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Is Justice Served More Readily as St. Louis Truck Accident Felons Are Sued?     

  • June 23, 2023
  • 8 min read
Is Justice Served More Readily as St. Louis Truck Accident Felons Are Sued?     

Despite rigorous efforts from the Missouri Department of Transportation, truck accidents have only risen in the past year. The Missouri State Highway Patrol released the unfortunate numbers, as 2022 saw over 15,000 road accidents involving commercial vehicles like trucks, trailers, and semi-trucks.

Four of the main causes for these accidents included poor fleet maintenance, driver error owing to distraction or a lack of sobriety, improper loading technique (overloading/underloading), and bad weather conditions.

St Louis, being a major logistics hub, had several busy and dangerous interstates that made it vulnerable to the highest number of accidents, closely followed by Jackson County. In most cases, victims either succumbed to the impact on the spot or suffered fatal injuries such as broken bones, neck and spinal cord injuries, disabilities, and more. When such an incident occurs, family members of the deceased or the victim have two options before them – claim against the offending party or file a lawsuit.

Thousands of claims and lawsuits have already reached settlements, whereas hundreds of others are still pending in St. Louis’ circuit court. This blog explores the success of claims and whether suing the offending party has better results from the viewpoint of justice.

Difference between a Claim and a Lawsuit

Though often used interchangeably, a St. Louis trucking accident claim and lawsuit are not the same. A claim can be made by the plaintiff within or outside litigation. The pre-litigation claim process involves the plaintiff personally asking the offending parties or the insurance company for compensation.

Within a lawsuit, the claims process involves presenting your grievances before a district court. This can be done with or without the help of a lawyer. In most cases, the plaintiff may not be able to receive compensation through an informal claims process for reasons including –

  • The insurer always has the objective of paying out as little as possible for every claim.
  • The insurance company is aware of details the plaintiff likely isn’t, such as the actual worth of their damages.
  • The insurer may elicit responses from the plaintiff that later work against them. For instance – Something as simple as answering “Fine” to the question, “How are you?” can give the offending party more leverage.
  • The insurance company is working within its settlement authority and can settle for a claim where the compensation value is far less than the actual worth of the case.
  • Some insurance companies even try to deliberately delay the claims process, keeping the victim hanging till the Statute of Limitations runs out (more on this later in the blog).

Navigating the Claims Process

There is no fixed deadline by which the insurer of the commercial vehicle is required to settle. However, the claims process is significantly impacted by several factors, including –

  • Evidence Available

It is easier to resolve claims if the evidence available against the defendant is strong and clear. Then, there’s little chance for the insurer to deny liability. If the evidence is vague and purely circumstantial, the insurer may not come to a settlement.

If the insurer refuses to pay the settlement amount, a lawsuit may be filed, but the plaintiff will incur additional costs.

  • Number of Parties At-Fault

Most St. Louis truck accident lawsuits take time to reach a settlement because there’s more than one party to blame. The at-fault parties could include the truck driver, fleet company, cargo packer, truck parts manufacturer, and maintenance company.

  • The Severity of Injuries Sustained

One would expect that if the plaintiff sustained severe injuries or it’s a case of wrongful death, claims settlement would be straightforward and faster. But, the opposite is generally the case. This is because serious injuries increase the settlement amount, and insurance companies fight harder to reduce the payout

  • Legal Strategy

If the plaintiff decides to move forward without a trucking accident attorney St. Louis, they may find it challenging to get a settlement on time. This is because most people do not understand the legal process closely, which involves complex stages such as pleadings, discovery of evidence, negotiations, dismissal, etc.

TorHoerman Law has observed that the most complex trucking accident cases are those where some sort of negligence is involved. Without thorough proof and circumstantial evidence, the defendant may get the upper hand. Moreover, most plaintiffs suffer such severe injuries (given the massive size of the truck or trailer) that they need a lawyer to speed up the settlement process so a timely lawsuit may be filed in case of no resolution.

