U-Haul Truck Crash Liability Issues and Brainerd, MN Injury Lawyers

Statistically, most people move between May and September. So, we are now well into the biggest moving time of the year. Many people try to save money by renting U-Haul or other moving trucks and handling most everything themselves. As a result, it’s not too unusual to see several of these trucks on area roads at any given time. These operators have little experience driving large trucks and often over-rely on GPS navigation devices. So, in short, they are dangerous.

Since these operators do not own these vehicles, the traditional negligent entrustment rule would seem to apply. This doctrine holds vehicle owners, like U-Haul, responsible for car crash damages if the loan their property to incompetent drivers who cause accidents. But the Graves Amendment, an obscure piece of federal legislation, changes things significantly, as outlined below.

Many vehicle renters have little or no insurance. So, if you were hurt in a U-Haul truck crash, it’s important to obtain compensation from the company. Fortunately, a good Brainerd, MN injury lawyer has some was to get around the Graves Amendment and get victims the compensation they need and deserve. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

The Negligent Entrustment Rule

Negligent entrustment is one of the most common vicarious liability theories in Minnesota. Most of these cases involve teen drivers, and Minnesota has a very broad family purpose doctrine. If a family member was using a car fro a family purpose, even if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) took a side trip and the vehicle owner did not know about the trip, family-sanctioned use is presumed. So, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer must only prove incompetence. Evidence of incompetence, in roughly descending order, includes:

  • No drivers’ license,
  • Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
  • Poor driving record with recent at-fault collisions,
  • Driving in violation of a license restriction, like no night driving, and
  • Poor driving record with older collisions which were the other driver’s fault.

Note that a drivers’ license record check can uncover evidence of incompetency. This area is rather significant in terms of the first Graves Amendment loophole.

Brainerd, MN Injury Lawyers and the “Not Otherwise Negligent” Requirement

Lawmakers approved the Graves Amendment in the early 2000s. Rep. Sam Graves (D-MO) wanted to protect Enterprise, U-Haul, and other such companies from liability judgments by making the negligent entrustment rule inapplicable in these cases.

Back then, it was almost impossible to run a drivers’ license check outside the DMV, except for very limited purposes. Now, technology and privacy laws have changed. Arguably, it is now the industry standard at places like U-Haul outlets to independently verify drivers’ licenses. Failure to adhere to an industry standard is typically negligence.

Section (a)(2) of the Graves Amendment states immunity only applies if the owner or agent was not negligent during the U-Haul rental transaction. Given the drivers’ license developments mentioned above, agents or owners who only perform visual license inspections are probably negligent.

The “Trade or Business” Requirement

Furthermore, under Section (a)(1), immunity only applies if the store was “engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” The brief Graves Amendment was an add-on to a large federal transportation bill. Curiously, the law defines some key terms, like “owner” and “agent,” but it does not define “trade or business.” So, Brainerd, MN injury lawyers must look elsewhere to determine its meaning.

The Uniform Commercial Code, which is frequently cited in legal claims, defines a “merchant,” which is similar, as a person with special knowledge about a particular product who deals in that particular kind of product. This definition does not apply to most U-Haul retailers.

Most of these retailers are moving supply companies that happen to rent a few trucks. Vehicle rental is not their primary business line. Additionally, almost no U-Haul workers have special knowledge about the trucks on the lot. They know how to drive them, but that’s about it.

In court, the insurance company/U-Haul company usually has the burden of proof on this point. Its lawyers must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Graves Amendment immunity applies. Given this discussion, that showing is unlikely.

Connect with a Hard-Hitting Attorney

The negligent entrustment rule usually applies in U-Haul crashes, despite the Graves Amendment. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd, MN injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. You have a limited amount of time to act.

How Do Hutchinson, MN Lawyers Resolve Truck Crash Claims?

An 80,000-pound vehicle, which is the maximum semi-truck weight, traveling at 60mph brings an immeasurable amount of force to bear in a crash. So, it’s little wonder that truck accidents often cause spine injuries and other catastrophic wounds. The medical bills alone in these cases often exceed $4 million.

Frequently, health insurance companies refuse to pay these costs. Insurance adjusters know that truck accident victims are experiencing financial distress, so they often relentlessly pressure these victims to settle their cases. The offer might be tempting, but victims simply have no way of knowing if the offer is fair or not.

So, a Hutchinson, MN lawyer works diligently to resolve these cases and make sure the victim’s medical bills get paid. Attorneys also address vehicle replacement and other concerns. Every case is different, but they all follow the same general outline.

Evidence Collection

Successful negligence claims usually begin with evidence collection. The victim/plaintiff must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). To expedite this process, many Hutchinson, MN lawyers partner with private investigators and other professionals.

Some evidence, such as the police accident report and medical bills, is rather easy to obtain. Generally, attorneys can secure this evidence after just a few phone calls. Then, the accident evaluation process can begin.

