Truck Accidents: How Are They Different from Non-Commercial Passenger Car Accidents?

While tractor-trailer trucks are involved in a far smaller percentage of overall motor vehicle accidents than passenger vehicles, we all recognize the obvious – the sheer enormity of a tractor-trailer can result in catastrophic injuries and property damage. After all, simple physics dictates that, all other factors being equal, the size and weight of tractor-trailers will result in greater damage in a collision than will be caused by a passenger car. But truck accident cases are different in a number of other ways, some of which we will discuss in this article.

Licensing of Drivers

Most Americans obtain a driver’s license early in life for operating a passenger vehicle. This is the simplest form of license to obtain. However, truck drivers are professionals who must obtain a separate, specialized driver’s license. Oregon law recognizes multiple forms of commercial licenses, as well as a variety of endorsements which may be obtained. These licenses and endorsements govern a driver in a variety of ways, such as limiting the permissible gross vehicle weight for a particular license classification, and regulating whether the driver may haul hazardous materials. In the event of an accident, it is important to determine whether the truck driver was properly licensed for the type of vehicle being operated, and possibly for the type of load being hauled.

Determining Who Is Responsible

When analyzing a non-commercial passenger automobile accident to determine responsibility, you usually need look no further than the actions of the drivers involved in the accident. On occasion, other factors, such as the owner’s maintenance of the vehicle, may be relevant. However, analyzing responsibility for a tractor-trailer accident can be much more complicated. Below, we’ll investigate a few possibilities.

  • Driver negligence

As with automobile accidents, truck accidents may result from driver negligence, such as speeding or following too closely for conditions. Additionally, the driver’s employer may be liable for the employee’s actions pursuant to a theory called “respondeat superior.” However, the analysis does not stop there - the actions of the employer must also be examined. Some possible theories of employer liability are discussed in the next section.

  • Employer negligence
  • Negligent hiring – an employer must exercise reasonable care in hiring employees. An example of negligent hiring would be to hire a driver with a long history of receiving citations for dangerous driving.
  • Negligent retention - just as an employer must exercise reasonable care in hiring an employee, the employer must exercise reasonable care in retaining employees. For example, if an employee received multiple violations for driving under the influence during his employment, an employer might be determined to be negligent for retaining the driver.
  • Negligent maintenance or inspection – failure to properly inspect or maintain operating equipment can also cause accidents and lead to liability in a trucking accident.

Understanding Federal Regulations

Unlike automobile drivers, who are largely regulated by the State in which they live, interstate trucking companies and their drivers are highly regulated by the United States government. Numerous federal regulations govern both drivers and trucking companies. Understanding these regulations is imperative when analyzing potential liability in a trucking case. A link to these federal regulations is provided at the conclusion of this article.

Investigation Requirements

While some car accident investigations can be complicated, truck accidents often require a greater level of sophistication. Air-brake braking systems are maintained differently. Jack-knifes and rollovers can require the analysis of experts, who might later testify at trial as expert witnesses. The loading and shifting of cargo can add additional complication to the analysis. These are just a few of the many complicating factors that can be involved in a tractor-trailer accident investigation.

Consult with an Attorney

If you have questions about a truck accident, please call us for a free consultation. The lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are familiar with the complex laws and investigations associated with tractor-trailer accidents. We strongly believe that holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions benefits all of society in the long run, by making our roads safer. We look forward to speaking with you.


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