How Is Liability Determined in Trucking Accidents?

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In trucking accidents, determining liability can be even more important than in other accidents because truck accidents are often severe and lead to significant injury and property damage. The severity of injuries and property damage also means that you’ll want to handle a trucking accident differently than you would a car accident.

One of the most significant differences between car accidents and trucking accidents is determining who is, in fact, liable. Unlike most car accidents, trucking accidents can have multiple causes and liable parties. While trucking accidents are thoroughly investigated by local police, state agencies, and the National Transportation Safety Board, none of those parties are looking out for your best interest. Having an experienced truck accident lawyer on your side will protect your rights and help ensure that you get the best outcome available.

Who can be held responsible for a trucking accident?

In trucking accidents, it’s common for multiple parties to be at fault for the crash. Your attorney will investigate the accident on your behalf and help to identify who is at fault and can be held liable for any injuries or property damage. What follows are parties that are commonly at fault.

The Driver of the Truck

Similar to car accidents, the driver involved is generally the first person scrutinized. If the driver was negligent, they may be liable, at least partially, for the accident. Behaviors and actions that commonly lead to liability include:

  • Speeding – There are strict rules commercial truck drivers must follow to handle large vehicles appropriately and safely. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines excessive speeding as 15 miles per hour or more over the speed limit, and exceeding this speed is a serious offense.
  • Lane changes – Improper lane changes are another common cause of trucking accidents. Trucks are large vehicles, which means they have large blind spots that the driver must be sure to check before changing lanes.
  • Tailgating – Tailgating is a common cause of accidents among cars and trucks alike. However, as trucks are significantly heavier than cars, especially when loaded, they need significant space to come to a stop.
  • Distracted driving – Commercial drivers aren’t immune to getting distracted. Even though they are prohibited from using cell phones while operating their vehicle, texting or talking on a cell phone while driving is still a major cause of accidents for trucks. There are also other reasons the driver may be distracted, such as eating, looking at a GPS, or fidgeting with the radio.
  • Driving under the influence – It is strictly prohibited for commercial drivers to consume any alcohol or use any drugs while operating a truck. However, that doesn’t mean alcohol and drug use never causes trucking accidents.
  • Reckless driving – Closely related to driving under the influence is reckless driving. Reckless driving can mean many things, including driving too fast in poor weather, running red lights, or driving dangerously.
  • Failure to inspect – Commercial truck drivers have inspection checklists to follow prior to embarking on a trip. If a driver did not inspect the truck and a preventable mechanical error or malfunction caused the accident, that may be cause for liability.

The Trucking Company

Trucking companies hire many drivers to transport cargo. If the trucking accident occurred while the driver was operating within the scope of their employment, you could hold the employer liable for injuries and property damage. As a general rule, employers are legally responsible if their employee causes injury to someone else while performing their job. Therefore, it’s important to determine the type of worker the driver is classified.

Companies are not always forthcoming about that information, so it’s beneficial to have an experienced trucking accident attorney who can investigate the situation and determine the employment status of the driver.

While investigating the trucking company, your attorney may also find other types of negligence that contributed to your accident, such as:

  • Failure to properly train drivers
  • Failure to terminate or discipline a driver who commits a serious driving offense
  • Failure to maintain or repair trucks owned by the company
  • Failure to test drivers for alcohol and drug use
  • Failure to follow proper hiring practices
  • Failure to follow federal hours of service regulations

The Truck Manufacturer

The companies that design and manufacture trucks have a responsibility to ensure that the design of the vehicles and the components that comprise them are safe and functioning. If the truck was defective in some way, you could hold the manufacturer liable for the accident.

Holding a manufacturer responsible can be challenging to prove since you’ll need a detailed inspection of the truck completed by a professional. You’ll want to work with your attorney to ensure the trucking company preserves the truck so an independent inspection can occur.

The Maintenance Provider

As noted above, both the driver and the trucking company may be held liable if the truck has not been properly maintained and serviced. However, if a third-party maintenance provider or service technician worked on the truck, they may also be liable.

Similarly to holding the manufacturer liable, to hold a mechanic or maintenance provider liable, there will need to be an independent inspection to determine if maintenance or service was neglected. You’ll also want to review all maintenance and service records to evaluate if routine maintenance and appropriate repairs have been completed.

What if I am partially at fault?

In many trucking accidents, the car driver is not entirely blameless. North Carolina follows the common law rule of contributory negligence, meaning that if the injured party contributes to the collision at all, then the injured party cannot recover damages. However, there are exceptions to the rule, so it’s wise to consult an experienced attorney who can review your case and advise on your options.

Contact an Experienced Trucking Accident Attorney Today

If you or a loved one has been injured in a trucking accident, we’re here to help. Our experienced attorneys at Horton & Mendez will fight for your rights to get you the maximum compensation available. Contact us today for a free case review.

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