Other evidence is much more difficult to obtain. That’s especially true of critical electronic evidence, like the Event Data Recorder. These durable, high-tech gadgets usually survive even the most catastrophic truck wrecks. EDRs measure and record information like:

  • Steering angle,
  • Engine RPM,
  • Brake application, and
  • Vehicle speed.

To obtain this evidence, Hutchinson, MN lawyers must overcome a number of legal and technical hurdles. Minnesota has very strict vehicle information privacy laws. So, attorneys usually need court order to use EDR information in court. Additionally, these devices are extremely sophisticated. A Hutchinson, MN lawyer needs a lot more than a screwdriver and a laptop to access and download EDR data.

Hutchinson, MN Lawyers and Legal Issues

The evidence in a truck crash claim is like the colored squares of an unsolved Rubik’s cube. Until an attorney twists the cube the right way and puts the colors together, they are just a jumbled mess.

Usually, truck crash twists involve ordinary negligence or negligence per se. Ordinary negligence is a lack of care, and negligence per se is the violation of a safety statute. Distracted driving is a good example of the difference between these two doctrines. Minnesota law prohibits any use of a hand-held device. But other distracted driving behaviors, such as using a hands-free phone while driving, are just as dangerous. So, a distracted driving claim could involve either of these theories. Insurance company defenses, like comparative fault, also come into play here.

A few other truck crash claims involve dangerous products, like defective tires. Generally, manufacturers are liable for defective product injuries as a matter of law. Negligence, or lack thereof, is largely irrelevant.

Endgame

Almost all negligence cases settle out of court. These settlements reduce litigation costs, bring about closure, and give the parties more control over the outcome.

After the evidence collection and legal evaluation processes are complete, Hutchinson, MN lawyers usually open settlement negotiations with the insurance company. First, attorneys usually send demand letters. These letters demand a sum of money in exchange for a liability waiver. To calculate noneconomic losses, most attorneys multiply the economic losses by two, three, or four, depending on the facts of the case.

If liability is clear, insurance companies have a legal duty to settle the claim straightaway. However, mostly because of the aforementioned insurance company defenses, liability is usually not crystal-clear. So, to put additional pressure on the insurance company to settle the case, most Hutchinson, MN lawyers file legal paperwork in court.

Generally, insurance company lawyers file procedural motions asking the judge to throw the case out of court. However, if a Hutchinson, MN lawyer was diligent during the evidence collection and legal evaluation process, these motions hardly ever succeed.

If the parties are unable to resolve the case on their own, most McLeod County judges appoint mediators. These individuals meet with both sides and try to facilitate a settlement. Assuming both parties negotiate in good faith, which means they are willing to make compromises to reach an agreement, mediation is usually successful.

Connect with a Hard-Hitting Attorney

Truck crash claims usually settle out of court and on victim-friendly terms. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. The sooner you call us, the sooner we start working for you.

How does a Hutchinson, MN Lawyer Win Money in Truck Crash Claims?

Evidence is usually the key to a successful outcome in any civil case. Accident victims have the burden of proof. They must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Imagine two equally-full cups of coffee are on the same table. If the waitress adds one drop of coffee to one cup, it’s fuller than the other one. That’s what a preponderance of the evidence looks like.

The good news is that a preponderance of proof is the lowest standard of evidence in Minnesota. The bad news is that truck crashes are often so catastrophic that little or no physical evidence remains at the scene.

To make up for this lack of evidence, a Hutchinson, MN lawyer must work extra hard to amass the proof necessary to establish negligence. If jurors hear a sufficient amount of compelling evidence, they often award significant damages in these cases. These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Event Data Recorder

After large airplanes crash, investigators often rely on black box flight data recorders to determine what caused the crash. Large truck Event Data Recorders are much the same. Generally, EDRs measure and record key operational information like:

  • Vehicle speed,
  • Steering angle,
  • Engine acceleration or deceleration, and
  • Brake application.

A Hutchinson, MN lawyer, often working with an accident reconstructionist, can use this information like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Once an attorney puts the pieces together for jurors, they see a compelling picture of operator negligence.

EDRs are valuable, and Hutchinson, MN lawyers must act quickly to preserve this evidence. As mentioned, truck crashes are often devastating. Following such wrecks, insurance companies usually destroy totaled vehicles, rather than paying to store them. If that happens, the EDR, and all other physical evidence on the truck, is gone forever.

Spoliation letters usually help. These letters create a legal duty to preserve all potential physical evidence, including the EDR.

There is more. Minnesota has very strict vehicle information privacy laws. So, to access and download EDR information, a Hutchinson, MN lawyer typically must obtain a court order.

Hutchinson, MN Lawyers and Electronic Logging Devices

EDRs are usually important in all truck wreck claims. ELDs are often critical in drowsy driving claims. Biologically, driving while fatigued is like driving while intoxicated. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours, which is basically a long day on the road, is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for commercial drivers in Minnesota.

