What Is a ‘Commercial Truck’?

“Commercial truck accidents” are some of the most devastating motor vehicle accidents of all. But what exactly is a commercial truck?

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines a commercial truck as a motor vehicle that meets at least one of the following requirements:

  • It has a gross combination weight of 26,001 or more pounds (including a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,001 pounds)
  • It has a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds
  • It is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver
  • It is used to transport hazardous materials (regardless of the size of the vehicle)

However, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code has a more simple definition: “Includes every type of motorized vehicle used for commercial purposes, such as transportation of goods, wares, and merchandise.”

Under this definition, a wide range of vehicles fall under the “commercial vehicle umbrella,” including semi trucks, tractor-trailers, cargo vans, dump trucks, garbage trucks, landscaping trucks, moving vans, water trucks, food trucks, crane trucks, and other specialized equipment.

Commercial vehicles make up a major part of the U.S. economy. Nearly 70 percent of all freight tonnage in the U.S. rides on trucks, and the trucking industry moves more than 9 billion tons of freight every year. The trucking industry alone employed more than 1.7 million Americans in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that number is projected to increase by 11 percent by 2022.

If you are involved in a car accident with a commercial truck, the process of filing a lawsuit may be slightly more complex. After a “regular” car accident, it’s typically clear who the defendant will be: the other driver. However, when a commercial truck is involved, there is a different set of stakeholders to consider.

The driver/operator of the commercial truck is, in many cases, not the owner of the vehicle. The vehicle itself could be owned by the trucking company, a separate company that leases it to the trucking company, or a completely separate contractor hired to deliver goods for another company. However, commercial trucker operators can also be independent contractors; in this case, the driver works for him or herself and does not have to answer to a specific trucking company.

Depending on the business relationship between the truck operator and the vehicle itself, there are different options available for a personal injury lawsuit. You could sue the driver him or herself, the trucking company, the lessor, or another responsible party. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to investigate the accident, review the contract signed by the operator, and use it to determine who is legally responsible for the accident.

Another consideration for personal injury cases that involve commercial trucks are trucking laws and regulations. In a normal car accident case, you work to prove that the other driver violated the rules of the road in some way; while those rules of the road certainly apply in a commercial truck accident, there are a number of additional regulations that must be followed. Commercial truck operators must comply with hours of service regulations, in addition to specific rules about certain driving situations.