Truck accident lawsuits arise from vehicle accidents involving at least one large commercially- operated truck. This can include vehicles such as “semi” tractors and trailers, delivery trucks, cargo trucks, tanker trucks and the like. We are concerned with larger commercial vehicles as opposed to pick-up trucks or SUVs.
A typical commercial truck weighs more than 25 times as much as a car. The size and weight of the commercial truck mean that any accident with a truck can be catastrophic.
How Is Fault Determined in a Truck Accident?
As with all motor vehicle accidents, who is at fault in a truck accident is usually determined through a review of the following kinds of evidence:
- Police reports: parties to an accident that is the least bit serious should call the police and report the accident to them;
- Interviews of the drivers involved;
- Eye witness statements: if there are witnesses to the accident, the parties should be sure to collect contact information from them so they can be interviewed later;
- Photographs of the accident that the parties may have made, possibly with their cell phones;
- The nature of the injuries to the parties involved;
- The nature of the damage to their vehicles; and
- Accident scene reconstruction.
Currently, many professional truck drivers use dashboard cameras (“dash cams”). In fact, some companies now require them. Truckers are under great pressure to maintain a deadline-driven schedule. They often have to drive through the night to make their deliveries on time. Of course, dash cams cannot prevent accidents, but they do capture an accident as it happens and can help show who is at fault in a truck accident.
Who is Liable for the Injury?
A truck driver can be liable if an accident was intentional or if the driver was an independent contractor, and not the employee of the company while operating the truck. If a truck driver can prove that an accident was unintentional and that he is the employee of a trucking company, the trucking company may well be liable.
Under the legal theory known as “Respondeat superior,” employers are always held responsible for unintentional accidents caused by their employees. There are multiple reasons for an accident to occur that might also place the blame on the trucking company. They are as follows:
- The employer encourages unsafe driving in order to fulfill orders quickly;
- The employer forces drivers to be on the road beyond the hours that are permitted under state and federal regulations;
- The employer hires drivers without conducting proper criminal background checks, drug or driving tests, or mental examinations;
- The employer consistently fails to conduct inspections, maintenance, or repairs to their fleet of tractor trailers or other large commercial trucks.
If any of these factors can be proven, they provide additional reasons for which the employer of a truck driver may be responsible for damages caused by the negligence of the driver.
A defect in the design or manufacture of the truck or semi tractor itself could be the cause of an accident. If the evidence suggests this, an experienced personal injury attorney is able to hire a product liability expert who can analyze the evidence. If an expert discovers that a defect in the truck, whether in its design or manufacture, caused the accident, then the truck manufacturer may be found liable.
Common Causes of Accidents
There are multiple reasons for trucking accidents. From a deer running across the road to a tire blowing out, the possibilities are limitless. Following are some of the most common causes of trucking accidents:
- Equipment failures, e.g. brake failure, tire blowouts;
- Failure to properly secure the load or load-shifting;
- Poor road conditions, e.g. ice;
- Weather, e.g. blizzard conditions;
- Lane drifting;
- Improper truck maneuvering;
- Driver fatigue;
- Drunk or drugged driving.
Most of the accidents caused by truck drivers are due to driver fatigue. Trucking companies push to have products arrive on time, and sometimes the speed of delivery is prioritized over the safety of drivers and others on the road.
How Can You Prove Negligence?
As in most motor vehicle accident cases, the main theory of recovery would be based on the negligence of the truck driver or the employer. To establish the driver’s negligence, a person injured in a trucking accident must show the following:
- The driver and trucking company owed the person a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances;
- The driver and/or trucking company failed to exercise reasonable care, i.e. acted negligently;
- Their failure to exercise reasonable care was the cause of an accident; and
- Another person suffered injury and damage in the accident.
What Are Some Legal Remedies in a Truck Accident Lawsuit?
Legal remedies in a truck accident usually consist of an award of money damages. This requires the negligent party to compensate the victim for any losses associated with the accident. Compensatory damages can include all expenses for the medical treatment of bodily injuries This can include hospital and doctor care, medication, and physical therapy. In some cases, these expenses can be projected into the future. The costs of treatment have to be paid until the injured party has fully recovered, of course. Or, if full recovery cannot be expected, then some expenses may continue until the end of the injured party’s life. If a death results from the collision, a wrongful death lawsuit could result.
Compensatory damages would also cover the wages that a victim lost because they were unable to work. Compensatory damages also cover the cost to repair any damage to the victim’s car, including repairs to mechanical systems and body damage.
There are additional categories of damages to which a non-negligent party in a truck accident lawsuit can be entitled. They include:
- Loss of consortium: Loss of consortium damages compensate the spouse of an injured person for their loss of injured person’s companionship and services; again there is no exact formula for calculating the value of this kind of loss; if the parties settle before trial, they will agree on an amount. If the case goes to trial, the jury decides how much to award based on whatever evidence the injured party presents; in some states, there are caps on the amount that can be awarded for loss of consortium;
- Punitive damages: Punitive damages are awarded if the negligent party is shown to have acted with reckless disregard, or was wanton, or purposeful; in other words, the party acted with complete disregard for the safety of others. Punitive damages are not calculated to compensate the non-negligent party but rather to discourage others from committing these types of acts.
- The law regarding calculation of punitive damages varies from state to state; in some states there is a guideline for punitive damages, such as, three times the amount of compensatory damages. In other states, the jury is left to decide based on factors such as the level of culpability, the severity of harm, and the extent to which the non-negligent party was also responsible for the accident, if they were.
- If the negligent party has a history of similar conduct, e.g. prior convictions for DUI or DWI, it would support a higher punitive damage award in a case involving another instance of DUI or DWI on the part of the negligent party.
Usually, in a truck accident, the driver or the employer’s insurance company pays the compensatory damages. An independent commercial driver or one employed by a company will probably have an insurance policy that covers damages for accidents caused by the driver’s negligence. Even if a claim for compensatory damages is settled out of court and paid by an insurer, a victim still needs an experienced personal injury attorney to represent them in negotiations with an insurance company.
Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Truck Accident?
Truck accidents can be complicated because more than one party may be at fault. Additionally, if you sue the truck driver’s employer, the employer has the funds to hire experienced attorneys who will work hard to undermine your case.
A skilled truck accident attorney can best represent your interests and fight for what you are entitled to. An experienced attorney can analyze who is at fault, the extent of the damage to you as the victim, and the amount of damages you should recover. It is definitely advisable to contact an experienced personal injury attorney in order to get the result that is most favorable to you.