A factor that makes truck accident cases unique from other auto accidents is the question of liability. An obvious assumption would be that the truck driver is at fault, but the trucking company may also bear some responsibility for the crash. In other cases, there may even be other potentially liable parties. To ensure you understand the process of proving negligence and identifying the responsible party from your accident, consider speaking with a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible.
When Is the Truck Driver Liable?
In general, if an accident occurs while a truck driver is performing their job, they are not financially responsible for damages, even if they are at fault. However, there are specific circumstances under which the truck driver and not their employer would be liable:
- The driver owns and operates the truck, making him the driver and the company.
- The truck driver is self-employed by an independent contractor, not directly employed by the trucking company and therefore responsible for carrying a private insurance policy.
- The crash occurred while the driver used the truck for something other than work.
- The driver intentionally or negligently violated traffic laws, such as excessive speeding or driving while drugged or intoxicated.
- The driver violated federal safety regulations, such as the shift limitations imposed under the Hours of Service law.
Part of the investigation process is evaluating the truck driver’s role in the accident and their connection to the company. Your truck accident attorney will collect the evidence needed to support your liability claim, including the driver’s logbooks and citations they received after the accident.
When Is the Trucking Company Liable?
Trucking companies are commonly liable for truck accidents because they have substantial legal responsibilities to keep their trucks and drivers at a minimum risk to other drivers. Examples of a trucking company’s duties include:
- Vetting truck drivers. This includes conducting a thorough background check for traffic violations and a history of DUI, ensuring drivers have a valid Commercial Drivers’ License and providing adequate training. Failure to complete these tasks for a driver who causes an accident would likely make the trucking company liable.
- Performing inspections and maintenance on trucks. Tire maintenance is a top priority because tires undergo significant stress carrying heavy loads for long distances. Issues with windows, mirrors, lights, and fluids could all lead to mechanical problems that may cause the driver to lose control. Trucking companies are responsible for keeping a constant watch on the mechanics of their fleets.
- Maintaining HOS regulations. Hours of Service regulations are an industry standard that ensures drivers do not become overly exhausted on the road. Unfortunately, some companies will force drivers to go over the allotted hours to increase profits and then falsely record their time in logbooks.
Trucking companies are well-equipped for accident lawsuits. They have significant legal resources and fight to avoid hefty payouts. With the help of a truck accident lawyer, you can build a solid case and likely negotiate a substantial settlement. Large companies often prefer to settle rather than go to trial because negative publicity is not good for the company’s reputation.
Who Are the Other Potentially Liable Parties?
Truck drivers and trucking companies are not the only potentially liable parties in a truck accident case. Sometimes a third party may play a role in the crash indirectly. Other possible defendants in a truck accident civil lawsuit include:
- The cargo loader. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration places strict regulations on the weight and securement of cargo to help avoid accidents. An overloaded truck or a trailer with poorly secured cargo could cause a catastrophic accident, and the party who loaded the trailer would be liable.
- The truck manufacturer. Suppose a mechanical failure due to a defective part causes the truck to malfunction and crash. In that case, you could hold the truck or part manufacturer accountable for damages in a product liability lawsuit.
- An outsourced mechanic. If the trucking company hired an outside truck mechanic to handle inspections and maintenance, that third-party mechanic would be liable if the cause was negligent truck maintenance or missed inspections.
If the cause of your accident was a defective part, speak with a truck accident lawyer immediately. Product liability cases can be challenging to prove and require expert knowledge of the laws that govern these types of cases.
How Do You Prove Negligence in a Truck Accident Case?
As the plaintiff in a truck accident lawsuit, you are responsible for proving the defendant’s negligence. The process is relatively the same for any personal injury case, and the burden of proof is significantly lower than in criminal court. The four elements of a successful negligence claim are:
- Proving the at-fault party owed you a duty of care, meaning a responsibility to adhere to road laws and industry safety regulations
- Establishing the at-fault party breached their duty of care, often by violating safety regulations or road laws
- Proving the breach in duty of care caused your accident
- Confirming the accident directly caused the injuries and losses you suffered
Without the direct link between the defendant’s actions and the losses you incurred, you cannot hold them legally responsible for damages.
What if You Are Partially Responsible for the Accident?
Liability is not always one-sided in personal injury lawsuits. The defense will often argue that the plaintiff contributed to the accident to deflect some responsibility for damages. If you are partially at fault for the crash, that does not mean you cannot recover compensation, but it will affect the amount you receive.
Comparative Negligence Rule
Most states apply the comparative negligence rule to cases with shared fault. Whether they use pure or modified comparative negligence depends on state law. In action, comparative negligence requires the court to assign the plaintiff and defendant percentages of fault. Your final award will equal the total damages minus your portion of the liability. In states that follow the pure comparative negligence rule, you can be as much as 99% liable and recover 1% of damages.
However, most states, including Utah, impose the modified version of comparative negligence, which only allows you to recover a percentage of damages if the defendant is more liable than you. For example, if you are 51% at fault, you would not be able to recover any portion of your losses. However, if you are 49% at fault, you could receive 51% of the damages. Talk to an attorney if you think you may be partially responsible for the accident.
How Can a Truck Accident Lawyer Help You?
Determining who is at fault in a truck accident case is often a nuanced process, given the unique circumstances of every accident. Victims should not have to face large corporations with vast legal resources on their own while healing from devastating injuries. A truck accident lawyer will take care of everything from paperwork to negotiations and increase your chance of receiving an adequately valued settlement. You can spend that time focusing on your mental and physical recovery without the nuisance of combative insurance companies or evidence collection to support your claim.
At Siegfried and Jensen, our team of experienced truck accident lawyers will gather the information needed to build your case by investigating your accident and talking to everyone involved, including eyewitnesses. We stand up to trucking companies, ensure everyone plays by the rules, and protect your right to compensation. Contact Siegfried and Jensen at (801) 845-9000 for your free, no-obligation case evaluation.