Truck accidents have severe consequences, which could lead to medical expenses, lost wages, and disability. You can sue the liable parties to recover the damages you suffer due to the accident. Liable parties in a truck accident include drivers, equipment manufacturers, cargo loaders, truck owners, or the shipping company. Determining the at-fault party can be a complicated process that requires an understanding of the regulations surrounding trucks.  These regulations guide the conduct of the potentially liable parties, holding them responsible for an accident that happens due to their negligence. The LA Personal Injury Law Firm examines the truck accident to help establish the cause of the accident and the liable parties.

Truck Accidents Overview

Truck accidents are responsible for thousands of crashes and more than 100,000 fatalities. The major reason behind these statistics is the size, weight, and complexity in controlling trucks. Usually, trucks require skills, expertise, and attention to ensure that they are safe when on the road.

A truck typically weighs 25 times more than a typical car when fully loaded. This means that the impact of a crash or accident by such a truck will have magnified damages. Fortunately, if you or a loved one is injured in a truck accident, you can bring a lawsuit against the liable party to recover your damages.  You can also bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party in case your loved one died from the crash.

However, before filing a lawsuit, you have to identify the party responsible for the accident. The best way to do this is by hiring a truck accident attorney to help you. The common liable parties in a truck accident include:

  1. Truck Drivers

Truck drivers can be responsible for truck accidents if they violate traffic laws and regulations both from the federal and state governments.

Drivers owe a duty of care to other motorists and pedestrians. The duty of care rises to the level of extreme care when operating a truck in naturally hazardous weather. The law suggests that the driver stopped in such a case, or drive to the nearest safe location.

If the driver engages in negligence, which leads to the death or injury of another person, then you can sue him for liability for the accidents. Some of the actions that make the truck driver liable for an accident include:

  • Fatigue that results from failure to adhere to FMCSA prescribed hours of service. Sometimes, truck drivers violate this requirement by following incentives from employers for compensation based on the hours of service.
  • Intoxication - Drunk driving is a common cause of truck accidents. California prohibits commercial drivers against operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher. Intoxication interferes with proper judgment and response time – which are both critical in the control of trucks.
  • Distracted driving
  • Inadequately trained drivers - Commercial drivers must undergo specialized training before they can get a commercial driver’s license. They must have the skill and ability to handle the weight of trucks and to control them in different weather and terrain. If a truck driver lacks these skills, then he or she is exposing other road users to serious injuries.
  • Reckless driving - Reckless driving includes activities such as speeding and failing to maintain the right lane. Reckless driving of a truck exposes the driver and other motorists to accidents.
  • Inattention - Truck drivers can lose control of their vehicles within a few seconds of distraction to the road. Inattention can result from fatigue, preoccupation, stress, and medical conditions.
  • Speeding in bad weather - Bad weather already poses a risk for trucks and large commercial vehicles. Their weight, the water or snow on the road, and the laws of physics make the truck prone to more accidents. When coupled with speeding, then the chances of an accident occurring is very high. The FMCSA advises drivers to reduce the speed by up to 1/3 of the speed limit or stop the vehicle until the conditions improve.
  • Following too closely - When a truck follows the lead vehicle too closely, there is an increased chance of rear-ending it, especially if the lead vehicle stops suddenly. Usually, trucks have a longer braking distance compared to smaller vehicles. Therefore, even if the truck driver applies the breaks immediately, the chances are high that he or she will hit the lead vehicle.

Drivers are also responsible for inspecting the cargo to ensure that it is securely loaded.

  1. Trucking Company

The trucking company or employer of the truck driver can be responsible for a truck accident caused by an employee. California worker’s compensation laws hold employers accountable for the positive and negative results of an employee’s action or inaction during their employment.

Employer’s liability for employee’s actions arises due to several factors such as:

  • Employers direct the conduct of their employees and should, therefore, share in the profits and losses or harm that results from such behavior
  • The employer is in a better position to compensate the victim than an employee is
  • Employers must hire trained drivers and ensure that they have the skill to handle a truck. If an employer hires an unskilled driver, and an accident results, then the employer is responsible for damages that arise from the accident. Employers are also required to train their drivers on how to load a truck securely or to identify weaknesses in the loading of cargo.
  • Employers are supposed to test their drivers for drug use or intoxication before they drive a long-distance truck and after an accident occurs
  • When the employee was engaging in a work-related activity that is either authorized by the employer or is related to another activity that the employer has authorized

Actions by the employer that directly contribute to truck accidents or increase the chances of these accidents occurring include:

  • Failing to conduct a complete inspection of their trucks before they leave
  • The company intentionally compromises on safety to save money
  • The employer sets unrealistic expectations and deadlines that push the employee to overwork to meet them

Your personal injury attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of how employers inspect their vehicles, the existing policies, and the qualifications and credentials of the drivers.

