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Trucking Accidents: Who Is Liable?

All vehicle accidents are dangerous, but an accident involving commercial trucks is particularly deadly. The vehicle itself is large, containing tons of steel. It also bears cargo, which itself is often heavy. It could even contain hazardous materials that are deadly on contact.

Normally, when you’ve been struck by another vehicle, responsibility is clear. The other driver was negligent, and they are at fault. In an accident involving commercial trucks, liability becomes more complicated. The driver may be responsible, but others could be as well. Liability in a trucking accident depends on how the crash occurred.

The Truck Malfunctioned

Perhaps your accident was not the fault of poor driving or breaking traffic laws. Maybe the truck itself suffered an error, causing swerving. Negligence on the road does not always involve a driver’s behavior. All drivers have a responsibility to make sure that their vehicle is sound and safe for road travel.

If the truck malfunctioned, causing an accident, the truck’s owner can be held liable. This responsibility may lie with the drivers themselves. If they are private contractors, they probably own their truck, and they are, therefore, responsible for its upkeep.

If the driver does not directly own the truck, liability becomes more complicated. Bigger companies sometimes own the vehicles, hiring drivers to use their equipment. When this is the case, it can be harder to track down the actual owner of the vehicle. This is intentional. The company may rent the trucks from someone else, and maintenance responsibility is buried in the rental agreement. The rental company may place this burden on the company, but the company does the same to the renter.

If you need to track down the truck’s owner, make sure to hire a skilled lawyer. They can sift through the vague layers of responsibility, holding the correct party accountable.

There Was a Cargo Spill

Sometimes a trucking accident does not involve vehicles directly hitting one another. A truck’s cargo could spill into the street, causing damage.

In this situation, some questions must be answered:

  • Why did the cargo spill?
  • Who handled the cargo last?

In any liability case, the details matter. It isn’t enough to know that the cargo spilled. You must understand why. If it was because of a malfunction, then we go back to who is responsible for maintaining the vehicle. If the driver was reckless, causing a spill, then they are the liable party. There are many ways cargo could loosen onto the road, and they must all be considered in the case.

Sometimes, however, cargo spills because it wasn’t properly stored to begin with. Perhaps it wasn’t tightly latched. Maybe the trailer door was not completely closed or locked. In such situations, you must follow the chain of who handled the cargo and when. If the driver was careless in securing the product, they could be responsible for the resulting damage.

Often, the driver doesn’t handle the cargo at all, especially if they are hauling hazmat. Only the loading company is authorized to handle the goods, and the driver simply transports them. If the company was careless in storing and securing the items, they should be held responsible. The driver is not at fault for their negligence.

The Driver Was Overworked

Legally, truck drivers have a limit on how many hours they can work. If they go over this limit, they are breaking the law, and they can be held responsible for any resulting injuries. Many studies have concluded that fatigued driving can be just as dangerous as impaired driving, which is why these laws exist.

Truckers sometimes want to get their jobs done early, and, trusting their skill, push themselves too hard. They go over their allotted hours and cause damage. If they made this choice on their own, they can be held liable for a crash.

However, the situation can be more complicated than that. Perhaps the driver’s employer was pushing them, demanding a shorter delivery time. These demands cause the trucker to become overworked and fatigued, creating a hazardous situation on the road. The law recognizes the power dynamics inherent in an employer/employee relationship. If a driver was pushed beyond their limits, you could hold the trucking company responsible for damages.

Talk to an Attorney

If you’ve been involved in a commercial truck crash, contact an attorney today. They can investigate your case and review the facts, tracing the chain of liability to the entity responsible for your damages.

For help seeking compensation in a trucking crash, contact our office today. Initial consultations are free. Our number is (770) 924-8155, and you can contact us online.