If you are a truck accident victim, the first step you should take for you to obtain compensation is to identify potential defendants. However, it is challenging to prove liability in a truck accident since multiple parties that may have contributed to the occurrence of the crash. Furthermore, trucking accident cases are complex; and you should be extremely cautious when gathering evidence. At the Personal Injury Law Firm, we have helped numerous truck accident victims in California receive monetary compensation for their injuries. Get in touch with us today to jumpstart your claim.
Why Truck Accident Lawsuits are Complex
Truck accident lawsuits are complex, and not all personal injury attorneys can handle them. Almost all personal injury attorneys can deal with car accident cases. This is because they are simple and straightforward, and they mostly involve just two parties: the plaintiff and the defendant. On the other hand, truck accident cases may involve multiple parties.
The primary distinction between a truck accident personal injury claim and a car accident lawsuit is how evidence is gathered and collected. In a truck accident lawsuit, the plaintiff's attorney must act diligently and quickly to collect and preserve crucial information that will be essential in proving liability.
Truck accident cases are fondly referred to as 'high dollar' lawsuits due to a large amount of money involved. The injuries that most truck accident victims are extraordinarily severe, and they can attract large amounts of money as compensation. Most insurance companies and trucking companies have employed 'damage control' teams. The primary role of these teams is to rush to the truck accident scene and destroy evidence to reduce liability.
These teams usually destroy crucial evidence, such as the black box of the truck. According to Federal law, each commercial truck should contain a black box whose primary purpose is to record all the information about the truck before the occurrence of the accident. This information is quite essential in proving the liability of the truck driver and the trucking company.
Truck accident lawsuits usually require experts to substantiate the plaintiff's claim. Attorneys who have specialized in truck accident personal injury claims have a list of experts whom they can turn to assist their clients in proving liability. For instance, your attorney can hire accident reconstructionists who can demonstrate before the court how the accident occurred to enable the judge to ascertain the at-fault party. Because most injuries sustained in truck accidents are life-changing and dramatic, you may need financial experts and medical experts to explain to the judge why you deserve the value of monetary damages that you have pleaded.
The truck industry is regulated by both federal law and California's state laws. These rules can substantially determine the success of your claim. You need to hire an attorney who is well versed in these regulations for your lawsuit to be successful.
Common Causes of Truck Accidents
Sharing the highway with a large truck may make you feel intimidated. If you have ever witnessed a truck crash, you may wonder what its cause was.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, trucks make up three percent of the total registered motor vehicles in the United States. However, these trucks account for nine percent of all fatal accidents. California is one of the top five states that have recorded the highest number of truck accidents. Here are some of the most common causes of truck accidents in California:
1. Driver Training
Some trucking companies employ inexperienced and unskilled drivers. Others do not subject them to proper training before putting them behind the wheel.
Since trucks are heavily weighted, they must be driven by individuals with specialized skills. A driver who is not properly trained will largely contribute to the occurrence of a crash.
2. Intoxicated Driving
Alcohol and drug use may lead to the impairment of specific driving skills. Some of these skills include reaction time, judgment, coordination, vision, and simultaneous task processing skills.
When these skills are impaired, the chances of the driver causing an accident increase. About 26% of the total truck accidents in California were caused by drugged driving.
The average weight of a truck is 80,000 pounds. Each speed increase makes the truck more prone to causing an accident. Excessive speed is one of the major causes of truck accidents in California.
4. Unfamiliar Territory
Driving in foreign territories increases the risk of a crash. Most trucks traverse different states, and their drivers may not be acquainted with the terrains of all of them. They can come across a roadside hazard which they didn't know of its existence. If their reaction time is slow, then an accident can quickly occur.
5. Failure to Check Blind Spots
Truck drivers are customarily trained to concentrate on blind spots. The term 'blind spot' is commonly used to refer to an area around the truck that the driver cannot directly observe while he is at the controls. Some truck drivers ignore their training and fail to check blind spots, thus causing an accident.
6. Driver Fatigue
Federal law regulates the number of hours a driver can spend behind the wheel. This is because driving requires constant alertness, which may be hard to maintain if an individual is exhausted.
However, some trucking companies violate these hour regulations. They force their drivers not to take breaks and travel for extremely long distances. This makes them cause an accident.
7. Violating Traffic Laws
Some truck drivers may violate traffic laws and lead to an accident. For example, they may fail to turn a signal or utilize the wrong lanes. If a truck driver is fond of breaking the law, he increases the risk of a crash.
8. Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is prohibited in California. Truck drivers should not use cell phones, drink, eat, or talk to passengers while driving. If they do so, they may cause an accident.
9. Attempting to Avoid a Collision
A truck driver trying to avoid a collision may not always turn out successful. Avoiding a collision is a tricky maneuver, and it can result in a sad ending. When truck drivers try to evade a crash, they may end up causing one.