Trucking industry executives know how important this issue is. Their lawyers fought the ELD mandate all the way to the Supreme Court. But it finally took full effect in December 2019.

ELDs are basically electronic work logs which are connected to the ignition. If the truck is running, the HOS (hours of service) clock is ticking. Minnesota and the federal government both have strict laws in this area. If a driver does not get enough rest and causes a crash, the driver could be liable for damages as a matter of law.

Furthermore, ELDs are often circumstantial evidence of fatigue. Drivers can technically be in compliance with the HOS rules and still be dangerously fatigued. Research shows that even an hour or two of less sleep makes a difference.

To use this critical data in court, Hutchinson, MN lawyers must overcome the aforementioned vehicle information privacy laws as well as some other privacy laws, mostly regarding medical data.

Safety Maintenance System

Lack of physical evidence is not the only issue in truck crash claims. Generally, these operators have drivers’ licenses in several different states. As a result, it’s difficult or impossible to obtain all relevant driving records.

Several years ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration began keeping multistate driving records on all American truck drivers. The SMS database focuses on:

  • HOS compliance,
  • Vehicle maintenance history,
  • Prior collisions,
  • Substance abuse history, and
  • Previous traffic citations.

The SMS relies on law enforcement records as opposed to judicial records. So, it is more accurate. For example, if a tortfeasor (negligent driver) received a speeding ticket and took defensive driving, that citation would probably not appear in a judicial database. But it would pop up in the SMS database.

Connect with a Diligent Attorney

Industrious evidence collection lays the groundwork for fair compensation in a truck wreck case. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.

A U-Haul Truck Hit Me. Can a Hutchinson, MN Lawyer Help Me?

Frequently, U-Haul and other rental drivers have little or no insurance. Under the traditional negligent entrustment rule, vehicle owners are liable for damages if they allow incompetent operators to use their vehicles. Generally, drivers are incompetent if there was a good chance they might cause a crash. Examples include operators with poor driving records or safety-suspended licenses.

However, commercial negligent entrustment cases work a bit differently, because of the Graves Amendment. This obscure federal law gives U-Haul and other owners negligent entrustment immunity in some situations.

So, to establish owner liability in U-Haul crash claims, a Hutchinson, MN lawyer must establish some additional elements. The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little proof goes a long way.

The Graves Amendment: A Closer Look

A key to winning any fight, be it a claim for damages or a high school football game, is sizing up your opponent. So, before the best Hutchinson, MN lawyers aggressively represent their clients, they take a step back to see what they are up against.

Tort reform is sometimes in the news. For example, Minnesota lawmakers recently limited damages in medical malpractice claims so insurance companies need not pay large sums when doctors go off the rails. The Graves Amendment is basically the same thing. It protects U-Haul and other vehicle rental companies from large liability judgments, even when these companies are clearly at fault.

It all started in the late 1990s. An Enterprise outlet in Connecticut rented a car to a clearly negligent driver. That driver killed someone in a fireball collision, and a jury awarded millions of dollars in damages. When Enterprise threatened to pull out of Connecticut and some other states with strong negligent entrustment laws, lawmakers added the Graves Aemdnement to a large transportation bill.

Like many policy riders, 49 USC 30106 is short and poorly drafted. Specifically, there are two key holes in this law which a Hutchinson, MN lawyer can use to pierce the immunity and hold these companies responsible for the mistakes they make.

Trade or Business

Under subsection (a)(1), immunity does not apply unless the owner is in the vehicle rental trade or business. Because of the aforementioned drafting problems, the Graves Amendment does not define this key phrase. So, Hutchinson, MN lawyers must look elsewhere to interpret it.

The Universal Commercial Code is a mainstay in contract law. The UCC does not define “trade or business,” but it does define “merchant,” which is a similar term. According to Article Two, merchants are:

  • Dealers in a particular kind of good or service
  • Who profess to have additional knowledge about the goods they sell.

Normally, a store is in a trade or business if it sells a particular kind of goods. Best Buy is an electronics store, even though it also sells home appliances, office supplies, and other non-electronics. Typically, U-Haul franchises are moving and storage companies, even though they rent a few trucks on the side.

Furthermore, the employees and franchisees at most of these locations do not have specialized knowledge about the trucks they rent. For example, they know how to turn on the air conditioner, but they could not tell you the unit’s BTU capacity.

Not Otherwise Negligent

According to section (a)(2) of the Graves Amendment, negligent entrustment immunity only applies if “there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner (or an affiliate of the owner).”

Lawmakers approved the 49 USC 30106 in the early 2000s. Back then, it was impossible to verify an operator’s drivers’ license, aside from a visual inspection. Now, technology makes it possible to run a thorough check. In fact, such evaluations are arguably the industry standard. Owners and affiliates are negligent when they violate such standards.

