The average passenger vehicle normally weighs somewhere between 3,000-5,000 pounds. By contrast, an 18-wheeler can weigh as much as 30,000 pounds when empty and over 80,000 pounds when fully loaded. Because of their disproportionate size and extreme weight, large commercial trucks pose a unique danger to other road users. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), accidents involving large trucks and buses lead to thousands of injuries and deaths across the country every year.
At Stokes Stemle, LLC, we understand how devastating losing a loved one can be, especially when caused by a preventable accident. If you and your family are going through this kind of loss, our hearts go out to you. And though a lawsuit may be the last thing you want to think about as you grieve, know that you do not need to face the legal aftermath of a tragic accident alone.
Our experienced legal team proudly defends the rights of injury victims and their families throughout Alabama. Let us put our expertise to work for you. Contact us today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with a knowledgeable and compassionate Opelika wrongful death attorney.
What Are Some Common Causes of Fatal Truck Accidents?
All sorts of factors can come together to give rise to a fatal truck accident. Some common factors we see in cases we handle include:
- Following too closely
- Fatigued or drowsy driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Driving too fast for road, weather, or traffic conditions
- Disregarding red lights, stop signs, and other traffic signals
- Reckless driving, such as weaving between lanes
- Distractions, such as phones, radios, and GPS navigators
- Failure to check mirrors or signal before changing lanes or turning
- Failing to yield the right of way at intersections or when switching lanes
- Unsecured, unbalanced, or overloaded cargo
- Driver inexperience or poor training
- Unfamiliarity with local roads and delivery routes
- Poor truck maintenance
- Manufacturing defects in truck parts
- Inclement weather, such as strong winds, heavy rain, and icy roads
- Poorly maintained roads and traffic signals
How to Prove Fault in a Fatal Truck Accident Lawsuit
In most personal injury cases, including those involving truck accidents, fault is proven by showing that someone was negligent (i.e., that they failed to take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to others).
This must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, which simply means proving that the at-fault party was more likely than not responsible for the accident.
A skilled truck accident attorney can draw on all sorts of evidence to satisfy this burden of proof. Our attorneys can conduct a thorough, independent investigation of your accident and gather all available evidence to build the strongest possible case on your behalf. This may include things like:
- Police accident reports
- Photos and videos from the scene of the accident
- Footage from nearby surveillance, traffic, and dashcams
- Hours of service (HOS) logs showing how long the truck driver was at the wheel
- The truck driver’s employment records and driving history
- Logs from the truck’s event data recorder (“black box”)
- Toxicology test results
- Cargo manifests and bills of landing
- Company dispatch and communication logs
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance records
- Post-accident vehicle inspection reports
- Statements from witnesses to the crash
- Testimony from experts, such as doctors, traffic engineers, and accident reconstruction specialists
- Your loved one’s medical records and autopsy reports
Who Can File a Claim After a Fatal Semi-Truck Accident in Alabama?
Unlike many states, surviving family members do not have the legal authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the loss of a loved one in an accident. Instead, only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may file the lawsuit. When appointed by a will, this individual is sometimes known as an executor. When appointed by a court in the absence of a will, they are sometimes known as administrators.
Any damages awarded in an Alabama wrongful death lawsuit are distributed to the decedent’s heirs according to state laws of intestate succession. This is true whether or not the decedent left behind a will with instructions on how to distribute their estate.
However, there is one important exception barring family members from bringing a lawsuit. If a case involves the wrongful death of a minor, their surviving mother or father can bring a wrongful death claim. If both parents have also passed away, the personal representative of the child’s estate regains the right to file a lawsuit. They must do so within six months after the death of the minor.
Compensation Available in Truck Accident Wrongful Death Claims
Alabama takes a somewhat unique approach when it comes to damages in wrongful death lawsuits. In most states, courts will award damages primarily to compensate surviving family members for their loss. Additionally, courts may award punitive damages designed to punish the party responsible for the wrongful death.
However, Alabama courts do not allow compensatory damages in wrongful death cases. Instead, courts in the state focus entirely on punitive damages. The underlying purpose of this form of damages is to hold the at-fault party accountable, as well as to deter further misbehavior in the future. Because truck accidents are especially dangerous to all road users, a court may place special emphasis on the deterrent aspect of its ruling in a wrongful death case.
Importantly, Alabama places no cap on the amount of punitive damages a court may award in a wrongful death lawsuit. Working with an attorney who can compassionately and compellingly convey the full extent of your loss to a jury is the best way to ensure that the at-fault party is truly held accountable.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Alabama?
Under Alabama law, you have just two years from the date of a fatal truck accident to file a lawsuit against the responsible party. If a personal representative files a wrongful death lawsuit after the two-year deadline expires, the at-fault party can file a motion to dismiss your case. Subject to very few exceptions, the presiding judge will most likely be forced to grant it.
Building a strong truck accident lawsuit can take significant time. Further, the longer you wait, the more time there is for evidence to deteriorate and for memories to fade. Therefore, though a lawsuit may be the last thing you want to deal with after the loss of a loved one, the best thing to do is consult with an attorney as soon as possible after a fatal truck accident.
Talk to Our Experienced Fatal Truck Accident Lawyers in Opelika Today
Of course, nothing can make things right when we lose someone we love in a preventable accident. However, if you have lost someone close to you to a truck accident they did not cause, you should not hesitate to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. This is the best way to preserve your family’s right to justice, accountability, and compensation from the responsible party.
At Stokes Stemle, LLC, we are proud to defend the rights of injury victims and their families. We are ready to provide you with the compassionate, individualized attention you deserve. Contact us to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with a skilled wrongful death attorney today.