Who is Liable for a Truck Accident?

February 7, 2024 | Jarrett Blakeley
Who is Liable for a Truck Accident?

If you’re a passenger vehicle motorist who is the victim of a truck accident that is clearly not your fault, you can prove, with the help of a truck accident lawyer, which parties are liable for your injuries.

Besides the truck driver, you can also file a claim against the trucking company, the truck or parts manufacturer, a third-party motorist, or a government entity. Sometimes, accidents happen if the truck’s cargo is improperly loaded.

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The Truck Driver

The truck driver may bear liability if driver negligence directly caused the accident. This includes violations of traffic laws or safety regulations concerning speeding, distraction, impairment, excessive hours, load securement, or misconduct that led to the crash. A plaintiff must prove which actions breach the driver's duty of care.

Third-Party Motorists

In some truck crashes, a third-party vehicle precipitates the event through negligence, providing the trucker no chance to avoid a collision. For example, if another driver cuts off the trucker and causes them to crash, you may have to direct your claim to a third party in the crash. The case investigator will need to recreate the full accident sequence of events to determine the at-fault parties.

The Trucking Company  

The motor carrier may share liability through the doctrine of respondeat superior if the truck driver in the crash was actively employed by the company when the accident happened. If this doctrine is invoked, you’ll typically move to hold both the trucking company and trucker responsible. Therefore, the court will consider joint and several liability when they assign damages.

Companies can also be independently negligent if plaintiffs can show negligence concerning hiring, training, supervision, vehicle maintenance, or the enforcement of safety/compliance programs. Plaintiffs should review driver and company records for evidence.

The Truck or Parts Manufacturer

After accident, a damaged truck out of the road.

If some mechanical defects or failures compromised safety and contributed to the accident (such as brake failure), the truck manufacturer and faulty parts supplier might share liability in the accident claim. This is fact-specific and requires obtaining specific evidence and details about the vehicle systems and parts used during the wreck.

Government Entities

In rare cases, negligence by a government body, which maintains the roadways and signage, may contribute to a crash. For example, improperly established highway construction zones, lack of signs, and visibility issues can lead to claims. An attorney will usually seek expert testimony from transportation experts to support this type of claim.

The Cargo Loader

If a truck was loaded improperly by a shipping facility or cargo loader and it caused or contributed to an accident, several parties may share liability, including:

1. The Loading Company/Loader. The warehouse, shipping facility, or actual individual responsible for improperly distributing, securing, and containing the cargo onboard the truck will likely bear primary negligence.

If weight distribution, stacking, containment, or protection of the shipped goods was deficient in some way - all of which compromised vehicle stability and handling, the loading company breached its duty of care. Plaintiffs need to show evidence of specific loading errors and any policies or procedures that were not followed relative to industry standards and regulations.

2. The Trucking Company. The motor carrier may share liability if the driver fails to conduct a diligent pre-trip inspection to identify and remedy apparent load defects before starting the trip.

3. The Truck Driver. If the cargo shifted or spilled during transit in a way that could have been prevented by more cautious maneuvers and driving adjustments, the operator may share fault in a negligence claim. Load stability often becomes noticeable when a truck is in motion.

To secure a rightful recovery and settlement amount after an incident involving shifting loads or spilled cargo, an attorney will identify the root lapses in securement and assign proportionate liability where warranted.

Ultimately, experienced truck accident attorneys conduct in-depth investigations to fully understand causation and identify every entity whose actions or inaction definitively led to the client's injuries.

This allows them to target liability claims toward all the appropriate at-fault parties and provide the strongest case when negotiating or litigating for fair compensation. Thorough preparation and persistence are key when handling high-stakes truck injury cases.

More About Driver Fatigue 

There are several factors that can contribute to driver fatigue in trucking accidents, which also leads to many truck accident claims.

1. Lack of adequate rest and sleep - Truck drivers often have irregular schedules and long driving hours that interfere with getting their proper rest. Fatigue sets in when drivers don't get 7 to 9 hours of continuous sleep.

2. Poor company policies - Motor carriers that emphasize excessive driving hours or overlook the monitoring of logs can result in tired drivers. Some companies indirectly encourage log book violations, hiding true drive time, or don’t enforce effective fatigue management policies.