How Hutchinson, MN Lawyers Establish Liability

Getting around the Graves Amendment is only part of the fight. A Hutchinson, MN lawyer must also establish the key elements of the negligent entrustment doctrine. Owners are liable for damages if they knowingly allow incompetent drivers to operate their motor vehicles. Evidence of incompetency includes:

  • No drivers’ license,
  • Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
  • Driving in violation of license restrictions (e.g. without glasses),
  • Prior safety suspensions, and
  • A poor driving record.

These items are roughly in descending order. People without valid licenses are usually incompetent as a matter of law. A poor driving record, in and of itself, is probably not enough to prove negligence.

Damages in a truck crash claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Given the size of a fully-loaded U-Haul truck, these damages are often substantial.

Contact a Dedicated Attorney

The best injury lawyers do not let legal loopholes decide cases. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.

Can Brainerd, MN Injury Lawyers Obtain Fair Compensation for Tour Bus Crash Injuries?

Absolutely yes. In fact, most of these cases settle out of court. However, the road to fair compensation is often long, because charter bus crashes are factually and legally complex.

Overall, the number of fatal truck accidents has increased 42 percent since 2009. When fully loaded, these massive vehicles carry hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel. So, by the time emergency responders reach the scene, there may be little left other than wreckage.

So, as outlined below, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer must have a special skill set to obtain fair compensation in these cases. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

What Causes Tour Bus Crashes?

Fatigued driving and distracted driving are two of the main causes of car crashes in general, and of charter bus crashes in particular.

Many tour bus operators are behind the wheel late at night and/or early in the morning. Most people are naturally fatigued at these times. It does not matter how much rest they had the night before. Circadian rhythm fatigue is especially bad if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) recently changed work schedules.

Furthermore, many tour bus drivers are not just bus drivers. They are also tour guides, security guards, and janitors. They must host the group, break up verbal fights, and clean up spills. That’s a dangerous amount of multitasking.

It is easier for Brainerd, MN injury lawyers to establish negligence in these cases. Charter bus drivers are common carriers in Minnesota. These individuals have a higher duty of care. Since they carry passengers and cargo for hire, common carriers are virtually insurers of safe conduct. This duty includes not only enhanced driving responsibility but also the responsibility to watch the passengers.

Legal Issues for Brainerd, MN Injury Lawyers

Negligence is not the only advanced legal issue in tour bus crash claims. Venue is often an issue as well. Generally, the victim was from County A and the wreck occurred in County B. If that’s the case, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer may file a claim in County A or County B.

The venue choice sometimes affects the case’s settlement value. Some jurisdictions have more victim-friendly jurors than other jurisdictions. As a rule, urban jurisdictions, like Hennepin County, have more liberal jurors than rural jurisdictions, like Crow Wing County. But once again, that’s just a rule of thumb. More on a case’s settlement value below.

The respondeat superior rule is usually an issue as well. Legally, the company which owned the bus is usually responsible for negligence damages. The respondeat superior doctrine applies if:

  • The tortfeasor was an employee
  • Who was working in the scope of employment at the time.

Minnesota law defines both these prongs in broad, victim-friendly ways. For example, even if the driver was another company’s employee or an unpaid church volunteer, that driver was probably an employee for negligence purposes.

Vicarious liability theories like this one are very important in catastrophic injury claims. Generally, individual tortfeasors do not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation.

Resolving the Case

One medical treatment is at least substantially complete, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer can assign a preliminary settlement value to the case. This value usually starts with all economic losses, which are primarily medical bills. To ascertain noneconomic losses, most Brainerd, MN injury lawyers multiply the economic losses by two, three, or four, depending on the facts of the case. Other factors, such as venue, might come into play here as well.

Next, attorneys send demand letters to insurance companies. If there is no question as to liability, insurance companies have a duty to settle the claim within a few weeks. However, there is almost always at least some question about liability, mostly because of some legal defenses which may apply. So, most injury claims proceed to the next level.

The next level involves filing court documents to protect the victim’s interests. At that point, most Crow Wing County judges refer these matters to mediation. During mediation, each side has a duty to negotiate a settlement in good faith. They must negotiate with open minds and be willing to make sacrifices to strike a deal. Because of this duty, mediation is usually successful.

If the case remains unresolved, it goes to trial. That trial could be before just a judge or before a jury.

Count on Tenacious Attorneys

Tour bus crashes often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd, MN injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Crow Wing County and nearby jurisdictions.

How Do Brainerd Attorneys Resolve Truck Crash Claims?

Medical bills are usually one of the largest components of a truck crash claim. Frequently, these wrecks cause catastrophic injuries, such as spinal cord injuries. The medical expenses of such wounds may exceed $4 million over the course of a lifetime.

To provide short-term relief in these situations, attorneys usually send letters of protection to medical providers. Since these letters guarantee payment when the case is resolved, these providers charge nothing upfront for their services. So, injured victims do not need to worry as much about money. They can concentrate on getting better.

However, these bills must be paid eventually. Therefore, a Brainerd attorney must work diligently to settle the case as quickly as possible, and on the best possible terms.

