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Who is Liable for a Truck Accident?

February 15, 2024

By Thomas McCutcheon

A truck accident often occurs due to the negligence of a truck driver, a trucking company, a parts manufacturer, or a combination of the three. Other parties can also play a role. Truck accidents are among the most complex personal injury cases because many parties can be responsible.

The following is a look at some potentially liable parties and why immediately hiring a truck accident lawyer is of the utmost importance.

Why Determining Liability is Essential

There are many reasons why understanding who is liable for a truck accident is critical. If you’ve suffered a severe injury, you deserve compensation. But your truck accident lawyer can only secure that compensation if they know the appropriate party to take legal action against. Determining liability is also crucial because it helps accident victims get justice, holding those responsible for their carelessness accountable.

Why a Truck Accident Happens

Who is Liable for a Truck Accident

Truck accidents often occur due to several factors that combine in complex ways. Understanding why accidents happen is critical to determining liability.

In many instances, driver, vehicle, and external factors play a role in causing a wreck. The following is a closer look at each.

One of the most common causes of a truck accident is driver fatigue. Even though the federal government establishes strict hours of service regulations, drivers will often ignore them. They push themselves beyond reasonable limits when they stay behind the wheel too long. They’re exhausted and can no longer drive safely.

Distracted driving is another common culprit. Using a phone, eating, talking, or daydreaming is dangerous enough when someone is driving a passenger car. But the consequences can be even more devastating when they’re at the helm of an 80,000-pound commercial truck.

According to one study, 71 percent of large truck crashes occur when the truck driver focuses on something other than the road. Truckers succumb to the temptation of answering calls, texting, or engaging in other distractions far too often.

Also, truckers sometimes cause accidents due to driving while impaired by alcohol or drug use. It’s almost unbelievable to imagine someone deciding to drive a huge commercial vehicle when drunk or high, but it happens more often than you think. Impaired truckers caused 107 fatalities in the United States in the previous year.

Truck accidents can sometimes occur due to a trucking company’s failure to maintain their vehicles properly. Neglecting brake systems, failing to change worn-out tires, failing to switch out faulty lights, and other poor maintenance practices can make a truck much more dangerous.

Also, most commercial trucks log tens of thousands of miles every year. Some of them can travel 100,000 miles or more. The longer a truck is on the road, the more wear and tear the parts will experience. If left unaddressed, mechanical failures due to worn-out parts can lead to catastrophe.

These failures can result from a combination of wear and tear, a lack of regular inspections, or the use of substandard replacement parts. Engine breakdowns, brake failures, or steering malfunctions can compromise a driver’s ability to control the vehicle, leading to accidents with severe consequences.

External Factors

Adverse weather conditions can significantly contribute to truck accident complexity. Rain, snow, or fog can create hazardous driving conditions that demand heightened awareness and skill from drivers. Poor visibility and slippery roads amplify the risks. If a driver ignores the risks of terrible weather, that can lead to tragedy. Truckers should never drive too fast for conditions, even if they are within the posted speed limit. Doing so often causes collisions.

Poor Road Conditions

Inadequate road maintenance, uneven surfaces, or insufficient signage can often contribute to accidents that might otherwise have been avoidable. However, drivers must familiarize themselves with routes before getting behind the wheel. The unfortunate fact is many of them aren’t qualified to handle unexpected challenges and cause horrible accidents as a result.

Potentially Liable Parties in a Truck Accident

Potentially Liable Parties in a Truck Accident

Determining liability after a truck accident involves scrutinizing the driver’s actions and other critical players in the transportation chain. Understanding the role of these different parties is crucial to accurately assessing blame and helping accident victims achieve justice.

The following examines how the driver, trucking company, vehicle manufacturer, and other parties can sometimes share blame when a truck accident occurs.

The Truck Driver

Every motorist must drive safely. Truck drivers have even more responsibility since their vehicles are much larger than passenger cars. Trying to maneuver a massive truck takes a great deal of skill. But truck drivers must do more than steer and navigate. They must also adhere to a complex web of regulations designed to ensure the safety of everyone sharing the road.

Truckers face significant pressure to meet deadlines. Their livelihoods often depend on their ability to deliver their loads on time. Even though regulations prohibit fatigued driving, it happens far too often. Violating regulations can substantially contribute to fatigue-related accidents. If an investigation shows a driver was too tired to drive safely, that driver can face liability.

Truck drivers are liable for causing accidents due to distractions, impairment, or failure to adhere to other safety protocols. The consequences of their negligence can be tragic, so they must face accountability.

The Trucking Company

Drivers often push beyond their limits due to company-mandated deadlines, which are often unreasonable. If your lawyer can prove the company’s deadlines played a role in the truck accident, you can sue the company and the driver.

Trucking companies can commit negligence in other ways. For example, they can hire unqualified drivers with no business at the helm of a 40-ton machine.

Many companies are desperate due to a shortage of drivers. They’ll often cut corners, either failing to vet candidates properly or putting them behind the wheel without the proper training. A driver’s lack of knowledge increases the likelihood of a truck accident.

Trucking companies must also properly maintain their vehicles. However, they will often put profits over maintenance. They’re so intent on making money that they’ll overlook potential issues, such as worn-out brakes, tires, or other components. They turn their vehicles into potentially deadly hazards by neglecting to address issues.

