A truck crash can leave behind an unholy mess. Truck accidents cause widespread damage to other vehicles and property by the roadside. Trucks that crash often spill cargo that blocks thoroughfares and creates a public health hazard. People involved in truck crashes, particularly those riding in passenger vehicles, frequently suffer severe (and sometimes fatal) injuries. Costs of a truck crash easily spiral into the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.
The mess of a truck crash also typically creates significant legal complications, especially when it comes to figuring out who has a legal liability to truck crash victims and the families of those tragically killed. In this blog post, we take a deep dive into how experienced truck accident lawyers sort through the literal and figurative wreckage of a truck crash to figure out who is liable to an injured crash victim.
Truck Accident Liability Overview
To understand why truck accidents create such a thicket of legal complication, it helps to review what we mean by the word liability.
Liability is a word lawyers use to mean a legal obligation to pay compensation after causing harm. Broadly speaking, an individual, company, and/or government agency can have liability to a victim of a truck crash. In many cases, more than one party has liability for the same harm.
Determining if someone has liability for a truck crash can get complicated—far more complicated than we have the space to explain here. In the simplest sense, however, the law treats an individual, company, or government entity as liable whenever that party’s unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions result in physical, emotional, and/or financial harm to an innocent victim, or that party has a legal responsibility to answer for those decisions or actions.
In a truck crash scenario, the decisions or actions that lead to a party having liability typically involve ones that directly or indirectly cause the crash and a victim’s injuries.
The Challenge of Determining Liability in a Truck Crash
Lawyers who represent truck accident victims have their work cut out for them when it comes to figuring out who has a liability to their clients.
Far more so than a simple car accident, a truck accident often involves multiple parties with overlapping and intertwined legal, business, and personal interests.
- Trucks are commercial vehicles owned by and/or providing services for businesses and other types of corporate entities. In evaluating who may have liability for a crash, a lawyer often must explore who owns a truck, a trailer, and/or the trailer’s cargo, and who operates or handles each of them, and the legal and business relationships among all of those parties.
- Truckers are not always employees. We often look to the driver of a vehicle in a crash as potentially liable for victims’ injuries and losses, and truckers are no exception. However, it is not always clear for lawyers who should answer for the trucker’s actions: just the trucker? The trucker’s employer? Someone else? Truckers have varying legal relationships with truck owners, truck operators, and owners of truck cargo. Lawyers must often untangle these relationships to figure out whether the trucker alone has legal responsibility for his actions, or if others do, too.
- Chain reaction accidents require rewinding a crash. A truck crash often leads to a cascade of secondary accidents among a variety of vehicles, all of which can inflict wide-scale harm to vehicle occupants and damage to personal and real property. Attorneys for crash victims frequently face the challenge of working backward from the messy aftermath of an accident to figure out the chain of events and where to lay blame for each link in the chain.
- Insurance companies go to war. In a typical truck crash, most parties—and, as we’ve said, there are often lots of them—carry at least some insurance that may cover at least some harm the crash caused. Frequently, those insurance policies represent the primary source of payment for victims. Unfortunately, because truck accidents cause widespread damage that costs lots of money, that means that insurance companies feel highly motivated to get involved in the fight over who bears the blame for the crash. The fight-within-a-fight that goes on among insurers only further complicates the lawyer’s job of identifying parties with legal liability.
- It’s just a mess. Finally, lawyers for truck crash victims confront an accident aftermath that is chaotic from the first moment, and only gets more so. A truck accident scene alone can feature dozens of victims, bystanders, clean-up contractors, and first responders, all doing their own thing. In the legal fight over who shares blame for the crash that follows, each of those parties lawyers-up and maneuvers to serve their own interests. Some may run to bankruptcy court for protection. Others may point the finger at each other. For lawyers unfamiliar with representing clients in truck crashes, the whole situation can feel like a three-ring circus gone haywire.
For these reasons, victims of truck crashes should strive to hire a lawyer who has years of experience representing clients in complicated truck accident matters. Clients need a seasoned lawyer who can protect their rights and keep a level head amidst the chaos.
The Usual Suspects of Truck Accident Liability
Having laid the groundwork above, let’s take a look at some parties that may have legal liability for a truck crash. Keep in mind, however, that the list below is only illustrative. Every truck crash has its own particular facts that will drive the analysis of who-owes-money-damages-to-who. You may not find the party who has a legal liability to you for your truck crash injuries described below.
Always rely on the advice of an experienced truck accident attorney to determine who owes you compensation for your injuries and losses.
