To ensure you are fully compensated for your injuries after a commercial truck accident in California, it is important to consider as many potential defendants as possible. When there are multiple parties involved, the claim is more complicated. However, more defendants could give you more legal leverage. While a truck driver is the usual suspect when it comes to truck accidents, and they usually share some responsibility for a victim’s injuries, several other potential parties can share a degree of liability for a truck accident.
Determining Truck Accident Liability
Determining commercial truck accident liability can be challenging. Truck accident liability is complicated because it involves multiple potential parties and legal doctrines that most people don’t fully understand.
Proving liability in a truck accident case will generally involve the legal doctrine of negligence. Some cases might also involve the doctrine of strict liability, which is discussed below. On top of those two legal doctrines, there is also the doctrine of respondeat superior or vicarious liability to consider.
Identifying the responsible parties utilizing these legal concepts requires significant knowledge of the legal system. That’s why working with an attorney with experience in handling commercial truck accidents is so important. Since most truck accident claims involve proving negligence, let’s explore that concept first.
California negligence law allows a motorist injured by a truck driver found guilty of negligence to recover compensation or damages for their injuries. Under this law, proving negligence on behalf of the driver, trucking company, employers, and contractors is a key factor in assessing your potential recovery. Because all these entities likely carry separate insurance policies, you will want to make a claim against all of them.
Truck Driver Negligence
While the law allows an injured person to file a personal injury claim against a truck driver, the claim will be successful only if you can prove that the truck driver was negligent. In California, the elements to prove truck driver negligence are :
- The truck driver owed the injured person a duty of care;
- The truck driver breached their duty of care; and
- The truck driver’s breach was the primary factor in causing the injured person’s losses.
A duty of care is simply the expectation that every truck driver will use reasonable care behind the wheel. For example, truck drivers satisfy their duty of care when they watch for pedestrians, other vehicles, and obstacles and safely control the movement and speed of their trucks.
That duty is breached when they engage in distracted driving, intoxicated driving, fatigued driving, and driving more hours than allowed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA sets forth additional laws and regulations truck drivers must abide by on top of day-to-day traffic laws. However, breaking any traffic law while driving could result in liability for any resulting accident.
Trucking Company Liability
Many people assume that if a truck accident occurs, only the truck driver is the party responsible for the accident. However, a trucking company may be liable for the negligent actions of its driver when the driver operates in a manner that poses a substantial risk of harm to other drivers.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, you must show that a trucking company had some control over the truck driver and that the driver was an employee of the trucking company rather than an independent contractor. Employers are not usually are not liable for the negligent actions of contractors. You must also show that the truck driver acted within the scope of employment during the accident. If these circumstances apply to your case, you could successfully argue that the trucking company should be legally liable for its driver’s actions.
A trucking company might also be liable if it fails to assess a driver’s qualifications adequately and that driver causes an accident. In that case, the trucking company might be liable for negligent hiring. Trucking companies may also be liable for accidents if they do not adequately maintain their fleet. Trucks must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure they are safe to drive.
Loading Company Liability
Before a truck hits the road, someone ensures the cargo is loaded evenly to avoid cargo shift. Jack-knife accidents, shifting load accidents, and falling load accidents can all happen when a truck is not properly loaded. If the freight is not correctly loaded onto a truck, and the truck loses control and crashes, the cargo loaders may be liable for any accident it causes. Cargo loaders may also be responsible if boxes or equipment fall off and damage other cars. The FMCSA regulates how much weight a truck may carry, and when a cargo load exceeds that threshold, negligence becomes easier to prove.
In strict liability cases, you do not have to prove negligence to win your case. Instead, you have to prove there was a defect in one of the truck’s components, and that defect ultimately led to the truck accident. According to California’s strict liability law (CACI No. 1200), part manufacturers, designers, and companies involved in a product’s distribution chain can be held liable if a defective part or product causes an accident. Strict liability claims based on defective parts might involve:
- Accelerator pedals,
- Engine parts,
- Transmission parts,
- Cargo ties or straps, and
- Windshield wipers.
Some truck accidents may result from faulty parts, such as defective windshield wipers that might make it difficult to see in bad weather, brake failures, tire blowouts, or steering problems. Many times the manufacturers will blame the mechanics maintaining the trucks. However, if you can prove the manufacturer knew the part was defective but did not notify the trucking company or truck driver, they could also be liable.
Were You Injured in a Commercial Truck Accident?
A California truck accident attorney can help you conduct a thorough investigation to demonstrate fault on one of many potentially liable parties to get the most out of your claim. The Frederick Law Firm is a personal injury law firm with over 40 years of experience helping injury victims recover compensation for their injuries. Contact us today online or at 805-929-1120 for a free consultation.