3. Long driving distances - Cross-country trucking runs over several days, making fatigue inevitable at times despite federal hours of service regulations intended to limit driving time.

4. Overloaded schedules - Demands by companies or clients to meet tight delivery windows can compress driving time - leading to drowsy operations. The pressure of schedules and late load assignments erode designated sleeping periods. 

5. Sleep disorders/medical issues - Undiagnosed or uncontrolled conditions like sleep apnea reduce restfulness and accelerate mental and physical exhaustion while driving. 

Employers who hire transportation workers have the responsibility to optimize working conditions and hazard controls to prevent fatigue-related transportation incidents. They can do this through sleep disorder screening measures, engineering controls, fatigue prevention and management policies, and education.

Increased public awareness and stronger regulations aim to mitigate the occurrence of these issues. However, the economics of the trucking industry can promote driving efficiencies that can still lead susceptible or unethical drivers to drive a big rig while tired.

Identifying the root causes of fatigue after a crash is key for determining liability. Consultation with a truck accident attorney helps protect your rights so you’ll receive fair compensation.

Vicarious Liability and Trucking Accidents

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that makes employers liable for the negligent actions of their employees while they are acting within the course and scope of their employment. Vicarious trucking liability is an integral concept in truck accident law. Skilled attorneys investigate crashes to establish whether this concept can be applied for maximum recovery.

Below is an overview of how it relates to trucking accidents.

If a truck driver causes an accident through negligence, the trucking company that employs the driver can be held financially responsible for any injuries, property damage, and losses resulting from the crash.

The key here is to show that the truck driver was actively working and carrying out job duties for the company at the time of the accident. For truckers, this is typically straightforward to establish, especially if they were driving a load for a pending delivery or on the clock and en route to a destination that their employer dispatched them too.

Vicarious liability assigns responsibility to the company even though they did not directly cause the accident. This is because the company is still profiting from the activities of its employees and, therefore, has control over the screening, training, and supervision of drivers. If companies negligently hire or manage risky drivers, this compounds their liability exposure in crashes. 

Establishing vicarious liability means truck accident victims have a larger financial entity to pursue loss recovery or settlements. They’re not solely relying on the assets of individual drivers. Skilled truck accident attorneys then investigate truck crashes for this evidence - proving driver negligence while on duty. This opens the door to ensuring all the at-fault parties are held accountable for their errors and oversights.

Establishing Negligence in a Vicarious Liability Case

Here is an overview of vicarious liability as it relates to trucking company accidents. The key prerequisites for establishing vicarious liability against a trucking company include the following criteria.

1) Proving the truck driver's negligence directly led to the accident through actions like speeding, distracted driving, and violations of hours of service regulations and other trucking policies.

2) Demonstrating the driver was operating a truck in the furtherance of the company's commercial interests when the accident happened. For example, they may have been delivering a load between destinations that the trucking company dispatched.

3) Showing that the driver was subject to the employer's control through their relationship by way of certain factors, such as the company’s training of the driver, company ownership of the truck, company-assigned routes, compliance, and monitoring.

If a plaintiff can successfully prove the above elements, the legal doctrine of vicarious liability will support the assignment of financial responsibility for accident damages to the trucking company. This will take place even if managerial personnel did not cause the crash itself. The policy rationale is that companies have a nondelegable duty to ensure the safety of their drivers and the public at large.

Truck Accident FAQs

 Here are some common frequently asked questions for truck accident claims:

How are truck accidents different from regular car crashes?

Trucks are much larger and heavier, leading to more severe injuries. They are subject to more regulations - like hours of service rules. So, there are often more liable parties in truck accident claims.

Should I hire an attorney for help after a truck accident? 

Yes, as soon as possible. Cases involve complex investigations, navigating federal regulations, and detailed insurance policies. Experienced truck accident attorneys have the knowledge needed to investigate and pursue these types of claims.

What damages can a truck accident claim recover?

You can recover economic damages for medical bills and lost income. Non-economic damages often cover pain and suffering or loss of consortium. Wrongful death actions cover families who have lost a loved one. Punitive damages may be allocated for egregious conduct. 

Who pays for damages in a truck crash settlement?