Determining Negligence

Most truck crash claims involve either ordinary negligence or negligence per se. Fatigued driving, which is quite common in such matters, is a good illustration of the difference between the two.

Drowsy driving is a problem for both economic and medical reasons. Most transportation companies pay drivers by the load and not by the mile. So, to make money, they must stay behind the wheel as long as possible. Furthermore, since they sit most of the day, many truck drivers struggle with sleep apnea. People with this medical condition get little or no deep, restorative sleep. They basically nap all night.

Ordinary negligence is basically a lack of care. Drivers must be well-rested, sober, and focus on the road. In an ordinary negligence claim, the victim/plaintiff must establish a lack of care by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Some evidence in drowsy driver claims includes:

  • Erratic driving prior to the crash,
  • Time of night or day,
  • Statements the tortfeasor (negligent driver) gave to emergency responders, and
  • Physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes.

In Minnesota, commercial drivers often must abide by a higher standard of care than noncommercial drivers. Therefore, it might be easier to establish ordinary negligence in truck wrecks.

Fatigued truck driver crashes might also involve the negligence per se rule. These claims do not require circumstantial evidence. Tortfeasors are often negligent as a matter of law if:

  • They violated a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially caused injury.

In this context, the relevant safety laws are the federal and state HOS (Hours of Service) rules. Truck drivers must adhere to strict schedules with regard to driving time and rest periods. If the tortfeasor violated an HOS rule, it does not matter how well-rested s/he was. Liability might still attach.

Brainerd Attorneys and Liability Determinations

This liability usually extends to both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. These claims are a bit complex. Minnesota has a partial no-fault insurance law which might limit damages in some cases.

There are other complexities as well. The respondeat superior rule usually applies in truck crash claims. Employers are liable for the negligent acts of their employees if:

  • Employee: In a truck crash, an employee is not just a worker who is in an office from 9 to 5. Employees include independent contractors, owner-operators, and even unpaid volunteers. Employers control these individuals, at least to some extent, such as work hours.
  • Scope of Employment: Minnesota law also broadly defines this phrase. Any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That definition includes things like driving an empty truck to a warehouse.

Respondeat superior is especially important in light of the aforementioned high medical bills. Individual tortfeasors usually do not have enough insurance coverage to make good on these losses.

Pretrial Settlement Negotiations

Once medical treatment is at least substantially complete, Brainerd attorneys open settlement negotiations with the insurance company. It is important not to settle a claim too early. If that happens, the victim may not receive enough compensation to fully account for all losses.

If liability is relatively certain, insurance companies usually have a duty to settle the claim within a few weeks. But in most cases, there is at least some question as to liability.

Contributory negligence often delays settlement. This doctrine shifts blame for the accident from the tortfeasor to the victim. For example, the tortfeasor may have been drowsy, but the victim might have been speeding. Therefore, they might both be partially at fault.

Mediation

If the two sides cannot reach an early agreement, a Brainerd attorney must file legal paperwork to protect the victim’s rights. At that point, most Crow Wing County judges refer these claims to mediation.

During mediation, a neutral third party, who is usually an unaffiliated Brainerd attorney, works to forge a settlement between the victim and insurance company. This work usually involves reviewing the case file, listening to brief opening arguments, and then conveying settlement offers back and forth between the two sides.

This process usually works. If both sides negotiate in good faith, which means they are willing to make sacrifices to get a deal done, mediation is successful about 75 percent of the time.

Connect with a Diligent Lawyer

Truck crash claims often take some time to settle. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.

How Do Brainerd, MN Injury Lawyers Resolve Truck Crash Claims?

Back in the day, most truck wreck claims went to trial. But that proportion decreased by over 50 percent during the 1990s. Now, out-of-court settlements far outnumber trials. These settlements are usually best for everyone. They give the parties more control over the outcome and reduce litigation time.

More importantly for Brainerd, MN injury lawyers and their clients, truck crash claims often settle on very favorable terms. Every case is unique, but most follow the same process.

Evidence Collection

In negligence matters, the victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof. So, these claims must include enough solid evidence to establish the basic elements. Additionally, there is often a direct relationship between the amount of evidence a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer presents and the amount of damages a Crow Wing County jury awards.

Sometimes, evidence is easy to acquire. In many cases, the victim’s testimony, the police accident report, and medical bills might be the only necessary items. But that’s not always true.

Obviously, in wrongful death claims, the victim’s testimony is completely unavailable. In other situations, such as brain injury cases, the victim’s testimony might be shaky. For these same reasons, the police accident report might be incomplete or inaccurate. And, medical bills often convey hard data, like diagnosis, treatment, and cost. But the human element is missing.

