Driver vs. Company Liability in a Commercial Trucking Accident

It's true enough that any kind of accident involving a car can be devastating. But if you have an accident with a commercial tractor trailer truck or semi, because of their sheer size and weight there is a high risk of extensive damages, severe injuries and even fatalities. Recovering both physically and financially from a trucking accident can be extremely difficult and complicated, especially when determining if the driver or trucking company is at fault.

Hiring an experienced truck accident attorney to help you sort through the post-accident paperwork and litigation is often times imperative in order for victims to receive help.

Causes of Trucking Accidents

Commercial truck drivers are held to high standards by the federal government when it comes to operating their vehicle. Federal law requires truck drivers to keep a log of their routes and sleep records. There are also laws that vary per state regarding certain speed limits and driver sleep requirements.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 333,000 large trucks were involved in traffic crashes in 2012. There are countless reasons why so many commercial trucking accidents occurs, but the most common are:

  • Driver fatigue
  • Driver under influence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Poorly trained or inexperienced truck driver
  • Mechanical failure
  • Not following traffic laws or speeding
  • Load not properly secure
  • Negligence

Read more about the 7 Common Causes of Trucking Accidents in our Legal Library.

Of course, the commercial truck driver is not always the one at fault for an accident.  Listed below are some reckless behaviors from car drivers that can result in an accident with a commercial truck driver:

  • Improper lane changes
  • Following the truck too closely
  • Staying in a truck driver's blind spot
  • Left hand turns in front of oncoming trucks and misjudging traffic
  • Pulling in front of a truck and not accelerating fast enough
  • Negligence

Discovering and proving who is at fault can be a difficult task and require an experienced truck accident attorney like R. Mack Babcock to resolve the case.

Truck Accident Overview

There are many factors to consider when you have been involved in a commercial truck accident. First and foremost, you must gather information to determine what parties are involved in the accident. These parties not only include you, your passengers and the truck driver, but also the trucking company, other vehicles that may have been on the road, the trucking manufacturer, as well as the insurance companies connected with all vehicles involved.

Next, an investigation will take place and the truck drivers log and credentials will be checked. A review may be necessary to determine whether any federal violations have occurred (i.e. Was the driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Did he/she follow the federal sleep guidelines? Has the truck been properly maintained and was the load secure that was being hauled?)

Many questions must be asked and answered in this type of accident.

Is the trucking company or driver at fault?

There is a legal term called respondeat superior which means "let the superior make answer." Under this particular principal, an employer is held responsible and liable for the wrongful acts of its employees provided these acts were unintentional and within the scope of employment.

Determining the scope of employment, however, can be a difficult task. For example, if a commercial truck hits a car, did the accident occur while he/she was in the process of making a delivery or was the driver on their way home? Determining if an accident occurred within the scope of employment often requires the expertise of a skilled truck accident lawyer.

As the injured victim, or as the legal representative of a deceased loved one, you or your attorney will also need to look into whether or not the driver was an employee of the company or an independent contractor. For example, if the truck driver used his own truck, gas, has no employee benefits and is paid per route, the company does not withhold taxes or instruct the driver on how to make deliveries, then he is most likely an independent contractor meaning that the driver would be mostly responsible.

One factor to consider in connection with truck accidents is that trucking companies can also be liable for their own acts of negligence in addition to being vicariously liable for the acts of their employers. Trucking companies can be sued for negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, etc. These causes of action can also apply to independent contractor situations.

Determining who is at fault in a commercial truck accident can be difficult. If this has happened to you or a loved one, please contact Denver's experienced accident attorney R. Mack Babcock for a free consultation.

To learn more about truck accidents, browse our blog and knowledge center.

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