Who Is Liable for a Truck Accident?
Truck accidents can have multiple potentially liable parties. They can range from the truck driver to the freight broker who coordinated the entire delivery operation. Who the liable party is depends on who caused the accident.
Knowing who bears financial responsibility for your commercial truck crash is vital to recovering compensation. Yet, determining liability in a semi-truck accident case is one reason they are so complex to pursue. For that reason, you may consider partnering with a truck accident lawyer in Phoenix who can determine liability and pursue damages.
Why Do Truck Accidents Have Multiple Potentially Liable Parties?
There are two primary reasons truck accident cases can have multiple liable parties:
Multiple Vehicles Were Involved
The fact that semi-trucks are large, heavy-duty vehicles creates a greater risk of danger and damage. When these massive vehicles collide with one object, it usually means they collide with something else as well.
Many truck accidents are multi-vehicle collisions, where the truck either collides with more than one vehicle or causes one vehicle to slam into another. The result is a truck accident involving several individuals. With more people involved in the accident, it becomes more difficult to sort out who caused the crash.
With each vehicle involved, there also comes an insurance company, adding to the number of parties involved in the case.
The nature of trucking operations brings along its own set of complexities. There are many parties involved in the coordination and execution of a single truck delivery. Drivers, trucking companies/motor carriers, logistics companies, loading companies, hiring agencies, vehicle and equipment leasing companies, manufacturers—the list goes on.
At any stage of the process, any one of these parties could make an error or neglect their responsibilities, ultimately contributing to a truck crash.
Parties You Can Hold Liable for a Truck Accident
Truck accidents happen for many reasons. Some may have to do with the driver, while others do not. The cause of the crash will determine who you can pursue for damages. Potentially liable parties include:
The Truck Driver
If the truck driver is at fault for the crash, they could bear liability. Human error is at the heart of most truck accidents. Distraction, errors in performance, poor judgment, and violating the law often lead to disastrous consequences for truck drivers and crash victims.
A truck driver can be an owner and operator of their own motor carrier company. If that is the case, the driver should have insurance to cover the truck accident. Some truck drivers do not own their own companies but rather drive for motor carriers under contract. Sometimes, these independent contractors will have their own insurance to cover the accident, as well.
In some situations, the driver is financially responsible for the commercial vehicle accident they cause, regardless of whether or not another company provides insurance coverage. If, for some reason, a crash victim could not recover damages from insurance, they could sue the trucker directly.
The Trucking Company
The trucking company may be liable for the truck accident if the driver was an employee. Through vicarious liability laws, employers are responsible for their employee’s actions while on duty, even if those actions have nothing to do with the company itself.
If the truck driver swerved and hit a passenger vehicle due to poor judgment, the motor carrier’s insurance would cover the damages from the crash. A trucking company may also be directly liable for the accident if its own failures contributed to the collision.
The Truck Leasing Company
Many motor carriers and truck drivers lease trucks through a third-party company. The leasing company is responsible for maintaining vehicles, performing inspections, and ensuring parts and equipment work properly prior to use. If it turns out that a maintenance issue, such as a failing engine, worn tires, or malfunctioning electrical equipment, caused the commercial vehicle accident, the leasing company may be liable.
The Cargo Loading Company
Sometimes, there is a separate company hired to load cargo onto the truck. The loading company must secure the contents of the truck and ensure they adhere to weight limits. Overloaded trucks create a special risk for motor vehicle accidents. They are more prone to rollovers and require more time and distance to stop. Both the trucking company and a loading company could be liable if an overweight truck causes an accident.
The Parts or Truck Manufacturer
The manufacturer of the truck is liable for accidents caused by certain truck defects. Similarly, defective equipment or parts that contribute to the crash would leave the producers of those parts on the hook. For example, if ropes, pulleys, or other fasteners used to secure the load fail due to a defect, the parts manufacturer could be responsible. It’s also possible that tire failure could have caused the semi-truck accident, resulting in the tire manufacturer’s liability.
The Freight Broker
When a goods manufacturer or distributor is ready to ship their items to their destination, they may hire a freight broker. The freight broker assumes the role of an intermediary, coordinating the receipt, tracking, and transport of the goods. A freight broker selects the motor carrier that delivers the goods, as well as the other companies involved in the logistics of transporting cargo, such as a loading company.
If a truck accident occurs, you could hold the freight company liable in situations where the freight broker failed to properly do their job. For instance, perhaps the freight company did not properly vet the background of the motor carrier and chose an owner-operator with a DUI history. If the driver caused a crash due to driving under the influence of drugs, the freight broker could owe you damages.
A Third-Party Passenger Vehicle Driver
Not all truck accidents are caused by the truck. A driver of another vehicle involved in the collision could be at fault. Driving too slow, entering into the big-rig truck’s blind spot, and distracted driving are a few reasons a passenger vehicle driver may be at fault for the crash.
