A truck accident can be a life-altering event. In addition to dealing with mounting medical bills resulting from your injury or mourning your loss if your loved one lost their life in the accident, you may find yourself navigating the legal challenges surrounding your compensation claim. One of the challenges involves figuring out who is liable for the accident.
Understanding who is at fault is crucial when filing a successful claim for compensation and requesting the compensation you need to pay your bills, seek justice, and return to your everyday life. However, determining liability after a truck accident may be a complicated matter full of nuances. Always consult with a truck accident attorney about liability for your losses.
Examples of Trucking Company Liability
When a truck accident occurs, several parties – other than the truck driver – may be held responsible for the injuries and damages you or your loved one has suffered. The trucking company is one of the parties who might be liable for the accident. Among the most common ways an accident may be the responsibility of the trucking company include:
- Disregarding safety measures. Trucking companies must obey strict safety guidelines to minimize accidents on the road. These rules relate to regular truck maintenance, proper driver training, and cargo securement. Failure to adhere to these protocols can put the truck driver and other road users at risk of accidents, potentially leading to debilitating injuries and fatalities. If the trucking company’s disregard of any safety measures caused your injuries and you (or your truck accident lawyer) can prove it, they can be liable for the accident.
- Failing to arrange inspections. Trucking companies should schedule routine truck inspections and maintenance to ensure their vehicles are in top condition. If a trucking company neglects inspections or does not fix issues discovered during such inspections, the company can bear responsibility for accidents arising from the malfunctioning parts. However, this requires demonstrating evidence that a thorough inspection should have (a) detected any maintenance issues and (b) prevented the likelihood of the crash.
- Negligent vehicle maintenance. The trucking company has a legal obligation to ensure its trucks receive appropriate maintenance, replace faulty parts, and fix safety issues discovered during routine inspections. If a truck accident resulted from a mechanical problem due to the trucking company’s use of sub-standard replacement parts for maintenance, the company will most likely carry full responsibility for the crash.
- Setting unrealistic schedule expectations. Trucking companies continuously aim to make timely deliveries as quickly as possible to increase their profits, which often occurs at the expense of their drivers. Pressuring drivers to deliver cargo ahead of schedule can lead to fatigue, speeding, and other unsafe driving practices, leading to accidents. If your truck accident is associated with the trucking company setting unrealistic schedule expectations, it can be liable for damages. The federal government imposes strict hours of service rules to prevent truck driver fatigue. These rules prohibit truckers from driving more than 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days.
- Inadequate driver training. Trucking companies must hire competent, licensed, and experienced drivers and provide them with regular training to ensure their safety and that of other road users. Inadequate training can lead to a driver’s inability to handle emergencies on the road, resulting in preventable accidents.
- Negligent hiring practices. Trucking companies should conduct comprehensive background checks on potential drivers to ensure they are qualified, licensed, and competent. Negligent hiring practices may contribute to accidents, such as hiring drivers with a history of DUIs, accidents, reckless driving, or other issues. If a driver who should not have been allowed to drive in the first place caused your truck accident, the trucking company can be to blame for the crash.
Identifying the cause of the truck accident may not be possible without initiating a prompt and comprehensive investigation conducted by a skilled lawyer. The analysis will reveal what factors caused or contributed to the crash and will most likely provide a definitive answer to your question: Is the trucking company liable?
Proving Trucking Company Liability in Truck Accident Cases
When it comes to filing a claim against the trucking company, the success of your claim hinges on your ability to prove the following four elements:
The first element in proving trucking company liability will likely be establishing that the trucking company and the truck driver have a relationship. If the driver was an employee of the trucking company, the employer may be vicariously liable for the driver’s negligent actions. Trucking regulations also hold trucking companies liable for the actions of drivers they hire or allow to drive the company’s trucks, even if no formal employment relationship exists.
The second element involves establishing that the truck driver was negligent in causing the accident. Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care that harms another person. In other words, courts analyze the circumstances of the trucking accident and must decide what a reasonable person should have done in a similar situation.
To prove negligence, you must provide evidence that establishes these four elements:
- The truck driver owed you a duty of care
- The truck driver breached their duty of care to you
- That breach caused the accident that led to your injuries
- You suffered actual damages due to the accident (such as medical expenses)
In a truck accident case, negligence can occur if the driver violates traffic laws, drives while fatigued, operates the truck under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or engages in other behaviors that put other road users at risk of harm.
