Truck accidents are typically different from other car accidents in two major ways: the amount of destruction and damage involved, and who is liable in a truck accident. Due to a concept known as vicarious liability – and depending on the specific circumstances of your accident – a truck driver’s employer and other parties may also be liable for any negligence.
That’s why truck accident cases can be difficult and complex battles. Fortunately, the experienced truck accident lawyers at Isaacs & Isaacs know what it takes to fight for justice, and they have the resources to help you recover the maximum compensation you may be owed from all liable parties. For your free case evaluation, call us anytime at 1-800-800-8888 or fill out the form on this page.
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Who Is Liable in a Truck Accident?
Determining which parties can be included in your truck accident claim will depend on whose negligence caused (or played a part in causing) your accident. In a typical car accident, you can generally narrow that list down to one or both drivers.
But the reality can often be much more complicated with truck accidents. Even if a truck driver acts negligently by driving distracted or driving under the influence, for example, there may be other important contributors beneath the surface.
If that truck driver is operating as an employee of a trucking company, then you’ll want an experienced truck accident attorney to examine that relationship closely. For instance, the driver may have been given unrealistic deadlines or quotas to meet, which pushed them to engage in risky behaviors. If the trucking company ignores (or worse, encourages) this type of behavior, then they may be liable as well.
Let’s take a closer look at all the parties who could potentially be involved in a truck accident claim:
Most truck accident claims start with the truck driver. Truck drivers are trained and licensed to handle big rigs, but they are humans who make mistakes just like any other driver. They may also be under a lot of pressure to meet deadlines or quotas.
Unfortunately, that can lead to negligence behaviors such as:
- Following too closely
- Improper lane changes
- Aggressive driving
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence
- Driving while fatigued
While truck drivers are the first party that you should look at when investigating negligence, they’re certainly not the last. Understanding the root causes of their risky behaviors – and whether or not their employer was aware of or creating the conditions for these behaviors – is another key step.
Trucking Company or Employer
Trucking companies bear a lot of responsibility for their drivers and any company-owned rigs. Their drivers must be properly qualified, licensed, and trained, and if the company owns the truck, trailer, or both, then it is responsible for the upkeep of those parts.
If a closer look reveals that the company has acted negligently when it comes to hiring, training and managing drivers – or maintaining their rigs – then they may be liable for any accidents resulting from this negligence.
For trucking companies, negligence can take many forms. Most of these are covered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) laws that help keep our highways and roads safe. These laws help govern:
- Drug/alcohol testing for drivers
- Licensing requirements
- Maximum hours of service in a given time period
- Standards for securing cargo
- Vehicle inspections
If a trucking company fails to provide adequate fleet maintenance, then resulting mechanical failures, tire blowouts, etc., could be their responsibility. The same goes for accidents caused by improperly secured loads or instances where a trucking company forces drivers into unsafe working conditions, which then leads to an accident.
The trucking industry consists of a complex web of interconnected service providers, vendors, and other third parties, which can muddy the waters when it comes to liability. The physical loading of truck cargo is often outsourced to a third party, and if that party’s negligence leads to a truck accident, then they may be held liable. Truck drivers are also required to stop regularly and inspect their cargo loads to ensure that no problems have emerged, and they must log these inspections.
Some instances where a loading company could be held liable include:
- Overloaded trucks: Per federal law, the max weight that a semi-truck can haul is 80,000 pounds. Too much weight makes it more difficult for drivers to stop quickly or respond to other traffic situations appropriately. Overloaded trucks are also more prone to mechanical issues.
- Imbalanced cargo loads: There are also federal mandates for weight distribution per axle. Improper distribution can lead to incredibly dangerous situations like tipping or roll-over accidents.
Improperly secured cargo loads: Strict federal regulations also detail exactly how various forms of cargo must be secured within a trailer or truck bed. Items shifting within a trailer can lead to tipping or roll-over accidents, or items may fall off a truck or out of a trailer and create major hazards on the roadway.
In some cases, liability may extend all the way back to the manufacturer – or possibly multiple manufacturers – of any faulty truck part(s). A qualified and resourceful car accident attorney will often employ engineers and other experts to get to the bottom of an issue.