Truck Drivers Are At Fault in Many Truck Accidents
Driver error is frequently the cause of truck accidents. According to a causation study from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver error accounts for 87 percent of commercial truck accidents.
Truck accident causes include:
- Driver distraction: Distracted driving was a factor in just over 70 percent of commercial vehicle accidents, according to one study. Distractions inside the cab include texting, using a dispatch radio, writing down information, reading, reaching for items, and using a map. Outside distractions also pose a risk but to a lesser degree.
- Inadequate surveillance: When drivers fail to properly assess their surroundings, accidents happen. A trucker may look quickly or only do a partial check, missing a vehicle in their path. In some cases, the trucker fails to perceive the presence of another vehicle despite looking right at it. This is a momentary state called “inattentional blindness” and is common among mentally distracted drivers.
- Speeding: Speeding is a traffic violation that can result in a citation. Truck drivers who speed put lives at risk. Large commercial vehicles need more time and distance to stop. When drivers speed, they cannot stop in time to avoid collisions.
- Driving too fast for road conditions: Even when the speed limit isn’t exceeded, a trucker may travel too fast for the road conditions. Many truckers have strict delivery deadlines they have to meet, but drivers must remain mindful of their environment not to drive too quickly or risk colliding with slower-moving cars.
- Driver fatigue: On average, truck drivers get 4.78 hours of sleep every day. Fatigue is an accepted part of the job and is encouraged by some trucking companies. These motor carriers push their drivers to meet deadlines at the expense of their rest and in violation of hours-of-service regulations imposed by the FMCSA. A fatigued driver is more prone to crashing due to inattention, poor judgment, decreased alertness, and falling asleep at the wheel.
- Drug influence: Drugs impair a driver’s ability to focus, stay alert, and make proper decisions on the road. Narcotics, stimulants, and marijuana are some of the most commonly found drugs that truck drivers use. Any driver found under the influence violates the law, a fact that could help strengthen your claim for damages.
Proving Truck Driver Liability
Although most truck accidents stem from drivers’ negligence, you still have to prove fault and liability to recover damages. A truck accident attorney can help you do this. Lawyers have the financial resources to investigate collisions and determine who is liable for them. They often work with investigators and crash reconstruction experts to find out what happened.
Types of evidence a truck accident lawyer may search for and recover include:
- Truck black box data (event recorder data). A truck’s black box records a variety of information that could provide insight into how and why the crash happened. It can record data, such as speed, acceleration and deceleration, brake usage, equipment malfunctions, tire pressure, cruise control usage, and much more. A lawyer can obtain this data to help support your case.
- Hours of service logs. Truck drivers are legally required to spend 10 consecutive hours off the road after 11 hours of driving. Truckers must keep a log of their hours, establishing their time on and off the road. Many drivers do not adhere to this regulation and fabricate logs, though. This is often at the insistence of their employers. A lawyer can retrieve hours of service logs and cross-reference them with other data, such as information from an event recorder, to determine whether a driver followed the rules. A violation could mean a trucker’s fatigue caused the crash.
- The truck driver’s background and criminal record. If the driver has a history of accidents or a criminal past, it may mean the trucking company was negligent in hiring the trucker. A look into the driver’s background can provide useful evidence of the driver’s fault.
- Traffic footage. Traffic cameras may have caught the collision. Your attorney can retrieve the footage to discover how the accident happened and how each driver reacted in the situation. It may be difficult to collect traffic footage on your own, so hiring a truck accident lawyer could benefit you.
Finding out who caused your truck accident and who must pay is an overwhelming task for any normal person. The stress involved increases if you are injured. You may want to consider hiring a lawyer who is in a better position to determine who is liable for your truck accident and recover the compensation you deserve.
You Could Seek These Damages Through a Truck Claim or Lawsuit
Depending on your circumstances, the liable party could compensate you for:
- Healthcare expenses, including surgeries
- Lost income and other forms of revenue
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Property damage costs
- Other non-economic damages, such as emotional trauma
- Wrongful death-related expenses, such as funeral costs
You Have a Limited Time to Seek Damages Following a Truck Accident
Depending on where the accident happened, you could have anywhere from one to four years to file your lawsuit against the negligent party. For instance, if you live in Arizona, you generally have two years from the collision’s date to file. Some factors could shorten your filing period. For instance, if a government-owned and operated truck hit you, you could have just months to file your case.
There are other time-sensitive reasons to consider prompt legal action after a truck accident. One reason involves the collection of evidence. Dashcam footage, traffic camera recordings, and witnesses’ memories do not last forever. You want every piece of information possible to supplement your case. That way, you can compel the liable party to pay what you need.
Injured in a Truck Accident? You Have Options
A truck accident lawyer can determine liability for your collision and take action accordingly. Many law firms offer free consultations where you can explore your options in more detail.
As noted, time is limited to pursue damages, so call a personal injury attorney in Phoenix today and promptly consider your options.