How Fault Is Determined In A Commercial Trucking Accident

18-Wheeler Truck Driving On The Highway Stock Photo

In the average car accident, determining who is at fault can be fairly straightforward. However, even simple accidents that involve a commercial truck can get complicated. Fault could be apportioned between you, the driver, the company, the owner of the truck, and even the manufacturer or truck servicer.

Simple cases that involve commercial trucks just do not occur that often. That is why it is especially important to have an attorney on your side in these types of claims. An experienced truck accident lawyer knows which parties may be involved and how to ask the right questions.

Liability Generally in Truck Accidents

Liability for truck accidents will vary depending on the cause of the accident. Most commercial truck accidents occur because of driver error. That means that the driver will likely have some portion of the fault. However, if the driver is working for someone else, the company may provide the driver’s defense.

If the accident was caused for another reason, then a different party may be liable. For example, if the accident occurred because someone did not load the truck properly, then whoever loaded the truck would share some of the responsibility. Alternatively, if the mechanic did not put something back on the truck correctly, then he or she would also bare some of the blame.

Cause is going to be especially important when determining which parties should be included in your trucking accident lawsuit.

When is the Company Liable for the Accident?

As a general rule, employers are responsible for the work-related actions of their employees. The legal name for this concept is referred to as “respondeat superior,” which is Latin for “let the superior make answer.”

Employers are not responsible for every action of their employees, but commercial vehicle accidents generally fall in that realm of lability. On the other hand, if the employee purposefully harmed someone or was involved in an accident while they were not working, then the employer likely would not be liable.

This rule is in place partly so that the employee is not responsible for accidents that occurred while they are doing their employer’s work. Instead, the accident is considered one of the many costs of doing business for the employer. Employers can also usually afford to protect themselves with higher insurance coverage an employee can obtain.

There are situations where the commercial truck driver is not considered an employee, but an independent contractor instead. This difference could mean that the company is not liable for the actions of the truck driver. However, under current federal law, whoever obtains the permits required for the truck is responsible for any accidents, and this is usually the employer.

If, for some reason, the driver obtained the permit, then the independent contractor/employee distinction will still be important. In determining whether the driver is an employee or an independent contractor, the Court will consider:

  • Whether the drive is permitted to set his or her own hours
  • Who pays for the truck maintenance and gas
  • Who actually owns the truck
  • Whether the driver gets paid by the hour or by the mile (or both)
  • Who owns the equipment for the truck
  • Whether the company has their name or logo on the truck

Your trucking accident lawyer will be able to help you determine whether the driver or the company is the most important party in your case—or whether you need to add in additional entities or people. Don’t make this decision alone and sue the wrong entity! Contact Jim Glaser Law today at 781-689-2277 or fill out our online form to request a free case evaluation.