I Was in an Accident with a Semi-Truck: Who is Responsible?

Most people have been involved in an automobile accident at some point during their lives. Far fewer people have been involved in an accident with a large truck. And while there are certainly similarities, it would be a mistake to think that the two types of cases are exactly the same. First, due to the immense size and weight of tractor-trailers, the level of destruction and injury can be amplified. Second, investigation is more demanding because so many more factors must be considered in evaluating liability. Finally, because the laws and regulations governing the trucking industry are so much more complex, legal analysis is more complicated. In this article, we’ll address some of these challenges.

Should I Sue the Truck Driver, The Trucking Company, Or Someone Else?

If you’ve been injured in an accident with a big truck, the law is designed to hold the responsible party liable. But determining who is responsible is not always simple. Careful investigation of the accident is necessary. It’s also important to investigate and evaluate a number of legal relationships. For example, was the driver acting as an employee or an independent contractor? Who owns the tractor and trailer? Was a lease involved, and if so, what were its terms? Because the answers to these questions may be confusing or complicated, it’s advisable to ask an attorney for assistance. We’ll discuss some of these circumstances below.  

Truck Driver Responsibility and Vicarious Employer Liability

Many semi-truck accidents are caused by the negligence or recklessness of the truck driver. Speeding and following too closely are two common examples of truck driver negligence that can result in jackknives, rollovers, and rear-end collisions. In such instances, a victim certainly can sue the driver. But what happens if the driver doesn’t have assets or insurance sufficient to satisfy his financial responsibility to the injured party? If the driver is an employee working within the scope of his employment, his employer can be held liable under a theory called respondeat superior. In many cases, it’s appropriate to sue both the truck driver and the trucking company.

Other Forms of Trucking Company Negligence

Negligent Hiring - Trucking companies also have a duty to exercise reasonable care in hiring their drivers. For example, failure to perform a background check and hiring a driver with numerous driving issues might give rise to a claim for liability.

Negligent Maintenance and Inspection – Trucking companies and their drivers also have a duty to maintain their equipment in good working condition. For example, allowing a driver to use a truck with faulty brakes or badly worn tires are two examples that could lead to liability.

What Happens If the Truck Driver Isn’t an Employee?

Historically, many trucking companies looked for ways to insulate themselves from responsibility for accidents involving their companies. One scheme has been to use independent contractors as drivers. Sometimes, trucking companies would also lease their equipment. Then, if the truck was involved in an accident, the company would make the argument that they had no liability because it was not their truck and that the driver was not their employee.

Federal Regulations

Trucks involved in interstate commerce are highly regulated by federal law. Federal safety regulations have made it more difficult for trucking companies to use the legal schemes discussed above to avoid liability for harm to innocent victims. Moreover, violation of any number of these regulations, when applicable, can establish liability on the part of the trucking company and/or the truck driver.

Protect Your Rights

Trucking companies and their insurance companies hire tough, experienced lawyers to defend them, even when they negligently cause harm. It is difficult to overstate the importance of obtaining your own legal counsel to protect your rights. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we have skilled trucking lawyers who are familiar with trucking regulations and law, and who can help you hold trucking companies responsible for their wrongdoing. Please call us for a free consultation, or for answers to your questions. We’re here to help.

 

Helpful Links

Oregon Truck Safety: https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/MCT/Pages/SAFETY.aspx

Federal Safety Regulations: https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/MCT/pages/laws.aspx#Federal_Safety_Regulations

Oregon Motor Carrier Regulations: https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/MCT/pages/laws.aspx#Oregon_Laws

Oregon Truck Safety Hotline: http://www.oregontruckingonline.com/cf/mchotform/


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