A semi-truck accident can leave an incredible mess- both literally and figuratively. These large truck accidents result in widespread damage and destruction to other vehicles as well as property by the roadside. Sometimes semi-truck crashes cause spilled cargo that blocks thoroughfares and becomes a public health threat.
Individuals involved in truck crashes, especially those in passenger vehicles, often sustain severe, catastrophic, or sometimes deadly injuries. Not to mention that the costs of a truck accident can quickly spiral to become hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.
The aftermath of a truck collision also usually creates substantial legal complications, especially when determining who is legally liable for the accident and all the damages caused.
Therefore, it’s essential to understand how experienced truck accident attorneys sort through a truck crash’s literal and figurative wreck to identify who is liable to an injured crash victim and their family.
What is Truck Accident Liability?
To understand why semi-truck crashes create such legal complications, it helps to know the legal meaning of the word liability.
Liability is a word that refers to a legal obligation to pay monetary compensation after causing some type of harm. Generally speaking, an individual, company, or government agency can have liability in a truck accident. In fact, sometimes, more than one party carries liability.
Determining liability for a semi-truck crash can get complicated quickly. Simply put, however, the law treats an individual or entity as liable if that party’s negligence or unreasonably dangerous decisions, inactions, or actions cause physical, emotional, or financial harm to someone else or if that person or party has legal responsibility for their actions or decisions.
The decisions or actions that lead to a party having liability in a semi-truck crash usually involve those that directly or indirectly cause the crash and the victim’s injuries.
Determining Liability in a Truck Crash is Often Challenging
Finding out who is responsible for a truck accident is no easy task. It’s certainly not one to be attempted by laypersons. Even attorneys representing truck accident victims have their work cut out for them when it comes to determining who is liable to their injured clients.
However, when you hire an experienced attorney, you can be assured they will get to the bottom of your accident and hold the correct parties responsible for causing your injuries and damages.
Truck accidents often involve more than one party with overlapping and intertwined business, legal, and personal interests.
Here are a few points you should note:
- Semi-trucks are commercial vehicles owned by or providing services for organizations and other kinds of corporations. When evaluating who may have liability in a truck collision, lawyers frequently must explore who owns a truck, the trailer, and the trailer’s cargo. They must also track down who operates or handles each of these and define the legal and business relationships between each of those parties.
- Truck drivers aren’t always employees. When any motor vehicle accident occurs, we often think the vehicle driver is liable for victims’ injuries and losses, and truck drivers are no exception. However, it’s not always clear for lawyers who should be held accountable for the trucker’s actions. Is it just the truck driver? What about their employer? What about another party? Truck drivers have varying employment and, therefore, legal relationships with truck owners (if they don’t own their truck), truck operators, and truck cargo owners. Often, attorneys are left to untangle these relationships to determine if the trucker alone is legally responsible for their actions or if others do as well.
- With frequent travel on highways, semi-trucks are often in chain-reaction accidents. When these occur, your truck accident attorney must rewind the crash. For example, a truck accident can result in a cascade of secondary accidents among many different vehicles, which can impose wide-scale harm to vehicle occupants and damage real and personal property. In addition, lawyers are ready to face the challenge of looking backward from the messy aftermath of an accident to pinpoint the chain of events and who is liable for each link in that chain.
- Insurance companies can fight over liability. In a typical semi-truck accident, most parties-of which there can be many- have at least some insurance coverage that may pay for at least some harm the wreck caused. It’s common for those insurance policies to represent the primary source of compensation for truck accident injury victims. Unfortunately, since truck crashes cause widespread damage that costs a lot of money, insurance carriers feel highly motivated to get involved in determining who is to blame for the crash. The fighting that goes on among insurers only further complicates your attorney’s challenging job of identifying the parties who have legal liability.
- It’s just a complex mess. A single truck accident scene might have dozens of victims, bystanders, clean-up contractors, and first responders, each doing their own thing. Many of the involved parties will hire legal representation to serve their interests. Some might turn to the bankruptcy court for protection. Others may argue and point the finger at each other. For attorneys who are unfamiliar with representing clients in truck accidents, the whole situation can feel like a three-ring circus that is out of control.
As you can see, these accidents can grow highly complex. It’s in the best interest of truck accident victims to hire an attorney who has several years of experience representing clients in complex semi-truck accident matters. Those recovering from a semi-truck crash need a seasoned attorney who can protect their rights and maintain a level head amidst the confusion.
Who is Usually to Blame for Truck Accidents?
Now that you understand how complex these accidents can be, let’s look at some parties that most often have legal liability when a truck accident occurs. It’s also crucial to remember that every truck accident has specific facts that will impact the analysis of who is liable.
So maybe we did not list the person or entity responsible for your accident here. That’s why you should always rely on the advice of an experienced truck accident lawyer to identify who owes you compensation for your damages and injuries.
