If a semi-truck driver injured you in an accident, you may not know who should be held responsible. Seeking compensation from a trucker personally can have limitations, which may leave you unable to recover from all your losses after a truck accident. In many cases, however, truck accident victims may be able to pursue compensation from the trucking company.
A trucking company can sometimes be liable for a truck accident due to its relationship with the truck driver or his/her actions. This post explores when a trucking company may be responsible for injuries caused by their truck. If you have questions about a truck accident that injured you and who may be liable, contact a truck accident lawyer for more information.
The Truck Driver’s Actions
Truckers spend long hours on the road, have little time for rest, and receive constant reminders of looming delivery deadlines. The stress of the job and the chaos of living on the road can make drivers susceptible to behaviors that increase the likelihood of accidents. Even though a driver’s choices are their own, the trucking company that employs them can also be liable for accidents.
#1. The Doctrine of Respondeat Superior and What It Means for You
You may ask yourself how a trucking company could be liable for their driver’s actions. The answer rests in a legal concept known as the doctrine of respondeat superior. Under this doctrine, generally speaking, an employer or entity can be responsible for their employee’s actions if the employee acts within the scope of employment during the collision.
A trucking company may try to fight the court’s interpretation of this doctrine by arguing that the truck driver is not their employee or was not working during the crash. In many instances, the trucking company will be unsuccessful in separating itself from the driver’s actions.
When a truck driver operates a commercial vehicle on the road, they are in the scope of their employment almost any time the truck is on the road. Even in cases where a trucking company works with drivers as independent contractors, the company often maintains significant control of the truck and the driver’s route or schedule.
The following are examples of actions truck drivers may engage in that could make the trucking company liable for accidents:
#2. Truck Driver Fatigue
Truck drivers work long hours and take intermittent rest breaks. Their rest times may not be routine and vary depending on traffic, schedule, and rest stop availability. Truck drivers commonly suffer from sleep deprivation or lack of quality rest when working. A tired driver risks falling asleep behind the wheel, suffering from tunnel vision, or having slower reaction times when an obstacle is in their path. Upwards of 13 percent of truck injuries and deaths are associated with truck driver fatigue.
#3. Driving Under the Influence
Loneliness, stress, and lack of sleep can often trigger mental health disorders, depression, and unhealthy habits, including alcoholism and drug use. Any driver under the influence threatens the lives of others. However, the threat is drastically higher when the driver operates a massive tractor-trailer.
#4. Reckless Truck Operation
It is easy for a trucker to feel secure when operating their semi-truck. However, these large vehicles can easily roll over obstacles in their path, including smaller cars. Passing vehicles at high speeds, traveling in the left lanes, and tailgating vehicles are common practices of reckless truck drivers concerned only with making a delivery on time rather than the safety of the public surrounding them.
Semi-trucks and tractor-trailers traveling at high speeds are unstoppable forces of destruction. When traveling along interstates and highways, it does not take long to find a runaway ramp on the side of the road. The ramps exist to curb the potential destruction of an out-of-control semi-truck, but unfortunately, they cannot prevent every accident.
Truck drivers who speed reduce their ability to stop when necessary. The significant weight of the trucks, combined with the heavy cargo and loads the trucks are capable of carrying, require ample time to slow down and stop. A trucker cannot make a sudden stop or slow down quickly when traveling at high speed. In many instances, a driver’s attempt to slam on the brakes will cause only further damage by causing the truck to jackknife or roll across the roadway.
The Trucking Company’s Actions
In some situations, a truck accident investigation may reveal that it was not solely the truck driver’s actions that caused the accident. The trucking company may have contributed to the accident as well.
Any company that owns and operates a commercial vehicle and employs drivers to transport shipments must take measures to maintain the safety of their fleet and protect the public.
Violations of Hours-of-Service Rules
Trucking companies are in the business of making money. When they choose money over the safety of the public and their driver, they may violate federal regulations for hours of service enacted to reduce driver fatigue on the road. In addition, heavy workloads or driver shortages can tempt companies to bypass federal rules and push drivers beyond their physical limits.