Even if the trucking company itself was not negligent, you can still often hold it vicariously liable for the truck driver’s conduct if the company owned the truck and hired the driver.

Vehicle and Parts Manufacturers

In some instances, neither the driver nor the trucking company faces liability for a truck accident. Instead, the vehicle manufacturer or manufacturer of a faulty part will take the blame.

Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the safety and integrity of vehicles and parts. Defective parts or design issues can lead to mechanical failures, making the truck unresponsive or unpredictable in critical moments. Manufacturers must adhere to rigorous quality control standards to prevent these defects and minimize the risk of accidents.

If the truck accident investigation shows a malfunction caused by the wreck, the victim can file a product liability lawsuit against the company making the vehicle or part. Any oversight in the design phase, production process, or anywhere else can lead to a tragedy.

Cargo Loaders

Trucking companies regularly look for ways to increase efficiency and cut costs. Many turn to third-party businesses to handle tasks, such as cargo loading.

Cargo loading is critically essential to trucking safety. If the loaders are negligent, the cargo can suddenly shift during transit. A load shift can create an imbalance, causing the truck to lean to one side. The truck can roll over when the driver loses control due to the shift, leading to a catastrophic accident.

If your truck accident attorney can establish negligence on the part of the loading company, they can initiate legal proceedings against the business, aiming to secure maximum compensation on your behalf.

Trucking Industry Regulations

We previously mentioned the hours of service rule, which the government designed to reduce truck accidents due to driver fatigue. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) establishes and enforces these and hundreds of other trucking safety regulations nationally.

In addition to hours of service rules, the FMCSA also establishes regulations governing vehicle maintenance, driver qualifications, and much more. State agencies work with the FMCSA, tailoring regulations to local conditions and overseeing enforcement within their jurisdictions.

You can’t overstate the importance of these regulations to truck accident cases. If a driver, company, or another party causes a wreck by violating industry rules, authorities must compel them to pay a significant penalty.

Challenges in Assigning Liability

It’s very difficult to determine liability after a truck accident. As you’ve learned, several parties can share responsibility. But there are other complicating factors.

Clear-cut evidence, for instance, may be elusive. Conflicting witness statements can also make the investigation more challenging. The cornerstone of determining liability is proving negligence, demanding a meticulous examination of the accident’s circumstances.

Not only must you hire a lawyer, but you must also hire one with extensive experience in truck accident investigation. Your lawyer must understand the nuances of truck accident law and know how to sift through evidence and interpret regulations to build the most compelling case possible on your behalf. The right truck accident lawyer will be vital to getting the justice and compensation you deserve.

How a Truck Accident Investigation Works

Truck Accident Investigation

If determining liability is your case’s foundation, the truck accident investigation is the cornerstone. Your lawyer can’t determine liability without it. Law enforcement agencies and your truck accident attorney play a pivotal role in this process.

The investigation will produce the evidence to make or break your case. This evidence includes witness statements, surveillance footage, and accident site photographs.

Other critical evidence includes the truck’s event data recorder (or “black box”), surveillance camera footage, and the driver’s phone records. Here’s some brief information on each.

  • Black box data – Many trucks have this device. It electronically records vital data, such as the speed at the time of a wreck, how the driver applied the brakes, the truck’s mechanical status, etc. If a trucking company refuses to release this information, your lawyer can file a subpoena to force them into doing so.
  • Surveillance footage – Video cameras are seemingly everywhere, so there’s a good chance a nearby camera has footage showing how the truck accident happened. Your attorney can request this footage, which can be powerful evidence in your favor.
  • Phone records – Your attorney can also subpoena the phone records of the truck driver. These records will show whether the driver was texting or talking when the accident occurred.

The legal principles guiding liability are rooted in negligence. Your case must satisfy four legal elements to prove the negligence of the at-fault party or parties. These elements include:

  • Duty – The truck driver (or other liable party) had a duty of care to keep you safe on the road.
  • Breach – The liable party breached that duty.
  • Causation – The breach caused the accident.
  • Damages – The accident caused you to incur financial losses or damages. These include medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and many others.

The evidence your truck accident attorney gathers through their investigation will help satisfy all the required elements, making you eligible to pursue compensation.

Insurance Concerns

A truck accident case is a high-stakes undertaking. Insurance policies covering trucks have limits of one million dollars or more. Because there is so much money on the line, the insurer will do whatever it takes to protect its policy.

One of the reasons you must hire a lawyer as soon as possible is so they can quickly investigate the accident scene. The earlier the investigation begins, the better the chances your attorney will find the proof needed to assess the blame. If you delay getting legal help, critical evidence can disappear.

Speak With a Skilled Truck Accident Lawyer

A seasoned truck accident lawyer will provide your best chance of a positive outcome in your case.

Truck Accident Attorneys in Florence
Thomas W. McCutcheon Jr. | Joel R. Hamner, Florence Truck Accident Lawyers

A Florence personal injury attorney will know how to gather compelling evidence, assess liability, and overcome the insurance company’s formidable opposition. They’ll also know how to negotiate a fair settlement and, if necessary, argue for your rights in court.

While time is of the essence, it’s equally important to conduct thorough due diligence to guarantee you make the right choice. Take the time to explore attorney websites, peruse review sites, and consult with friends or family members who have recently sought legal assistance. The more comprehensive information you gather, the more informed and confident your ultimate decision will be.

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