The exception to when the employer or trucking company would be liable is if the driver is an independent contractor. In such a case, the court will have to examine the terms under which the driver works to determine whether he or she is an independent contractor.

  1. Truck Owner

Businesses may lease trucks owned by another entity to transport their materials. Such owners are responsible for servicing and maintaining the trucks. They should ensure that the trucks’ internal and external systems are in good working condition.

If the truck owner fails to maintain the truck, and an accident occurs, he or she is responsible for the resulting crash and injuries.

Truck owners are also required to maintain records of the inspections and maintenance steps they take to ensure that the vehicle is in good working condition.

  1. Equipment Manufacturers

Manufacturers of trucks and truck parts can be liable for truck accidents that happen due to a defective product. The common product defects responsible for truck accidents include:

  • Tire defects
  • Faulty brakes
  • Hydraulics
  • Defective airbags
  • Defective load straps
  • Steering defects
  • Oil leaks and fuel tank problems
  • Defective locks
  • Coupling systems

These defects can be the sole cause of the accident or be a contributory factor. Truck manufacturers are required to create devices and parts that are safe and suitable for long-term use. Since trucks, ferry goods for long distances while carrying heavy loads, they are exposed to a lot of wear and tear. Products that wear quickly are, therefore, likely to cause a sudden accident and severe injuries.

Manufacturers are also bound by duty to warn users of possible defects or risks that may arise from the use of a product. First, they are supposed to create warning labels that notify users of the potential dangers associated with the product. Second, they should provide clear instructions on how to use the product safely and how to avoid potential danger. Some of the situations where a manufacturer must give specific, clear, visible, and understandable warnings include:

  • The product presents some threat even if it does not have a design flaw
  • The manufacturer is aware of the threat
  • The danger exists even when the product is used in the right manner
  • A reasonable user would not be aware of the danger the product presents

Design flaws are also responsible for many truck accidents. These flaws include the use of delicate materials and designs. When manufacturers intentionally cut corners for financial gain, then crashes, injuries, and fatalities increase.

  1. Cargo Company

Most trucks carry loads that weigh thousands of pounds. The weight of these trucks increases the difficulty of operating the vehicle. Additionally, if the load moves, then the shift, no matter how small, can have a more significant effect on the stability and safety of the vehicle.

The loading of the cargo affects the stability of the truck, and slight shifts can easily topple the truck. Therefore, the load must be placed reasonably and with care to ensure that it is firmly in place. 

Accidents that occur due to poor loading include falling cargo that might injure pedestrians and other motorists or when the truck maneuvers to avoid falling debris.

When securing the load, the FMCSA requires that the shipment be tied firmly to prevent lateral, forward, and backward movement. Some of the general requirements by FMCSA on the secure loading of the cargo include:

  • The load must be distributed evenly inside the truck
  • The shipment must be sufficiently secured; the securing system should be appropriate for the type of cargo. Additional support devices such as wedges and cradles should be used to increase the stability of the cargo.
  • The structure and equipment including the tailgate, doors, tarpaulins, spare tires and cargo securing equipment must be adequately secures
  • The cargo must be secured such that it does not obscure the driver’s view, interfere with movement and access to accessories and emergency supplies or exit of a person from the vehicle
  • The cargo should not exceed the recommended weight

The FMCSA also has specific cargo-securing requirements for different types of commonly transported cargo.

Determining Liability

Determining liability in truck accident claims is a complicated process. In most cases, it is never a clear-cut case of one party’s is possible that more than one of the parties discussed above could be responsible for the accident. For example, a manufacturer could have produced a defective part, but the cargo loading company fails to secure the cargo adequately. The two parties have both acted negligently and could be responsible for the accident. 

To determine the liable parties, investigators examine several factors including:

Vehicle Maintenance

Most truck accidents can be avoided with the right maintenance and regular inspection. The party responsible for the maintenance would also be liable for any injuries arising from poor maintenance.

In most cases, the driver of the truck is responsible for maintaining the vehicle. He or she is expected to conduct inspections of the truck before and after a trip. The pre-trip inspections are used to confirm that the cargo is secure, and the vehicle is safe to drive.

He or she will determine the safety of the truck by checking the brakes, horns, tires, mirrors, lights, and the engine to ensure that they are working well. After that, he or she will determine if the vehicle is safe before making a report and signing it.

If the vehicle is not safe, he or she should report the problems to the employer or trucking company. The employer should then make the necessary repairs before placing the truck on the road. At this point, employers might cut corners or use substandard materials to cut costs. In case this happens, or the employer allows the vehicle to get on the road before the issues are fixed, the employer or truck company will be responsible for the resulting injuries or damages. Drivers are also required to inspect the vehicle to ascertain that the necessary repairs have been made. He or she can refuse to drive an unsafe truck.

