Some truck drivers who bring about a collision with another vehicle, for one reason or another, decide to leave the accident scene. They may not drive with the proper amount of insurance, or they may not even know that an accident occurred. Regardless, when a truck driver leaves the scene of an accident, serious complications can sometimes arise.
Cases in which truck drivers leave the scene of an accident are called “phantom vehicle” or “phantom driver” accident cases. In some cases, the collision may have happened so fast—or the truck may have speeded away so quickly—that the accident victim could not obtain any identifying information, such as markings on the truck or a license plate number. At other times, the accident victim may have obtained some of this information—although obviously not the name of the truck driver.
When a large truck or tractor-trailer strikes a much smaller vehicle, the occupants of the smaller vehicle can be moved around inside the vehicle and suffer serious injuries. This is especially true if a part of the accident victim’s body strikes something in the car, like the console, window, steering wheel, or headrest.
Potential injuries in truck accident cases often include neck and back contusions, soft tissue injuries, and bone fractures. If the accident victim strikes his or her head on the steering wheel or headrest, the accident victim might suffer a concussion or some other type of traumatic head or brain injury.
If you have suffered injuries in a truck accident where the at-fault driver left the scene of the collision, you do have legal options available to you. For example, if you have identifying information, you could still bring a legal claim against the owner of the truck (and possibly ascertain the identity of the negligent truck driver later on). Alternatively, you may file an uninsured motorist claim with your own insurance company.
An experienced truck accident attorney in your jurisdiction will investigate your accident thoroughly and can assist you with pursuing the proper claim or lawsuit in your case.
How Do Truck Drivers Cause Accidents in the First Place?
Truck accidents can occur wherever large trucks, tractor-trailers, and big rigs are present, including busy interstate highways and rural, dual-lane country roads. Truck accidents can occur for many reasons, but some of the most common causes are driver error, recklessness, or negligence.
Some of the most common causes of truck accidents across the country include:
- Negligent driving – Negligent driving includes any driver action (or inaction) that violates the reasonableness standard of care. It includes operating a vehicle above the posted speed limit, disregarding traffic signs and traffic control devices, weaving in and out of traffic, failing to use turn signals, tailgating other vehicles, and violating state and federal motor carrier regulations.
- Distracted driving – Some truck drivers become distracted by phone calls, emails, and text messages while operating their vehicles. Even when a truck driver takes his or her eyes off the road for just a second, that is often enough time for an accident to occur.
- Intoxicated driving – When truck drivers are behind the wheel and under the influence of drugs or alcohol, that can be a recipe for disaster. In fact, some truck drivers take stimulants to keep themselves awake, allowing them to drive for hours on end without any sleep. Operating a large truck while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can slow down the driver’s reaction time, cause the driver’s vision to become blurry, alter the driver’s depth and distance perception, and prevent the truck driver from operating and maneuvering the truck safely and carefully.
If you or a person you care about was in a motor vehicle accident caused by the carelessness and negligence of a commercial truck driver, you may take legal action to pursue and recover monetary compensation for your injuries. A knowledgeable truck accident lawyer in your area can help you file the appropriate claim or lawsuit in your case to help you go after the monetary compensation and damages that you need.
Using the Information that You Have to Ascertain the Identity of the Phantom Truck’s Owner or Driver
In some accident cases where a truck driver leaves the accident scene, you or a person in your vehicle may obtain some identifying information on the truck that left the scene.
Potentially helpful information in phantom truck accident cases can include:
- A license plate number – A license plate number can help an investigator track down the vehicle owner, such as the trucking company. Your lawyer may then ascertain the identity of the truck driver during the discovery phase of litigation. If you need to file a lawsuit, you often want to name the trucking company as a defendant, as well as the at-fault truck driver, assuming you can determine his or her identity.
- Markings on the vehicle – Large trucks and tractor-trailers often have identifying information on them, including the trucking company’s name. These vehicles also sometimes have a telephone number to call in the event of a problem. Generally speaking, when it comes to identifying the at-fault trucking company or truck driver, the more visual information the accident victim can obtain, the better.
- Geographical location – If you know the type of truck (based on visual information from the tractor or trailer) involved in the accident, as well as the geographical location of the accident and/or the approximate milepost where the accident occurred, all of that information could identify the defendant trucking company and/or truck driver.