Therefore, Brainerd, MN injury lawyers must often dig deeper to find compelling evidence. That’s especially true in truck wreck claims. These collisions often involve wrongful death or other catastrophic injuries. Some additional sources include some often-overlooked electronic gadgets, such as:

  • ELDs: Electronic Logging Devices are very important in HOS (Hours of Service)-related claims. Drowsy driving is a serious problem among truck drivers. Because profit margins are so thin, these drivers often stay on the road longer than the maximum periods set in Minnesota or federal law. ELDs, which are connected to the truck’s drivetrain, often contain important data regarding HOS compliance.
  • EDRs: Event Data Recorders are much like the black box flight data recorders in commercial airplanes. Capacity varies by make and model, but most EDRs contain information about vehicle speed, steering angle, brake application, and other data critical to crash analysis.

Electronic evidence is quite valuable. Such evidence often resonates very well with tech-savvy Crow Wing County jurors. Additionally, assuming the devices were working properly, it’s hard for insurance company lawyers to block their use in court.

But there are issues. These devices are quite sophisticated. A Brainerd, MN injury lawyer must have the proper resources and know-how to access the information. That’s assuming the information is available at all. Since many insurance companies “accidentally” destroy the EDR and ELD, Brainerd, MN injury lawyers must quickly send spoliation letters to preserve this evidence.

How Brainerd, MN Injury Lawyers Establish the Settlement Value

The medical evidence in the case, like medical bills and examination results, play a big part in determining the case’s economic value. Liability evidence, from things like the ELD and EDR, is important as well. If the truck driver was clearly at fault, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer typically demands more money.

A brief side note here. No amount of money in the world can fully compensate victims and their families in serious personal injury cases. But no one can turn back the clock and stop the accident from happening. So, money is the next best thing.

Other factors may affect the settlement demand. For example, some victims want to move on with their lives as quickly as possible. So, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyer may demand less money.

When it comes to actually setting the settlement value, there is no single method. Truthfully, this part of the process is often more art than science. Often, Brainerd, MN injury lawyers multiply the economic damages (medical bills, lost wages, and property damage) by two, three, or four, depending on the aforementioned other factors.

Final Resolution

If liability is reasonably clear, Minnesota insurance companies have a duty to quickly settle the claims. But, there is usually at least some question as to liability. So, a lightning-fast settlement usually does not happen.

Generally, a Brainerd, MN injury lawyers must file court paperwork to protect the victim/plaintiff’s rights. Insurance companies routinely file pretrial motions seeking to have the case thrown out of court. If a lawyer has diligently collected evidence, these motions almost always fail.

Quite often, truck crash claims settle after mediation. Briefly, a mediator hears from both sides and then conveys settlement offers back and forth between the two sides. If both parties negotiate in good faith, mediation is usually successful.

Reach Out to Aggressive Attorneys

Truck crash victims may be entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd, MN injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in injury cases.

Buffalo, MN Accident Lawyers and Drowsy Driver Truck Crash Evidence

The duty of reasonable care begins before drivers get behind the wheel. Operators must be fully licensed, completely sober, and well-rested. Yet truck driver fatigue is a factor in one out of six large truck collisions. Even if the driver does not actually fall asleep at the wheel, driving without sleep is much like driving after drinking. Alcohol and fatigue have the same effect on the brain and body.

Part of this problem is on the drivers themselves. Largely because they sit for long periods, many truck drivers have issues with sleep apnea. People with this condition basically nap all night. Yet many drivers do not seek treatment. Part of the fatigued driver issue is also on the shipping companies. Most of these companies pay truckers by the load and not by the mile. So, drivers must stay behind the wheel as long as possible to make as much money as possible.

These combined causes help Buffalo, MN accident lawyers obtain maximum compensation in these matters. The driver is clearly negligent, and the shipping company is clearly responsible under the respondeat superior rule. But theory alone does not win cases. All successful negligence claims rest on evidence.

Medical Records in Truck Crash Claims

In many drowsy truck driver claims, medical records help establish both liability for damages and the amount of damages.

As mentioned, many truck drivers have sleep apnea. Overweight individuals and people with a family history of this disease are at a greater risk. Given the low burden of proof in civil cases, these precursor conditions alone might be enough to establish sleep apnea. The case is even stronger if the medical records include any doctor speculation about sleep apnea or instructions to get tested for this condition.

That burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Picture two stacks of paper side by side. Each stack has 200 sheets. If someone moves one sheet from the left to the right, the stack on the right has more paper. That’s a picture of the preponderance of the evidence.

Medical records also help establish the measure of damages. Billing records clearly show the financial cost. Additionally, these records usually include treatment notes which indicate things like pain level and injury prognosis.

Generally, additional compensation is available for noneconomic damages like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium (companionship).

Driving Records in Truck Crash Claims

Most non-commercial drivers are only licensed in one state. So, it’s rather easy for attorneys to obtain their driving records. But most truckers are licensed in several states. It’s much harder to obtain records in these situations.

