A traffic accident involving a large commercial truck, such as an 18-wheeler or semi truck, can have disastrous consequences. A typical fully loaded large commercial truck can weigh over 80,000 pounds, while an average passenger automobile weighs approximately 3,000 pounds. Because of the sheer size of trucks, any collision between a commercial truck and another vehicle is likely to result in serious, even fatal, injuries. If a truck carrying hazardous chemicals or flammable materials is involved in an accident, the resulting injuries may be even more severe. Secondary injuries, such as burns and respiratory injuries, attributable to the dangerous or toxic cargo can result.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial truck, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your injuries by bringing a legal claim against the responsible parties. An experienced attorney can help determine whether you have a claim.
Proving Your Case
In general, the main legal theory of liability in a truck accident case, or any other motor vehicle accident case, is negligence. To establish a case, the injured party (the plaintiff) must show that the truck driver or other defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances; the defendant breached or failed in that duty; that this breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and that the plaintiff was harmed.
It is critical to begin investigating the accident as soon as possible so that evidence is preserved. There are a variety of types of information that are relevant to your claims, including information about previous violations of regulations by the trucking company or driver involved, the truck’s maintenance records, the speed the truck and your vehicle were traveling, the location of the impact on the vehicles’ exteriors, the truck driver’s log book and statements from eye witnesses and first responders to the accident scene, such as emergency personnel and police officers. Another critical piece of evidence is the truck’s “black box,” which records data before, during and after a collision. It will probably also be useful to investigate the trucking company’s policies and procedures.
An expert can be a tremendous resource to use in proving your truck accident case. An expert can testify about the possible negligence of a trucking company based on his or her familiarity with trucking regulations. An expert can be any person who has significant experience in the trucking field, such as a trucking company’s safety director, the former owner of a trucking company, a former investigator for the department of transportation in your state or a computer expert who has experience obtaining information from the “black box.”
Depending on the specific circumstances surrounding your truck accident, your lawyer may be able to pursue claims against other parties in addition to a claim against the truck driver. The trucking company or motor carrier, safety director for the carrier, diesel mechanic, vehicle inspector and insurance company may also be liable for your injuries.
When a commercial truck accident occurs, if an employment relationship is established between the truck driver and a trucking or shipping company, then that company can be held liable for the driver’s negligence under a legal theory known as “respondeat superior.” Under this doctrine, a trucking company or other employer can be held liable for the wrongful acts of its drivers. Trucking companies may try to fight liability under this theory by arguing that the wrongful act did not occur while within the scope of employment. Motor carriers also try to limit their liability by hiring drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.
In some cases, the manufacturer of the truck may also be held liable if the accident was caused by some defect in the truck. A shipper of hazardous materials carried by the truck may also be legally responsible for any injuries that were caused or made worse by the type of cargo on board. For example, if a shipper fails to advise a truck driver or trucking company of hazardous material contained in a load of freight, the shipper may be liable for injuries that result if that material catches fire or is released.
If a third party logistics company, which is a company that specializes in brokering transportation services but is not a motor carrier, is involved, it may be difficult to recover from that company. It has generally been held that the respondeat superior doctrine cannot be used against logistics companies because they generally engage in independent contractor relationships with motor carriers so they are exempt from liability. In addition, section 14704 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration often limits the liability of third party logistics companies in personal injury cases.
A traffic accident involving a tractor trailer, 18-wheeler, semi truck or other commercial truck can result in serious physical injury and property damage. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, you may be entitled to compensation. It is important to contact an experienced truck accident attorney to discuss your case as soon as possible.