The employer or trucking company is expected to keep reports of the truck inspection and repairs. The driver and employer of the trucking company may conduct the right inspection and maintenance. However, some errors may occur. These include:

  • Overlooking some issues
  • Installing incorrect or faulty parts
  • Leaving foreign materials in the truck
  • Causing damage to the vehicle during repairs

If the repair shop makes these errors, they will be responsible for accidents or injuries arising from the mistakes.

Driver’s Employment Status

The driver’s employment status is vital in determining whether the driver or the employer should be held liable for a truck accident. Some businesses hire independent truck drivers, while others choose to employ drivers. However, some employers take advantage of their drivers by misclassifying them as independent contractors to avoid the financial costs and liabilities of having an employee.

Some factors that will help your personal injury attorney in determining the employment status of the driver include:

  • The extent of control the driver has on his or her house, routes, and breaks, identifying clothing or badges. If an employer controls these aspects, then the driver is an employee.
  • The flexibility of the driver to work with other businesses: independent contractors have the freedom to work with more than one business, unlike employees who are only required to work for their employer.
  • The terms of payment: independent contractors are paid after completing a project. They are not on the employer’s payroll; neither are they awarded any benefits.
  • Independent contractors provide the tools and equipment required to complete a project unlike employees who rely on the employer’s tools and equipment
  • In some cases, the attorney will review the wording of the contract to determine whether it is acting as an independent contract or an employee’s one
  • The extent to which the services provided by the driver are a central part of the business
  • Supervision and extra help: an independent contractor has the freedom to hire assistants or delegate work to others. In contract, an employee is required to do the work personally, and assistants are hired and paid by the employer. Employees also work under the employer’s direction and supervision, unlike independent contractors
  • Employers are in a continuous relationship with the employer unlike independent contractors who are hired on a project-to-project basis
  • Drivers who are required to submit regular reports are employees
  • Independent contractors are likely to get profits or losses from the services provided

Misclassification denies injured victims the chance to be fully compensated for their injuries. Therefore, you should hire a personal injury attorney who understands the complexities associated with such claims and has the experience in handling them.

Comparative Negligence

California recognizes that more than one parties are  responsible for a truck accident. When determining the percentage negligence of each party, the court will decide:

  • The duty of care the defendant had to the injured party
  • The extent to which the defendant breached this duty of care
  • The nature and scope of the injuries the victim suffered
  • The contribution of the negligence to the injuries or damage

Once the court determines the at-fault parties and their percentage contribution to the injuries, they will divide the total settlement among the defendants to award to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff had any fault in the accident, the benefits would be reduced according to the percentage of fault.

The Circumstances of the Accident

The circumstances of each truck accident are unique, from the injuries, victims, liable parties, and environmental conditions.

Sometimes, a driver may be responsible for an accident, even when the weather conditions were unfavorable.

The law maintains that drivers have the choice to keep driving in bad weather and to use safety techniques to avoid causing accidents in bad weather. For example, if a truck drivers speed through a rainstorm and the truck hydroplanes, he or she will be responsible for the damages his or her carelessness causes.

However, before assigning liability to the driver, the court will determine:

  • Whether the driver exercised reasonable caution when driving in the weather conditions
  • Whether the condition was known or unexpected
  • The distance the driver maintained between the truck and other vehicles
  • Whether the driver might have evaded the accident

Personal injury attorneys also examine the accident scene and call upon witnesses for their testimony. An accident reconstruction expert may be necessary to recreate the possible scenario of what happened during the accident.

Determining liability is easier if you contact the attorney soon after the accident, as the evidence is still fresh. Your lawyer can also access records and logs of maintenance of the vehicle before the three months period expires.

You can help in preserving this evidence by taking photographs, videos, and recording any information you can recall while it is still fresh on your mind. You should also note that truck accident lawsuits have a statute of limitations of 2 years from the date of the crash.

Find a Los Angeles Truck Accident Attorney Near Me

Truck accidents can be complicated but have the potential of substantial settlements. However, before you sue for economic and non-economic damages, you have to establish who is responsible for the accident. Determining liability can be a complicated task, especially where various parties are involved. However, with the help of a personal injury attorney, you can identify the party or parties that acted with negligence, which led to the accident. Most importantly, a truck accident attorney is aware of the federal and state laws that govern the conduct of truck owners, manufacturers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers. He or she can then use these laws to identify where a violation has occurred.

If you or a loved one was injured in a truck accident, contact The LA Personal Injury Law Firm at 310-935-0089. We will evaluate your case and identify the parties who might be liable for the truck accident so that we can build a strong case on your behalf.