Determining fault is the foundation of a personal injury negligence claim, and liability in a truck crash case is often more complex than other auto accident claims. The first determining who is liable is identifying the accident’s cause. If you have concerns about who is responsible for your accident and how you will recover the compensation you need, a personal injury lawyer specializes in helping people who suffer losses caused by a truck accident.
Identify the Laws That Regulate the Trucking Industry
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration heavily regulates commercial trucks because of their potential to cause significant damage to other vehicles on the road. Unfortunately, violating some of these regulations often leads to severe accidents. A personal injury lawyer with experience in truck accident cases will recognize the signs of FMCSA violations during the accident investigation. This is a key component of determining fault in a truck crash case.
FMCSA Regulations for Truck Drivers and Trucking Companies
Trucking companies and their drivers must adhere to strict rules regarding many elements of commercial vehicle safety or risk severe penalties. Examples of regulations include:
- Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program. This program monitors carriers to identify potential dangers among a fleet of trucks using a database that stores information on vehicle maintenance and driver history, such as unsafe driving and Hours of Service compliance.
- Hours of Service. HOS regulates the time drivers can spend on the road and the length of their mandatory breaks. Additionally, they must use an electronic logging device connected to the truck engine to track how long the truck is in motion.
- Chemical testing. The FMCSA also requires CDL drivers to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing. Failing a test would likely result in the immediate revocation of their license.
- Pre-employment vetting. Trucking companies must conduct an extensive background check on all potential new hires to screen for traffic violations and substance abuse within the more recent three years.
Unfortunately, issues with fatigued driving, poorly maintained commercial trucks, and inadequate vetting have been the cause of many truck accidents. However, finding evidence of these violations can be challenging for someone unfamiliar with FMSCA regulations.
FMCSA Regulations for Cargo
Cargo regulations are another essential element of the trucking industry. The FMCSA sets specific weight limits and securement requirements because overloaded or poorly secured cargo is a hazard for everyone on the road. Some typical results include:
- Fallen debris on the road
- Tire blowouts caused by increased pressure from continuous overloading
- Quick wear on brakes caused by overloaded cargo
- Road damage or collapse from loads that exceed road weight limitations
- Rear-end accidents from loss of control or braking distance misjudgment
- Rollover accidents caused by top-heavy, overloaded trucks
To avoid these types of accidents, every trucking company and truck driver must know the weight limits for their specific trucks. There are even weighing stations along interstates where commercial trucks must stop for mandatory weigh-ins. Failure to comply could result in a severe accident for which multiple parties could be liable.
Identify the Potentially Liable Parties
Understanding the roles and responsibilities of various players in the trucking industry will help you define who could potentially be at fault for your accident. The most apparent answer would be the truck driver because they were present on the scene and driving the vehicle responsible for the accident. However, there are more potentially responsible parties:
- The trucking company is responsible for conducting background checks and adequately training drivers before they operate a truck. Additionally, the company must ensure all trucks undergo regular inspections and maintenance to keep them in constant safe conditions. Hiring a driver with a record of violating road laws or industry regulations and missing truck inspections could make the trucking company liable.
- A truck manufacturer could be responsible if a defective part malfunctions, causing the truck to crash. If it turns out there are defective truck parts involved, you could file a product liability lawsuit. Product liability cases require you to go up against a large manufacturing company, which would be challenging without legal representation.
- A third-party mechanic could be liable if the trucking company outsourced inspections and maintenance to another company. The third-party company would be responsible if the truck crashed because of an issue the maintenance and inspection teams missed.
- The party responsible for loading cargo is liable if the trailer is overloaded or poorly secured. The cargo loader could be a third party, the truck driver, or the trucking company.
Sometimes the truck driver is the only liable party. For example, if they chose to drive the truck outside the scope of their job or violated road laws, resulting in an accident, that constitutes negligence. It is not uncommon for the driver and the trucking company to be defendants in a single personal injury case. However, independent drivers have significantly more responsibility. For example, they own their trucks and must conduct regular, documented inspections and maintenance.
Shared Fault in a Truck Accident
Liability can become even more complicated if both drivers in the accident are partially liable. Should the court determine you are even fractionally responsible, they will likely apply the comparative negligence rule. According to the concept of comparative negligence, you, the plaintiff, could still receive a portion of the total compensation award. However, the final amount received reflects a subtracted percentage equal to your share of the fault.
Additionally, there are two types of comparative negligence rules. Pure comparative negligence states that you can recover a percentage of compensation as long as you are not entirely responsible for the accident and resulting damages. However, the modified comparative negligence rule only allows you to recover losses if you are less liable than the other party.
For example, Utah is a modified comparative negligence state with a threshold for compensation set at 50%. Therefore, if the court awards you $50,000 and finds you 49% at fault, you would still recover $25,500. However, should the court determine you are 50% at fault, you would not qualify for compensation. The nuances of determining percentages of fault and valuing damages from a personal injury claim can be complex. Still, an attorney can walk you through it and ensure no one takes advantage of you.
Consider Hiring a Truck Accident Lawyer
Liability can quickly become complex in truck accident cases. If you have questions about who is at fault in your case and how it could potentially affect your ability to recover compensation, a truck accident lawyer is your best source of legal information. If an attorney decides to take you on as a client, you have all the advantages of experienced legal representation. They act in your place during all conversations with the insurance company, relieving a heavy burden for victims of devastating injuries. They also investigate your accident to gather all the evidence needed to prove the other party’s negligence.
At Siegfried and Jensen, we fight tenaciously to protect our client’s rights and ensure they receive fair treatment in the wake of a truck accident. You do not need to face these troubles alone. We will stand up the trucking company and their experts for you and answer your questions throughout the process, so you feel comfortable with every step we take toward rebuilding your life. Contact Siegfried and Jensen at (801) 845-9000 for your free case evaluation and speak with an experienced truck accident lawyer today.