When Is the Trucking Company Liable?

Trucking companies are liable for truck accidents when they or their drivers break safety rules or act carelessly. These companies have strong legal teams and often deny responsibility, which makes proving this liability tough.

Working with a knowledgeable and experienced truck accident lawyer is the best way to get the compensation you deserve after a truck accident that injured you.

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Understanding Vicarious Liability in Truck Accidents

Vicarious Liability in Truck Accidents

Vicarious liability is a legal principle that holds one party responsible for the actions of another. Specifically, employers can face liability for their employee’s wrongful acts if an employee commits those acts while doing their job.

Even if the employer did not cause the harm directly, the law can still hold them accountable for the actions of their employees during work hours.

This principle plays a key role in many truck accident cases. It allows individuals who suffer harm due to a truck driver’s actions to seek compensation directly from the trucking company that employed the driver. This is because the law sees the driver’s actions as part of the company’s operations.

Trucking companies must follow strict rules regarding hiring skilled drivers, keeping trucks safe, and ensuring drivers do not work too many hours without rest.

If they don’t follow these rules and an accident happens as a result, the company could be at fault. For example, a company could be liable if it knew a truck needed repairs but ignored the situation, and then the truck’s malfunction caused a wreck.

What if the Truck Driver Is an Independent Contractor?

Vicarious liability usually applies when a truck driver is an employee of a trucking company and gets into an accident while performing job-related duties. However, the situation changes if a truck driver is an independent contractor.

Trucking companies often hire independent contractors to fill vacancies without having to provide regular hours or benefits. In these cases, the company does not have the same control over the contractor as it would over an employee. Because of this different relationship, holding a company liable for the actions of an independent contractor is more challenging.

To determine whether vicarious liability applies, courts look at how much control the company has over the contractor. If the company sets specific routes or work hours or closely supervises the contractor, the courts might consider the contractor more like an employee. In such instances, vicarious liability could still apply.

The key question is whether the independent contractor was acting in a way that made them seem like they were representing the company. If the answer is yes, and they cause an accident, the company might be liable.

A skilled truck accident lawyer can investigate the collision’s circumstances and the driver’s employment status to determine whether vicarious liability applies.

Other Scenarios When the Trucking Company Might Be Liable

In some cases, the trucking company might be directly liable, in addition to or instead of the truck driver. For instance, a trucking company could be responsible for a truck accident in scenarios involving the following issues:

Poor Truck Maintenance

A trucking company could be directly liable for a truck accident if it does not keep its trucks in good working order. Trucks are complex vehicles that require regular checks and repairs to be safe on the road. If a company skips these checks or ignores problems, it could lead to preventable truck accidents.

For instance, if a tire blows out because it is old and the company wouldn’t replace it, the company could be at fault for crashes resulting from the blowout. It is the company’s job to replace tires before they become too risky to use.

The same goes for lights, steering and braking parts, and other important truck parts. If these parts fail and cause an accident, the law holds the trucking company responsible for not maintaining its trucks properly.

Improper Loading

A trucking company could also be liable for a truck accident if it loads cargo into or onto a truck incorrectly. Proper loading is essential because cargo that moves or falls off a truck can cause serious accidents. For example, if workers put too much weight on one side, a truck could tip over or spill loose cargo when it turns.

Companies must also ensure proper securement of truck cargo. If cargo shifts or falls off the truck, it could strike other vehicles or cause secondary collisions. If a company loads a truck too heavily or stacks items in a way that allows them to fall easily, it could be responsible for any crashes that result.

This responsibility extends to properly training workers and teams that handle and load cargo. If truck drivers handle cargo loading and unloading in addition to driving, they need training, too. Accidents are much more likely when trucking companies fail to appropriately instruct cargo loaders or drivers on stacking, balancing, and securing loads.

Unreasonable Driver Expectations

In some cases, a trucking company could be liable for a truck accident if it sets unreasonable expectations for its drivers. For instance, if a company forces drivers to drive too many hours without enough rest, it could increase the risk of drowsy driving accidents.

Drivers need breaks to stay alert. If drivers are too tired, they are more likely to make mistakes or even fall asleep while driving.

Companies also cannot ask drivers to drive too fast to meet delivery times. Speeding increases the risk and potential severity of accidents significantly. The trucking company is responsible for setting realistic schedules that allow for safe driving speeds and proper rest.

If a company pressures its drivers to ignore safety rules to deliver more cargo or complete routes faster, it is breaking the law. When companies refuse to prioritize safety over profits, and accidents occur, they can face liability.

Hiring Unqualified Drivers

If a trucking company hires an unqualified driver who causes a truck accident, they could be at fault for improper hiring or screening practices.

Truck drivers must have commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) to operate commercial trucks legally. These licenses show they have the special skills to drive big trucks safely. If a trucking company hires a driver without a CDL, it could bear direct responsibility for any resulting collisions that driver causes.

Trucking companies could also face liability if they hire drivers without conducting background checks or drug tests as necessary. The law requires companies to test their drivers for drugs and bad driving records because these factors increase crash risk.