Improper Truck Maintenance
Trucks can travel thousands of miles in short periods, putting an enormous strain on the mechanics and equipment in the vehicle. Routine maintenance is necessary to combat the everyday wear and tear that a truck sustains during its routes. Trucking companies that try to cut costs may skip or avoid maintenance appointments, eventually creating hazards for drivers and the public.
Failure to Routinely Inspect the Truck
A trucking company must conduct routine maintenance. They must also routinely inspect the truck for potential dangers or equipment failures that could lead to an accident. A technician must check trucking components regularly to prevent unexpected catastrophic failures.
Inadequate Vetting or Faulty Hiring Practices
In many areas of the country, truck drivers are in high demand. Trucking companies can miss out on shipment contracts and fail to meet deadlines if they do not have enough truckers to complete their orders. This pressure causes some companies to overlook concerns about a driver’s background or ignore a lack of experience or qualifications.
If a trucking company fails to properly screen potential drivers, you can hold it liable for the damage the driver causes.
Failure to Properly Train Truck Operators
Trucking companies must not just vet their drivers; they must ensure they can do the work safely. Drivers must have experience or knowledge of routes, the type of truck they are driving, and how to handle delicate or dangerous cargo if that is what they are hauling. Trucking companies are often liable for the accidents their drivers cause when they fail to provide adequate training opportunities.
Other Situations Where You Can Hold a Trucking Company Liable
Trucking companies insure their trucks and drivers for various circumstances. In some situations, the trucking company might be liable, but other parties may also be responsible if an accident occurs.
Improper Cargo Loading
The cargo loading and distribution processes require meticulous planning and weight calculations to maintain the balance and stability of the truck during shipment. Cargo loaded improperly into a container or onto a truck’s bed can cause sudden shifts in weight, leading to rollovers or loss of control.
Failure to Secure the Cargo on the Truck
Strapping down and securing cargo so it does not move during shipments is vital. Cargo that dislodges during transport can become airborne, threaten nearby vehicles, or cause dangerous weight shifts within a shipping container.
Shipping of Hazardous or Dangerous Materials
Some types of cargo are inherently dangerous. For example, gas, acids, and other corrosive materials can cause an explosion or debilitating injuries if it touches victims in the aftermath of a truck accident. The trucking company and the party shipping these materials can be liable for damages when an accident involving these substances occurs.
Will Insurance Cover All of Your Losses?
All trucking companies must maintain adequate truck liability insurance to protect the public from an accident, injury, or fatality. If you are in an accident with a truck where a driver or trucking company’s actions amount to negligence, you can seek compensation through insurance. The minimum policy limitations and types of covered damages may vary from state to state.
Often, your lawyer will resolve your case through a truck insurance claim. The lawyer will collect evidence of fault, calculate your damages, and collect proof of your injuries to negotiate a reasonable settlement on your behalf. In cases of wrongful death during a truck collision, a truck accident lawyer can help the deceased’s family seek damages for the loss of their loved one after the tragic and sudden death.
How Can You Sue a Trucking Company After an Accident?
It may not always be wise to accept a settlement offer from the insurance company. Unreasonably low settlement offers, insufficient insurance coverage, denial of liability, or serious damages are common reasons a case must go to a court for resolution. After consulting with your lawyer, you may decide that there are reasons why you cannot settle, and a lawsuit is your only option. A truck accident lawyer will work through the insurance claims process and file a lawsuit when necessary for your case.
What Should You Do After a Truck Accident?
As you heal and recover from your injuries, you must also think about how you will move ahead with your case and work to protect your rights. The most practical solution is to hire a truck accident lawyer to take the lead on your case as soon as possible. Once you have a lawyer representing you as the truck accident victim, you can focus on healing. At the same time, you allow your legal team to focus on your case against the trucking company, truck driver, or other liable parties.
Contact a truck accident lawyer in your area for a free case consultation to find out what compensation you may recover.