If I am the victim of a trucking accident, who can I sue?

Nearly 4,000 people were killed and 104,000 were injured in accidents involving commercial trucks in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

When a commercial truck collides with an average vehicle, the results can be catastrophic. Fully loaded semi trucks and other commercial trucks can weigh at least 25 times that of a normal vehicle, spelling serious danger for the driver and passengers of the other car involved.

In fact, nearly 75 percent of people injured in commercial truck accidents in 2012 were occupants of the other vehicle. Commercial trucks are also more susceptible to rollovers and accidents in inclement weather, adding to the danger of these massive carriers.

Truck accidents are unique because they involve a larger number of stakeholders than a “typical” car accident. Commercial truck operators must comply with a range of different laws, regulations, and industry standards to ensure their safety—and the safety of everyone else on the road. In the event of an accident, these industry standards and regulations can help determine the cause of the collision and whether or not the truck driver was following the proper precautions.

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

Determining liability depends on two key points: the cause of the collision and the relationship between the driver and the truck/trucking company itself.

Pinpointing the cause of a collision through investigation may clear up the liability issue in and of itself. For example, reviewing the driver’s hours of service documentation could show he had been driving for 12 straight hours, which is a violation of the FMCSA hours of service regulations. This could show the driver was fatigued at the time of the crash due to a failure to follow industry regulations.

On the other hand, the investigation could exonerate the driver after all. For example, the investigation of the collision could show that the truck failed to stop in time because of worn-down and under-maintained brake pads. In this case, the party responsible for maintaining the truck (whether it be the truck owner, the trucking company, or a third-party repair crew) would shoulder liability for the injuries or fatalities caused.

The driver’s relationship with the truck and trucking company are also extremely important to determining liability. 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.