Several years ago, the federal government began using the Safety Measurement System. The SMS database is essentially a multistate driving record which keeps track of several items, including HOS compliance. So, if a driver has a history of such violations, a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer will know about them. Generally, SMS records are admissible in court.

Buffalo, MN Accident Lawyers and Electronic Evidence

In April 2018, the federal government’s Electronic Logging Device requirement finally took effect. The trucking industry fought this mandate all the way to the Supreme Court. Their legal tenacity underscores the need for an experienced Buffalo, MN accident lawyer. Without such an advocate, victims are hopelessly overmatched in court.

ELDs are connected to the vehicle’s powertrain. So, when the truck is in motion, the Hours of Service (HOS) clock is ticking. Both Minnesota and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have strict rules regarding HOS and mandatory rest periods. If truckers violate these rules, they may be negligent as a matter of law. And, ELDs provide almost bulletproof evidence in this area.

These gadgets are tamper-resistant, but they are not tamper-proof. A skilled hacker can override almost any security protocol. But even the best hackers leave fingerprints. So, it’s important for Buffalo, MN accident lawyers to partner with computer geeks who can verify or challenge ELD data.

These individuals serve in other capacities as well. For example, large truck ELDs are very sophisticated devices. One needs a lot more than a screwdriver and a laptop to access and download the data.

That’s assuming a Buffalo, MN accident lawyer can access the data at all. Most insurance companies destroy totaled vehicle within a few days of a crash. To prevent EDR loss, attorneys must send spoliation letters to insurance companies. These letters create a legal duty to preserve all possible physical evidence, including the EDR.

Furthermore, Minnesota has very strict vehicle data privacy rules. Generally, Buffalo, MN accident lawyers must obtain court orders before they may access electronic information.

Work with a Tenacious Attorney

Drowsy truck drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN accident lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.

How Does the Graves Amendment Affect Law Firms in Buffalo, MN?

If you see a U-Haul or other rented moving truck on the streets or highways of Wright County, an incompetent driver is probably behind the wheel. A fully-loaded, 17-foot truck may weigh up to 25,000 pounds. Even experienced drivers have a hard time managing these huge vehicles. Novice drivers who do not know the area and probably do not even have commercial drivers’ licenses are clearly incompetent.

The negligent entrustment rule states that vehicle owners are liable for damages if they allow incompetent driver to use their vehicles, and those drivers cause collisions. But commercial negligent entrustment cases are more complex, because of an obscure federal law called the Graves Amendment.

This complication is significant. Large truck crashes often cause catastrophic injuries, and many U-Haul drivers have little or no insurance. Fortunately, the Graves Amendment has some key loopholes, so law firms in Buffalo, MN can usually still obtain maximum compensation in these matters.

What is the Graves Amendment?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, juries in several states ordered vehicle rental companies to pay millions of dollars in damages after several horrific crashes. As a result, the companies threatened to pull out of these states.

To prevent this outcome, Congressman Sam Graves (D-MO) attached what later became 49 U.S.C. 30106 to a large transportation bill. Lawmakers often attach policy and special-interests riders to must-pass bills, and the Graves Amendment definitely fit into this category. Its sole purpose is to protect vehicle rental establishments in Missouri and a few other states.

There are no hearings or any other legislative history regarding the Graves Amendment. There is only a brief floor debate. Additionally, like many policy riders, the Graves Amendment is rather poorly drafted. So, law firms in Buffalo, MN have a good chance to get around the Graves Amendment in a truck wreck claim. The two most common approaches are outlined below.

Law Firms in Buffalo, MN and the “Not Otherwise Negligent” Requirement

Commercial negligent entrustment immunity only applies if the owner or agent was not negligent during the transaction. So, the agent or owner must follow all applicable industry standards. Violating these standards is evidence of negligence.

Here, the relevant standard involves drivers’ license verification. When the Graves Amendment became law in 2002, most agents and owners visually inspected a renter’s drivers’ license, and that was it. If the license was facially valid, the person could rent the truck.

But more and more companies like U-Haul run drivers’ license checks before they rent vehicles. Customers who have safety-suspended licenses are ineligible, or should be ineligible, to rent trucks. The same thing is arguably true if the customer has a poor driving record which includes a recent safety suspension or an at-fault accident.

Mere failure to verify the license may be negligent, but it may not be enough to invoke the negligent entrustment doctrine. Typically, the victim/plaintiff must prove that the owner knew the driver was incompetent. Constructive knowledge (should have known) is normally insufficient.

The “Trade or Business” Requirement

As mentioned, the Graves Amendment is poorly drafted and lawmakers held no hearings. So, it’s impossible to interpret key phrases like “trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles.” Therefore, law firms in Buffalo, MN must look elsewhere.

The Uniform Commerical Code, which lawyers and judges often use in contracts cases, defines “merchant,” which is a similar term, as “a person who deals in goods of the kind or otherwise by his occupation holds himself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to the practices or goods involved in the transaction.” Most U-Haul dealers in Wright County do not fit this definition.