- Truck drivers can have liability for crashes, of course, because they frequently cause them by making bad decisions behind the wheel of a big rig. Compared to ordinary car accidents, however, it is relatively rare for truckers to bear sole liability for a crash.
- Employers of truck drivers will often share liability for a crash caused by a trucker who works for them as an employee, because generally speaking, the law holds employers liable for their employees’ actions. However, oftentimes truckers are independent contractors, rather than employees, which can complicate the question.
- Truck owners/trucking businesses, even if they do not employ the truck driver, can face legal liability for a crash if their conduct contributed to the crash’s cause. For example, a trucking business can have liability for a crash resulting from a truck’s mechanical failure, if the business failed to maintain the truck in safe working order. Here, too, the potential for complication abounds; tractor trucks and the trailers they pull often have separate owners.
- Trucking industry contractors such as mechanics or depot operators can face liability for a crash if the services they provided created an unsafe condition that caused a crash. A mechanic might make mistakes in performing safety maintenance on a truck, for example, or the employees at a shipping depot might fail to secure a cargo load safely.
- Automotive manufacturers often have legal liability for truck accidents resulting from a mechanical failure of a vehicle which was caused by a defective part the manufacturer produced and sold.
- Government agencies and contractors can have legal liability for truck accidents caused by preventable and unreasonably dangerous road conditions an agency should have fixed or warned the public about.
- Everyone else whose careless, reckless, or intentionally-dangerous actions can conceivably trigger a truck crash on a road could be liable. The possibilities in this category are virtually endless. Parties with liability could include other drivers, passengers, roadside businesses, medical providers, food manufacturers…the list goes on-and-on. Virtually anyone whose decisions or actions could directly or indirectly cause a truck accident may face liability.
Experienced truck accident lawyers understand the potentially broad scope of parties who may have liability, and are prepared to explore each of those possibilities to ensure that a client has the opportunity to seek compensation from every party that owes it.
Obtaining Compensation From Parties Liable for a Truck Accident
As if the process of identifying parties with potential legal liability to truck crash victims were not complicated enough, that task usually represents just the first of many steps needed to hold liable parties accountable. Experienced truck accident injury lawyers tailor their actions to meet the needs of their clients and to fit the particular circumstances of the truck accident.
However, as a general matter, once lawyers have a list of parties with potential legal liability for a truck crash in-hand, they may take the following steps.
- Narrowing the list by investigating and communicating. Lawyers will often seek to winnow the list of potentially-liable parties down to those who have the clearest liability and the most certain ability to pay. This process of sorting the wheat from the chaff may require additional investigation on the lawyer’s part, and preliminary outreach to those parties and/or their lawyers or insurance representatives to keep the process of seeking compensation as efficient and effective as possible.
- Making a claim formally or informally (or both). Eventually, an attorney for a truck crash victim will usually demand payment from those parties the lawyer believes have clear liability for the client’s damages and the ability to pay those damages out of insurance proceeds and/or out of their own pockets. A lawyer may make this demand informally, by sending a letter to the party or its representatives, or formally by initiating legal action against those parties in court, or both. The object of this demand is to put the liable parties on notice of the claim.
- Negotiating and jockeying for position. A large majority of truck accident injury claims get resolved through negotiations between the lawyer for a victim and representatives of the party with liability, usually ending in a settlement in which the victim receives money and the liable party gets released from further liability. An experienced lawyer knows the ins-and-outs of these negotiations, and understands liability and damages enough to ensure that the liable party’s representatives take the injured client’s claim seriously. More so in truck accidents than other types of cases, the lawyer may also need to do some careful maneuvering in these negotiations to account for the fact that multiple victims will often seek compensation from the same party at the same time. When, how, and in what format the lawyer conducts negotiations can impact the client’s rights and ability to collect money damages, particularly if a business that has legal liability seeks shelter from those claims by filing for bankruptcy protection.
- Litigating in court. A lawyer for a truck accident victim will often pursue that case in court while also carrying on negotiations, going all the way to a trial in front of a judge and jury if that is what it takes to get a fair and appropriate financial outcome for a client. In fact, sometimes the most favorable outcome for a client will involve settling with some parties, and going to trial against others.
In Truck Accident Cases, Experience Is a Must-Have
Victims of truck accidents cannot afford to entrust their legal rights and financial wellbeing to just any lawyer. They need a seasoned attorney who has years of experience representing clients in truck accident cases, and who can show them the skills and resources to get results in and out of the courtroom. The sooner you contact a lawyer who knows the way around a truck crash case, the better your chances of obtaining the compensation you need and deserve.
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