When people are hurt in a truck accident, they know that the law empowers them to seek compensation even if they don't know the nuts and bolts of how that's done. What they may not realize is that there are many ways that an accident victim can damage their case before they ever begin the process of seeking compensation. In this article we will cover the five most common mistakes that people commit which might sabotage their case.
The 5 Mistakes Truck Accident Victims Should Avoid
1. Trying to Be Your Own Lawyer
Few truck accident victims, no matter how smart or generally self-sufficient, are equipped to successfully represent themselves in a case against the truck driver (and trucking company) that harmed them. The nuances and technical requirements of court take years of training and practice to understand and navigate, and the system is by its nature designed for attorneys—one or many of whom will certainly represent the trucking company. Victims who choose to go it alone will find themselves at a huge disadvantage.
Consider an example: If someone claimed to have a serious back injury after a collision with an 18-wheeler, the trucking company's defense might hire a medical expert to look at the treatment records and say the injury's not as bad as the victim claimed. If the victim chose to represent themselves, would they have thought ahead and hired their own medical expert to support their claim? Would they have the necessary documentation for evidence, and know how it must be organized and submitted so that the evidence is admissible? Are they familiar with the rules of procedure there?
This isn't about putting lawyers on a pedestal; I'm only pointing out that if a job must be done a specific way, it's usually best left to trained professionals. Folks may feel that a favorable police report or even just common sense are enough to prove their point and a lawyer isn't necessary, but they are almost always unprepared to go toe-to-toe with a seasoned trucking defense attorney. Nevertheless, some take the leap and learn to their dismay that they shouldn't have.
2. Sending Medical Bills and Records to the Defendant's Insurer
Your medical bills are evidence. One implication of that reality is that like any evidence, they are subject to scrutiny by your opponent and must be introduced in court in a very specific ceremonial way or a jury will never be allowed to see them. When an insurance adjuster asks you for a copy of your medical bills, they make it seem as if they merely want them to get a total of what they owe you. In reality what they're saying is "Please give me unfettered access to some of the most important evidence in your case so that I can have a head start in undermining that evidence before you ever even sue my client."
As Admiral Ackbar famously said in Star Wars, "It's a trap!"
3. Putting off Hiring a Lawyer
In our experience, those who stay appropriately skeptical of insurance companies' outreach and also decide not to represent themselves may still wait too long to reach out to an attorney. The longer they put off making that call, the more damage it can do to a case. Their reasons for delaying may vary, but here are some of the most common:
- "I'm waiting to see what the police report says." People are sometimes surprised when we explain that the police report is rarely the true and final word of a crash. Dedicated and skilled as many officers are, some jurisdictions simply don't have the resources to train or equip them for a full analysis of a wreck. That can lead to incomplete or even incorrect reports, and only further careful investigation (the kind hired attorneys get straight to work on) might set the record straight. Furthermore, a trucking company is highly unlikely to take the same "wait and see" approach. If there's a chance they might be found responsible for the damage done in an 18-wheeler accident, they and their insurer will send private investigators to find evidence to the contrary. To counter that effort, victims and families must often seek experts and investigators of their own. Waiting for police to deliver useful answers even as the company is building a defense may mean it's too late to use those answers by the time they arrive—if they do at all.
- "I want to see what the insurance company offers me." Insurance companies reach out to people as a pre-emptive tactic to try and head off a potential lawsuit, but they will almost inevitably offer less than a victim's case could ultimately be worth (or try to trick the victim into doing or saying things that will sink the case before it gets started). They won't deal squarely with you, so waiting on them to make the first move isn't time well spent.
- "I'm waiting until my medical treatment is over." The idea of dealing with doctors on one side and lawyers on another may seem intimidating, but if you were seriously hurt in a truck accident then that truth is there may be no clear and definite end to your treatment—at least not for quite some time. Nevertheless, there's only so much time in which you can file a case after your accident (2 years in Texas) and evidence of it will get harder to find every day. The insurance company may say there's little they can do until they have all the treatment records and bills to examine, but victims can take proactive steps of their own during that period.