All of this information can be useful when it comes to identifying the owner (and possibly the driver) of the truck that left the scene of your accident. In many cases, trucking companies can ascertain who was driving a particular truck at a certain time of day, at a particular location, and on a specific roadway. In addition, many large trucks and tractor-trailers have computer technology that can help to ascertain a particular vehicle’s whereabouts on a certain date/time. You can sometimes use this information to establish that a particular truck was involved in an accident and that a particular truck operator was the at-fault driver.
An experienced truck accident lawyer in your area can retain the necessary investigators, accident reconstructionists, and other professionals to ascertain the likely defendants in your truck accident case. Your lawyer could then file the necessary claim and/or lawsuit in the state court system on your behalf.
Filing an Uninsured Motorist Claim With Your Own Motor Vehicle Insurance Company in a Phantom Truck Accident Case
In some instances, you can’t find the phantom truck or truck driver. The accident may have occurred too quickly for the accident victim (or anyone else who may have been present in the accident victim’s vehicle) to make a mental note of the license number or any of the other markings on the phantom truck.
In other cases, the phantom truck may have simply left the accident scene too quickly for the accident victim to record any identifying information. In those cases, the accident victim may file and pursue an uninsured motorist claim with his or her own insurance company.
An uninsured motorist claim is both a tort claim and a breach of contract claim. It is a tort claim because the accident victim suffered personal injuries that another driver causes. It is a breach of contract claim because it alleges that your insurance company has breached its insurance contract with you.
Under most motor vehicle insurance policies, your insurance company agrees to compensate you financially for injuries sustained in an accident where the at-fault driver is either wholly uninsured, underinsured, or when you cannot ascertain the identity of the at-fault driver. Consequently, if the truck driver immediately takes off following the accident, and you obviously can’t identify him or her, you could assert an uninsured motorist claim against your own insurance company.
Uninsured motorist claims that involve truck accidents typically proceed in the same way as any other motor vehicle accident case. When your lawyer drafts a settlement demand, he or she will send a settlement demand to the adjuster for your insurance company—rather than to an at-fault driver’s insurance company. Assuming your insurance company accepts liability for the case under an uninsured motorist theory of recovery, your lawyer can begin negotiating a settlement offer with your insurance company.
In many instances, your insurance company’s initial settlement offer will be far below what the actual value of your case is worth. Remember, the insurance company, even though it is your own insurance company, will do everything it can to avoid paying an uninsured motorist claim. When that is the case, your lawyer can continue to negotiate a favorable settlement on your behalf. If you reach an impasse with the insurance company, your lawyer could file a lawsuit against the insurance company on your behalf in state court.
Even after your lawyer files a lawsuit against your insurance company, the case can still settle at any point along the way. In fact, most cases of this nature will not go all the way to a civil jury trial. However, if your insurance company refuses to offer you full and fair compensation for the injuries you suffered in your truck accident, you may take your case to trial or pursue alternative dispute resolution, such as binding arbitration or mediation. You have the final say as to whether or not you will accept a settlement offer or take your case to trial.
In an uninsured motorist claim, the insurance company itself will be a defendant in any lawsuit that your lawyer files in the court system. Therefore, you are in an adversarial relationship with your own insurance company. The insurance company, however, cannot retaliate by increasing your insurance rates or taking other retaliatory actions.
An experienced truck accident attorney in your jurisdiction can assist you with filing an uninsured motorist claim or lawsuit against your insurance company. Your lawyer can then help you facilitate a favorable settlement in your case, or if necessary, handle your case in court.
Compensable Damages that You May be Eligible to Recover as Part of an Uninsured Motorist Claim
The monetary compensation and damages that you may recover in an uninsured motorist claim arising from a phantom truck accident are much the same as in any other personal injury case.
First, you could pursue and recover monetary compensation for all of your medical treatment costs, regardless of whether or not a private health insurer, Medicare, or Medicaid may have paid for some or all of these losses. In addition, you could pursue monetary compensation for any lost earnings—or for your loss of the ability to work—due to the injuries you suffered in your truck accident.
In addition to these economic damages, you could also pursue a claim for non-economic damages, including compensation for inconvenience, related pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. If the accident resulted in your inability to use a body part, such as from paralysis, you could assert a loss of use claim. Finally, you could claim loss of spousal companionship or consortium if the injuries you suffered affected intimacy with your spouse.
A knowledgeable truck accident lawyer in your jurisdiction can help you file an uninsured motorist claim or lawsuit and pursue any of these damages in your case.