If an individual gets into a traffic accident with a semi-truck, delivery truck, or any other kind of commercial vehicle, any injury claim that follows thereafter is likely to be far more complicated than a standard car accident claim. The critical factor in claims that follow accidents involving trucks is determining who is responsible. The defendants named could be the truck driver, the driver's employer, the owner of the truck, or even the shipper of the truck's freight could be held liable. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration the number of trucking accidents has increased by twenty percent of the last two decades, so plaintiffs need to be abreast to the process of filing and collecting on potential claims when they are injured in accidents involving a truck.
Federal laws and regulations govern the trucking industry. The federal laws that are in place establish the standards that trucking companies, drivers, and owners must meet. The federal laws are typically where plaintiffs can look for guidance if they are unsure who to pursue action against. In addition to the federal laws and agencies governing the trucking business, every state has a department of transportation with its own set of trucking regulations. The regulations being either federal or state establish how much weight can be hauled, how long the driver can go without rest and quality control in the manufacturing and repair process. The previously listed items are not an exhaustive list, but they are the most commonly violated regulations that lead to accidents in the trucking industry.
Even with clear regulations in place governing the industry, and even in accidents where it seems clear that the driver of the truck is at fault, it is not always straightforward who is liable. There is a policy called "respondeat superior" which is a theory that holds a company liable for any traffic accident caused by one of its employees. The principle of "respondeat superior" is only applicable when the wrongful actions of the employee were unintentional and committed during the scope of their employment. The policy that makes this rule practical is that it is reasonable to think that wrongful conduct is bound to occur at some point during the course of an employer's business. The costs for those loses under this policy should be filed under the cost of doing business for the employer. Additionally, companies have far greater resources than individuals. Companies with vast resources can purchase insurance to protect themselves as well as better compensate finically to make up for the losses of the victims.
It is paramount that a plaintiff who is looking to recover damages from injuries that resulted from a truck accident prove the driver of the truck is an employee of a company and not an independent contractor. Companies are not typically held liable for the actions of independent contractors. There is a vast difference in the employer's ability to control in a detailed manner the way the work is performed and the way the result is achieved. If the employer only controls the result of the work for example, by paying drivers who own their own trucks on a per route basis these drivers would be considered independent contractors, potentially absolving the company of liability in any legal suit following an accident.
As mentioned before, for the "respondeat superior" policy to be active, the actions of the driver that lead to the accident must have occurred within the scope of the driver's employment. There are common factors that the courts use to determine whether or not the actions of a driver occurred during the scope of employment. The intent of the employee is taken into account as well as the nature, time, and place of the employee's conduct. The courts also consider the type of work the employee was asked to do, in truck accident cases where a truck driver injures a victim, it must be determined if the operator of the vehicle was asked to drive that truck as part of their employment. If the employee were asked to drive that particular truck during that specific time, the court would also consider if it was reasonable for the employer to ask the driver to partake in that work. For instance, a driver with a valid license hired by a reputable employer crashes into a car while making a delivery would most likely be considered to be acting within the scope of their employment.
Another factor that will be considered in determining liability is whether or the actions of the driver were intentional. The employer of a truck driver is typically held liable for the effects of the driver. However, there is an exception, and that is when a driver commits an intentional tort such as assault and battery, it is unlikely the employer would be held liable. The intended purpose of "respondeat superior" is not to absolve the driver of all their actions while they are employed. If a driver gets road rage because they were cut off and responds by intentionally crashing into another vehicle, the employer would be unlikely to be liable.
There could be circumstances that arise following a truck accident where multiple defendants are named. A truck could have been manufactured with defective tires in which case a plaintiff would likely name the manufacturer of the tires as a defendant. The driver of the truck with the faulty tires could have been operating the vehicle while tired in which case the driver could potentially share in the liability for the accident. The plaintiff could name the manufacturer of the tires and the driver's company in any suit. However, a plaintiff should note that naming multiple defendants could make it more challenging to obtain a settlement because it is difficult to assign blame.
The plaintiff who can prove either that either one or multiple defendants are directly responsible for their damages will likely be able to collect on those damages. Unfortunately, because semi-trucks are so massive, the damages and injuries that stem from accidents are often severe. Plaintiffs can collect economic damages, non-economic damages, and in some case, punitive damages. Plaintiffs who are injured because of a trucking accident will most likely have medical bills and rehabilitation requirements that they can collect on if they are victorious. The plaintiffs can also collect on non-economic damages from the accident such as pain and suffering, or mental anguish that results directly from the accident. Finally, in rare cases where the driver intentionally injures a plaintiff or is grossly negligent, the plaintiff may be able to receive punitive damages that are intended to punish the defendant.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial truck please contact us. You will speak with a personal injury attorney who can best describe your options and answer your questions. There is no fee for the initial consultation.