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Updated February 23, 2023
Any motor vehicle accident is a frightening experience. But accidents involving tractor trailers or semitrailers can be particularly scary because of the size differential between trucks and regular cars.
It’s important to know what to do after a truck accident, because there are other significant differences between a typical car accident and an accident involving a truck. First, tractor trailers and semis are subject to stringent federal regulations that don’t apply to cars. Second, a commercial truck driver is usually employed by one or more trucking companies; a trucker’s employers play a crucial role in the aftermath of an accident.
On January 12, 2016, a sudden snowstorm with gusty winds caused slick roads and whiteout conditions that contributed to a massive chain-reaction crash involving at least forty vehicles. The crash, which took place on Interstate 74 in Dearborn County, near the Indiana border, was a combination of two smaller pileups and closed both sides of the highway from late morning until nightfall.
At least seventeen of the vehicles involved in the crash were trucks. News accounts indicated that the accident started when a semitrailer jackknifed on the highway, possibly because of the fifty-mile-per-hour winds. The destruction escalated from there. No one was killed in the chain of collisions that followed, but six people were transported to hospitals with injuries.
Uninjured motorists involved in the accident went from vehicle to vehicle, checking on other drivers. They talked especially to people trapped in their vehicles and ensured they were okay until emergency personnel arrived.
On the evening of November 12, 2022, a high school hockey team from Chicago was heading home on a school bus. As they passed through Warsaw, Indiana, a semitrailer ran a red light and hit the bus, flipping it over. All twenty-five passengers were injured—three of them critically.
Eyewitnesses reported that the truck driver had been driving erratically. Police found that his blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit. The truck driver is facing over two dozen felony charges related to the crash. In addition, the parents of the hockey players are suing the driver and the trucking companies that employed him. The parents were appalled to learn that the driver had kept his job despite being involved in previous accidents.
As we’ll see, these examples show a number of things you should be aware of after a truck accident.
In this section, we’ll cover crucial differences between truck driver accident procedures and procedures for drivers of passenger cars.
Commercial trucking is subject to stricter regulations than those that apply to all drivers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees commercial trucking in the US. Its primary mission is “to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.” The FMCSA enforces safety regulations and sets the standards by which drivers earn their commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs).
FMCSA accident procedures require that all trucking companies keep a record of all crashes in the last three years. According to the FMCSA, a crash is any incident that results in an injury or fatality or in which a vehicle is towed from the scene.
FMCSA regulations also require mandatory testing for drug and alcohol use (1) any time an accident results in a fatality and (2) any time an accident causes an injury or a disabled vehicle and the truck driver involved was issued a citation.
Because truckers drive to earn their living, the stakes are higher for them in the aftermath of an accident than for other drivers. Depending on a trucking company’s accident policy, a CDL accident report can result in (1) the truck driver’s license being suspended and/or (2) the truck driver being fired.
The stakes are also high for trucking companies that employ drivers involved in crashes for several reasons.
Because of these factors, truck drivers and trucking companies aggressively defend themselves following a truck accident report to minimize the effects on their businesses.
The actions you take in the aftermath of a truck accident—both on the scene and in the days following the accident—can affect your ability to collect compensation for your injuries and damage to your car. Some are commonsense steps, but others are things you’re unlikely to be aware of.
Under Indiana law, if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, you must:
If anyone has been injured or killed, you must also:
If you leave the scene of the accident before taking these steps, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or even a felony if the accident resulted in serious injuries.
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If you’re in a tractor trailer or semitrailer accident, follow these steps to comply with the law and optimize your chances of recovering compensation for your injuries or any vehicle damage.
As much as you can, try to remain calm. If you were not at fault, you may be angry with whoever caused the accident, but venting your anger won’t help the situation and may make it worse. It’s best to contact a truck accident attorney for help in dealing with the accident and its aftermath.
As soon as possible, call 911 so first responders can be dispatched to the scene to attend to any injured people. The police will interview those involved in the accident and any witnesses and create a police report.
If you are injured, wait in your car for help to arrive. If you are uninjured, move your car to a safe area out of traffic, if possible. If safe to do so, check on other drivers and passengers involved in the accident to see if you can help them with anything. The actions of the drivers involved in the multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 74 in 2016 are an excellent example of drivers caring for other drivers in need.
Exchange insurance and driver’s license information with the other drivers involved in the crash. Insurance information should include the insurance company and the policy number. You do not (and should not) provide any details regarding your insurance policy, such as types and amounts of coverage.
Ask the truck driver involved in the accident for the name and address of their employer, and record the truck’s license plate number.
Witness testimony can be critical to establishing your claim for compensation. Witnesses may leave once they’ve checked that everyone involved in an accident is okay. Ask for their names and contact information (phone numbers and/or email addresses) as soon as possible.
Ask the officer creating the police report for the accident for their name, badge number, and the police report number. The information in the police report can help with determining fault after a truck accident. It can also help your truck accident attorney in investigating and building a case for your insurance claim or lawsuit.
It’s crucial to collect all the evidence you may need after a truck accident. As soon as you can, write down how the crash occurred. Include the accident location, such as the cross streets, address, or highway mile marker. Take photos of the vehicles involved, documenting any damage. If there are skid marks, take photos of the skid marks, too.
What you say in the aftermath of a truck accident can affect your ability to collect compensation for your injuries or damage to your vehicle. Here are a few tips:
As soon as you can, get a medical evaluation for yourself and any passengers in your car at a hospital emergency room or from your primary care doctor. Do this even if you feel fine after the accident, because a doctor can diagnose internal injuries you may not be aware of, and symptoms of some injuries (e.g., back and neck pain) may not be felt immediately.
Keep all records of your medical treatment and bills. It can also be helpful to keep a diary of how your injuries affect your daily activities. Write down, for instance, if you can’t work or if your injuries cause you to miss any of your everyday activities.
Wait to get your car repaired until your insurance company authorizes you to do so. However, you can bring your car to one or two independent body shops and ask them for a repair appraisal.
Any motor vehicle accident is traumatic, but it’s clear that commercial vehicle accident procedures are more complex than the aftermath of a typical car accident. If you or a loved one have been involved in a truck accident, contact the Indianapolis truck accident attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you navigate the difficult and confusing time after a truck crash. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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