Who Is Liable in Trucking Accidents?

January 14, 2021 Insights

Let’s start from the perspective of a private driver. Each year, you’re increasingly likely to be hit by a commercial truck on the road.

Even as overall deaths and injuries from motor vehicle collisions in the United States have declined, harm and fatalities involving trucks have continued a slow but steady climb.

In an industry that has long had a less than ideal reputation for those both in and outside it, the year 2018 saw a 1% increase from the year prior in crash deaths involving large trucks. This was representative of 300 more people, compared to an 8% decrease in deaths from van accidents. 2018 was also the deadliest year on record in 20 years for fatalities of truck drivers and occupants themselves.

Reckless truck driving and widespread company oversights put everyone on the road at risk. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the cost of truck and bus crashes was worth $99 billion in a single year. That same study by the CDC observed that a significant number of drivers acknowledged not wearing seatbelts on long-haul trips, and found strong correlations between not wearing a seatbelt and other unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding or moving violations. These risks, in turn, were correlated with an increased likelihood of driving for a trucking company without any formal safety protocols in place.

Once you or a loved one is involved in an accident as a result, finding who is responsible is rarely straightforward. Myriad parties may be liable for injuries or death inflicted, though first you may find yourself having to prove the accident wasn’t your fault or a result of your own negligence.

From the start, a reckless truck driver could be held responsible. In a recent example in Kansas, a plaintiff launched a lawsuit when a speeding tractor trailer loaded with grain smashed into an SUV containing his wife, three children and a stepchild, including a four-year-old and a four-month-old. All were killed. Both the driver and his employer were named as defendants.

The trucking company employing the driver could be liable for damages and suffering for several reasons. Federal regulations restrict a company’s ability to shield themselves by classifying their drivers as independent contractors – though versions of this defense occasionally surface in the courts. Liability results from not properly maintaining a vehicle of which the driver lost control, not hiring qualified drivers, or not providing them with proper training or support.

The circle of responsibility widens further in many circumstances. For instance, a parts manufacturer could be liable for creating a defective product in the truck, directly or indirectly causing an accident. In the Kansas case, consider the grain being carried by the tractor trailer: Cargo loaders or the manufacturers of transported products could, too, be included in a suit if the faultiness or improper securing of a product precipitated the truck going out of control.

The perspectives of truckers themselves should not be forgotten. Truckers and their families also pursue legal action when the worst happens. One Amazon driver in Tennessee sued the multinational giant in early 2020 for medical expenses, loss of business and income following a crash, which he claimed was the fault of Amazon and a trucking company it subcontracted for illegally overworking him.

After weeks of shifts lasting as long as 20 hours at a time, he planned to take an extended break. But the companies called him to drive a truckload between St. Louis and Tennessee just as that break began. A few hours into the resulting trip, the driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his truck into a concrete barrier.

In some ways, it seems as if battling for industry safety is impossibly uphill whichever side of the aisle you are on. But accountability plays a major role. When the proverbial road to seeking justice is unclear, an experienced corporate liability lawyer like those at Circeo Fannin can be invaluable to explore your options. We are never more than a phone call away.