Who is Liable in a Truck Accident?

When a semi-truck causes an accident, there may be multiple parties that bear responsibility. When drivers or passengers suffer injuries in an accident with a semi-truck, they may need the help of an attorney to determine who is responsible for the accident and, therefore, who is liable for damages.

What Are the Consequences of Trucking Accidents?

Truck accidents are more dangerous for drivers and passengers in smaller vehicles due to the size and weight of semi-trucks. People involved in trucking accidents may suffer severe injuries and damage to their vehicles. While a car is easily replaceable, some injuries can be life-changing for the parties involved. Common trucking accident injuries are:

Back and neck injuries. Backs and necks include small, fragile bones and ligaments that may be easily injured from an impact. Whiplash is an injury to the neck that happens when a driver or passenger’s head and neck snap forward while the torso stays in place during a sudden stop.

Spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord injuries can cause partial, temporary, or complete paralysis to the lower body and torso. People with spinal cord injuries may never recover their movement. Treatment can involve many months or years of treatments, surgeries, physical therapy, or adaptive devices.

Head and brain injuries. Head injuries can range from minor bruises or mild concussions to traumatic brain injuries. More serious head injuries can have long-lasting effects that require serious treatments.

Burns. Some accidents result in fires that can spread quickly. Burns are painful and may lead to permanent disfigurement or death.

Amputation and disfigurement. Trucking accidents can cause crushing injuries that may lead to the loss of a limb. Amputations require continuing medical treatment and adaptive devices like prosthetics.

Internal injuries. Impact with a large truck may cause the driver or passengers of the smaller vehicle to suffer internal injuries from blunt force trauma. Broken ribs may also puncture internal organs or create other internal damage.

Death. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), trucking accidents result in more than four thousand deaths each year. The majority of fatalities in trucking accidents are drivers and passengers in passenger vehicles.

What Causes Trucking Accidents?

Driver and trucking company negligence is often the cause of trucking accidents. According to the IIHS, safety defects and long hours are the main causes of trucking accidents. Some other contributing factors of trucking accidents are:

Distracted driving
Driving while fatigued
Failing to adjust driving to the road or weather conditions
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Speeding and driving recklessly
Negligent hiring by the trucking company
Failing to properly train drivers
Failing to maintain trucks in a safe condition
Failing to observe or enforce the mandatory break periods for drivers.
Different parties may be responsible for these negligent actions. Determining who is liable for the accident is an important first step to finding out who should pay for the damages resulting from the accident.

Are Truck Drivers Responsible for Damages?

Truck drivers are rarely liable for damages stemming from a commercial truck accident. Rather, truck accident liability usually rests with the trucking company. Most truck drivers are working within the scope of their employment when they are driving a company’s truck or hauling cargo for a company. If the truck driver is working within his or her scope of employment when he or she causes a trucking crash, the trucking company bears the financial responsibility.

Although trucking companies are typically liable for commercial truck accidents, truck drivers can be individually liable if:

The driver is an independent contractor who is required to carry his or her own insurance. Sometimes, trucking companies choose to hire truckers who own their own truck and assume liability for their actions rather than hiring truckers as employees.
The driver made deliberate, negligent choices behind the wheel. If a driver’s actions are so reckless that they are beyond the scope that an employer could reasonably expect, liability for the trucking crash may transfer from the trucking company to the driver.
The truck driver was using the company’s truck for personal use outside the scope of his or her employment.
Truck Accident Laws
The Illinois State Police are responsible for determining truck accident liability. Truck drivers are subject to the same traffic laws and rules as any other driver. If a truck driver breaks a traffic law and his or her actions lead to a trucking crash, the police can usually pinpoint who caused the accident and who is liable with ease.

However, commercial truck accidents involving negligence make it more difficult for the Illinois State Police to determine liability. Drivers are negligent when they breach the duty they owe to their fellow drivers to act the way a reasonable driver would act in the same or similar situation and end up causing harm to other drivers. For example, if a truck driver is driving within the posted speed limit but runs into the back of a car because he or she could not stop, he or she may have caused the accident through negligence. The truck driver should have reduced his or her speed based on traffic conditions, as a reasonable driver would have, to ensure he or she could stop without hitting any of the surrounding vehicles. Although the driver was not breaking any laws, he or she was not using reasonable care based on the situation.

