediate, I make sure to still obtain the driver logs and personnel file, fuel and trip receipts and other critical records that can prove critical to obtaining a fair settlement.  And I make sure to do all of this before they can be legally destroyed by the defense attorney.  I would never agree to voluntarily settle a truck accident case without this evidence, and it is almost certainly legal malpractice for any attorney who would. There can be incriminating documents that can add millions of dollars to a case and that can establish negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent entrustment, or other serious acts of negligence to a case.

If you’ve been injured in an accident with a tractor-trailer and need legal advice on how to proceed with your case, including whether to try to settle early or file a lawsuit, feel free to contact us. We are here to answer all of your questions, free of charge.


Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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