According to estimates from the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), more than 500,000 truck accidents occur every year. These wrecks cause painful bodily injuries and millions of dollars in property damage, lost wages, and other financial losses. It is not always easy to figure out who is responsible for a truck accident. In some cases, the trucking company may be liable. Therefore, it is helpful to learn more about liability for different types of truck accidents and what to do after a collision with a commercial tractor trailer.
It takes intensive training and preparation to become a licensed commercial truck driver. Depending on the type of truck involved, a commercial driver’s license (CDL) involves weeks or months of training, a written permit test, and a practical skills test. Testing is rigorous. The average loaded 18-wheeler truck can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds. If someone is not properly trained, a large truck can become deadly.
There are different employment scenarios in the trucking industry. Some drivers are considered employees of the trucking company since they provide, maintain, and repair the tractor trailers. These drivers are treated like all other types of employees, with the accompanying benefits and withholding of taxes. In most cases, the trucking company is likely liable for any damages caused by their employees, provided the accident occurred during the scope of employment.
What if the Truck Driver was Not Working When the Accident Happened?
Imagine a situation where a driver employed by a large trucking company is traveling to the next delivery. While driving, the trucker picks up their mobile phone to send a text to their boss. In those few seconds of looking away from the road, the truck driver loses control of the rig, veers into the adjacent lane, and collides with another vehicle, seriously injuring the occupants inside. Since the crash involved an employee, the company is likely responsible for injuries and other damages. If the driver was off-the-clock and stopped at a bar for drinks before getting behind the wheel and hitting a pedestrian, the trucking company is most likely not responsible.
What are the Differences Between Employees and Independent Contractors?
Truckers who are not classified as employees are generally considered independent contractors. They own their own trucks and pay for gas, insurance, and repairs. Some trucking companies prefer to hire independent contractors because they do not have to pay for benefits and other expenses. They may assume they have less liability for independent contractors if they crash their vehicles; however, this is not always the case. Independent contractors are considered statutory employees of the company, even if they own their truck. If they cause an accident in the scope of work, the company may still have partial liability.
Liability for Improper Loading
Improperly loaded cargo is a real and urgent risk. Overloaded or underloaded cargo can cause a truck driver to lose control and overturn. Poorly secured cargo can loosen and collide with other vehicles, pedestrians, or structures. Due to the dangers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has cargo securement standards in place to ensure products and goods are transported safely. In the event of a crash that is caused by improper loading, the company which employed the workers who improperly secured, weighed, or loaded the cargo are likely liable for losses.
Liability for Accidents Caused by Poor Maintenance and Defective Equipment
Imposing tractor trailers have many different systems and parts working together to make them run smoothly and safely. Equipment failure is not just inconvenient and costly, but it can also be dangerous. For example, if one or more tires rupture on a commercial truck that is traveling at 65 miles per hour, the truck driver can lose control and crash into other vehicles. In this circumstance, liability may fall on the tire manufacturer, the company who installed the tires, or the fleet owner. Complex cases like this require extensive discovery to discern what failed, why it happened, and who should have prevented it.
Is Anyone Liable for a Weather-Related Truck Accident?
Some weather-related accidents are unavoidable, despite the trucker’s best efforts to avoid them. However, truckers are also trained to shift their driving techniques, depending upon the road and environmental conditions. Speed, braking, and the approach to turns must all be adjusted in inclement weather. Drivers should also prepare ahead and avoid storms and blizzards altogether. If unsafe driving is a factor in a weather-related truck accident, the driver or their employer may be liable.
What Steps Should I Take After a Truck Accident?
Truck accidents can be understandably traumatizing but knowing the steps to take immediately after a wreck can help injured passengers. A victim should perform the following after a truck collision:
Asses the scene. It is important to remain calm and scan the accident scene. Look for anyone who appears to be hurt, but do not move them. Moving someone with invisible injuries can worsen their condition significantly. Instead, call 911 and wait for assistance.
File a police report. While emergency personnel arrive and help those in need, explain to the police what happened. State the facts and be sure to mention if the driver seemed impaired, distracted, or reckless in any way.
Exchange contact information. Be sure to write down the names, phone numbers, and insurance information of the truck driver and any other parties involved in the accident. Collect the contact information from any witnesses as well.
Get medical help. Even if emergency medical help was not necessary at the scene, it is still a good idea to get checked out by a doctor. With many traffic accidents, individuals later develop aches, pains, and other injuries. Getting treatment early can keep these conditions from worsening.
Gather evidence. Gather evidence related to the truck accident. Photographs and documentation are important for an insurance settlement or litigation. Do not forget police reports, witness statements, medical records, and repair bills.
Call a lawyer. Companies that insure trucking fleets are likely to contact victims after the accident. They may even offer a quick settlement, but proceed with caution. The first settlement offer may not even begin to cover all of the economic and non-economic damages involved.
Can I Collect Pain and Suffering Damages After a Truck Accident?
Beyond the car repair bills and hospital bills, there is also the physical pain and mental trauma after a truck accident. Pain and suffering damages are harder to quantify, but they are still compensable. It is always a good idea to contact a lawyer before speaking with the insurance company. A lawyer reviews the case, determines liability, and recommends a course of action to hold negligent parities responsible and pursue justice under the law.
More often than not, trucking companies are at least partially liable for injuries and other losses resulting from accidents. However, making that connection is not always easy. It takes a skilled lawyer to build a strong case and connect the dots between an employee’s error and a serious truck accident.
Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Advocate for Clients Injured by Negligent Truck Owners and Operators
Our Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC handle complex personal injury cases and work tirelessly to prove liability. In some cases, the trucking company is responsible. To learn more about our legal services, call 757-LAW-0000 or complete our online form for a consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we serve clients in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.