Truck Accidents 101: Causes and Culpability

Truck Accidents 101: Causes and Culpability

Most passenger vehicles are no match for a fully loaded, 80,000-pound tractor-trailer barreling down the highway at high speed. In fact, in the event of a truck accident, it is often those outside of the truck that experience the most devastating consequences. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), approximately 82% of truck accident fatalities are passenger vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

In the wake of this terrible situation, it’s not right for truck accident victims to foot the bill when a negligent trucking company or driver was responsible for the crash. With the right legal team on your side, you may be able to recover compensation from several potentially liable parties.

Who’s Responsible for a Truck Accident?

Most trucks are commercial vehicles, which means that a business is responsible for the trucks’ operation and maintenance. Therefore, there are many more parties responsible for the truck (and the driver operating it) than a traditional vehicle for which the owner is often the sole liable party.

In the event of a truck accident, there are several parties that may be held liable for damages, including, but not limited to, the following:

The Trucking Company

A trucking company has immense power and responsibility. Often, a trucking company’s actions will determine whether a safe fleet of trucks is on the road. Trucking companies are responsible for scheduling regular maintenance on their trucks, hiring qualified drivers, ensuring drivers do not exceed federal regulations for driving time limits, and more.

Acting in a reckless or negligent manner in regard to any of these responsibilities can have disastrous consequences.

For example, if a trucking company neglects to schedule regular maintenance for its trucks, and a subsequent tire blowout or brake failure causes an accident, then the trucking company may be held liable for the accident.

Accordingly, if a trucking company hires a driver who should not have been on the road—such as one with a DUI on their record—and the driver’s reckless driving causes an accident, then the trucking company may be held liable for its employee’s negligence.

The Truck Driver

There are certain situations where a truck driver may be held liable for an accident directly. This could happen if the truck driver violates the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) hours-of-service regulations, outside of the trucking company’s orders or influence.

Similarly, if a truck driver drove while intoxicated, either on drugs or alcohol, and this impairment causes a crash, then the driver alone may be held liable for the incident, since their own actions (not the trucking company’s) caused the crash.

However, it’s important to note that employers can be held liable for any reckless action committed by an employee. This is known as “respondeat superior,” or vicarious liability, and refers to when an employer is legally responsible for the actions of its employee if the employee is acting within the course and scope of employment.

Such situations can be complicated, so it’s in your best interest to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can sort out the details of your case.

The Cargo Loaders

Other employees who may be held liable for a truck accident is the trucking company’s cargo loaders. Cargo must be loaded onto a truck evenly and securely in order to prevent cargo shift when the truck is traveling at high speeds. The failure to do so may make the cargo loaders liable for any accidents that result due to this negligence.

The Truck’s Manufacturer

In certain situations, the truck’s manufacturer may be held liable for an accident if it sent a truck to the market that had an inherent design or manufacturing flaw. If, for example, a manufacturer designed a series of trucks that all had an unforeseen brake defect, and this defect later causes an accident, then the manufacturer may be held liable for damages through a product liability claim.

Subcontractors or Subhaulers

Trucking companies often hire subcontractors (also known as “subhaulers”) to haul soil, aggregate, mulch, rock, and more for construction projects. Trucking companies remain responsible for any negligent or reckless actions of anyone they subcontract during the hauling job. However, it should be noted that subhaulers have an independent duty of inspection when it comes to their vehicles and are responsible for all equipment they tow.

What to Do After a Truck Accident

If you are involved in a truck accident, it’s important for you to take certain measures, if you are physically able to do so. These steps can ensure the viability of your claim down the line.

  • Check to see if anyone requires medical attention, and contact emergency medical services if this is the case.
  • Exchange contact, vehicle, and insurance information with the truck driver. Get their employer’s name and business contact information as well.
  • Seek medical attention and retain all records of treatment.
  • Take photos of injuries and property damage sustained during the crash.
  • Ask for a copy of the responding officer’s police report.
  • See if there are any nearby cameras whose footage can be used as supporting evidence.
  • Contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

Injured in a Truck Accident? We’re Here to Help

We understand how devastating truck accidents can be for victims. It’s often difficult to ever fully recover from one.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a truck accident, our San Jose personal injury attorneys are here to help. We have helped countless clients recover the compensation they need for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more after a serious accident. We’re here to help you through this difficult time and get your life back on track.

Call Caputo & Van Der Walde LLP at (800) 900-0863 to schedule a free consultation.

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