In our experience, the most common defective truck parts include:
- Lights, turn signals or other electrical components
- Steering parts
- Trailer door locks, latches, or coupling devices that connect trailers and trucks together
Because big rigs need more time to stop or perform evasive maneuvers, a truck driver may have limited options for avoiding collisions. All it takes is a careless or unexpected lane change by a car driver to set off a chain of unfortunate events. That’s why we encourage you to get information for all drivers who were involved in a truck accident – what you do after a truck accident can be very important down the road.
What Is Vicarious Liability?
When a large truck hits a much smaller car, the driver of the car and his passengers are often severely and permanently injured or killed. The damages caused can be very large, can last a lifetime, and worse – there may not be enough insurance on the truck to pay for all the damages the collision caused when the trucker driver is at fault.
In order to receive a fair and just amount for your truck accident injuries and losses, you may have to file a lawsuit naming everybody who is liable. As we described above, this would include not only the driver of the truck but the commercial trucking company or other business that employed the driver, and even under certain circumstances the owner of the truck or the trailer being hauled down the highway.
Although the negligent driver of the truck is primarily liable for the collision and truck accident injuries, the employer of the driver is often secondarily liable for the negligence of the employee driver. This secondary liability is called vicarious liability, which simply means the employer or person hiring the driver is liable for the conduct of the driver acting within the scope of his or her authority or employment.
According to the law, an employer (called the principal) is responsible for the actions of an employee (agent), while the employee is engaged in work related duties. Therefore, if the trucker, as an employee of a big company like Standard Oil, does something careless and causes an accident, Standard Oil would also be vicariously liable for damages.
In order to hold an employer liable, the facts of your case must contain these elements:
- The employee was working under the employer’s control and instructions
- The employer had the authority to control the employee’s actions
- The employee’s actions were within the scope of employment
Detour and Frolic Rule
Needless to say, the employer, trucking company or their insurance company will try and avoid responsibility for paying any damages. The law gives them this defense when a driver/employee uses the company truck or other vehicle for their own purposes on what is called a “detour and frolic.” This exception simply means the employee was using the company vehicle to do something unrelated to the job.
If an employee has clocked out of work or taken a detour and is using the company vehicle to do something that’s not job-related the employer would not be liable. This would include, for instance, if a trucker was delivering a load across the country and took a detour to visit family in another state, and the accident occurred during his or her side trip. However, this is not always cut and dry, and an experienced truck accident lawyer would need to examine the facts and circumstances to see if this was really personal business.
Examples of Vicarious Liability Law in Truck Accident Cases
There may be others besides the employer who can be liable through vicarious liability tort law. For instance, if a trucker is an independent contractor there may be no vicarious liability as described above because there is no employer to hold liable, and the company hiring the independent contractor driver has no control on the specifics of how the driver does his job.
However, if the accident was caused by a defective part, then the manufacturer is vicariously liable. Or maybe the trucker hired somebody to repair the truck, like a brake job, and that person cut corners or made a mistake. If the accident was caused by a bad road, some states allow vicarious liability negligence to be assigned to state highway departments and officers.
Each accident is different, and in order to find out who is responsible and possibly liable for your damages under vicarious liability doctrine, you will have to do a thorough investigation. Because these investigations can be time consuming and expensive, your best option to recover maximum damages is to find an experienced truck accident law firm to represent you.
America’s Big Truck Lawyer™ Is Ready to Help You Fight For Justice
Our seasoned trucking accident attorneys have been investigating vicarious liability torts for decades. We understand the rules and know what to look for to determine who is liable, depending on the unique facts and circumstances of each case. In order to get all the facts it is crucial that you contact us as soon as possible before:
- Evidence changes or disappears
- Witnesses forget what they saw
- The deadline for filing your case or claim expires
We can begin investigating the facts immediately and analyze how to recover maximum damages by finding all parties who are liable for the accident. We have a 99% success rate in recovering maximum damages for our clients who live in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.
You do not have to have money to enlist our help. We will represent you on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you don’t owe us any costs or fees unless and until we win your case. We understand that truck accidents happen 24/7 and we are on call day and night to assist you immediately. Call us now at 1-800-800-8888 or fill out the form on this page for a free consultation with one of our trucking accident attorneys.