In the aftermath of a truck accident, the victims often suffer substantial losses, including increasing medical bills, lost wages from missed work, and severe emotional distress. The first step in recovering your losses is determining who is liable for the accident. In a truck accident case, the question of liability can be significantly more complex than in other types of auto accidents. However, a personal injury lawyer understands the nuances of these cases and can help you identify the liable party.
Proving Liability in a Truck Accident Case
As the plaintiff in a truck accident lawsuit, you are responsible for providing evidence to support your claim that the other party is liable for damages. There are three essential elements to any negligence claim:
- Duty of care. You must prove that the defendant had a duty of care to follow the rules of the road and the laws that govern the trucking industry to keep other drivers and passengers safe.
- Duty breach. You must provide evidence to show the defendant breached the duty of care owed to you. For example, if they violated road laws by speeding or failing to yield, that could be sufficient evidence.
- Causation. Finally, you must prove the defendant’s breach of duty of care directly caused the accident and the damages you incurred. For example, did the truck hit you while speeding through a red light or roll over because the load in the trailer was too heavy?
Proving liability can become even more complex because the at-fault party in a truck accident case is not always the truck driver. It can even be more than one party, resulting in multiple defendants or claims.
Potentially Liable Parties in a Truck Accident Case
Your immediate and relatable response to a truck accident is likely to blame the truck driver, particularly if the truck was responsible for the collision. However, what makes truck accident cases unique among other personal injury claims is the variety of potentially liable people. As a result, you may need to file a lawsuit against any of the following parties to recover compensation.
Under certain circumstances, the truck driver would be at fault. For example, using the truck outside the scope of their job when the accident occurred would make them liable. Additionally, if the evidence shows the truck driver violated road laws or company safety standards, they would again be liable. Independent truck drivers contract with companies but are technically self-employed. They own their trucks and are responsible for maintaining the vehicle’s safety standards, including regularly inspecting the truck. Drivers who work for a trucking company are sometimes not accountable even though they are present and driving the vehicle when the crash occurs.
Another commonly responsible party is the trucking company. To determine whether the company is liable, you may ask a few relevant questions:
- Was there a mechanical malfunction on the truck that contributed to the crash?
- Did the trucking company encourage the driver to violate industry regulations, particularly the rules for hours of service, to shorten delivery times?
- Does the truck driver have a history of road violations?
- Did the trucking company provide sufficient training for the driver before allowing them to take the truck on the road?
- Do company records indicate missing inspections or failure to perform regular maintenance?
Trucking companies are responsible for keeping the trucks in their fleets in the best possible shape before allowing drivers to take them on the road. They also must sufficiently vet drivers and provide them with proper training. Failure to perform duties set by industry standards and federal trucking laws could result in an accident for which the trucking company would be liable.
A Third-Party Maintenance Company
Trucking companies, especially those with a large fleet of trucks across multiple locations, sometimes outsource maintenance responsibilities. They allow a third-party mechanic to conduct regularly scheduled inspections and perform all the required repairs and preventative maintenance on their trucks. In a trucking accident, if investigations determine the official cause related to a mechanical issue missed during inspection or maintenance, the third-party company would likely be responsible for damages.
The Party Responsible for Loading Cargo
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration heavily regulates the trucking industry, including imposing strict cargo weight and securement rules. The purpose is to ensure the trailer’s weight does not put too much pressure on the wheel system, causing avoidable blowouts and issues with braking or making the driver lose control.
Improperly secured cargo may shift in a covered trailer, changing the center of gravity and causing the truck to roll over. On an open trailer, unsecured cargo can spill onto the road, creating a deadly hazard for other drivers. Should the accident directly result from improperly loaded cargo, the person or party responsible for loading the truck would be liable. This could be the driver, the trucking company, or a third party.
The Truck or Parts Manufacturer
Another potentially liable party is the company that manufactured the truck or parts. For example, suppose the braking system failed as the driver coasted down a steep hill, causing them to lose control and crash into other vehicles. The first step may be to examine the reason for the brake system failure. If the trucking company or third-party mechanic fails to change the brakes during routine maintenance, either of those parties could be liable. If the brakes failed because of a defect in design or assembly, the part manufacturer would be responsible for damages related to the accident. In this case, you would file a product liability claim, which is often complex. It can be difficult to prove liability or determine who is responsible for the defect. Personal injury lawyers also handle product liability claims and can help you better understand the legal options available for your case.
How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Assist in Your Case
The majority of cases handled by personal injury attorneys involve auto accidents. They understand the heavy financial, emotional, and physical burdens victims face after a collision with a commercial truck. The healing process is often lengthy and sometimes requires adjusting to an entirely new life. A truck accident lawyer can help you understand who is liable in your case and will collect the evidence needed to prove it. In addition, they guide you through the legal process and protect your rights. Other ways you may benefit from hiring legal representation:
- You will not need to communicate with the insurance company directly.
- Your attorney will investigate the accident to find evidence of damages and negligence.
- You can focus on healing rather than building a case.
- You have a friend’s compassion and a legal professional’s objectivity.
- You have a significantly better chance of receiving a fair settlement.
At Siegfried and Jensen, our team of legal experts works with truck accident victims regularly. We understand the importance of securing a fast and fair settlement to combat the financial devastation that may follow an accident involving a commercial truck. In addition, we make sure the insurance company treats you fairly and will stand up to big trucking companies trying to deny you what they owe. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. You can call (801) 845-9000 or fill out an online form to schedule your consultation.