Theories of Liability in Truck Accidents
Commercial trucks typically carry in excess of 80,000 pounds when they are fully loaded and hauling cargo to their destination. This makes big rig accidents especially hazardous. When a large commercial vehicle collides with another vehicle or object, it can result in severe and catastrophic injuries. Occupants of passenger vehicles are far more likely to be killed in a trucking accident than occupants of the commercial truck.
Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that there were 2112 deaths in 2016 in two-vehicle crashes involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck. 97% of those killed in these crashes were occupants of passenger vehicles. Thousands more passenger vehicle occupants suffered serious and debilitating injuries. These types of injuries can result in high medical bills, countless days missed from work, loss of earning capacity, and numerous other hardships.
Truck accidents can result in some of the most severe injuries, but they can also be very complex cases in which to pursue a liability claim. Trucking is a heavily regulated industry, and you need to be familiar with the countless government laws and regulations that may factor into this type of case. There are also several potential parties that may be responsible for the accident. Determining who is at-fault requires an extensive investigation and the ability to obtain facts and evidence from often unfriendly and uncooperative parties.
Theories of Liability in Trucking Accidents
When pursing a truck accident injury claim, your attorney will explore several legal avenues to determine the party or parties who are liable. Some potential theories of liability may include:
One of the most common legal theories in a trucking accident is negligence on the part of the driver. There are several ways a driver may be negligent. Examples may include speeding, reckless driving, distracted driving (e.g., texting while driving), disregarding traffic signals, and many others. A truck driver may also be liable because of a “per se” legal violation, such as driving while intoxicated, driving with an expired commercial driver’s license (CDL) or a violation of the federal hours of service guidelines.
If a driver is acting within the scope of employment when the accident occurs, the trucking company that employs them can be held liable for the driver’s negligent actions. This theory is commonly referred to as “vicarious liability”. The driver’s employer may be also be held directly liable if they encouraged the driver to violate regulatory requirements. For example, trucking companies sometimes impose unrealistic deadlines on drivers, prompting them to stay on the road longer than they are allowed to.
Negligent Hiring, Entrustment, or Retention
A trucking company has a clear duty to investigate the experience and qualifications drivers that they hire. Therefore, a company may be held liable for an accident if they did not properly vet the driver before hiring them, did not provide adequate training for the driver to operate the vehicle safely, or learned after hiring the driver that they were not qualified to be on the road.
A company that leases a vehicle to a driver as an “owner/operator” can still be held responsible for negligence caused by the driver that results in an accident. This may come into play if the truck continues to display the leasing company’s logo or placard even if the truck was not being driven on behalf of the leasing company. Your attorney will review copies of any lease agreement related to the vehicle to determine if lease liability exists.
Some truck accidents occur because of overloaded trucks or trucks that are unevenly loaded. This may cause the truck to roll over or turn over on its side when the driver encounters adverse conditions. A shipping company may be held liable for a trucking accident if the accident was the result of improperly loading the vehicle.
Negligent Truck Maintenance
Commercial trucks typically log thousands of miles over-the-road during in any given month. Federal regulations require that trucking companies properly inspect, maintain, and repair all vehicles that are under their possession and control. When an accident is the result of a mechanical failure, the company responsible for truck maintenance may be held liable.
Defective vehicle parts can play a part in causing a truck accident. Examples may include tire defects (e.g., tire blowouts or tread separation), faulty brake lines, defective steering systems, computer dashboard malfunctions, rear guard failures, and defective straps that cause the cargo to fall. In such cases, the product designer, manufacturer, or distributor may be held liable.
Contact an Experienced Alabama Truck Accident Attorney
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle it is important that you contact an experienced Alabama truck accident attorney as soon as possible. Many things can adversely impact your case and with every passing day preparation becomes even more challenging. Contact our office at (334) 737-3718 or through our website contact form.