Who is Liable in a Trucking Accident?

In accidents between two passenger vehicles, typically the only parties who are liable for paying for damages are the drivers and the insurance companies. In a trucking accident, however, multiple people and companies may have contributed to the conditions leading to the crash. Truck drivers, carriers, cargo shippers and loaders, other vendors, and truck manufacturers can all possibly be held liable for a trucking accident. The victims of a truck accident or their attorney must investigate the causes of the accident to determine who to sue since various negligent acts can be attributed to different parties.

Truck Drivers
Truck drivers may negligently cause an accident if they are speeding, driving while fatigued, or driving while distracted. If they are responsible for inspecting the truck to ensure proper maintenance, they might be liable if the truck’s poor condition caused the accident.

A truck driver may be independent or work for a trucking company, affecting who is liable for an accident. If the driver is an employee or agent of a trucking company, the company may be liable for the driver’s negligence and any resulting accidents. However, if the truck driver is an independent contractor driving his or her own truck, he or she may be solely liable for negligence leading to an accident.

A carrier is a trucking company that owns its trucks and hires or contracts drivers. It may be held accountable for the actions of its drivers because it is responsible for its hiring and training practices. If it has hired drivers with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule infractions on their records or the company’s records indicate improper training, the victims of an accident may be able to prove the carrier’s negligence.

Victims or their attorneys can also find valuable information by interviewing trucking company employees. They may reveal that the company encouraged drivers to keep costs down by ignoring FMCSA hours of service limits that require truckers to take a ten-hour break after eleven consecutive hours of driving. The interviews may also reveal that the company skimps on maintenance and inspection requirements.

Cargo Shipper and Loader
Sometimes a company might hire a trucking company to haul its cargo. In that case, the company that owns the cargo may be responsible for loading it. If they load the cargo with uneven weight distribution, they may be liable for any resulting accidents. When the trucking company is responsible for loading the cargo, they are responsible.

Other Vendors
Carriers may outsource work to vendors to complete background checks, recruit drivers, perform drug and alcohol testing, perform truck maintenance, or do repair work. When the vendors are negligent, they may also be liable for resulting accidents.

Truck Manufacturers and Part Makers
If a mechanical failure, such as a tire blow-out, brake failure, or problems with the steering or couplings, causes an accident, poor maintenance might be the culprit. However, defective parts may also cause failures leading to a crash. If a defective product causes the crash, the product manufacturer may be liable.

If the victims and their lawyers determine that more than one party was negligent and contributed to the cause of the crash, they can file a lawsuit against all negligent parties at once.

What To Do After a Truck Accident
Knowing what to do after a truck accident can make all the difference in an injury claim. Victims of a trucking accident need to gather evidence to help prepare a case against the driver, trucking company, and any other responsible parties. They should:

Take pictures of the accident, skid marks, the damage to the vehicles, the license plates of the truck and trailor, the company names on the truck and trailor.
Ask the police for evidence collected at the crash scene and police reports.
Hire an expert to examine the truck and other vehicles involved in the crash
Ask to download the data from the truck’s “black box” which is an event data recorder
Hire an accident reconstruction specialist to create a forensic analysis and interpretation of the accident
Demand the driver’s activity log, which should show a record of his or her time behind the wheel as well as the mandated rest periods
Ask the trucking company for additional records
Collect witness statements
Collect statements from trucking company employees
Proving liability in trucking accidents is more complex than in a car crashes and very likely will require experts to help reconstruct the accident scene and establish liability. My firm has complete access to these types of experts, and many times their testimony makes the difference in our winning your case.

Like all the cases I take, semi-truck accident cases are handled on a contingency basis with no obligation or fee for the first consultation. Contact Stephen Osborne, your Reno Nevada personal injury attorney, to discuss the specifics of your case.