10. Aggressive Driving and Road Rage
Even professional truck drivers are sometimes not immune to aggressive driving and road rage. They may forget about the heavy cargo they are carrying and cause severe damage when they can't control themselves while at the wheel.
Determining Liability after a Truck Accident
It can be a nightmare to ascertain which party should be held responsible for the truck accident. As asserted earlier, most truck accident lawsuits often involve multiple defendants. For instance, if the crash was caused by driver fatigue, you can sue both the truck driver and the trucking company as defendants.
As the plaintiff, you may have partially contributed to the occurrence of the accident. However, the court can still award you damages under California’s comparative fault laws. According to these laws, you will be partially compensated to the extent of how the other party caused the accident. This means that an at-fault injured truck driver can receive compensation for his injuries, especially in situations whereby the trucking company violated some laws that largely increased the risk of an accident.
A plaintiff in a truck accident lawsuit may have to stand up against numerous defendants. For the plaintiff to prove liability in a truck accident personal injury lawsuit, he may have to choose among different liability principles: negligence, strict liability, vicarious liability, and joint liability. Here is a detailed analysis of these principles:
As per California's negligence laws, an injured pedestrian or motorist can sue the at-fault party if he acted negligently, and it is his negligent acts that substantially contributed to the occurrence of the accident. As the plaintiff, you must explain to the court how the at-fault party was negligent.
For instance, a truck driver may engage in speeding or aggressive driving and cause a crash that led to your injuries. Or rather, maybe the trucking company overloaded the truck and destabilized it, thus causing an accident that made you sustain injuries.
For you to demonstrate negligence in a California truck accident lawsuit, you must prove three elements. These elements include:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care
- The defendant breached the duty of care
- It is this breach that led to your injuries
The term 'duty of care' refers to the legal obligation an individual should have to other people. For instance, a truck driver has a duty of care to focus on blind spots, control the truck's speed, and exercise reasonable care while driving. Trucking companies have a duty of care to give proper training to their drivers, maintain their trucks in good condition, and permit their drivers to take rest breaks.
Negligence is not a determining factor in strict liability. The court could hold a party responsible for the truck accident even if it didn't make any mistakes that contributed to the occurrence of the crash.
Mostly, it is truck manufacturers, designers, and product chain distributors that the court can hold liable for a crash under the principle of strict liability. Strict liability cases are usually based on faulty truck parts such as accelerator pedals, engines, brakes, tires, and cargo straps.
According to California’s Respondeat Superior laws, employers are vicariously liable for the negligent acts that their employees committed while in the course of performing their duties. The main rationale behind the doctrine of vicarious liability is to ensure that the plaintiff obtains full compensation for his loss. Employers are perceived to be in a much better position to compensate injured victims when compared to the employees.
In a truck accident lawsuit, trucking companies may be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employee truck drivers. For instance, a truck driver who was speeding may be personally responsible for the accident; but it is the trucking company that will compensate the plaintiff for his loss.
The court can hold multiple defendants jointly liable for the truck accident. Just picture this scenario: an intoxicated individual is driving an overloaded truck that has faulty accelerator pedals.
In such a scenario, the truck driver will be liable because he acted negligently by driving while under the influence. The court will also hold the trucking company accountable since it overloaded the truck and the truck manufacturer for designing a faulty accelerator pedal. Therefore, the truck driver, the truck manufacturer, and the trucking company will contribute towards compensating the victim.
Who Can be Held Liable For a Truck Accident?
There are various individuals or entities that the court can hold liable for a truck accident. Depending on the circumstances and facts of the accident, the party that should be responsible for it may even be a business or a person you have never met before.
Liability can fall on multiple parties or individuals. In such cases, the court will assign responsibility based on the proportion of each party’s fault. Some examples of the liable parties in a truck accident include:
- Truck drivers
- Trucking companies
- Cargo loaders
- Truck maintenance companies
- Truck manufacturers
- Governmental agencies
- Truck owners
- Third-party vendors
- Other motor vehicle drivers
Here is how these parties can be held liable:
1. Truck Drivers
Driver negligence is a leading cause of truck accidents in the state of California. If you believe that the truck driver was at fault, your attorney will investigate the accident to find out if the truck driver:
- Was exhausted before the accident
- Had a medical condition that rendered him incapable of operating a truck
- Was driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Was engaging in distracted driving
- Failed to notice blind spots and anticipate roadside hazards
- Violated various traffic laws such as running red lights or speeding
- Practiced reckless driving, including tailgating other cars and showing aggression
Furthermore, your attorney will review the record of the at-fault driver to determine if he has ever been involved in an accident in the past. Your attorney will also search for the truck's black box to ascertain the condition of the truck before the crash occurred. From his findings, he will determine whether the driver should be held responsible for the accident.
