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Is the Truck Driver or Trucking Company Responsible in a Truck Accident?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that, as of 2018, you shared the road with 13,233,910 large trucks. Given that these behemoths can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, upwards of 10 times or more than your passenger vehicle, this puts you at risk for serious injury if one of them hits you.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, an estimated 159,000 people were injured in one of the 538,000 large truck accidents that occurred in 2019. Of these, 5,005 of them died from their injuries. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – Highway Loss Data Institute adds that Indiana alone saw 149 large truck fatal crashes that year.

Additional 2019 large truck fatal crash statistics include the following:

  • 57 percent of them occurred in rural areas.
  • 25 percent occurred on interstate highways.
  • 77 percent occurred on weekdays.
  • 72 percent of the weekday crashes occurred between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Determining Liability

When you sustain injuries in a large truck crash, Indiana’s statute of limitations gives you two years from the date of your accident in which to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for causing the accident. But against whom do you file?

Potential defendants can include one or more of the following:

  • The trucking company
  • The truck driver
  • The truck’s owner
  • The truck’s manufacturer
  • The shipping company that hired the trucking company to transport its goods
  • The cargo loader

Trucking Company

While suing the truck driver may seem to be the logical choice, it is not always the case. Why? Because most drivers of large trucks work for a trucking company and the accident occurs while the driver is acting within their scope of employment. Under the legal theories of vicarious liability and respondeat superior, employers are legally responsible for most of their employees’ actions while on the job. The exception is if the employee, in this case the truck driver, was acting in direct violation of company rules and regulations. This rule is not always true though, and sometimes an employer may be held liable for employee’s acts that are expressly forbidden by the employer.

When determining whether or not the employee driver was acting within his or her scope of employment, various factors, including the following, must be considered:

  • What type of work was the driver hired to do?
  • When and where did the accident take place?
  • What was the driver’s intent at the time of the accident?
  • Was he or she engaged in a personal activity at the time of the accident as opposed to a company activity?

Truck Driver

Under some circumstances, including the following, the truck driver may be personally liable for the accident and therefore your injuries:

  • They were an independent contractor, not an employee.
  • They were operating the truck while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • They had been driving longer than the time limits set forth by federal and state regulations.
  • They were driving at an excessively high rate of speed or were otherwise in violation of state driving laws.
  • They were using a cellphone at the time of the accident or were otherwise distracted.
  • They were driving on a suspended, expired or otherwise invalid commercial driver’s license (CDL).

It can be difficult to determine whether the driver was an employee or an independent contractor. Many factors come into play, including the following:

  • Did the company have a written employment contract with the driver?
  • Did it control when they worked?
  • Did it give them instructions on how to drive the truck or make deliveries?
  • Did it pay them on an hourly, daily or weekly basis or on a per-haul basis?
  • Did it provide them with any employment benefits?
  • Did it send them a W-2 or a 1099-MISC form each year with regard to the amount it paid them?
  • Did it require them to furnish the truck’s gas while on assignment or provide him or her with a company gas card?
  • Did it require them to buy their own vehicle insurance or cover them under its own policy?

Truck Owner

Sometimes trucking companies lease their trucks rather than buying them. In such a situation, you likely have a cause of action against the actual owner of the truck. Ultimately, the owner has the responsibility to maintain the truck in good operating condition, including such things as the following:

  • Adequate tire tread
  • Properly inflated tires
  • Responsive braking system
  • Responsive steering system

Truck Manufacturer

Unfortunately, not all trucks are created equal. If the truck that hit you had a design flaw or a defective part that contributed to the accident, you could have a claim against the company that manufactured it or the company that provided or installed the defective part. This includes whatever entity had the responsibility for inspecting the truck before allowing it on the road, and any company charged with making necessary repairs.

Shipping Company

Going further up the chain of command, keep in mind that just as trucking companies bear responsibility for hiring qualified drivers. So do shipping companies bear responsibility for hiring qualified trucking companies to transport their goods. Consequently, you may have a cause of action against the shipping company, especially if the trucking company it hired has a history of accidents.

Cargo Loader

If investigation reveals that the truck’s cargo shifted and this contributed to the accident, you may be able to sue the company that negligently failed to properly secure the load.

Obtaining Legal Help

Considering all of the above, determining fault and legal liability for a large truck accident can be a daunting undertaking. Your wisest course of action consists of consulting an experienced local truck accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident.

One of the most important things your attorney can do for you is to conduct a thorough investigation into the accident to determine who was at fault. As already discussed, this can be multiple parties, each of whom undoubtedly has its own insurance policy. This, in turn, requires dealing with multiple insurance companies, none of which will be eager to pay your claim. Nevertheless, suing multiple parties gives you a better chance of receiving sufficient compensation to cover your pain and suffering as well as all of your current and future medical expenses and loss of income.

Keep in mind that no insurance company will pay more than the limits of its policy. Therefore, it is probably wise to sue as many defendants as you possibly can. By spreading the blame, and consequently the legal liability, among multiple parties, you also increase the total amount of insurance available to pay your claim.

At Hensley Legal Group, we have the strength and experience to make a difference in your life. We have been obtaining Indiana truck accident victims the compensation they deserve for over 20 years. We stand ready, willing and able to put our knowledge and deep experience to work for you. So contact us today. It costs you nothing to talk to one of our dedicated attorneys and see how we can help you. Should you decide to hire us, you can also rest assured that we strive to be available to you 24/7 by phone or email, and we will always keep you advised of the status and progress of your case.