Determining Liability in a Truck Accident Lawsuit

Who is financially responsible for damages after a trucking accident – the company, an employer, or the driver? It is not easy to figure out what parties to hold accountable for an accident involving a commercial vehicle such as an 18-wheeler or a delivery truck. Some important questions must be answered, even if the truck driver is entirely responsible for the accident.

When a Company Should Be Held Responsible for a Driver’s Conduct

“Let the superior answer” (or “respondeat superior” in Latin) lends credence to the belief that a trucking company can be held legally responsible for an accident that was caused by one of their employees. Essentially, if an employee or agent’s wrongful actions occurred within their scope of employment and were not intentional, an employer can be held liable.

Employee or Independent Contractor Drivers

If an independent contractor carries out a wrongful act, a company is not usually held liable. An accident victim (the plaintiff) must be able to prove that the truck driver (the defendant) who was responsible for the collision is an employee of the company.

The laws regarding the separation of an independent contractor from an employee vary from state to state. If a company does not control how the work is performed, this would be considered a partnership with an independent contractor. But if the company does control how the work is performed, this would be considered an employee relationship.

For instance, if the truck driver owns the truck, pays for his truck insurance coverage out of pocket, pays for his own gas, gets paid for each load he delivers, and pays for any necessary repairs to the truck, he or she is an independent contractor. The company  also does not withhold any taxes from the driver’s paychecks, does not extend any benefits to the driver, and does not manage the delivery specifics.

Actions That Fall Within an Employee’s Scope of Employment

Actions that are considered within the scope of employment according to the legal system include:

  • The amount of time the employee used for personal activities
  • The amount of freedom that was given to the employee to perform their duties
  • The type of work the employee was hired to perform
  • The intent of the employee when the accident occurred
  • The nature, time, and place of the employee’s conduct
  • Accompanying actions the employer should realistically expect from the employee

If a commercial truck driver is making a delivery and that driver hits a car from behind, their employer could be held responsible for any harm to the victim because the trucker was well within their scope of employment. But if the truck driver left work early for a doctor’s appointment and hit a parked vehicle on the street outside of the office, the company may not be held responsible because this happened off the clock.

Truck Accident Lawsuit: Multiple Defendants

If there are multiple defendants listed in a personal injury case, each person may be held responsible for their own individual damages, or they could be held jointly liable for any damages that are awarded to the plaintiff.

If an accident occurs due to an exhausted truck driver driving a truck with defective tires, the responsibility may lie with the driver and the employer. The victim can file a lawsuit against the employer or the trucker and the tire manufacturer. If it is unclear what the percentage of responsibility is, the tire manufacturer must pay part of the settlement, including whatever balance the trucker cannot pay if their insurance is not sufficient to cover their losses.

Settlements become more difficult to determine in cases where proportions of faults are unclear among multiple defendants. These lawsuits often go to trial.

Intentional Acts Unrelated to the Company

Employers are not generally responsible for any intentional acts an employee commits, including assault and battery, kidnapping, etc. If the employee’s actions are unrelated to a company’s enterprise, the “respondeat superior” principle is not met. Therefore, should a truck driver deliberately drive his truck into another vehicle for any reason, their employer may not be held liable for any injuries or damages.

State and Federal Regulations

There are numerous state and federal regulations that trucking companies, semi-truck drivers, and manufacturers must adhere to. These rules include manufacturing quality control specifics, the maximum amount of weight a truck is allowed to carry, or the length of time a driver is allowed to drive before taking a break, to name a few.

A statute, ordinance, or regulation was likely violated if a big rig driver was at fault in an accident. These types of violations increase the odds of a plaintiff winning their case. If it looks like the plaintiff has a good chance of winning their case, the defendant may be more willing to settle the case to avoid going to trial.

State and federal regulations also require operators and owners of big rig trucks to have higher insurance policies, as they will allow plaintiffs to collect the large settlement amounts they are entitled to receive in truck accident cases.

How Truck Accident Attorneys Can Help

Accident plaintiffs should hire an experienced truck accident attorney right away. Bear in mind that the trucker’s employer already has a lawyer on retainer.

The attorney will be able to help the accident victim with the following:

  • Working with medical insurance companies
  • Expert legal advice
  • Completing paperwork related to the case
  • Settlement negotiations
  • Recreating the events that occurred during the accident
  • Dealing with automobile insurance companies
  • Determining negligence on the trucking company or driver’s behalf
  • Conducting independent and thorough investigations
  • Identifying liable parties            

Contact Our Truck Accident Lawyers

If you were injured in a truck accident, multiple parties might be involved, and determining liability in a truck accident lawsuit can be challenging. The legal team at Dash Injury Law Firm is here to help you file a lawsuit against those responsible for your injuries, so you can claim the compensation you rightfully deserve. 

Contact us today at 88-(DASH-LAW) or fill out an online form for a free consultation.