Reasons for Suing and the Statutes of Limitations

Once a trucking accident has occurred in St. Louis, when is the victim encouraged to file a lawsuit against the offending parties? Usually, under the following circumstances –

  • The insurance company refused a claim made by the plaintiff.
  • The insurance company downright refused to make a fair offer of settlement.
  • All negotiations with the insurer are stalled
  • The plaintiff believes the extent of their damage far exceeds the maximum amount the insurer is to pay in case of an accident.
  • If the plaintiff has sustained severe injuries, including amputation, disability, and wrongful death

But before filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff must consider the Statute of Limitations or the deadline within which a lawsuit can be filed in the US Federal court. The limitation or deadline is five years from the date of the accident. The deadline for wrongful death lawsuits is shorter, extending to three years from the date of the accident.

This portion of the law is vital because it makes litigation fair for both parties involved. Over time, it becomes harder to recall details of the incident clearly or gather substantial evidence. Not to mention this also increases the chances of evidence tampering. For instance – witnesses may be bribed to twist their statements in court.

This is why victims are encouraged to file a lawsuit as soon as their claims process falls apart when the accident’s details are still fresh in their minds.

What Happens After a Lawsuit is Filed?

If the defendant is not willing to agree with the plaintiff’s settlement terms, a lawsuit may be filed (preferably with the help of a lawyer). A St. Louis trucking accident lawsuit will generally involve the following stages –

1.      Investigation

The first stage in a St. Louis trucking accident lawsuit is a thorough investigation of the crash to recover all possible evidence. The plaintiff will have to share their income statements, medical bills, and other documents with the lawyer at this stage.

Witnesses, such as engineers, trucking industry specialists, etc., are also gathered during the investigation process.

2.      The Demand Letter or the Insurance Claim

Even within a lawsuit, the attorney will first try to negotiate matters using a claims settlement process. They will prepare a formal demand letter as a notice for the offending parties and the insurance company.

3.      Complaint Filing

When the insurance company or the defendant fails to respond affirmatively even to the lawyer’s claims, an official complaint or lawsuit is filed. Once a complaint is lodged, the court will issue a summons to the defendant, notifying them of the complaint. Then, the defendant will prepare a response in writing.

4.      Discovery

In this stage, the opposing parties will try to exchange evidence and overthrow witness claims before the jury. The parties are often encouraged to hold mediation sessions for faster settlement.

5.      Trial

Up until now was the pre-trial phase. If the opposing parties fail to reach a settlement even in the pre-trial phase, the case proceeds to trial.

As for a trial, at least 95% of personal injury cases never make it to this stage. This is primarily because both parties have strong reasons to avoid the stress, money, and time involved in the uncertainty of a trial. Settlements are usually achieved midway, right at the beginning of a claim filing or at least at the pre-trial phase.

This does make it easier for the plaintiff to get the compensation they deserve than the hassle of demanding a claims settlement without a lawsuit.

How Much Does Fault Matter in Missouri’s Negligence Laws?

One reason why trucking accident lawsuits are complex is even the plaintiff could be at-fault. For instance – trucks often come with clear signs to keep a distance from their blind spots (left, ride, and behind). If a driver fails to adhere to these traffic rules in haste, they may become the victim of a severe accident.

But, since they’re also partly at fault, the state of Missouri has the pure comparative negligence rule in place to deal with such matters. If the court determines that this rule be applied to a particular case, both parties will share the burden of liability charges. At most, this rule will reduce the payout for the defendant.

Final Word

The best way plaintiffs in a St. Louis trucking accident can ensure their rights stay protected is to proceed with the help of a lawyer. Building a strong case is not easy because it involves steps like inspecting records, checking truck maintenance, assessing the truck’s black box, gathering evidence from the accident site, taking witness statements, and more.

Plaintiffs also get the advantage of having accident reconstruction specialists who interpret evidence clearly and offer new insights to develop a strong case. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules make the trucking industry highly regulated, which does offer leverage in terms of collecting evidence.

But the same is only possible when reliable lawyers help evaluate every facet of the crash.

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