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Taking the first legal steps after a truck fatality

If your loved one was killed in a collision with a large commercial truck, your grief and devastation can seem unending. Grief has no timetable, but some survivors derive a sense of purpose from seeking justice through the Illinois courts.

Justice can take both criminal and civil forms. When the truck driver's actions were so egregious that they violated federal or state laws, criminal charges can be filed against the driver and the company that employed them.

While criminal cases are handled by prosecutors, it's important to understand that surviving family members can act as advocates for their deceased loved ones throughout all phases of the process. From rejecting proposed plea bargains to making victim's impact statements at sentencing hearings, family members have the right to assume an active role in prosecutions.

Regardless of whether or not criminal charges are pursued, wrongful death litigation filed in the Illinois civil courts is a parallel path to justice that can bring financial relief to struggling, grief-stricken families. Often, insurance companies choose to settle these types of cases rather than allow a jury to witness the testimonies of devastated family members on the witness stand or in depositions.

When wrongful death cases do go all the way to trial, nothing can ever be guaranteed. However, juries have been known to return with guilty verdicts and large awards that far eclipse any figures that were bandied about during settlement conferences.

Family members may wonder who can be named as defendants in these wrongful death cases. Is it just the truck driver who collided with their loved one? Sometimes there may only be a single defendant, but frequently multiple defendants are named.

For instance, in a fatality with a commercial big rig, the trucker and the trucking company may be named as defendants, along with the insurance companies offering them coverage. If other vehicles were involved in the accident, those drivers and their insurers also may become defendants.

If there were serious road hazards that contributed to the fatal accident, the agency responsible for maintaining the highways could be named as a defendant. Because most laypersons will not automatically know of all possible avenues for financial recovery in a wrongful death lawsuit, they could easily overlook a deep-pocketed defendant.

Therefore, it's a good idea to retain an attorney with experience litigating wrongful death cases in most fatal truck accidents.

Source: Truck Safety Coalition, "Legal Aspects," accessed Dec. 30, 2016

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