When fully loaded, a typical commercial truck can weigh in excess of 80,000 pounds. That’s more than the weight of 27 typical passenger vehicles. This massive weight discrepancy should make it obvious why any accident involving an 18-wheeler or tractor trailer will almost certainly yield serious injuries and massive property damage. The consequences can be even more severe if the truck was carrying flammable materials or hazardous chemicals, both of which are common commercial cargo. Spillage of such cargo can result in secondary injuries such as burns and serious respiratory injuries.
If you have very recently been involved in a commercial trucking accident, it’s important to understand that your actions and words can make a huge difference in the strength of your case. Visit our page on car accidents and read our guide on “Who Should You Talk to in the Aftermath of a Car Accident, and What You Should Say” to learn more.
How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Prove a Case Against a Trucking Company
As is the case with most motor vehicle accidents, establishing liability and financial responsibility for an accident requires the ability to establish fault. To do so, the injured party must be able to show that the truck driver and/or other affiliated defendants owed a duty to the plaintiff and other drivers to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and that the defendant(s) failed in that duty, resulting in harm to the plaintiff.
Establishing a case requires that investigation of the accident starts as soon as possible, so that evidence can be collected and preserved. Many types of information can serve as evidence in a claim involving a trucking accident, including:
- Information about previous regulation violations by the driver or trucking company
- Truck maintenance records
- The truck drivers log books
- The trucking company’s policies and procedures
- The commercial vehicle’s “black box,” which records data before, during, and after an accident
- The driving speeds of the truck and your vehicle
- Where on the road you and the truck collided
- The area on each vehicle where the initial collision occurred, as demonstrated by damage to the vehicles’ exteriors
- Statements from eyewitnesses and first responders (including police and emergency personnel)
However, it’s not just the facts that can make or break a case; having an “expert” on hand can be a tremendous resource for organizing the facts and presenting them in a constructive manner. There are many experts whose experience can be very relevant and useful in a courtroom, including a trucking company safety director, the owner of a trucking company, a former investigator for your state’s department of transportation, or a computer expert who can obtain and interpret the data from the truck’s black box. Any of these can prove to be a huge asset to a case, and make the different between a victory or a loss.
Ashton and Price has a great deal of experience in gathering the many different types of evidence produced by a commercial trucking accident, and maintains relationships with many experts in the field who can assist with your case by testifying on your behalf. Call Ashton and Price today to discuss your accident, and see if you have a case.
Many Truck Accidents are Caused by Operator Negligence
Negligence can contribute to commercial trucking accidents in a number of ways, including:
- Aggressive driving, such as speeding, tailgating, or splitting lanes on narrow roads
- Failing to perform required truck inspections
- Equipment violations or failing to make necessary repairs
- Driving with an illegally overweight load
- Failing to properly secure cargo
- Employing unlicensed or untrained drivers
- Violating mandated sleep and rest time requirements
- Driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs
If you or a family member have been injured in an accident with a commercial truck, it’s critically important to engage the services of an experienced injury attorney, such as one of those at Ashton & Price. Bringing a suit against large commercial companies is a complicated process that requires experience and expertise to successfully achieve. Contact Ashton & Price to see if your claim against a trucking company has merit.
Potential Defendants in a Commercial Trucking Accident Claim
Depending on the circumstances leading up to your accident, your injury attorney may be able to pursue claims against many parties, in addition to the truck driver who collided with your vehicle. Some of the many types of parties we’ve pursued injury claims against include:
- The trucking company or motor carrier
- The safety director for the company or carrier
- A mechanic who failed to remedy or contributed to an issue that contributed to the accident
- Commercial vehicle inspectors
- The company’s or driver’s insurance company
- The manufacturer of the commercial vehicle
The commercial trucking company for whom a driver works is often the key party to pursue an injury claim against. Any time an employer-employee relationship can be established, then the employing company can be held financially responsible for the driver’s negligence. This is due to a legal theory known as respondeat superior (or respondeant superiores, when more than one employer is involved), a Latin phrase which means “let the master answer.” Respondeat superior is a legal doctrine which holds that an employer is responsible for the actions that employees perform on behalf of their employers (this is the same doctrine invoked in corporate liability cases when employers are found responsible for workplace injuries, such as on construction sites). Trucking companies often try to fight liability by arguing that the wrongful act did not occur within the scope of employment. Motor carriers often intentionally try to limit their liability by hiring drivers as independent contractors, rather than employees. These sometimes complex employer-employee relationships often necessitate the involvement of experienced legal representation, in order to successfully hold trucking and carrier companies liable.
However, as noted above, many other parties can be held at least partially responsible for commercial vehicle accidents. Vehicle manufacturer can be found liable if the accident was caused by a part defect in the truck. The shipper of hazardous materials and chemicals carried by a truck can be legally responsible for any injuries caused or worsened by the cargos presence at the accident (for instance, in cases when a truck driver or transportation company are not informed by the shipping company of the risks of the hazardous material contained in a freight load).
Very occasionally attempts are made to pursue damages from third-party logistics companies, which are companies that broker transportation services but are not themselves motor carrier companies. However, it has been generally held that the respondeat superior doctrine cannot be invoked against logistics companies, as they generally engage in independent contractor relationships with motor carriers, and are thus exempt from liability. Additionally, Section 14704 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety Act often limits the liability of such third party logistics companies in personal injury cases.
When Can Trucking Companies Be Held Responsible for Improper Maintenance
Shipping trucks typically cover about 100,000 miles of road every year, and can weigh 80,000 pounds or more. Given the combination of the large number of miles and the massive amounts of weight, it’s not surprising that such vehicles tend to break down and require maintenance. But for a trucking company, having a vehicle in the shop means spending money, rather than having the vehicle on the road and making money.
Due to this conflict of interest, many trucking companies choose to shave money off of their budgets by deferring even routine truck maintenance for as long as possible. Many trucks on the road are held together with the equivalent of gum and bailing twine, with jerry-rigged fixes installed to keep them operating for as long and as cheaply as possible.
This is why state and federal government regulations require trucking companies to properly inspect and maintain their vehicles. As reasonable and safety-conscious as that may sound (wouldn’t you want a vehicle weighing more than 40 tons to be always in good running order?), many trucking companies fail to fulfill these legal obligations. This is especially the case when drivers don’t own the trucks they drive, and have to rely on their employers to deal with mechanical issues. Some of the key parts of commercial vehicles that often fail and contribute to accidents include:
- Air brake systems
- Steering components
- Hydraulic systems
- Tires, especially given the widespread use of retreads
- Trailer hitches and rear doors
- Lights and reflective safety tape
- Mirrors, when they are inadequate for inspecting drivers’ blind spots
At Ashton and Price, we use our knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMSCA), as well as the state of California’s many trucking and vehicle regulations, to help our clients recover the maximum possible financial damages, in the form of jury awards or settlements. Since 1996, we have helped our clients recover more than $200 million in financial damages.