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In the first article of this series, we discussed the problem of crashes involving large trucks on California’s highways. In the second installment, we examined the reasons those accidents occur. In this concluding article, we take a look at the injuries that truck accidents cause and the compensation that injury victims may be entitled to receive.

Truck accident injuries

Large trucks are classified as those weighing more than 10,000 pounds. A large truck moving at highway speeds collides with substantially greater force than a typical passenger vehicle moving at the same speed. For that reason, truck accidents are more likely than other motor vehicle accidents to produce death and serious injuries.

Crushed torsos are more common in truck collisions than in traffic accidents that involve lighter vehicles. Heavy trucks that overturn can land on top of smaller vehicles, trapping occupants and crushing the chest, abdomen, or other parts of the body. A tragic example occurred in Martinez when a truck loaded with gravel tipped over and crushed a car occupied by a 32-year-old woman. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the woman’s 4-year-old daughter witnessed the accident.

Crush injuries also occur when a truck pushes a car into another vehicle or against a wall. Modern cars are designed with “crumple zones” that absorb collision impact, but they are less effective safeguards against a heavy, fast-moving truck. In addition, crumple zones provide no protection against side-impact collisions.

Airbags offer less protection in big truck crashes than in collisions involving passenger vehicles. Front airbags offer no protection from side-impact collisions or rollovers. For that reason, traumatic brain injuries can be a devastating result of a collision with a semi-trailer or other heavy truck. When they are not fatal, a serious head injury can lead to permanent brain damage, resulting in the loss of brain functions that govern speech, reasoning, and memory.

Spinal injuries caused by truck collisions may leave accident victims paralyzed. Paraplegia and quadriplegia are among the most catastrophic outcomes of truck accidents.

Other serious injuries that might occur when a big rig crashes into a passenger vehicle include:

  • Organ damage, including injuries to the spleen, kidneys, lungs, and pancreas.
  • Loss of feet, hands, and limbs that are severed during the crash.
  • Broken bones.
  • Jaw and dental injuries.
  • Eye injuries.
  • Facial scarring.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Soft tissue injuries, including stretched or torn muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Not surprisingly, a study found that injuries caused by large single-unit truck crashes were less severe than those caused by tractor-trailer crashes. The study nevertheless concluded that 15% of hospitalized victims of single-unit truck accidents were discharged to rehabilitation or long-term care facilities because they experienced disabling injuries.

Compensation for California truck accidents

When an accident victim is fatally injured due to a truck driver’s negligence, certain surviving family members are entitled to pursue wrongful death compensation. In California, those family members include a surviving spouse and the victim’s children. Other relatives might also qualify for compensation. A wrongful death attorney can advise you as to which family members are entitled to pursue a claim when a truck accident causes the death of a loved one.

Wrongful death compensation includes the income that the victim would have contributed to family members if the victim had not died. Certain family members are also entitled to compensation for the loss of love, affection, emotional support, and guidance that the victim would have provided. The monetary value of the victim’s services to family members, such as home maintenance or meal preparation, is an additional component of wrongful death compensation.

When the accident victim survives, the purpose of compensation is to “make the victim whole.” Realistically, if the victim will spend the rest of his or her life in a wheelchair, no amount of compensation can achieve that goal. Nevertheless, compensation can make an injury victim’s life more comfortable while assuring that future medical needs are met.

While most drivers of passenger cars in California are only required to carry $15,000 of personal injury liability coverage for accidents, trucking companies usually have sufficient coverage to pay reasonable compensation for catastrophic injuries. Personal injury compensation can include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Physical therapy and mental health counseling
  • Past and future income loss
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Expenses incurred to accommodate a disability (such as adding wheelchair ramps to a home or purchasing a wheelchair-accessible van)
  • Home health care expenses
  • Residential expenses if the victim must move to a assisted-living facility
  • Compensation for pain, suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life

Making a truck accident victim “whole,” in the sense of restoring the victim’s pre-accident condition, is not always possible, even with the best medical care. Still, a personal injury lawyer should do everything possible to assure that personal injury compensation is a fair measure of justice for the harm caused by a negligent truck driver.