The next critical element requires you to prove that the driver’s negligence caused your injuries. Causation is the legal term that provides the necessary connection between the driver’s actions and the harm you suffered as the truck accident victim. In other words, you must prove that the accident was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.
To establish causation, you may be required to provide medical evidence showing that your injuries were present only after the accident. This evidence may include medical reports, testimony from medical experts, or photographs of your injuries. In the absence of concrete evidence, the trucking company may raise a defense arguing that you had a pre-existing condition, which essentially means that your injuries existed before the accident.
Scope of Employment
Finally, you need to demonstrate evidence to prove that the driver was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident. Without this element, your attempts to hold the trucking company vicariously liable for the accident will be futile. The scope of employment means that the driver was conducting work-related activities when the accident occurred and was not engaged in personal business or activities.
To prove that the driver was acting within the scope of their employment, you may need to provide evidence that the driver was en route to a job site, delivering goods, or performing another work-related activity.
Evidence to Prove a Trucking Company’s Liability
The success of your claim against a trucking company depends on the availability of evidence in your legal case. Some of the evidence that you may use to put together a strong case include the following:
- Accident scene evidence. Gathering evidence from the accident scene is critical in building a case against a trucking company. Photos of the accident scene, damages incurred, and nearby road signs or traffic lights can prove useful. Additional key points of evidence at the location can include any witness statements and reports from the police.
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance records. Trucking companies are legally required to maintain and inspect their vehicles regularly to ensure they are safe to operate on the road. Inspection reports can reveal if employees regularly inspected the truck before the accident. In addition, maintenance and repair records can show if any mechanical or safety issues existed and whether the trucking company properly addressed them.
- Hiring and training records. The trucking company is responsible for only hiring qualified and competent drivers. You or your truck accident lawyer can request a copy of the driver’s hiring and training records, which should demonstrate whether or not they received the proper training for the job and whether they should have been allowed to drive in the first place. These records can also highlight any concerning behaviors that the trucking company was aware of and did not take any action to address, such as previous accidents or DUIs.
- Driver logs and records. Federal laws require drivers to log their driving hours and mileage. These logs can prove whether the driver was following federal regulations regarding rest and work hours leading up to the accident, known as the hours of service rules.
- Truck company inspection records. Trucking companies must meet various safety standards, and their vehicles must comply with these regulations to ensure everyone’s safety. Records of truck inspections can serve as invaluable evidence to show whether or not the company neglected to inspect its vehicles correctly and in a timely manner.
Not all of these pieces of evidence may be readily available after the truck accident. They may require the assistance of a skilled and tenacious personal injury attorney to get access to them before the evidence conveniently for the trucking company goes missing or gets tampered with.
Five Possible Defenses the Trucking Company May Use Against Your Claim
Proving a trucking company’s liability is no easy task. After all, trucking companies are often multi-million-dollar businesses that hire the best defense lawyers to shield them from liability. Let’s take a closer look at some of the possible defenses the trucking company or its legal team may raise to challenge your claim and protect itself from liability:
The truck driver’s negligence was outside the scope of their job
Trucking companies may also claim that the trucker’s negligence was unrelated to their job. If, for example, the driver was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol while engaged in personal activities, the trucking company might argue that the driver was not acting within the scope of their employment and thus cannot be their responsibility. However, the company may bear responsibility if the accident occurred within the driver’s job duties, such as making a delivery for the employer.
Lack of negligence on the trucking company’s part
The trucking company may also argue that their negligence did not contribute to the accident. The company may say that they adequately trained and supervised their drivers per federal regulations and complied with other applicable rules and that the accident occurred purely due to the truck driver's actions.
Another company’s negligence caused the accident
The trucking company may try to shift the blame to another company if something they had no control over caused the accident. A typical example of another liable company is the maintenance company, cargo loader, or manufacturer of the vehicle or its parts.
You missed the statute of limitations
The trucking company may argue that the statute of limitations to bring legal action has expired. This is especially common if you file your claim long after the accident occurred. The statute of limitations varies from state to state but generally ranges from one to three years from the date of the accident. If you miss this deadline, the trucking company will submit a motion to dismiss any legal action you pursue.
Note: In Nevada, the statute of limitations for truck accident cases resulting in injury is two years from the date the injury occurs or is discovered (NRS § 11.190).