Semi-Truck Accident Liability
Compensation after a truck accident can be higher than injured drivers receive after an accident with a passenger car.
Besides the fact that truck accident injuries tend to be more severe, there is also the presence of trucking companies. These defendants may pay higher settlements because they have more insurance coverage.
If you have been injured in a truck accident, it is crucial to figure out who are the potentially liable parties before you sue. The experienced truck accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can help you recover financial compensation in truck accident lawsuits.
A Trucking Accident Is Unlike Other Motor Vehicle Crashes
When you are considering semi truck accident liability, there are so many more factors to consider than in an auto accident.
A truck accident attorney would need to think about the following:
- How federal regulations impact your truck accident lawsuit
- Whether there are multiple defendants against whom you can file a claim or lawsuit
- Whether there a company who is a potential defendant and how to contend with that business and their insurance company
- Who the proper defendant to name and sue in the case
- Whether the truck itself functioned as it should have in the accident
How You Determine Who Is Responsible for Commercial Truck Accidents
Before you can file a truck accident lawsuit, you must determine who to file the lawsuit against. First, you need to figure out who was responsible for your commercial truck accident.
Your lawyer will perform an immediate and full investigation to establish the responsible parties. They may do the following to figure out what happened and who the parties responsible are:
- Speak to witnesses who saw the crash
- Obtain black box data that shows what the truck driver did
- View the wreckage of the truck accident
- Review the police report filed after the accident
- Work with an accident reconstruction expert witness
Given the high stakes that are involved, you should have an attorney take the necessary time to figure out truck accident liability.
There is a lot of money on the line, and an insurance company will not be easily persuaded to write the large check that you deserve. Therefore, you should make sure that your case is a thorough as possible before you make your move.
Negligence in a Personal Injury Claim
The basis for any lawsuit after accidents involving trucks is negligence. You must prove that the truck driver departed from the standard of care in order for them to be held liable.
In other words, you are comparing what they did before the accident to what a reasonable truck driver of average training would have done. Here are some examples of driver error that could result in liability:
- Driver fatigue- a tired driver has a lower level of reflexes and worse judgement than a rested one. Federal trucking laws require that a driver take mandatory rests at certain points.
- Distracted driving - truck drivers are behind the wheel for long periods of time and may try to "multitask" by texting or eating when driving
- Speeding - operators are under significant time pressure and have a limited amount of time to drive. They may try to cut corners and make up time by speeding
- Inexperience- the truck driving workforce is aging, and trucking companies are having a hard time finding drivers. They often put newer drivers behind the wheel who do not have the same experience and ability to safely drive a truck
While we talk about accidents and their causes in the past tense, it takes some investigation and work to get to that point.
After all, truck drivers will not volunteer the fact that they were sending a text while driving or that they were violating other federal laws. These are things that your lawyer will establish after rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.
Proving Truck Driver Negligence and Finding Other Defendants
In any accident involving a truck and passenger vehicles, the driver who is negligent is the one who is responsible for the accident. The first part of any claim involving semi trucks is showing who was responsible for the accident.
Unlike most car accidents, there may be multiple parties who have accident liability. Ideally, your goal is to find companies with deeper pockets who can pay the entire amount of your damages.
In claims resulting from car accidents, you are dealing with one insurance policy that may not even have enough coverage to pay for your damages. You may have to turn to your own auto insurance policy to help cover the costs related to your accident when the other driver does not have enough insurance.
In a truck accident case, you are likely dealing with more insurance coverage. The trucking company wants to remain in business, and they do not want to be hit with a catastrophic jury verdict. Therefore, they will have far more coverage than the average driver.
Still, you may come up against policy limits and may need to move to collect and enforce a judgement against the trucking company itself.
In addition to the trucking company (as the driver's employer), there may be multiple other parties with accident liability. Each responsible defendant adds additional insurance coverage or assets to pay for the damages caused.
The Liability of the Trucking Company
If the truck driver is liable for a semi truck accident, chances are that there is a trucking company that is the responsible party for your injuries.
When truck companies hire drivers to transport their cargo, they place a great deal of trust in that driver. The tractor trailer operator becomes an agency of the trucking company for which they work.
Whatever the driver does on the job becomes an action of their employer. In a semi truck crash, the driver and the truck company are one and the same.
Respondeat Superior in a Truck Accident Case
The doctrine of agency in trucking accidents is called respondeat superior. This is a Latin term for "let the master answer." The trucking company is the one who is driver's employer. So long as the driver is acting within the scope of their employment, trucking companies must pay for the damage.
