Are Truck Drivers Responsible for Damages?

Truck accidents often have serious consequences for the motorists involved. In most cases, it is the passenger vehicle occupants who sustain injuries or die. Though commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers, are only involved in just over 2% of all traffic accidents, 69% of the people injured in these accidents are passenger vehicle occupants.

If you sustained injuries in a truck accident, you might be able to collect damages, but who is responsible for paying them? It depends on who is at fault in the accident. While the truck driver may bear responsibility, other parties may also be to blame. If you have any liability in the accident, it may also impact your ability to obtain a settlement. The truck accident attorneys at Cellino Law can analyze your case and determine its merit. Here are some important considerations that factor into who pays for damages in a truck accident.

Accident Causation Considerations

Determining fault in a truck accident can be a complicated process. Though car accident cases usually aren’t as straightforward as many people hope when they file a claim, collisions involving trucks are even less so. The most recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study on truck accidents examined causation in 141,000 collisions involving large trucks, finding:

  • 22% of the accidents were due to a truck driver rear-ending the vehicle in front.
  • 32% of the truck accidents resulted from the truck driver veering into another lane.
  • 29% of the collisions were due to load shifts, unsafe driving, vehicle failures or poor road conditions.

In cases that led to injury or death, 68,000 truck drivers were responsible due to driver errors. Truck driver behaviors may also contribute to an accident. Distracted driving, driving under the influence and driving when fatigued are all common accident causes. However, other parties may also be responsible.

What Parties May Be Liable in a Truck Accident?

In addition to the driver, other parties involved in the trucking industry may hold some responsibility. An attorney who has experience handling truck accident claims knows what kind of evidence to look for to determine which parties may be at fault. Depending on the facts of the case, any of the following may be liable:

  • Motor carriers: When a trucking company employs drivers, it is responsible for ensuring the drivers are trained and understand their legal obligations. Additionally, the companies themselves must adhere to laws about what they can require of their operators and safety standards. If they fail in their obligations, they can be held responsible.
  • Manufacturers: Mechanical and parts failures can lead to truck accidents. Though motor carriers and drivers must conduct regular maintenance and safety checks, part failures are sometimes due to the manufacturer’s poor quality control or design. Even if the trucking company or driver failed in their responsibilities, the manufacturer might still be partly responsible for the accident.
  • Cargo loaders: Loading up the back of a semi is a precise operation. Cargo loaders need to ensure the freight is secure and the load balanced and appropriately distributed across all axels. When the cargo isn’t properly loaded, it can shift, causing the driver to lose control of the rig. Truck drivers must check their loads before leaving and during transit, but that doesn’t necessarily clear the cargo loaders of responsibility.
  • Maintenance contractors or companies: Usually, trucking companies and independent truckers hire someone to conduct routine maintenance and take care of any necessary repairs. If contractors or companies do not perform the required job according to set standards and their errors lead to an accident, they may be held liable.

Other passenger vehicle drivers may also bear some responsibility. Additionally, even if you sustained injuries and the truck driver didn’t, your role in the accident determines whether and to what extent the truck driver is responsible for damages.

Legal Considerations

The legal landscape in personal injury cases involving trucks is challenging to navigate without an in-depth understanding of the laws governing the industry and personal injury claims. The federal government regulates the trucking industry, while states legislation provides the legal guidelines for personal injury cases.

Why Do Trucking Law Matter?

The FMCSA establishes legal guidelines that provide rules for the industry. These rules are meant to keep the truck drivers and everyone else on the road safe, as well as the cargo the truckers carry. These laws help attorneys, insurance companies, and the courts determine who is at fault in a truck accident and, therefore, who pays for damages.

Federal regulations place the responsibility for safety on multiple parties. It isn’t just up to the trucker. The motor carrier, its agents, representatives, officers and employees play a role in ensuring large truck safety in maintenance and operations.

Additionally, the government requires truck drivers or motor carriers to demonstrate a minimum level of financial responsibility to cover them if they are at fault in a truck accident. Depending on truck size and cargo designation, they must have a minimum of $750,000-$5 million. They usually meet this responsibility through insurance.

What Are the Relevant State Laws?

Three primary laws determine outcomes in truck accident personal injury cases: insurance rules, negligence laws and statutes of limitations.

Insurance Rules:

The federal government establishes insurance laws for truck drivers, but every state has insurance rules for passenger vehicles. Most states require drivers to carry a liability policy with a minimum coverage limit. These policies pay for damages to the other party when the driver is at fault in an accident.

Some states have no-fault insurance laws. New York is one of them. In these states, drivers must have personal injury protection, covering medical costs no matter who is at fault. Though drivers generally must file a claim with their insurer, they can still file a personal injury lawsuit if their case meets state thresholds and rules.

Negligence Laws

Negligence plays a significant role in how damages are awarded. Most states follow a modified comparative negligence law. These laws have either a 50% or 51% threshold for collecting damages. If drivers pass that threshold, they cannot receive any compensation for their injuries.

When the courts assign fault that is lower than the threshold, the drivers receive damages. However, they only receive a percentage of the amount the court awards that is equal to the percentage of fault attributed to the other party.

For example, if the court awards $1 million in damages but finds that you were 60% responsible for the accident, you do not get any of the amount awarded. It doesn’t matter how seriously you were injured or what your losses were. However, if the court says that you were 40% responsible and the truck driver was 60% responsible, you receive $600,000 (60% of the $1 million awarded). Having an experienced lawyer on your side may improve your chances of collecting a fair settlement.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is the time limit set on how long people have to file a personal injury case in the courts. Most states have a two- or three-year deadline for filing, and the clock starts on the date of the accident.

Truck Accident Lawyers Who Can Help With Your Case

The lawyers at Cellino Law understand the challenges involved in pursuing a personal injury claim after a truck accident. We’re here for you. We have the experience and knowledge to help you fight for fair compensation. Get in touch with us at one of our offices to schedule a free case review.

Sources:

https://www.truckinfo.net/research/trucking-statistics

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813110

https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-49/subtitle-B/chapter-III/subchapter-B/part-392

https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-49/subtitle-B/chapter-III/subchapter-B/part-387

https://www.dfs.ny.gov/consumers/auto_insurance/minimum_auto_insurance_requirements

https://definitions.uslegal.com/m/modified-comparative-negligence-doctrine/

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