Truck accidents are unquestionably devastating. When semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, tanker trucks, 18-wheelers, big rigs, and other large commercial vehicles collide with smaller passenger cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks, the consequences are often catastrophic. In many cases, they are even deadly.
Statistics show that occupants of smaller vehicles are by far the most likely to be severely injured or killed in large truck accidents. When they survive, truck accident victims are often left with life-altering injuries, permanent disabilities, and significant impairment. They will likely need extensive medical care and may be out of work for weeks, months, or even years. In some cases, victims are never able to work again. As a result, victims and their families face serious financial hardships, not to mention considerable physical pain and emotional suffering.
After a truck accident, injured victims and the families of those wrongfully killed should not have to deal with these challenges on their own—but who is liable for a truck accident?
The answer is somewhat complicated. Unlike in standard car accident cases, liability in a truck accident claim does not necessarily lie with the individual person who caused the crash. For example, even if the truck driver was negligent, you might have a claim against the trucking company that employs the driver, rather than the driver him/herself. You might also have a claim against the trucking company if it is discovered that it engaged in negligent practices or processes, indirectly leading to the crash. In still other instances, you could have a claim against a negligent third party, such as the manufacturer of a defective truck or the party responsible for truck maintenance and/or repairs.
Below, we’ve broken down several common liability scenarios following a large truck or commercial vehicle accident. Continue reading to learn more, or contact the Farmer & Klopfer today to speak to one of our truck accident attorneys about your case. We offer free initial consultations and are happy to answer any questions you may have.
Trucking Company Liability
In many cases, trucking companies are liable for truck accidents. Under respondeat superior laws, which hold that employers are generally liable for the conduct of their employees while those employees are carrying out job-related activities or duties, trucking companies are often responsible even when truck drivers negligently cause accidents (with some notable exceptions).
Trucking companies can also be held liable for truck accidents when they engage in, encourage, or ignore unsafe practices. This is often considered negligence and, when it directly or indirectly leads to an accident, the trucking company that explicitly or implicitly condoned such negligence can be held responsible.
Some examples of unsafe and negligent trucking company policies, practices, and procedures include:
- Failing to conduct background checks on new drivers or other employees
- Failing to train truck drivers properly and professionally
- Encouraging or turning a blind eye to hours-of-service violations
- Implementing unrealistic schedules or quotas, leading to hours-of-service violations
- Failing to properly discipline truck drivers that violate company policy (e.g., drive drunk)
- Failing to ensure drivers properly complete logbook requirements
- Failing to conduct adequate maintenance or repairs on leased or owned trucks
These and other negligent practices can indirectly lead to serious truck accidents. A driver who is pressured by his employer to drive for more hours than allowed by federal or state hours-of-service regulations might end up driving while fatigued, which has been proven to be as dangerous—if not more dangerous—than driving drunk. A trucking company that fails to discipline a driver found to have been driving while intoxicated and instead allows her to continue driving without repercussions could be responsible if the driver goes on to cause an accident while driving drunk again in the future.
At the Farmer & Klopfer, we evaluate all available evidence and investigate trucking companies to determine whether they are liable for our clients’ damages. We have access to extensive resources, as well as various industry experts, which helps us build powerful and persuasive arguments aimed at securing the maximum allowable compensation.
Truck Driver Liability
While trucking companies are often liable for their drivers’ conduct on the road, truck drivers can sometimes be held individually accountable for causing collisions.
A truck driver may be liable for a truck accident if he or she:
- Is classified as an independent contractor, rather than an employee of the trucking company
- Violated the trucking company’s employee policies, such as by driving while intoxicated
- Independently violated state or federal trucking regulations, including hours-of-service rules
- Violated traffic laws, such as running red lights, speeding, or texting while driving
- Was negligent, e.g., drove while distracted or made an unsafe turn, and the trucking company is not legally liable for any reason
- Failed to conduct routine truck maintenance, if required by law and/or trucking company policy
- Failed to report truck maintenance issues, faulty parts, or other truck elements in need of repair
- Loaded cargo improperly or overloaded the truck with cargo, if responsible for cargo loading/unloading
Truck drivers have a huge responsibility to others on the road. They must operate their vehicles with extreme caution and care for the safety of fellow motorists and passengers. When they fail to do so, or when they recklessly endanger others, they can sometimes be made responsible for victims’ damages.
In some cases, liability for a truck accident may lie not with the trucking company or the truck driver but with another, separate party. The trucking industry is comprised of many moving parts and numerous entities, all of whom must abide by strict safety regulations. When these regulations are ignored, innocent people can be seriously hurt.
Some other third parties that may be partially or entirely liable for a truck accident include:
- A manufacturer or distributor of a defective truck or truck part
- Cargo loaders/unloaders who improperly load or overload trucks
- Maintenance crews that fail to perform routine inspections
- Truck servicing companies that fail to complete proper repairs
Another motorist on the road could even be responsible for a truck accident. For example, someone who is texting while driving next to a large truck could unknowingly drift into the truck’s lane, causing the truck driver to brake suddenly or swerve. This could lead to the truck fishtailing or jackknifing, causing drivers traveling behind the truck to crash. If it is later discovered that the truck driver overcorrected because he was driving while fatigued, having violated hours-of-service laws due to pressure from his employer, the injured party could have a claim against the texting driver and the truck driver, trucking company, or another liable party.
Maximizing Your Recovery
At the Farmer & Klopfer, we know how to investigate truck accident claims to determine exactly what happened and who is liable for your damages. Our attorneys understand the importance of maximizing your financial recovery so that you can get back on your feet and move forward with your life. We often review trucks’ black box data, investigate truck drivers’ cellphone records, examine trucking companies’ policies, look into drivers’ histories, and work with accident reconstructionists to rebuild the scene of the crash. All of this helps us obtain a clear picture of the crash so that we can identify the liable party.
If you or someone you love was involved in a large truck accident in Waldorf, Charles County, or anywhere in Maryland, reach out to our firm today to learn how we can help you and your family. There are no out-of-pocket expenses when you hire our firm, and we only collect legal fees if we recover a settlement or verdict for you.