The trucking industry is vital to the U.S. economy and is the backbone of almost every business. With as much as 72.6% of the nation's freight by weight moved by trucks, it is vital that the safety, efficiency and reliability of the trucking industry is upheld to ensure the smooth functioning and overall stability of the economy.
One of the ways this balance can be disrupted is through truck-related accidents, which in 2021 comprised a total of 523,796 accidents involving large trucks, across the country. These types of accidents can cause severe injuries to the driver and other road users, and can in some cases, result in death.
Determining liability in truck accidents is essential for holding those responsible accountable for any property damage and injuries that follow. This article will focus on the legal liability trucking companies have in truck accidents, examining potential factors that could result in a successful legal claim against them.
Hiring and Training
A trucking company is responsible for ensuring the proper hiring and training of its drivers. This entails proper screening measures being put in place to vet potential drivers, checking for things such as prior traffic violations, inadequate experience or qualifications, dangerous or reckless driving records, problems with substance abuse, and other factors that could indicate their inability to safely operate the vehicle.
If there is evidence of the trucking company having known about these issues before hiring the driver involved in the accident, they may also be held liable for the accident. In addition, a trucking company must ensure all its drivers receive proper training and supervision and adhere to the safety standards required of them to ensure their safety and that of other road users. Failure to do so may result in liability for the accident being attributed to them.
Trucking companies are expected to comply with various federal and state regulations to uphold the safety of drivers and the general public. These regulations relate to various aspects of the trucking business including weight limits, safety and maintenance checks, and hours of service (HOS) logs.
For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires trucking companies to maintain proper records, including driver logs and vehicle maintenance records. Failure on their part to do this could be evidence of negligence which could result in liability for an accident falling on them. Violations of regulations relating to HOS logs could also have severe consequences for a trucking company. This may be the case where a trucking company pressurizes a driver to work more hours than they are required to by the regulations, leading to driver fatigue which results in an accident.
Maintenance and Inspections
Trucking companies shoulder the responsibility of ensuring their vehicles are well-maintained and safe to operate when in use. This requires regular inspections to check for faulty components, mechanical defects or other issues which could compromise the safety of the vehicle and the drivers.
Any issues detected must be properly tended to and the necessary repairs or adjustments made to the vehicle before it is permitted on the road. A trucking company may be held liable for a truck accident that occurs due to a lack of proper maintenance or safety of the truck involved.
This legal concept places liability on employers for the negligent acts or omissions of their employees when performed in the course of their duties at work. In relation to a truck accident, this could result in a trucking company being liable for an accident in cases where they had no direct involvement with the accident itself. The following factors can determine whether the driver was performing their duties within the scope of their employment:
There must be an employer-employee relationship between the driver and the trucking company. This means showing that the driver or other individual involved in the negligent act that caused the accident is an employee of the company rather than an independent contractor.
When the employee’s actions result in a benefit for the trucking company and are not simply for some personal benefit.
The driver was carrying out actions that were authorized or expected by the trucking company rather than engaging in activity that was unrelated to their job duties.
The principle of vicarious liability can be beneficial for a claimant in a truck accident claim with a negligent driver where the driver may not have the funds or the insurance coverage needed to fully compensate them.
Determining liability in a truck accident will depend on the circumstances of each case. An experienced truck accident lawyer can assist those affected in navigating a claim.