4. Trusting the Trucker's Insurance Company
Even if a truck driver seems obviously responsible for an accident and the resulting injuries, their employer will almost inevitably fight tooth and nail to avoid liability. Standing beside them in every case is their insurance company, who will do everything it can to represent its client's interests.
After truck accidents, that means the insurer does what it can to get the trucking company off the hook or downplay its liability. Some strategies for that are under-handed, such as contacting the victim and pretending to be on their side while secretly looking for ways to sabotage the claim. Below are a few of the methods we've seen them use.
- "Accepting" liability. Folks should always be wary of an insurance company quickly agreeing to accept liability of any sort after a truck accident. In some cases that's a lead-in to an unfairly low settlement offer, while in others the liability they refer to relates only to property damage—a completely different issue than liability for an injury claim, yet if a victim believes the company's acceptance also covers their injuries then they may let time and evidence get away from them without realizing they were hoodwinked.
Even if an insurance adjuster does say something like "We'll take care of everything, so don't worry about your medical bills," understand that's not binding. The aim is to make things sound like an attorney's help isn't necessary and the whole thing is just a misunderstanding that can be smoothed over in time. People who believe those lines may later find the company will not only renege on its promise to cover medical bills, but also will deny other claims like lost wages or pain and suffering.
- Offering you an advance on a settlement. If an insurer can't fully clear their client of liability, they'll at least try to minimize its obligation. In those cases they reach out to truck accident victims and make quick, low-figure settlement offers or an advance on a "TBD" settlement, not clarifying that taking either generally means accepting unfair terms and being blocked from pursuing further damages if the victim's injuries worsen.
To people in urgent need of money for rent, bills, lost wages, or whatever else may be lagging behind after their injuries or loss, a quick resolution may seem like a lifeline. However, those agreements inevitably favor the insurer: Either they tie up a loose end for a fraction of what it might have cost them, or letting the victim think it over may buy them useful time to build a better defense.
- Promising to pay for your medical bills. The insurance adjuster assigned to your case could very well try to "buddy up" with you and act like your friend, saying something like, "Don't worry about all of those medical expenses. We'll take care of them." That adjuster is actually trying to make you think that you won't need an attorney to have your medical bills covered, and later you'll find the insurance company not only won't pay your medical bills, but will deny your rightful claims for lost wages and pain and suffering.
5. Assuming You Can Hold Out until the Insurer Makes a Good Offer
An insurer may try and drag out a case until its statute of limitations expires; once that happens, a victim will be barred from filing a claim. Some of the stall tactics insurance companies use include (but are not limited to):
- Claiming they're still investigating and/or evaluating the case;
- Saying they need to locate and interview witnesses;
- Saying they need time to discuss a course of action with their clients;
- Suggesting they can't make a settlement offer until your medical treatment is complete;
- If an offer was rejected, saying they're working on putting a new one together;
- Demanding an absurd quantity of paperwork that will take a lot of time and effort to get; and
- Trying to convince you that you have no case, often misrepresenting the applicable laws to take advantage of people's legal inexperience.
Their methods may vary, but in every case the point is to string out "negotiations" with someone as the clock ticks down. The tactic is simple, but unfortunately quite effective if the company isn't forced to act.
Don't Let This Happen to You - Call Grossman Law Offices
It may not come as a shock when a lawyer says people hurt in truck accidents should seek legal help as soon as possible, but that's the simple truth. We get calls every day from people who thought their situation was too straightforward to need legal help, yet they were often unhappily surprised by obstinate trucking companies, undermining insurance tactics, and court protocols they weren't ready for.
Obstacles like those are where a skilled and experienced truck accident attorney can make a great deal of difference. Lawyers who represent 18-wheeler accident victims, like the attorneys at Grossman Law, won't fall for insurance company deflections or trucking company denials, but the first step toward getting them in your corner is to reach out. If you were hurt or lost someone in an accident with an 18-wheeler, the Texas truck accident lawyers at Grossman Law may be able to help. Call any time for a free and confidential consultation.