When you are in an accident with a commercial truck driver, you might assume that all of the liability is on the driver. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, however, you may actually be able to hold the trucking company accountable for your damages. It makes sense given that companies are usually responsible for their employees' actions while on the job. These situations can get complicated, and determining who is liable for a truck accident may not be as simple as it first appears.
Truck accidents are complicated by the fact that it is difficult to determine whether the driver of the truck or the trucking company itself is responsible for any injuries or damages caused by the accident. Liability for any damages that occur may fall on the driver or on the company depending on the details surrounding the particular accident.
If you have been in an accident involving a commercial truck you should contact an experienced accident lawyer as soon as possible. Our attorneys at Chicago Car Accident Lawyers can help you navigate the complications that will come up in determining liability and getting the payment you deserve for your damages. Call us today at (312) 300-2515 or contact us online to schedule an appointment for a free case consultation.
What Determines Liability?
Determining liability in an accident with a commercial vehicle is a complex issue, but it is also a critical step for your case. The situation is rarely as straightforward as filing a claim with the driver's insurance company when you are seeking compensation for damages, medical bills, and lost wages. With multiple parties involved, things can get messy, and liability will be determined based on a number of factors. These may include:
- The driver may be liable for driving too many hours
- The trucking company may be liable if they have not properly maintained their vehicles or trained their drivers
- The parts manufacturer the trucking company contracts with may be liable for a defective product
There are an incredible number of possibilities that come into play when determining liability in a commercial trucking accident. If you are unfamiliar with previous cases and the law that governs these situations, it can be nearly impossible to handle your case in a way that sees you receiving fair compensation. Hiring a dedicated and experienced Chicago truck accident attorney will help you navigate this complicated situation with less stress, and let you focus on your recovery.
When Are Truck Drivers Liable for Damages from a Truck Accident?
If a truck accident occurs while a driver is acting within the scope of their employment, they typically are not liable for the damages caused. Liability will typically fall on the trucking company even when a truck driver is at fault. That said, there are situations in which a truck driver might be financially liable for the damages that result from a truck accident. These can include:
Trucking companies would historically use this employment classification as a loophole to shield themselves from liability in accidents. By leasing trucks and listing drivers as independent contractors, they could often dodge any blame in an accident case and put it squarely on the driver.
Current federal law requires trucking companies to have exclusive control and use of the equipment throughout the life of the lease, and puts responsibility for the operation of the equipment back onto trucking companies.
While these regulations largely make the independent contractor defense invalid in commercial truck accidents, it is still common for defense attorneys to try to apply it in court.
Was the Driver Acting Within the Scope of Their Employment Contract?
A trucking company may avoid liability for an accident if the driver was acting outside their role as an employee. There are a number of outside factors and laws that can rule over this, but some common factors in determining if this is the case include:
- The intent of the employee
- When and where the employee was involved in the accident
- The specifics of the job the driver was hired to perform
- Additional actions that could reasonably be expected of the employee while on the job
A truck driver found to be acting outside the scope of their job may be held liable for the damages of an accident they are involved in, either fully or in part. This determination will be left to the court to decide after examining the driver's duties at work, the time and location of the accident, and other details that may come into play.
An experienced accident attorney can anticipate this as a potential issue in your case and develop a plan to manage it.
The Driver Acted Negligently
If the driver is found to have made decisions that were deliberate and negligent, and directly lead to or contributed to the accident, they may hold liability for damages. These types of behaviors include:
- Reckless driving
- Driving while intoxicated
When Are Trucking Companies Liable for Damages from a Truck Accident?
State and federal laws require trucking companies to comply with a number of factors concerning truck maintenance and operation, hiring, and training. When one of their drivers is involved in an accident, they can be held liable if they don't comply with those rules. Factors that make trucking companies liable for accidents can include:
Poor Truck Maintenance
The trucking industry is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which requires trucking companies to maintain their trucks in roadworthy condition. Regular inspections of trucks are required of. Trucking companies, as well as making immediate repairs and performing preventative maintenance.
Poor maintenance practices by trucking companies can put their drivers and people on the road at risk for accidents and injuries. This is particularly true when there is a mechanical breakdown. Truck features can lead to dangerous and deadly truck accidents if they aren't properly maintained, including:
- Routine tire maintenance to include rotations and replacements of worn units to prevent blowouts
- Maintaining proper fluid levels and ensuring the integrity of other parts of the braking and steering systems
- Keeping the lights, mirrors, and windows of the trucks in working order for proper visibility; both for the driver and other motorists
If it can be proven that a mechanical failure due to improper maintenance caused or contributed to the truck accident, the trucking company may be held liable for damages.
Hours of Service Violations
Commercial truck drivers have a cap on the number of hours they can drive each day and each week set in place by the FMCSA, known as Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. The HOS regulations also establish mandatory breaks for drivers before they are permitted to resume driving. They require truck companies to enforce these rules, or be subject to fines and other penalties. The FMCSA has also made it a requirement for trucking companies to install electronic logbooks in their trucks to comply with HOS regulations.
There are some truck companies, however, that have found workarounds for the logbooks and will push drivers to work beyond their HOS hours. These overworked and fatigued drivers are more likely to become involved in accidents. Companies that encourage or force HOS violations can be held liable for damages in an accident caused by a tired driver.
Poor Hiring Standards
A trucking company has a legal responsibility to hire safe drivers who are qualified to drive and operate specific vehicles. Companies may find themselves liable for accidents caused by drivers that were hired due to poor standards. These negligent hiring practices can include:
- Hiring a driver who does not hold the necessary Commercial Drivers' License (CDL) qualification
- Failure to conduct a proper background check on a driver, including a search of their driving record
- Hiring a driver who has a demerits on their driving record, particularly for DUIs
Issues with Cargo
Many trucking companies have employees that load cargo onto their trucks. The FMCSA has rules and requirements in place to ensure safe transit of goods and materials on a truck or trailer. Loaders are required to secure cargo so it doesn't shift during transport, and each truck and trailer has specific weight and balance requirements. In the event of an accident caused by a truck's cargo spilling onto the road, the trucking company may be held liable if they failed to properly train their employees to secure cargo. Alternatively, if the employee who loaded the cargo made a negligent mistake that lead to the accident, they may be held liable.
Hire an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
Many of the most dangerous accidents on the road involve a commercial truck. These can carry higher medical costs to those involved as well. A loaded semi-truck is more likely to cause a violent impact that causes serious property damage and a higher possibility of death or grievous injury. In the aftermath of a truck accident, you shouldn't have to suffer financially. The talented personal injury lawyers at CCAL have experience advocating for truck accident victims and will handle your case with the dedication needed to get the compensation you deserve.