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Lawfirm of Sarah Christensen TRUCKING ACCIDENT FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q. How is a trucking case different from normal cases involving two cars?

A. In some ways they are the same, as the same types of damages are available and both involve issues of negligence (whether the driver of the vehicle or truck was using reasonable care). In other ways there are many differences. Trucks which travel in interstate commerce are subject to many federal regulations which do not apply to vehicles. Trucking companies have a responsibility to perform background checks prior to hiring drivers and must periodically evaluate existing employees. Drivers are subject to limits on the number of hours that they can drive (hours of service regulations). Drivers are also subject to testing for drugs and alcohol, both randomly and in the event of a collision. Violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMSCR) can provide the basis for establishing fault on the part of the trucking company and its driver. In cases involving severe injuries, experts in the trucking industry may be used as well as accident reconstruction experts.

Q. Do I need a lawyer if I was injured in a collision involving an eighteen wheeler?

A. A person in a wreck with a truck and suffering from minor injuries may not want to hire an attorney. Unfortunately, most cars that are involved in collisions with trucks come out on the losing side, and serious injury or death is common. Early investigation of the case by an attorney (securing witness statements, preserving evidence, even obtaining experts) may make the difference in terms of being able to prove that the trucker was at fault. The injured person may also need assistance in dealing with medical providers (who may be reluctant to provide treatment if there is no health insurance). Remember, no insurance company (whether your own company or that of the trucking company) is going to give you advice on how to protect yourself and how to ensure that you receive fair compensation for your injuries. That advice will have to come from an attorney unless you want to risk representing yourself in a matter which may have lifetime consequences. Consider whether you would really want to operate on yourself or a family member without a medical degree.

Q. How quickly should I contact an attorney?

A. To be safe, you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible, especially if the injuries are severe or a death has resulted. All too often valuable evidence disappears, witnesses move, memories grow dim and the practical ability to prove your case may diminish. If you are still being treated by a physician, an attorney can also provide you with guidance concerning your medical care and help you deal with unpaid bills and getting needed treatment.

Q. How long do I have to file a lawsuit?

A. In Colorado you would have three years from the date of the wreck. In other states you may have only one year. Because of the investigation necessary, time is still critically important, even if you do not need to file a lawsuit immediately to comply with the statute of limitations.

Q. Will it cost me anything to hire an attorney in a trucking case?

A. Sarah Christensen, as well as most others, usually accept trucking cases on a contingency basis although retainer fees at an hourly rate are also available. Contingency fees mean that the client pays no fee unless there is a recovery, in which case the client pays a fee based on a percentage of the amount recovered. The client is also not responsible for costs unless there is a recovery.

Q. Is it always necessary to file a lawsuit?

A. Most cases actually settle without the necessity of filing a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit may be necessary if fault is disputed, if formal investigation of documents and the taking of depositions (taking sworn statements from a witness or other involved party) needs to be done to properly evaluate the case, and for other strategic reasons.

Q. Are there alternatives to going to court?

A. Alternate dispute resolution (ADR) is a growing area of the law. Is it generally voluntary but can be court ordered. There are two types of ADR. One is mediation, which is a settlement conference conducted by a trained mediator. Any settlement negotiated in mediation must be agreed to by all sides. Arbitration is another form of ADR. In this instance the parties agree upon an arbitrator (normally an attorney and frequently a former judge) who will serve as the judge and jury and decide issues of fault and award damages. The findings of the arbitrator are normally binding on all parties. It is not unusual for the parties to have pre-agreed "high-low" values which are not disclosed to the arbitrator. If the arbitrator's award was below the agreed upon low amount, the award would be increased to the pre-agreed “low” value. If the arbitrator's award was above the agreed upon high value, it would be reduced to the pre-agreed “high” value.

Q. Can I make a claim for punitive damages?

A. Punitive damages are only available in instances of intentional misconduct or instances of extreme recklessness or "gross" negligence. Most cases of negligence are not obviously reckless or gross enough to qualify for punitive damages, but if the court makes punitive damages available to be awarded by the jury, they may award punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer and provide an example to discourage others from similar conduct. The financial worth of the defendant may also be considered by the jury. An example of punitive damages might be to punish a trucking company for knowingly allowing an alcoholic to operate an eighteen wheeler. Some states have limitations on the rights of a jury to award punitive damages

Q. How long does it take for a case to go to trial once it has been filed?

A. When someone files a lawsuit they get in line with everyone else who has a lawsuit pending. Normally the courts try to schedule the oldest cases first, but any scheduling has to take into account the trial schedules of all of the attorneys who are involved. Also some judges travel to different courthouses and only hold trials during certain times of the year, rotating the same courtroom among other judges. Criminal cases normally have priority over civil cases and may result in a civil case being postponed or “continued” to a new trial date. The complexity of the case may also have an effect on how soon a trial date can be obtained. It is easier to schedule a one day trial than a trial which will last two or more weeks. Waiting for their day in court can be a very frustrating experience for a litigant, especially if the trial date is rescheduled several times. Since there are so many different variables, this is a question which really must be answered on a case by case basis by your attorney.

Q. Is technology important to my case?

A. Technology is more and more important in today's world. Lawyers now use case management software to track deadlines and to provide reminders, as well as document damages, witnesses, and valuable case data. Research available over the Internet and CD's replace the massive legal libraries that once were necessary. Interoffice e-mail and Internet e-mail allows for rapid and efficient communication-- often better then utilizing the telephone. Letter and documents may be e-mailed, edited, and returned, avoiding the delays of the mail and the inability to edit fax transmissions. Laptop computers can carry images of massive numbers of documents and depositions. During trial the laptop and digital projector can be used to present video depositions, exhibits and visual aides to assist the jury in understanding often complex and technical issues. Generally, the more complex the case and the more serious the damages, the more technology can be used to maximize the odds of winning and the amount of the verdict. You should ensure that the firm you hire has the necessary technology to present your case in the most effective way possible.

Q. What if I don’t have medical insurance and am concerned about paying my medical bills or I am concerned about getting treatment that I need?

A. Even if the insurance company for the party at fault agrees that their insured was responsible, the insurance company will almost never pay your bills unless and until you settle the case. In the meanwhile, the medical providers will look to you for payment and will turn you over to a collection agency if you do not pay. The fact that the treatment was the fault of someone else does not relieve you of primary responsibility for the bill. To assist you, your attorney may be able to provide a “A letter of protection" to the medical provider or the collection agency, getting them to stop collection efforts in return for an agreement to pay the bill out of any settlement or judgment. If you need additional treatment, an attorney may be able to assist you in finding a medical provider who will treat you in return for a letter of protection.

Q. What should I look for in hiring an attorney in a trucking case?

A. Since trucking cases involve federal regulations and specialized experts may need to be hired. It is important that the lawyer be familiar with the regulations, and have prior experience in handling trucking cases. The time and expertise involved in a trucking case can be vastly greater than an ordinary “fender bender.”

Q. Why should I hire Sarah Christensen?

A. Sarah Christensen is a highly skilled and experienced trial attorney and has successfully handled vehicle claims from smaller injury claims all the way to claims involving serious injuries or death of a loved one.

Please call Colorado Springs Personal Injury Lawyer Sarah Christensen now to talk about your case. She can be reached by phone at 719-634-7770.

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