2. Trucking Companies
Trucking companies should hire qualified drivers, train them adequately, and frequently screen them for drugs and alcohol to prevent intoxicated driving. If they fail to do so, they can be held responsible for the occurrence of the crash.
Your attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit against a trucking company if he ascertains that it employed unqualified individuals who do not have a commercial driver’s license, failed to give proper training to its drivers on how to handle heavy-weighted trucks and travel for long distances, hired individuals who have prior DUI convictions, and encouraged or allowed the truck drivers to violate the FMCSA’s hours of service rules. Your attorney can obtain the records of the trucking company to determine if they violated any federal or state laws concerning the trucking industry. Moreover, trucking companies can be liable for the negligence of their employee drivers under California’s Respondeat Superior Laws.
3. Cargo Loaders
Cargo loaders should ensure that the contents are safe and secure for long-distance travel. If you have been involved in a cargo-related truck accident, your attorney will investigate if the cargo was unsecured, loose, or exposed, whether it was improperly distributed and destabilized the truck, and if the cargo or its contents had fallen off from the truck.
Your truck accident attorney will evaluate the cargo records to find out the parties that were in charge of loading the truck. Later, he will pursue compensation against them for damages.
4. Truck Maintenance Companies
Often trucking companies and truck owners outsource most of their repair and maintenance work to truck maintenance companies. These maintenance companies may be negligent and do a shoddy job.
For example, they may fail to check the truck’s tires to ascertain whether they are in good working condition. The court will hold such companies liable for their negligent acts.
5. Truck Manufacturers
Mechanical failures and defective parts can substantially contribute to the occurrence of a truck crash. If you believe that a faulty part caused the accident, you can sue the truck manufacturer for compensation.
Even though most mechanical issues are brought about by poor maintenance, various factors can indicate that the accident occurred due to a faulty part. Some of these factors include tire blowouts, transmission failure, steering system failure, a defective trailer hitch, brake failure, and poor lighting. Your attorney can institute a product liability claim if he ascertains that the truck manufacturer installed a faulty part in the vehicle.
6. Governmental Agencies
Dangerous roads can cause a truck accident. If there is a roadside hazard such as a broken pavement or soft shoulder that contributed to the crash, the court will hold accountable the federal, state, or local governmental agency that was responsible for maintaining that road.
Sometimes, the government may hire negligent independent contractors who do not carry out their duties properly. For instance, they may fail to set up a work zone to warn drivers that a particular highway is under construction. In such a case, the court will hold the government liable.
If you believe that a road hazard substantially contributed to the occurrence of the accident, you should hire an attorney who is well versed in both truck accident lawsuits and dangerous road cases. Civil claims against the government are quite complicated because governments normally invest a lot of resources to put a strong defense strategy.
7. Truck Owners
In some cases, it isn’t the trucking company that owns the truck involved in the accident. The trucking company might have just rented the truck from the owner to use it for business.
A truck owner is responsible for inspecting his machine and maintaining it in an excellent working condition. He should check the engine and the tires regularly, and be in the know of the internal workings of the truck. Furthermore, he should constantly repair and maintain the necessary truck parts, including brakes, fluids, and the electronic system.
A truck owner must also abide by the Federal regulations that prescribe how trucks should be inspected and maintained. If a truck owner violates any Federal trucking industry law, the court will hold him liable for damages.
8. Other Motor Vehicle Drivers
Often, car drivers are responsible for road accidents with tractor-trailers and semi-trucks. These motor vehicle drivers may engage in unsafe acts that increase the risk of a truck crash. They tend to ignore the performance capabilities of the truck, such as how it is limited in visibility and acceleration breaking.
Some of the unsafe acts committed by motor vehicle drivers that can result in a truck crash include driving in no-zones, altering lanes abruptly, misjudging the truck’s speed, merging into traffic improperly, unsafe passing, and driving between two large trucks. If your attorney finds out that it is the motor vehicle driver who caused the accident, he will institute a personal lawsuit against him for you to obtain compensation.
9. Third-Party Vendors
Some trucking companies may outsource some of their work to third-party vendors. For instance, they may outsource administrative work such as conducting driver background checks and recruiting new drivers, dispatching work, and any other part of fleet operations. Some of them may contract brokers to help them obtain cargo shipments. The court will hold liable for a third party vendor who was negligent in discharging his duties and contributed to the crash.
Find a California Truck Accident Attorney Near Me
You should never accept an early settlement offer from an insurance company after you have been involved in a truck accident without consulting an attorney. The primary aim of most insurance companies is to compensate you with the least amount of money as possible for them to make huge profits.
The lawyers at the Personal Injury Law Firm have decades of experience in fighting for compensation for truck accident victims. We are well equipped to thoroughly investigate how the truck accident occurred and identify all liable parties. Call us today at 619-625-8707 for a free consultation.