LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Michael Grossman | Feb 25, 2011

Semi Truck Accidents: Determining Liability

When a commercial trucking accident occurs, there can oftentimes be more than one liable party responsible for the wreck. After a thorough investigation has been conducted into an 18-wheeler accident site in order to discover each liable party, each party can then be a unique defendant in a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death lawsuit. The following short article describes a few of the parties that are often responsible for a commercial trucking accident.

As you would likely assume, a truck driver is often a liable party for a semi-truck wreck. As the operator of the big rig, the truck driver bears an immense burden to provide for both their own safety and the safety of the general public while traveling down America’s highways behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle. When driver distraction, drowsiness, or drunkenness occurs to a semi-truck driver, the results can oftentimes be deadly. Driver pressed by their employers to make good time, or drivers that press themselves to driver for longer than their legal workable hours, can contribute to tired truckers causing large-scale wrecks. Drivers that opt to forgo their mandatory rest breaks can suffer from drowsiness in the blink of two eyes. Intoxicated 18-wheeler drivers, whether due to alcohol or drugs, can present incredible dangers, both to themselves and to anyone else in their vicinity. In states that have dram shop laws, a negligent bar or restaurant can be held partially liable if a truck driver was over-served alcohol at such an establishment prior to driving their truck off the premises. In that instance, both the truck driver and the bar would be defendants in any civil action taken. However, truck drivers are often only the first liable party among many due to their direct involvement in a wreck.

Since commercial truck drivers are employed by a company, the company can also be held liable for a trucking accident that causes injury or death. In most instances of 18-wheeler accident across the country, a trucking company can be held liable for their driver’s negligent behavior. Such liability can be claimed as direct liability or vicarious liability. Through direct liability, a trucking company can be held responsible for a wreck if the company’s actions had a direct bearing on an accident. For example, inadequate training, negligent hiring practices, or a failure to maintain the safety of a fleet may all be causes for a tractor-trailer wreck in which an employer could be held directly liable for the accident. On the other hand, a trucking company may be held vicariously liable for an accident due to the employee/employer relationship which holds the employer responsible for their employees’ actions while on-the-job. Such vicarious liability can exist even if the trucking company itself did not commit an act of negligence. Consequently, a majority of trucking accident cases will involve both a truck driver and their employer as defendants.

However, some trucking accidents may not be the fault of a truck driver or the truck driver’s company. A product manufacturer may be to blame for a defective product that leads to an 18-wheeler wreck. Since commercial trucks have many parts that must all function properly in order to maintain their safe usage, a single defective part can sometimes lead to injury accidents or fatal accidents. Such defective parts could include bad brakes, poor tires, or safety straps or other restraining equipment that fails to work as necessary. If such an issue causes or contributes to a semi-truck wreck, a manufacturer can be held liable for the results of the accident.

Furthermore, outside companies may also bear liability under certain circumstances. For example, some trucking companies use third-party cargo-loading companies to place and secure cargo onto their trucks. If such a company is negligent in their duties and overloads a truck, improperly loads a truck, or fails to properly secure a cargo load, and such an issue contributes to an 18-wheeler rollover wreck or falling cargo accident, the cargo-loading company can be held liable for the wreck. Additionally, some trucking companies also use route-planning services that map their trucks’ routes. If such a route results in a truck experiencing an accident due to an environmental barrier or another foreseeable issue, the route-planning company can bear liability for the accident.

Essentially, there can be multiple parties at fault for a commercial trucking accident, some of whom may not have even been directly involved in the accident. Consequently, a thorough investigation by an experienced 18-wheeler accident law firm must often be conducted as soon as possible in the aftermath of a wreck so that all of the liable parties might be identified. Since each liable party will be held responsible for their fair share of compensation awarded to a plaintiff upon a favorable outcome to a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, ensuring that each liable party is identified is a vital step toward ensuring that a plaintiff can stand to receive full and fair compensation for their injury or loss.

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