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How to Determine Liability in a Truck Accident

| Jon Montagna |

A truck accident can result in devastating injuries and damages. These types of accidents are usually not as simple as an accident involving two passenger vehicles and can include multiple parties who bear the responsibility of negligence. The experienced truck accident attorneys at Montagna Klein Camden are ready to assist you in finding the responsible party and help you seek the compensation you need and deserve.

Steps to Take After a Truck Accident

The shock of being in a large truck accident can be overwhelming, not to mention what comes next. If you are involved in a collision with a semi-truck and do not require immediate medical care, there are important steps you need to take. Start by checking on all the passengers in your vehicle to see if they are safe. Next, you will need to alert the authorities about the accident.

Once you are able, obtain contact and insurance information from the truck driver. Also, ask the driver questions about their employment. Make note of who the employer is or if the driver is an independent contractor.

Take photos or videos of the damaged vehicles, your injuries, the crash location and surrounding signage or lights, and any questionable road conditions. If you can, take notes about the weather conditions and anything else that may be contributable to the truck crash in some way.

You will most likely be in shock following a truck accident. Do your best to stay calm and follow the steps above as best as you can. Then seek legal advice from an experienced Virginia attorney as soon as possible.

Who Can Be Held Liable for a Truck Accident?

Unlike in a normal passenger vehicle accident, where negligence can fall to either driver, commercial truck accidents are uniquely different. Accident liability can fall to multiple parties, which may include any of the following.

Truck Driver

The truck driver may be liable when negligent behavior is a cause for the car accident. Such negligent behavior may involve speeding, distracted driving, and fatigue. Additionally, the truck driver is responsible for inspecting the vehicle and checking on maintenance and cargo loading for safety reasons. Failure to do so puts the driver at risk of having legal responsibility for the accident.

Truck Manufacturer

The truck or some part on it can fail or be defective, such as the brakes, steering, or tires, and as a result, cause an accident. When mechanical failure happens, liability can fall on the manufacturer of the truck.

Trucking Company

Trucking companies are responsible for their employees and their trucks. When an accident occurs with one of their big rigs and a driver they employ, they can become a responsible party. Factors that can make them potentially liable include irresponsible hiring and training practices, failing to adhere to hours of service limits created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and being negligent in meeting truck maintenance and inspection requirements.

Government Agency

If a roadway hazard contributed to the accident, the state or local government that oversees the part of the road where the accident occurred might be held accountable. Such hazards include flawed roadway design or maintenance, broken pavement, pooling water, work zone set-up, or insufficient signs warning of potential danger.

Cargo Loader

When a truck is not loaded correctly, or the cargo loader fails to apply all required state and federal regulations, the cargo can shift or cause other issues, which can cause an accident.

When is it the Driver vs. the Company’s Fault for a Truck Accident?

Determining who is liable when a truck accident occurs can be complicated and will require close examination at all levels. One level, in particular, is whether the truck driver or the company is at fault for the accident.

If driver negligence on the part of the trucker is found, most times, the parent company will be liable. However, there are instances where liability can fall on the driver. Below we look at the differences and when the driver or trucking company can be liable.

Driver’s Liability

The driver can be found as a liable party in a truck accident and be responsible for damages when:

  • Outside scope of employment: The trucker was not driving in a work capacity but instead was behind the wheel for personal reasons.
  • Deliberately driving negligently: The driver clearly showed negligence, which could be by driving under the influence, excessive speeding, or careless or reckless driving.
  • Independent contractor: The truck driver is not an employee of the company and is responsible for their own insurance coverage.

