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Are Truck Drivers Responsible for Damages?

If you sustained injuries in a truck accident that wasn’t your fault, you have a right to collect fair compensation for the damages. Unfortunately, settling isn’t always easy. The insurance companies involved do their best to avoid paying out any more than they must.

Proving liability with the insurance companies or in court is a notoriously challenging process that generally requires a deep understanding of all applicable laws. When large trucks are involved, the task gets even more complicated. In tractor-trailer accidents, several parties may be liable. The truck driver may or may not be responsible for covering the damages.

Possible Causes in a Truck Collision

In 2019, 159,000 people sustained injuries in accidents that involved a large truck, and just over 5,000 people died. More than three-fourths of those injured were passenger vehicle occupants. When a semi and a passenger vehicle collide, the consequences for auto occupants are often severe. At weights that can top out at 80,000 pounds according to federal regulations, it isn’t difficult to see why. Even minor accidents can result in injuries.

Truck accidents are often, but not always, due to trucker error. Passenger driver actions can also contribute to a collision between a semi and a car. Additional causes are not solely the fault of a tractor-trailer driver, adding to the complexity of these cases. Potential causes include:

  • Driver distractions: Distracted driving is an increasingly significant cause of accidents for vehicle and truck drivers. In 2019, distracted driving was responsible for 3,142 fatalities and 424,000 injuries. Cell phones or other hand-held devices are the primary sources of distracted driving, but they aren’t the only ones.
  • Fatigued driving: Driving when overly tired is common for truckers. They are often pushed to reach deadlines and drive longer hours than legally allowed. Exhausted operators caused accidents that resulted in approximately 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths in 2019.
  • Aggressive driving: Driving in a manner that endangers other vehicle occupants can lead to serious injuries. These behaviors can include tailgating or cutting someone off in traffic. Both vehicle and semi drivers are guilty of this behavior, but truckers have even less control over how their rigs respond when something goes wrong. When an auto driver cuts a truck off and puts on the brakes, then the fault of the accident rests on the vehicle operator. However, truck drivers are often liable for accidents that involve aggressive driving.
  • Mechanical failures: When brakes or tires fail, semi operators often lose control of their rigs, resulting in collisions with other vehicles on the road. These incidents are surprisingly frequent. Determining which parties are responsible requires an investigation that traces events back to the manufacturer.
  • Load failures: A load that is not adequately secured or balanced leaves a trucker at risk of losing control of the trailer due to cargo shifts. Additionally, open trailers — such as those that carry vehicles — may drop their freight onto the road or cars. As with mechanical failures, gathering evidence in these cases is lengthy and complex.

Parties Potentially at Fault

Before you can determine who is responsible for the damages in a truck accident, you need to gather evidence to find out who is liable. Any party that contributes to the collision holds some level of liability. The outcome of an insurance or lawsuit settlement depends on the percentage of fault allocated to each party, laws surrounding insurance payouts and personal injury, and the damages incurred in the accident.

In a truck accident, the fault may belong to parties other than just the semi or car drivers. The trucking company, manufacturers, maintenance companies or contractors, shippers and cargo loaders are potentially at fault, depending on the facts of the case. An attorney with the knowledge and experience in handling tractor-trailer accidents knows where to look for the evidence that supports causation and liability in these cases.

Legalities in a Truck Accident Claim

Navigating the legalities in any collision isn’t easy, but semi accident cases are particularly challenging. Figuring out who is responsible involves understanding federal laws that govern the trucking industry and state laws on auto insurance, personal injury, and statutes of limitations.

Federal Trucking Laws

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implements trucking industry regulations. The agency establishes these rules to maintain mechanical, cargo and operational safety. Knowledge of these regulations helps insurance agents, attorneys and the courts determine who may be at fault in a truck accident.

According to the law, multiple parties bear responsibility for ensuring semis are safe on the road. The regulations address items such as:

  • Freight weight
  • Trailer size
  • Loading requirements
  • Safety checks
  • Safe operations
  • Driving and rest hours
  • Driver responsibilities
  • Motor carrier responsibilities

The regulations also establish minimum levels of financial responsibility required per truck. Freight carriers weighing more than 10,000 pounds must demonstrate minimum financial resources through insurance or surety bonds to cover up to $1 million in damages if they are at fault in a collision. Those carrying hazardous materials have a $5 million minimum requirement.

State Laws Involved in Truck Accident Cases

Two primary types of state laws are relevant in determining the outcomes of collisions involving tractor-trailers. Passenger vehicle insurance requirements and personal injury laws come into play when settling damages in these cases.

Why Insurance Laws Matter

Every state has laws that govern insurance companies and the insured. These rules determine responsibilities for companies that provide insurance to drivers and for the drivers themselves. Insurance companies must offer certain types of insurance with set minimum coverage standards. Some laws establish what criteria they use to determine who they insure and how they pay out claims.

Almost every state also requires that residents with cars demonstrate minimum financial responsibility to cover damages for accidents they cause. Usually, drivers do this through liability insurance. Some states (like Utah) are no-fault insurance states. In these places, drivers must seek damages from their own insurance company no matter who is at fault. However, when the accident meets specific criteria — which is different in every state — truck accident victims can seek a settlement from the truck driver or other at-fault party.

How Personal Injury Laws Come Into Play

Even if a truck accident case is settled through the insurance companies, personal injury laws are still relevant. Insurers understand these laws and utilize them when determining responsibility and settlements. Though they usually avoid paying out more than necessary, if an attorney intervenes, the company will likely do what it can to prevent a lawsuit.

Personal injury laws also come into play in legal settlements. The court determines the validity of claimant damage amounts, but the claimant may not be able to collect the total amount or any at all. Most states follow modified comparative fault laws. According to these rules, the amount an individual receives depends on the degree of fault the court assigns.

If the individual is more than 50% or 51% at fault for the accident, the person is denied damages altogether. If claimant fault is lower than the threshold, the individual receives a percentage of damages equal to the percentage the court assigns to the defendant.

Truck Accident Attorneys You Can Count On

Fielding Law provides dependable and trustworthy legal guidance and representation for truck accident victims. We offer personalized services to help you reach a fair settlement with the insurance company or through the courts. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation and learn what we can do for you.

Sources:

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813110

https://www.jdpower.com/cars/shopping-guides/how-much-does-a-semi-truck-weigh

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813111

https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-49/subtitle-B/chapter-III/subchapter-B

https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-49/subtitle-B/chapter-III/subchapter-B/part-387

https://insurance.utah.gov/consumer/legal-resources/rules/current-rules

https://definitions.uslegal.com/m/modified-comparative-negligence-doctrine/