#1. Truck Drivers
Truck drivers frequently cause accidents by making poor decisions behind the wheel of their big rigs. They may have driven while distracted, intoxicated, or drowsy, or perhaps they didn’t adhere to the speed limit or other traffic laws. However, compared to passenger vehicle accidents, it’s relatively rare for truckers to have 100 percent liability for a crash.
#2. Truck Driver Employers
Truck driver employers will often share liability for a crash because the trucker who works for them as an employee caused it. Typically, the law holds employers liable for their employees’ actions. However, suppose a trucker is an independent contractor (which they frequently are) rather than an employee. In that case, it can make determining liability more complicated.
#3. Truck Owners/Trucking Businesses
Truck owners and trucking businesses can face legal liability for a crash, even if they don’t employ or directly employ the trucker. If their conduct contributed to the cause of the accident, your attorney can hold them accountable for their actions or inactions.
For example, a trucking business might have liability for a crash resulting from a truck’s mechanical failure if the business didn’t maintain the truck in safe working order. For example, perhaps they failed to replace the truck’s brakes or tires regularly. Making the situation even more complex is that tractor trucks and the trailers they pull often have different owners.
#4. Trucking Industry Contractors
Trucking industry contractors, such as depot operators or mechanics, might face liability for a crash if the services they provide create an unsafe condition resulting in the crash. For instance, a mechanic can make errors performing safety maintenance on a truck, or shipping depot employees can fail to safely secure a cargo load according to FMCSA standards.
#5. Automotive Manufacturers
If an automotive manufacturer sold or installed a defective or faulty part that played a role in causing an accident, they can be liable for the accident victim’s damages. Mechanical failures can happen, especially on big rigs.
#6. Government Agencies and Contractors
Government agencies and contractors are responsible for reasonably safe road conditions, working lights, signs, and construction zones. If they fail to act reasonably, such as replacing broken signs or fixing a malfunctioning traffic light, they will have liability for any resulting motor vehicle accidents.
#7. Other Parties
Other parties not mentioned here can also have some liability. Anyone else acting careless, reckless, or intentionally dangerous can potentially cause a truck accident on the road and be liable for the damages.
Parties with liability can include:
- Other motorists
- Roadside businesses
- Medical providers
- Food manufacturers
Nearly anyone whose actions or decisions can directly or indirectly cause a truck accident can be held liable by an experienced truck accident attorney. Experienced truck accident lawyers appreciate the possibly broad scope of parties who might have liability. They are prepared to explore each of those possibilities to ensure that their client has the opportunity to seek compensation from each party liable.
Obtaining Compensation From Liable Parties
Identifying parties with potential legal liability for a truck accident is just the first of many steps necessary to hold liable parties accountable. Well-versed truck accident attorneys tailor their services to meet the needs of their clients and fit the specific circumstances of the truck accident.
However, once your lawyer has a list of parties possibly liable for a truck accident, they may.
- Investigate further to narrow the list. Lawyers will often seek to whittle down the list of potentially-liable parties to those with the most apparent liability and the most certain ability to pay their client’s damages. This process might require more investigation and preliminary communication between those parties and/or their attorneys or insurance representatives.
- File a formal and/or informal claim. At some point, an attorney for a truck accident victim will demand payment from those parties they believe have clear liability for their client’s damages and the ability to pay those damages from insurance proceeds or out of their own pockets. An attorney may make this demand informally by mailing a demand letter to the party or its representatives, formally by initiating legal action against those parties in court, or both. Making a demand or filing the case in court puts the liable parties on notice of the claim.
- Negotiate. Most truck accident injury claims are resolved through negotiations between the lawyer for a victim and representatives of the party with liability, ending in a settlement. If both parties agree to a settlement, the accident victim receives compensation for their injuries and damages in exchange for a legal agreement not to pursue the legal claim further. An experienced lawyer knows how to manage these negotiations. They understand liability and damages, ensuring that the liable party’s representatives or attorneys take the injured client’s claim seriously. Sometimes, especially in large truck accident cases where multiple victims might be involved, attorneys may also need to negotiate carefully. Multiple victims will frequently pursue compensation from the same party simultaneously. The way a lawyer handles their negotiations might affect the client’s rights and their ability to collect monetary damages. This is especially true if a business with liability seeks shelter from those claims by filing for bankruptcy protection.
- Take the claim to court. The truck accident victim’s attorney will often pursue their case in court while still carrying on negotiations. If it’s necessary to obtain a favorable outcome for a client, they aren’t opposed to going to a trial if that is what it takes to get a full and fair settlement. Sometimes the most favorable outcome involves settling with some parties and going to trial with others.
Were You Injured in a Semi-Truck Accident? Seek Out and Hire an Experienced Attorney
Victims of truck accidents can’t afford to entrust their legal rights and financial recovery to just any attorney. Suppose you recently suffered an injury in a semi-truck accident. In that case, you need a seasoned attorney with years of experience representing clients in truck accident cases.
The sooner you contact an experienced attorney, the better your chances of obtaining the compensation you need and deserve.