Typically, these businesses do not exclusively rent trucks. They are usually moving and storage companies which have a few trucks available on the side. By analogy, a convenience store is not a liquor store even if it sells copious amounts of beer and wine.

Furthermore, the employees at these establishments have no specialized knowledge about the vehicles they rent. They know nothing about engine torque, air conditioner BTU capacity, or anything similar.

Damages in a commercial negligent entrustment claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Additionally, since these cases usually involve additional negligence as outlined above, many Wright County jurors award additional punitive damages in these cases. These damages are designed to punish the negligent actor and deter future wrongdoing.

Contact an Aggressive Attorney

Despite the Graves Amendment, U-Haul truck owners may be legally responsible for damages. For a free consultation with an attorney at a law firm in Buffalo, MN, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Home and hospital visits are available.

Can a Brainerd, MN Accident Lawyer Quickly Settle a Truck Accident Claim?

The ongoing truck driver shortage is showing no signs of letting up. In fact, industry experts predict that the shortfall will reach 160,000 drivers by 2028.

As a result, some shipping companies employ drivers with little experience behind the wheel. Other companies subtly encourage drivers to stay on the road as long as possible, even if that means running afoul of HOS (Hours of Service) regulations which restrict such activities for safety reasons. The bottom line is that the risk of a truck accident may be higher than ever.

Typically, Brainerd, MN accident lawyers resolve these claims out of court. So, victims need not go to trial to obtain compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Unfortunately, the legal system in Crow Wing County is often not very fast or efficient. Every settlement process is different, but most follow the same general outline.

How Brainerd, MN Accident Lawyers Build a Case

If you were hurt in a truck wreck that was not your fault, immediate medical attention is usually the first priority. Without such treatment, vehicle collision injuries, such as whiplash, usually get worse and become more difficult to treat. Additionally, delayed treatment gives insurance company lawyers a chance to argue that the victim’s injuries must not have been very bad.

So, Brainerd, MN accident lawyers quickly connect victims with doctors. These medical professionals usually charge no money upfront, because they agree to delay billing until the case is settled.

The aforementioned “fault” is not always easy to determine. Typically, truck wrecks cause catastrophic injuries. So, the victim does not give a statement to emergency responders. As a result, the police accident report only reflects the truck driver’s version of events.

Therefore, Brainerd, MN accident lawyers must also collect evidence in the case. Medical records are always important. In addition to diagnosis and treatment issues, medical professionals usually take notes about the victim’s pain and suffering.

Electronic evidence, such as the Electronic Logging Device, may be critical as well. As mentioned above, many truck drivers are dangerously fatigued. ELDs provide rock-solid evidence in this area. But a Brainerd, MN accident lawyer must act quickly to preserve this evidence before the insurance company “accidentally” destroys it.

Insurance Company Defenses

Building a case is a big part of the settlement process. This evidence allows Brainerd, MN accident lawyers to assign a preliminary settlement value. So, a lawyer does not sell the claim short and does not needlessly hold out for more money.

This determination is only preliminary, because an attorney must also consider any insurance company defenses. These legal loopholes include:

  • Contributory Negligence: Comparative fault shifts blame from the tortfeasor (negligent driver) to the victim. For example, the insurance company might admit the tortfeasor was speeding, but insists that the victim’s illegal lane change substantially caused the crash.
  • Last Clear Chance: In many rear-end and head-on collision claims, the insurance company argues that the victim could have avoided the crash, perhaps by changing lanes, yet did not do so. If that’s the case, the victim, and not the tortfeasor, is legally responsible for damages.
  • Sudden Emergency: This doctrine is similar to last clear chance. If the tortfeasor reasonably reacted to a sudden emergency, like a tire blowout, the tortfeasor is not responsible for any resulting car crash damages.

Typically, the insurance company must prove these defenses apply.

The Settlement Process

Even if these defenses do no hold up in court, insurance companies typically use them as an excuse to delay settlement. As a result, a Brainerd, MN accident lawyer must often file legal paperwork to preserve the victim’s rights. If an attorney waits too long, the victim could completely lose the right to recovery, because of the statute of limitations.

At that point, most Crow Wing County judges refer cases to mediation. This alternative dispute resolution mechanism is successful about 75 percent of the time.

During mediation, a neutral third party, who is usually an unaffiliated Brainerd, MN accident lawyer, first listens to brief legal arguments from both sides. Then for the remainder of the session, the mediator goes back and forth between the two sides, conveying settlement offers and counteroffers. These sessions usually last a full day, but some last a half day.

Mediation has a number of benefits for both victims and insurance companies. Mediation reduces litigation costs and shortens the case. Additionally, mediation gives both parties more control over the outcome. For these reasons, mediation is often successful in other areas as well, such as family law.

Connect with a Dedicated Attorney

The accident settlement process usually takes time. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd, MN accident lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. You have a limited amount of time to act.

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Buffalo Lawyers

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