According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, every day in this nation, more than ten people are killed in a commercial trucking accident. Of those fatalities, about 83 percent are not the occupants of the commercial truck – they’re passengers in other vehicles or they’re pedestrians.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the annual cost to the economy of truck and bus collisions in the U.S. is $99 billion. Can these figures be reduced? What causes so many truck accidents, and who is liable for these collisions?
If you’re injured in a collision with a large commercial truck, the law – and the questions about what caused the crash and who is responsible – quickly gets complicated.
Unlike most car accidents, many parties can be involved in a trucking accident – not just the driver of the truck but also the owner, the leasing company, contractors, subcontractors, and possibly other parties as well. If you are hurt in a truck crash and you need to seek compensation for your injuries, you will need to be represented by an attorney who knows the trucking industry and routinely represents truck accident victims.
Trucks by the thousands roll in and out of Southern California every day. Understanding how truck crashes happen and how the various parties involved are related can help an injury victim decide whether or not to file a personal injury lawsuit after a truck accident.
This is a general overview of liability issues in truck accidents, but if you’ve been injured in an actual collision with a truck in Southern California, it is best to obtain detailed legal advice about any particular case by speaking with an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney.
HOW IS LIABILITY DECIDED AFTER A TRUCK ACCIDENT?
Can a truck’s owner or another party ever be deemed responsible for a truck driver’s negligent driving? Under California law, sometimes the answer is yes. If a truck driver’s negligence was unintentional and occurred within the “scope” of the driver’s duties, an age-old legal principle called “respondeat superior” (a Latin phrase meaning “let the superior answer”) can be applied, and the truck’s owner or owners can be held liable for injuries caused by a truck driver’s negligence.
Respondeat superior legally “imputes” a worker’s liability to the worker’s employer, as if the employer had personally committed the negligence. But applying respondeat superior to any specific trucking accident will hinge on the answers to these questions:
Was the negligent driver an employee or an independent contractor? Was the negligence unintentional or intended? Did the carelessness and the subsequent accident occur within the scope of the driver’s duties?
An accident victim seeking compensation from a trucking company will have to prove the negligent driver is a company employee and not an independent contractor, because employers usually are not liable for the negligent actions of contractors.
If a trucker was driving his or her own truck with his or her own insurance, and if a company does not withhold taxes from the driver’s pay, that truck driver is likely to be an independent contractor.
WHAT IS THE “SCOPE” OF A TRUCK DRIVER’S EMPLOYMENT?
Defining who is and who is not a legal employee usually isn’t difficult, but accurately defining what is and what is not within a truck driver’s “scope of employment” can be more problematic.
Courts use a variety of elements to determine the parameters of a “scope” of employment, including an employee’s intention at the time of a negligent behavior, the nature, time, and location of that behavior, and the amount of independence typically allowed to the employee while performing his or her job duties.
How does all of this apply to a real truck accident? Let’s say that a trucker making a delivery rear-ends another vehicle. Because the crash happened while a delivery was being made, the trucker was acting within the scope of his or her employment.
However, if that same truck driver goes a mile out of his or her way to drive through a Starbucks or a McDonald’s before making the delivery, and if an accident happens as a result of driving that extra distance, the truck owner or company may not be liable since the accident happened “outside” the “scope” of the driver’s employment.
Employers generally are not responsible for intentionally wrong actions committed by employees – like an assault or a battery, for example.
That’s because the principle of respondeat superior does not come into play in such cases, because such cases have nothing to do with the scope of employment or the cost of doing business.
If a trucker crashes intentionally into a vehicle that cut him or her off in traffic, for example, an employer usually will not be held liable.
HOW IS THE TRUCKING INDUSTRY REGULATED?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the trucking industry, along with a variety of federal and state laws that regulate and govern independent truck drivers as well as truck companies.
The weight trucks may carry, the hours that drivers can work, and the training a truck driver must receive are just a few of the items regulated by law.
If you or someone you love is hurt by a trucker driving negligently, any violation of a federal or state trucking rule or regulation by either the truck driver or the company will be considered evidence that favors the victim and increases the likelihood that a victim’s personal injury claim will succeed.
Sometimes more than a single party will be liable for damages sustained in a truck crash. Leasing companies, contractors, and subcontractors are all part of the trucking business. If a truck’s brakes or tires were defectively manufactured, if cargo wasn’t properly loaded, or if a truck is improperly maintained, several defendants may share a percentage of the liability for causing a collision with injuries.
Personal injury cases are almost always settled outside of court, but if you are injured by a negligent truck driver and you file an injury claim, that claim may be harder to settle if multiple defendants cannot agree among themselves regarding who pays what. Only a brief introduction to truck collisions and liability can be made here.
If you or your loved one is hurt in a truck collision in Southern California, you’ll need frank and easy-to-grasp advice about your rights, your options, and your legal recourse. Let an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney offer the trustworthy legal advice that a truck collision victim in the Los Angeles area will need.