If a company skips these checks, and a driver causes an accident because they were using drugs or unable to control their truck, the company is responsible.

It is the trucking company’s duty to make sure drivers are safe, capable, and law-abiding. They must check every driver’s record and test for drugs regularly. When companies ignore these rules and accidents happen, they must pay for the harm that occurs as a result.

Why Is Proving Liability More Difficult in Truck Accident Cases?

Drowsy Truck Driver

Trucks are part of a large industry subject to many rules, and truck accidents frequently cause serious damage. As a result, truck accident cases are often more complex than car accidents when it comes to proving who is at fault.

Here are some reasons why proving liability in truck accidents is especially difficult:

  • Multiple Parties: Truck accident cases usually have more potentially responsible parties than typical car accident cases. This could include the truck driver, the company that owns the truck, truck maintenance providers, and even manufacturers of faulty truck parts. Each of these parties has its own role in the truck’s operation, which means investigators must examine multiple layers of responsibility.
  • Complex Regulations: Trucks operate under a web of detailed federal and state regulations that govern everything from how long drivers can operate to how tall trucks can be. Lawyers must thoroughly understand these complex rules to identify any violations. To build a case, they must often investigate logbooks, cargo records, driver histories, and more. This means the process is unusually difficult and time-consuming.
  • Severe Damage: Because trucks are so large and heavy, they often cause extensive damage when they collide with other vehicles or structures. This can result in a chaotic accident scene and complex recovery efforts that can alter or destroy evidence. Investigators must meticulously reconstruct truck accident scenes to understand the sequence of events, which requires expertise and is often time-intensive.
  • Truck Company Resources: Trucking companies typically have access to considerable resources, including legal teams and industry insurance adjusters, who start defending their cases immediately after an accident. These professionals know all kinds of legal defense strategies that make proving the company’s liability difficult. In some cases, they even turn the tables and blame crash victims instead of accepting responsibility.
  • The Truck Driver’s Role: Understanding the truck driver’s actions before the accident is essential in many truck accident cases. Investigators must consider the possibility that the driver was drowsy, under the influence, or breaking traffic laws when they crashed. However, the driver’s actions might also reflect company policies and practices, such as unrealistic scheduling.
  • The Presence of Independent Contractors: When companies work with independent contractors, the legal distinctions surrounding responsibility can become blurry. In these cases, investigators must determine whether the company exercised enough control over the contractor’s work to hold them liable for their actions. This often involves researching contracts, communication records, and the degree of autonomy the driver had in their operations.
  • Unique Types of Evidence: Securing evidence after a truck accident is often a race against time. Crucial data, such as information from the truck’s electronic logging device or the driver’s hours-of-service logs, frequently provides pivotal evidence. However, accessing this information is often difficult, as companies are rarely forthcoming with this data. Additionally, evidence such as skid marks or debris can disappear quickly, so take prompt action.

Evidence of Liability in Truck Accident Cases

When a lawyer takes on a truck accident case, they face the challenge of proving who was responsible for the crash. To do this, they must collect a range of evidence that paints a clear picture of the events leading up to the accident. This evidence can come from various sources, each offering key details that contribute to the overall understanding of the case.

The lawyer’s goal is to assemble this information systematically to establish liability and ensure justice for the affected parties.

Here is a list of the types of evidence that are often instrumental in a truck accident liability case:

  • The truck driver’s logbooks
  • The truck’s electronic control module (ECM) or “black box” data
  • Dashcam footage from the truck
  • Surveillance video from nearby businesses
  • Witness statements
  • Photographs of the accident scene
  • Truck maintenance records
  • The trucking company’s safety records
  • The driver’s employment records
  • The driver’s driving history records
  • Cargo loading records
  • Weigh station receipts
  • GPS data from the truck
  • The driver’s mobile phone records
  • The driver’s alcohol and drug test results
  • Accident reconstruction reports
  • Traffic citations related to the accident
  • Hours-of-service compliance records
  • The truck’s inspection reports
  • Medical records from any injured parties
  • Company training manuals
  • Email and communication logs from the trucking company
  • Weather reports from the day of the accident
  • Statements from first responders
  • Cargo manifests or invoices
  • Bills of lading
  • Driver qualification files
  • Post-accident inspection reports

Demanding Compensation From Trucking Insurance Companies

Tatiana Boohoff - Attorney for Truck Accident
Tatiana Boohoff, Truck Accident Lawyer

Demanding compensation from a trucking company after an accident is tough. These companies often have big insurance providers with lots of experience in defending against accident claims. They have lawyers and experts who know how to challenge accident claims and work hard to pay as little as possible.

This is why you should hire a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after a truck accident. A good lawyer knows how to handle these big insurers. They can gather the right evidence, talk to witnesses, and use the law to show that the trucking company should pay for the harm you suffered.

Lawyers also know how to negotiate with insurance providers to get the fair settlement you deserve. If necessary, they can even take your case to court when the trucking company refuses to play fair.

A lawyer stands up for your rights, making sure that the trucking company and its insurer face accountability for the full extent of the harm they caused.

December 28, 2023
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