Company’s Liability

Liability may fall on the trucking company for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Poor hiring practices: The responsibility of hiring safe, qualified drivers falls on the trucking company. Liability for a truck accident may fall on the company when it implements poor hiring practices, such as not conducting background checks, hiring drivers with questionable driving records, and not confirming whether a new hire has a Commercial Drivers’ License.
  • FMCSA violations: Companies must adhere to FMCSA regulations at all times. When not, the trucking company faces liability. For example, the hours of service regulations require mandatory breaks for truck drivers to prevent fatigue and falling asleep at the wheel. Failing to comply with these regulations can bring stiff penalties and fines. Yet, some companies in the trucking industry are more concerned about the bottom line than roadway safety and will find ways to push the limits of drivers.
  • Maintenance issues: The FMCSA requires that the truck owner maintain their 18-wheelers and keep them in drivable condition. For this, they will need to conduct regular inspections, make immediate repairs, and perform routine, preventative maintenance. Poor maintenance practices can lead to a tire blowout and rollover, failed steering or braking systems, and more.
  • Cargo issues: Each truck trailer has weight and balance requirements, and the FMCSA requires loaders to secure cargo so that it does not shift during transport. Negligence in this area can result in the company being liable.

What Evidence Do I Need After a Truck Accident?

Determining the cause of the accident and where liability lies require looking at the evidence, and this might take an experienced truck accident attorney’s involvement. The trucking company will likely try to settle fast and offer an amount that seems generous but falls short after an investigation into the accident.

To have the best chance of obtaining adequate compensation, it helps to know what evidence you need after a truck accident. A court order may be necessary to obtain various types of evidence, such as trucking company or cargo loader records. Your attorney will be able to help with this.

The most common types of evidence presented in a truck accident case include:

  • Crash scene photos and videos
  • Police accident report
  • Witness statements
  • Medical records
  • Truck maintenance records
  • Download from the truck’s data recorder (“black box”)
  • Driver’s Logbooks
  • Trucking company’s hiring and training procedures
  • Inspection report by a certified truck inspector, obtainable only through a government agency

Your case may also benefit from the services of accident reconstruction specialists, expert witnesses, and other resources as determined by your truck accident lawyer.

What Damages Can You Seek After a Truck Accident?

The total damages you are eligible for and eventually obtain will depend on the circumstances surrounding the accident and the resulting injuries. The different damages pursued after a truck accident include economic, punitive, and non-economic.

Economic Damages

Economic damages cover your medical bills (past and future), wage losses, and any loss of earning capacity.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages focus on punishing the negligent party and deterring such behavior in the future. In Virginia, those who are injured may recover up to the amount of $350,000 for these types of damages.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages can include claims for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, or disfigurement.

Benefits of Hiring an Attorney for a Truck Accident

When involved in an accident with commercial vehicles, hiring a Virginia personal injury attorney will be beneficial for several reasons. For starters, you will gain access to legal knowledge and experience involving truck accident cases.

Commercial truck accidents with motor vehicles are often complicated, with more than one negligent party involved. An attorney can examine all the evidence, determine if there are multiple liable parties, and then communicate with each party’s insurance companies on your behalf.

Your attorney will also be able to subpoena and review records from the trucking company, cargo loader, and government agencies, if applicable.

Most importantly, an experienced truck accident lawyer can help you obtain higher compensation for your personal injury claim. Studies and surveys show that accident victims who hire an attorney often receive three times the compensation than if they choose to handle the claim themselves.

According to one survey, respondents working with a lawyer report an average compensation award of $77.6K for a personal injury case, while those without an attorney received an average of $17.6K. That is a significant difference!

Unrepresented personal injury cases only have a 51% likelihood of a payout. The chances of receiving a payout increase to 91% with legal representation. Montagna Law has a proven track record of winning payouts for clients, including over $900,000 for truck accident clients.

For those who suffer a debilitating or long-term injury, a personal injury lawyer can help calculate your compensation needs and how your injury will affect your future earning potential. If the negligent party’s insurance policy limits are lower than these calculations, your attorney can help you obtain more beyond those limits.

Unfortunately, fatalities can occur when accidents involve motorists and large tractor-trailers. When it does, your attorney may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit which can help the family financially.

Who Are You Holding Responsible for Your Accident?

Involvement in an accident with a commercial truck can take its toll on you and your family. To obtain the highest compensation available from the responsible parties, you need to be sure you are holding the right ones responsible for your accident. The experienced personal injury attorneys here at Montagna Law know how to collect evidence and determine all the parties involved so each one can be held accountable.

We believe in a strong attorney-client relationship and proudly serve clients in the Hampton Roads area, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Suffolk. Schedule a free consultation with our legal team today by calling 757-622-8100 or submitting the online contact form on our website.

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