The most apparent difference between a truck accident and a passenger car accident is the sheer size difference. The average motor vehicle weighs approximately 3,000 pounds, and a fully-loaded commercial truck can easily weigh more than 80,000 pounds. Accidents that involve commercial trucks produce more serious injuries and damage than other types of car accidents because drivers and passengers in passenger cars are simply outmatched by the size of the commercial truck.
Another significant difference between truck accidents and car accidents are the rules and regulations involved. In a typical car accident, attorneys or insurance adjusters will try to piece together the moments leading up to the crash and determine the proximate cause of the accident; once the cause is determined, they will compare the driver’s conduct to the New Jersey Rules of the Road to see if he or she acted negligently. However, in the case of a truck accident, the rules and regulations go beyond the Rules of the Road.
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The size, weight, and cargo load of a commercial truck makes them more difficult to operate and puts other vehicles on the road at risk. Because of this, commercial truck operators are typically held to higher legal standards and must follow more stringent driving rules. Truck drivers must follow hours of service regulations (i.e. not drive more than x number of hours in a row without rest), as well as specific rules for certain driving situations.
Ownership and liability can also be significantly more complicated in a trucking accident case. In a typical car accident, you exchange information with the other driver involved, who is usually the owner of the other vehicle involved. In certain cases, a vehicle owner can be held liable for damage caused by someone borrowing their car, but this is more rare than filing a lawsuit against the other driver him or herself. However, when it comes to trucking accidents, the driver is not typically the owner of the truck itself.
In some cases, the trucking company and driver have an employment contract that dictates the company is legally responsible for any accidents caused. In other cases, the driver is an independent contractor who is supervised in some capacity by the trucking company. Different types of relationships between the driver and the trucking company give rise to different levels of liability for the accident.
Depending on the circumstances of your accident, a number of parties could shoulder liability. These parties include:
- The driver, who could be company drivers or owners/operators, which are contracted by a trucking company for a certain amount of time (or through a third-party contractor)
- The employer, who could own the tractor-trailer or be leasing it through a third party
- The truck owner, which could own just the trailer, just the tractor, or both
- The cargo crew, which includes shippers, loaders, brokers, and more, who could be liable if the cargo was loaded improperly or weighed incorrectly
- Safety companies, such as third-party maintenance crews, repairmen, safety compliance officers, or insurance companies