Is the Truck Driver or Trucking Company Responsible in a Truck Accident?

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Truck accidents are among the most devastating of collisions. They typically result in significant property damages and severe personal injuries. To receive compensation for the losses incurred, you often need to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. However, who was at fault when the truck caused the accident? Do you sue the truck driver or the trucking company for damages? Determining fault in a truck accident can be complex, and sometimes, more than one party should be held responsible.

When Is the Trucking Company Liable for the Accident?

Trucking companies must strictly adhere to the rules and regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These regulations mandate specific maintenance, inspection, and cargo-loading practices. If the trucking company fails to meet these standards, you can prove that they breached their duty of care. If that breach causes an accident that results in injuries, the trucking company is liable for compensatory damages.

Missed Inspections and Maintenance Failures

Regular maintenance and inspections are a standard requirement for trucking companies. Some common components of routine maintenance include:

  • Ensuring that all windows, lights, and mirrors work correctly for the safety of the truck driver and other drivers on the road
  • Checking tires for normal wear and tear
  • Balancing and rotating tires
  • Replacing tires before they reach the balding stage of wear
  • Filling fluids for braking and steering functions
  • Checking the engine cooling fluids
  • Changing the oil

If the trucking company misses any scheduled inspections or fails to conduct routine maintenance, they are liable for accidents that occur as a result.

Poor Cargo Loading

Cargo safety is a significant concern for trucking companies. Unbalanced and inadequately secured cargo can cause many potentially dangerous situations. For example, a load that exceeds weight capacity can cause a truck trailer to tip over on a turn or shift on a steep decline. In addition, unsecured cargo on an open trailer can result in fallen debris on the road that may lead to deadly accidents. Therefore, trucking companies must follow FMCSA regulations for cargo loading or face the consequences if an accident occurs.

Not Properly Vetting Drivers

A poorly trained truck driver is a hazard to everyone on the road. Trucking companies are responsible for ensuring that drivers have no record of road violations and have been adequately trained to complete the job safely. Some common examples of trucking companies using poor hiring practices include:

  • Ignoring a history of driving offenses, such as DUI or DWI
  • Failing to check for the required Commercial Drivers’ License
  • Not conducting background checks during the onboarding process

Trucking companies also have a responsibility to ensure that drivers have adequate training regarding company policies for road inspections, keep proper logs, and adhere to HOS regulations.

Violating Hours of Service Laws

The FMCSA implemented Hours of Service laws to ensure that companies permit plenty of break time for drivers to avoid fatigued driving. Trucking companies typically use logbooks to keep track of a driver’s time on the road and ensure compliance with HOS rules. However, faster deliveries do better business for trucking companies, and many have found ways to work around the logbooks and force or incentivize drivers to exceed the maximum hours mandated by HOS. If your accident involved a fatigued truck driver, an experienced truck accident attorney could help you search for evidence of HOS violations.

When Is the Truck Driver Liable for the Accident?

If a truck driver’s actions at the time of the accident fall under the scope of their employment, meaning they are part of the job, you may not be able to file a claim or lawsuit against the driver even if they are at fault. However, some common situations where the truck driver is at fault include:

  • The driver is an independent contractor that owns the truck and fails to conduct regular maintenance or inspections.
  • The driver fails to carry the required insurance while working under contract with the company rather than as an official employee.
  • The driver uses a company-owned truck to conduct personal errands outside the scope of employment.
  • The driver violates roadway laws. This entails driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, and driving aggressively or recklessly.

Sometimes both the driver and the trucking company are at fault. For example, suppose the driver who caused your accident drove recklessly in a truck that had missed several recent inspections. As a result, a bald tire has a blowout, causing a serious collision. In that case, you can sue the driver for violating roadway laws and sue the trucking company for failing to conduct routine inspections that would have caught the tire.

What Happens if You Both Share Fault for the Accident?

Sometimes liability is not entirely one-sided. The only thing hindering you from seeking damages for your accident is if you bear full responsibility. Shared responsibility does not stop you from receiving some compensation under certain circumstances. Most states use the comparative negligence rule to govern cases of shared liability.

The comparative negligence rule requires the judge or jury to assign a percentage of fault to each party using a complex process. They then award compensation for damages proportionally based on those percentages. Additionally, each state mandates the type of comparative negligence rule the court must follow. The two types are:

  • The pure comparative negligence rule allows the plaintiff to recover compensation for damages despite their proportion of fault. For example, if the court assigns 99% of the blame to the plaintiff, they may still recover 1% of the damages.
  • The modified comparative negligence rule only allows the plaintiff to recover damages if their proportion of fault is less than the defendant’s share. Therefore, if the plaintiff is 49% at fault, they can still recover compensation. On the other hand, if the plaintiff is 51% at fault, they are not eligible.

Only 12 states use the pure comparative negligence rule to govern awards for damages in personal injury cases. The rest abide by the modified comparative negligence rule. For example, in Michigan, if the court determines you are 10% at fault and values damages at $20,000, you can still receive $18,000 in compensation. However, if the court determines you are 51% at fault, you can no longer receive anything.

As the plaintiff in a truck accident lawsuit, you are responsible for proving the truck driver or trucking company’s negligence. When you involve shared responsibility, you may find it challenging to compete against a large trucking company and receive a fair settlement. You can benefit from speaking to a truck accident attorney about the details of your case.

Can You Benefit From Speaking With a Truck Accident Attorney Today?

Given the nature of truck accidents and the potential for significant physical, financial, and emotional damages, you deserve representation that can offer support and handle the complex legal process while you focus on healing. The personal injury attorneys at Mike Morse Law Firm have years of experience helping truck accident victims get the compensation they deserve. Proving liability in a truck accident is far more complicated than proving liability in a car accident. Depending on your case’s circumstances, you may have a single lawsuit with multiple defendants or multiple lawsuits against different defendants for the same accident. We can adequately value your claim and ensure that you receive compensation for all your losses. Contact Mike More Law Firm today and schedule a free consultation.

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