In some cases, there is a question about what is considered "within the scope of employment." In most cases, the truck driver is acting at the behest of their employer.
Unless they are using the truck for personal errands, or they commit an intentional tort, they will usually be considered on the job, and the trucking company will be the liable party.
The Truck Manufacturer as the Liable Party
In some cases, the truck driver may not have done anything wrong to cause the accident. The investigation conducted by your truck accident attorney could show that the accident was caused by mechanical failure.
There may have been a problem with the truck's brakes, or a tire may have been defective, resulting in a blowout where the driver lost control.
In those cases, you can pursue a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the truck or the defective part. For example, if the accident was caused by defective tires, you can sue the company that made or sold the tires.
The lawsuit that related to such an accident would have a different legal standard than a standard negligence lawsuit against truck drivers and their employer.
In a product liability lawsuit, you would need to prove any of the following:
- The truck had a design defect, which is inherent in the design of the truck or part itself
- The truck had a manufacturing defect, in that there was nothing wrong with the design, but something went wrong in the manufacturing process, which made it unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.
- The manufacturer knew or should have known of a danger involved with its truck or part and did not warn the general public
Product liability lawsuits are complex legal matters that require an attorney who knows both truck accidents and the complicated area of product liability law. When you hire an truck accident attorney from Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, we have expertise in both areas.
The Truck Maintenance Company's Responsibility for an Accident
Sometimes, the truck owner will contract out with a third party to maintain the truck. Federal regulations require that the truck be maintained in proper working order and frequently inspected. The truck driver themselves must visually perform certain inspections before heading out onto the road.
If the problem was caused by improper maintenance of commercial trucks, the maintenance provider can be sued.
Note that a trucking company cannot completely offload legal liability when they outsource a certain function. Trucking companies must know exactly who they are doing business with and perform careful checks on contractors or other companies. They may still be liable themselves for semi truck accidents.
Independent Contractor Liability
One way that trucking companies have tried to escape liability for commercial truck accidents is by classifying drivers as "independent contractors."
For example, FedEx does not hire its own truck drivers for its deliveries. Instead, it contracts out its routes to owner-operators. This is a hurdle that injured victims must overcome when they are trying to establish liability. Oftentimes, there are obstacles that prevent people from going after the deep pockets.
There are still ways to hold the company liable, even if the driver is an independent contractor. First, the trucking company may have blurred the line between employee and independent contractor by exerting control over the driver. Second, there are other way to hold a trucking company liable.
One of the most common ways that people go after motor carriers like FedEx is on negligent hiring and training grounds. Even if they are working with an independent contractor, a trucking company must closely screen potential drivers and provide them with the proper training.
Legal Responsibility for a Cargo Shift
In other cases, the trucking company may have contracted with other trucking companies or specialized businesses to load the cargo onto the truck. A cargo shift contributes to a truck accident by changing the center of balance of the truck.
When cargo moves, it increases the possibility that the truck driver may lose control of the truck or experience a vehicle rollover. If that happens, the company responsible for loading the cargo could be liable for your injuries.
Federal regulations specify how cargo must be loaded and secured. If you can prove a violation of trucking regulations in how trucking companies ship cargo, you may be in position to receive financial compensation.
Liability in Trucking Company Leases
Usually, the person who leases the truck is the one who has truck accident liability. However, the company that leases the truck could also be legally responsible if they have provided a truck that is not in proper working order.
Again, this is a labor-intensive investigation because your truck accident attorney would need to determine whether it was the driver who made an error or whether there was something wrong with the truck that they were driving.
Dealing With an Insurance Company to Obtain Financial Compensation
As part of the legal process, you will need to deal with an insurance company at some point. If you are able to successfully establish truck driver liability, you will need to negotiate compensation for your injuries, and it can be substantial.
Drivers of passenger cars and their occupants are entitled to the following damages in big rig accidents:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Emotional distress
- Wrongful death damage (if their family member was killed in the accident)
The insurance company does not want to write you the check that you legally deserve. However, there is a certain amount of fear involved.
The trucking industry has seen numerous massive verdicts handed down by juries, giving you some leverage if you try to settle your personal injury lawsuit.
Call an Experienced Attorney After a Trucking Accident
Our law firm works with people who have been injured in a big rig accident and their families to prove liability and obtain financial compensation.
Our truck accident lawyers fight hard to get injury victims the money that they legally deserve when someone else is responsible for the accident. First, you should call the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers for a free consultation.
You can send us a message online or call us at (888) 424-5757 to begin the process of holding someone legally responsible for the catastrophic injuries that you may have suffered in a truck crash.