The answer to this question is: It depends on several circumstances. There are circumstances when the trucking company is liable. But there are also times when other people or entities are liable, including the driver, the company responsible for loading the truck, the manufacturer of the truck, or the truck’s mechanics (which may be employed by the trucking company). It’s a complicated situation. Here are more details of what you should know.
Is the Truck Driver or Trucking Company Responsible for My Injury?
Years ago, most truck drivers were employees of trucking companies and would be covered under the company’s insurance. That’s changed. Today, the majority of truck drivers are independent contractors. These contractors are considered as running their own businesses, and the trucking companies subcontract with them rather than hire them.
That said, there are times when the courts could deem the independent contractor an employee. This usually happens when the company has complete control over the driver’s route and time frames. Then it’s possible the trucking company will be responsible.
Another complicated twist is if the truck driver was to blame for the accident. For example, they might have been speeding and lost control of their truck on ice. In that case, both the driver and the trucking company could be held liable.
What if There is Fault on Both Sides?
A situation in which both drivers in the accident have some responsibility is even more complex. In the example above, suppose the truck driver was speeding when it hit ice and lost control. But if the other driver was coming toward the truck while illegally passing another vehicle, they bear some of the responsibility too. These cases require significant investigation to determine where the liability falls and how much the damages should be.
What Are Situations in Which the Truck Driver May Not Be at Fault?
Generally, suppose the truck driver is obeying the rules of the road and driving with caution to avoid having to stop suddenly or cause their truck to roll over or jackknife. In that case, there are still several things that could cause an accident but which the driver may not be responsible for:
It’s possible that the truck had faulty construction or repair/maintenance, and the driver wasn’t aware of that. In those cases, the company that constructed the truck or did the repair/maintenance work may be liable.
The company that loaded the truck’s trailer did so improperly, causing the contents to shift and make the truck unstable. That company would then likely be held responsible.
Because these large trucks need considerable room to make turns, many trucks have signs on the back warning the drivers who are following not to come into their turn radius. Unfortunately, there have been many people who have disregarded these signs and thought they could make it. But what often happens is their car ends up under the truck. This is particularly dangerous and could cause the court to look at the car driver skeptically.
What Are Some Causes of Truck Accidents?
Truck accidents tend to be devastating because a fully packed semi-truck can weigh more than 20 times what an average car weighs. That also means it has less maneuverability, and it’s much harder to stop quickly, all of which can factor into accidents.
Some of the primary reasons for truck accidents include:
- The driver was tired and possibly even fell asleep at the wheel. Even if awake, their reflexes may be dulled. In recent years, many news stories have reported that semi-drivers are putting in longer hours than is safe due to the high demand for moving goods and merchandise across the country.
- They’re speeding, driving while distracted, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or tailgating another driver even though they know they can’t stop easily.
- The load in the truck shifts and causes the vehicle to become unstable.
- There are defects in the truck or the truck’s parts, or a tire blows out.
- The driver either wasn’t given proper safety training for the truck they’re driving, or they skipped it. That creates additional complexity in determining liability as well.
What Should I Do if the Trucking Company’s Insurance Rep or Attorney Contacts Me?
Don’t talk to them with one exception: If you’ve hired an attorney, refer them to your attorney. That’s it. The insurance rep or attorney calling from the trucking company is only working in the trucking company’s best interests, not yours. They will try to find ways to take the liability burden off their client and put it onto you.
They could try and offer a financial settlement, but again, their job is to commit to as little of their client’s funds as possible. Don’t attempt to negotiate with them. An experienced attorney knows what the insurance reps and other attorneys will say and do, and your attorney can help you understand your rights and what you should be eligible to receive.
If I or a Loved One Are Injured in an Accident with a Semi Truck, What Should We Do First?
Call us at 516-622-0606 for a free case evaluation. There is a limited amount of time in which you can file a claim against the responsible parties. In New York, that limit is three years unless you want to file a wrongful death claim, in which you have two years. Because these cases take time to investigate and are complex, the sooner we can start, the better the potential that we can help you. Our attorneys have knowledge and experience in claims against truck drivers and trucking companies and can help you make it through the process more smoothly.