Out of all of the vehicle accidents that happen daily, truck accidents are some of the most dangerous. These crashes result in injuries and fatalities at a much higher rate than accidents involving passenger vehicles.
A truck accident can result in significant medical expenses, impact your ability to earn a living, and cause chronic pain and permanent disability. Given these impacts, the question of who should be held responsible is very important.
In truth, the answer depends on the unique circumstances of each accident. Multiple parties may be at fault, but the first place to look is always the driver of the truck.
The experienced truck accident lawyers at Colombo Law can help you hold the driver and other parties accountable for your injuries and losses. Contact us today for a FREE consultation.
Common Examples of Truck Driver Negligence
Like all drivers, truck drivers have a responsibility – known as a “duty of care” – to other drivers on the road. Because commercial vehicles are so much more dangerous than passenger vehicles, their responsibility to operate the rig safely is that much greater.
Despite the potentially catastrophic consequences of a wreck, truck drivers still commonly engage in the following unsafe behaviors:
A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Compare that to a typical passenger vehicle, which might weigh only a few thousand pounds, and you can understand just how dangerous a speeding 18-wheeler is.
Unfortunately, truck drivers do not always exercise the caution they should, deciding to speed regardless of the danger. Whether they are driving aggressively, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or simply not paying attention, their negligence has the potential to change – and even end – others’ lives in a heartbeat.
Following Other Vehicles Too Closely
Because of the size and weight of commercial vehicles, they are not as responsive as passenger vehicles. Big rigs cannot speed up, turn, or slow down nearly as quickly. Hence, while all drivers should avoid tailgating, the danger posed by tailgating truck drivers can be critical.
If something unexpected happens in front of them – such as a driver coming to a quick stop – good reflexes will not be enough to avert a collision. The truck driver will likely not be able to maneuver quickly enough to avoid a serious crash.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, from texting and talking on the phone to eating and watching videos. Even when driving long stretches on open roads, truck drivers have a responsibility to remain vigilant and attentive at all times. When they neglect to do so and this failure results in an accident, they may be held liable for the subsequent damages.
Errors in Turning and Lane Changes
Commercial trucks have much larger blind spots than the average car. As such, truck drivers must exercise greater caution when turning and changing lanes to ensure they are not cutting off other drivers.
Unfortunately, failure to check blind spots, failure to merge correctly, and failure to leave enough room during turns can put the drivers of other vehicles in harm’s way. At highway speeds, an accident with a semi-truck can be devastating for those in other vehicles.
Driving While Fatigued
Truck drivers are under tight deadlines to deliver their loads. As such, driving while fatigued is a serious problem in the trucking industry.
Hours of service are the federal regulations that limit how long commercial drivers can operate before they are required to rest. Unfortunately, statistics show that these rules are largely ignored. One study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that more than one-eighth of the truck drivers involved in accidents were fatigued at the time of the crash.
While truck drivers must understand the impact fatigue can have on their ability to drive safely, it is worth noting that avoiding fatigue is also the responsibility of truck drivers’ employers. If trucking companies are pushing their drivers to spend more time on the road than legally allowed, they may also be held liable for accidents caused by drowsy driving.
Failure to Inspect the Vehicle and/or the Load
Truck drivers have responsibilities before they even start driving. One of these responsibilities is to inspect their vehicles after each day and submit a report that details the functioning of multiple parts of their trucks, from the brakes to the windshield wipers.
When drivers fail to carry out inspections that would have uncovered a potential danger, it could lead to an avoidable accident. If this is the case, the driver may be held liable for damages.
Frequently Asked Questions About Truck Accident Liability
What Are the Duties of a Truck Driver?
Truck drivers have a number of duties, both when they are on the road and preparing for a haul. Some of their key responsibilities include:
- Driving the truck safely
- Maintaining a safe speed and adjusting it based on road and weather conditions
- Conducting pre-trip and post-trip inspections of the truck and its equipment
- Ensuring proper loading and securement of cargo to prevent shifting during transit
- Adhering to weight limits and load distribution guidelines
- Complying with the federal hours of service regulations
- Maintaining accurate records of driving and rest hours
- Keeping accurate and up-to-date records, including logbooks and bills of lading
- Maintaining effective communication with dispatchers, other drivers, and relevant authorities
- Staying informed and compliant with federal and state regulations governing the trucking industry.
- Adhering to company policies and procedures
Driving a truck is a difficult job. Many truck drivers are able to uphold these duties and safely transport their loads without incident.
However, the rush to get the job done and pressure from the trucking company can make drivers cut corners and take unnecessary risks. If an accident occurs due to the driver’s negligence, the victim(s) of the crash have the right to pursue compensation.
Read More: Do I Have a Truck Accident Lawsuit?
How Much Are Most Truck Accident Settlements?
Due to the seriousness of the injuries, the settlements in truck accident cases tend to be higher than in other kinds of accident cases. However, it is impossible to say how much a settlement might be. An experienced truck accident lawyer can provide you with an accurate figure.