Multiple parties can share liability, including the truck driver, trucking company, truck or parts manufacturer, cargo loader, or government entity. An attorney will investigate your claim to identify the responsible parties.

How long do I have to file a truck accident lawsuit?

It varies by state, but the deadline is typically 2 to 3 years from the crash date. Complex cases require a lead time for obtaining evidence and providing a full recovery prognosis.

How does a truck accident lawyer prove negligence?

A truck accident lawyer proves negligence in several key ways:

1. Review log books, GPS records, and other tracking data to establish if there were any violations of applicable trucking regulations that involve hours of service rules or weight limits. These violations demonstrate a breach of the duty of care.

2. Retaining accident reconstruction experts to analyze physical evidence from the crash scene, vehicle damage, black box recorder data, and other factors that will piece together how the collision happened and identify its root causes. Their findings can prove or rule out driver errors.

3. Deposing the defendants (and eyewitnesses) under oath to question them on training, driving history, events leading up to the crash, post-accident statements, and other facts that reveal negligence through deliberate or careless conduct.

4. Obtain maintenance records and conduct vehicle inspections to determine if there were equipment deficiencies. These deficiencies might include improperly inflated tires, faulty brakes, or defective headlights or taillights - any of which may have played a role in the cause of the accident. The driver/company's awareness and handling of such issues can be proved to show negligence. 

5. Researching applicable commercial trucking standards and evaluating training procedures, personnel files, supervision policies, and other company practices for shortfalls. Deviation from industry best practices helps establish negligence. 

Synthesizing multifaceted evidence and testimony sources allows an experienced attorney to construct a compelling picture of negligence for judges and juries while overcoming defenses aiming to deflect or minimize liability for a crash. Securing accountability is vital for the injured plaintiff’s interests.

Hiring an experienced injury attorney is essential for several reasons if you've suffered an injury in a crash involving a large truck:

A group of business lawyers collaborating on legal matters in a courtroom to assist their client.

Complex regulations - Trucking law concerning safety, training, maintenance, and insurance involves technical state/federal rules foreign to most people. Lawyers have the know-how to review the regulations and legislation concerning truck accident claims.

Preserving evidence - Critical data from trucks, logbooks, cameras, and contracts are frequently lost. Lawyers send spoliation letters promptly to ensure the preservation of evidence.

In cases where evidence has been destroyed, the theory of spoliation inference comes into play. In these circumstances, it is reasonable to infer that a party who destroyed evidence was motivated to do so because they had a consciousness of guilt. Therefore, a fact finder may conclude that the destroyed evidence would have been unfavorable to the destroying party.

Identifying all liable parties - There are layers of potential liability between drivers, trucking companies, manufacturers, cargo loaders, or whomever else may be liable. Lawyers can uncover all the sources for an accident.

Managing insurance complications - Policies have nuances the average person struggles to understand. Lawyers make this opaque process understandable. 

Proving damages comprehensively - The losses stemming from severe truck injuries are multi-dimensional. Lawyers quantify past/future harm meticulously.

Avoiding victim blaming tactics - Defendants often shift blame by taking facts out of context. Lawyers deftly counter for the truth.

Negotiating optimum settlements - Leveraging case facts maximally takes keen strategic advocacy abilities when facing a tough defense. That’s why you need the skills of a truck accident lawyer when you’re seeking compensation for your injuries.

Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer to Receive the Compensation You Need and Deserve

While no one can undo a truck crash tragedy, having a seasoned attorney as your guide makes navigating the long road to recovery after an accident far smoother and juster. Protect yourself and your family by contacting a personal injury attorney right away.

Jarrett Blakeley

Firm founder Jarrett Blakeley fights to get maximum compensation for all of Blakeley Law Firm’s clients. He has been practicing law since 2006 and takes great pride in representing the rights of injured individuals against the insurance companies and the law firms that represent them. He has successfully represented thousands of clients and recovered tens of millions of dollars on their behalf. Mr. Blakeley strives to give all of his clients personal attention and maximum effort and seeks to instill a firm culture that prioritizes customer service and compassion for the injured over all else. Fighting for the injured is Jarrett Blakeley’s greatest passion and he looks forward to fighting for the injured for the rest of his career.

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