Most people know that truck accidents involve a few key players. What few are aware of is that the victims and operators, also known as truckers, are far from the only parties that suffer the brunt of the legal fallout.
Companies or individuals known as carriers operate most commercial vehicles that move goods. These enterprises typically receive their freight contracts from brokers that serve as intermediaries between carriers and other firms known as shippers, such as the businesses that arrange the sale of consumer goods.
How do brokers and shippers figure into the liability landscape? Where do their legal responsibilities lie after one of their truck drivers gets into an injury-causing collision, and what does their involvement mean for victims? Here’s what to know about your post-truck-accident future.
The Confusing Nuances of Truck Liability Cases
An incident like a truck accident involves far more factors than might be readily apparent. On top of the highway conditions that contribute to many wrecks, the state of the vehicles involved also matters — such details might be determined long before a truck gets on the road.
Commercial vehicles pass through a bewildering number of hands prior to each journey. They may undergo maintenance checks, and they’re often loaded by third parties or handled by inspection personnel. These realities can make it hard to determine fault.
The Legal Ramifications of Complex Situations
Each stage of the shipping process can potentially contribute to an accident outcome, and tragedies don’t always wait until commercial vehicles are en-route to occur. For instance, in 2013, a trucker had both legs amputated after a 5,000-pound pipe fell from a trailer during unloading and crushed the lower half of his body, leaving him unable to support his family. The 59-year-old, who wasn’t participating in the unloading activities, eventually won a $10.6-million settlement against the shipper because it should have properly inspected the cargo load before handling it. In this instance, the company was found to have acted negligently by not following safety best practices.
Broker and Shipper Specifics
Your liability risks as a broker or shipper will vary depending on the nature of the accident in question. It’s also important to remember that what constitutes due diligence is also somewhat situational:
Courts consider a broad range of factors when determining liability. In the example of the trucker who lost his legs, the shipper was deemed responsible for its failure to act. In other situations, however, a company might face adverse consequences for making unwise choices, such as allowing a carrier to break safety rules to make good time. Companies can also get in trouble for not vetting drivers for professional misconduct, such as failing to stick to safe schedules or operating under the influence.
A broker’s apparent noninvolvement in the actual freight handling doesn’t absolve them from liability. For instance, brokers typically select their drivers according to internal company criteria and employment policies, so they might be judged responsible for putting bad operators on the road. Brokers that hire carriers known to have lousy track records get no sympathy from courts.
The Outlook for Illinois Freight Companies
If your enterprise deals with freight, then you run the risk of being held partially responsible in an accident. Even if it seems like the driver should have been the only one at fault, your role as their employer means that some of the blame sits squarely upon your shoulders — at least in the eyes of victims and the court system.
It’s also critical to understand that the landscape is evolving. As state and federal lawmakers devise new safety laws and apply existing rules to a broader variety of companies, freight enterprises must assume a greater burden of responsibility and take definitive action to limit their exposure to liability. The increased use of electronic records and other smart technologies could also give survivors more legal options for seeking restitution.
What Lies Ahead for Victims?
Truck accidents are associated with severe harm and life-changing outcomes. From being unable to work to having to drain your savings to pay for medical care, you face countless challenges as a survivor. Although the law may be on your side in punishing brokers, shippers and carriers that cause accidents, filing a case takes time and hard work that are hard to come by when you’re trying to recover. Talking to an attorney may be the best way to move beyond your accident.