A truck accident settlement should compensate you for medical expenses, lost wages, and other costs—both now and in the future. Unlike many states, West Virginia does not impose a cap on non-economic loss in personal injury matters, making it essential to account for the pain and suffering and other non-economic damages you have endured.
In most cases, a settlement is a compromise between the damages you claim and the insurance policy limits. Freight carriers (i.e., the trucking company or an owner-operator) are required to have $750,000 to $5 million in liability insurance. That’s a lot of money at stake, and it will likely take several rounds of negotiation to reach an agreement.
Are Truck Drivers Responsible for Damages?
The driver of the truck may be held responsible for damages if the following facts can be established:
- The truck driver owed you a duty of care.
Like all motorists, truck drivers are expected to obey the rules of the road. They are also responsible for abiding by federal trucking regulations, which govern everything from inspection and maintenance requirements to how long the driver can be on the road before taking a rest.
- The driver’s conduct represents a breach of duty.
Evidence must show that the truck driver failed to uphold the duty of care, resulting in the accident.
- Negligence on the part of the truck driver caused you harm.
A direct connection must be made between the defendant’s negligent actions (or failure to act) and the injuries you suffered in the accident.
- You sustained compensable damages.
Specific evidence must be presented of the losses you have sustained due to your truck accident injuries. Families can pursue compensation for wrongful death if a loved one perished in the crash.
If each of these elements is satisfied, the truck driver may be held liable. But the driver may not be the only responsible party.
There are two types of truck drivers: owner-operators and employees. Because they own their trucks and transport cargo independently, owner-operators are responsible for purchasing their own insurance. The owner-operator (i.e., the driver of the truck) may be liable for damages in the event of an accident.
Meanwhile, truck drivers who work for a trucking company are usually insured through their employer. If a driver who is an employee causes an accident while performing their job, the trucking company may be responsible for the subsequent damages.
Additional defendants may also be liable for a truck accident. This may include the third-party owner of the truck or trailer, the manufacturer of a defective part, and more. It is important to retain a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible to conduct a complete investigation.
Can Truck Drivers Get Sued for Hitting Other People on the Road?
Yes, this is often the basis for a truck accident claim. In extreme cases, a truck driver may collide with multiple vehicles. The individuals in those vehicles (drivers and passengers) may sue for personal injury, property damage, or—in the most tragic instances—wrongful death.
To recover compensation, you will need to prove that the collision occurred due to the negligence of the truck driver and any additional parties. A trucking accident lawyer will act quickly to collect evidence such as photographs, witness statements, video footage, and more to determine all of the parties responsible.
Are Truck Drivers Responsible for Their Loads?
Truck drivers are legally responsible for the loads they carry—even if they are not the ones who load the truck. Specific duties include:
- Verifying that the correct cargo is loaded on the truck
- Ensuring that the load is secure before the trip
- Inspecting the load at regular intervals during the course of the haul
Failure to perform any of these tasks can result in devastating accidents, including jackknife and override crashes. Examination of the truck driver’s logbook and post-accident inspection of the truck may reveal negligence on the part of the truck driver.
It is also important to consider the role of the shipping company in truck accident cases where negligent loading or securement of the cargo was a factor. The shipper may be held liable if their failure to load or secure the cargo led to the accident.
What Happens When You Get Hit by a Truck?
You will almost certainly need to be taken to the emergency room if you are struck by an 18-wheeler. A car is no match for a truck weighing up to 40 tons, and the occupants inside the other vehicle often suffer serious injuries.
If you are released after receiving first aid at the scene, you should still go to the hospital or see a doctor for further treatment. Brain injuries, spine injuries, and other serious traumas can have “hidden symptoms” that may not be immediately apparent.
You should then contact a qualified trucking accident attorney as soon as possible. It is critical to begin collecting evidence and preparing your case, especially if you weren’t able to take action at the scene and you are incapacitated by your injuries.
Holding the Truck Driver Responsible
All of these types of negligence could mean that a truck driver will be held liable for an accident. However, establishing that the truck driver is at fault and recovering compensation requires a thorough investigation, the gathering of evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and possibly winning a case in court.
Further, it is critical to keep in mind that other parties may also be liable for a truck accident, including trucking companies, parts manufacturers, loading companies, and others. As such, truck accident claims can be incredibly complex. Truck accident victims benefit from the legal support, guidance, and representation of an experienced truck accident attorney.
At Colombo Law, we understand the tremendous damage that can be caused by semi-trucks. When truck drivers fail to exercise the caution that is called for in their occupation, it can upend lives – lives that may never be the same again.
This is why the focus of our law firm is helping victims of truck accidents pursue compensation for the damages they have sustained due to the fault of another, including truck drivers, trucking companies, and other parties. We have obtained substantial verdicts and settlements on behalf of victims and their families, and we will fight for the compensation you and your loved ones deserve.
If you have been hurt by a truck, please call Colombo Law at (304) 599-4229 today for a FREE case review. Our truck accident attorneys serve clients in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia.