Truck Accident Law – The Layers of Liability
Posted in Legal Claims on September 5, 2019
When a collision occurs between a private passenger vehicle and a commercial freight truck, the investigation comes under truck accident laws. These laws were enacted to protect the passengers in private cars.
Without meaning to diminish the damage and suffering in a wreck between two private vehicles, the magnitude of injury and the assignment of fault in these cases is unique. Due to the weight differential between a semi-truck and a car, the harms and losses can be catastrophic. There are layers of companies and people, in addition to the driver, who may have some responsibility for a truck accident. The parties within these layers may include:
- the truck company
- the truck owner if the truck is leased
- the parts company
- the party maintaining the truck
- the owner of the freight
- the party loading the freight
In many circumstances, the companies do not own the trucks, and the drivers are not employees of the company. The trucking companies typically lease the trucks and hire the drivers as “independent contractors.” Also, the hauled freight is not the property of either the company or the driver.
If you have the unfortunate experience of being involved in an accident with a commercial freight truck, then you need to retain an attorney with knowledge of the truck accident laws and experienced in gathering the evidence to assign fault through the layers of responsibility.
Car accidents are investigated at the local level by law enforcement officers and the insurance companies. However, the investigation of commercial truck accidents involve both the local and Federal levels. The Federal agencies having jurisdiction over these accidents are the:
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
- Federal Highway Administration
- National Transportation Safety Board
These agencies investigate different aspects of the crash, like driver fatigue, the loading and the weight of the freight, and the many regulations in place to protect the truck driver and the passengers in private vehicles. These investigations at the Federal level are in addition to the investigations performed at the local level.
It is important to keep in mind that the deeper the layers of responsibility, the greater the number of insurance companies and attorneys in the case.
The basic legal premise in the investigation of any accident is negligence.
Although there are nuances in each State as to the procedure and the timelines in negligence cases, there is one aspect that is constant in all States. The victim has to prove damages before compensation is awarded.
There are many ways to focus on driver conduct. This conduct mainly extends to driving maneuvers, like turning too wide, driving too fast, or not maintaining a safe stopping distance. It is the responsibility of any driver to be aware of road conditions and to safely control the vehicle.
There are many instances, though, were truck accidents are caused by conditions and factors unrelated to driver conduct. The truck, not being owned by the driver, may not be properly maintained. The freight, not owned or loaded by the driver, may not have been properly stacked or may exceed weight standards.
The driver does not always have knowledge of these factors.
An important reason for you to retain a law firm in an accident involving a freight truck is the identification all of defendants. Defendants are the parties having some level of responsibility for the accident, regardless if present at the scene. The firm must have the experience and the resources to cull through the investigation reports to identify all defendants.
It is vital that all defendants be identified prior to the case being filed. There is a risk that an omitted party cannot be added later due to filing deadlines in negligence cases.
THE LIABILITY AND DAMAGES
The central factor in building a case for a client after all defendants are identified is devising the theory of liability. This theory will analyze the potential for negligence of any party who acted in regard to driving, loading, the semi-truck, selecting or training the truck driver or maintaining the tractor trailer.
If only the driver’s conduct is at issue, then the assertion becomes straightforward. However, in many cases the of assessing the liability of the other potential defendants, is the subject of the case.
The victim must also prove the extent of damages. The damages are the direct result of the harm caused by the accident. The nature and extent of damages supported by medical records, evidence of lost wages and the estimates for vehicle repairs.
The value placed on the perceived damages in the future is more subjective. The unforeseen medical bills for therapy and treatments require the support of expert witnesses in the medical field. The value of the lost future income and the earning capacity of the victim usually involves the supporting testimony of a functional capacity expert, a physician who can rate permanent impairment, a vocational expert and an economist to convert these future dollars to today’s value.
WHAT STEPS SHOULD I TAKE FOLLOWING AN ACCIDENT?
The most basic, but not always the easiest, step everyone must take following an accident is to remain silent. No one should ever make accusations or offer an apology. It is human nature to immediately apologize, especially if there are injuries to others, but an apology can be taken out of context.
With smartphones, it is easy to record voice memos to describe the scene of the accident, the condition of the road and the events leading up to the accident. However, in order to maintain confidentiality do not share your voice memos with anyone other than your attorney.
It is very important to keep cool and to remain observant, especially if any statements are made by the other drivers and passengers. A person should note the names and telephone numbers of eyewitnesses who have stopped to help. It is key to conduct yourself in manner that a judge or jury would appreciate if someone else was describing your conduct. Please keep in mind that the eyewitnesses also have smartphones and are probably taking videos and photos of the scene.
AN EXPERIENCED TRUCK ACCIDENT ATTORNEY
The retaining of a personal injury attorney experienced in truck accident law soon after an accident is the best action with the greatest impact. The attorney will guide you through the investigations and the building of your case.
It will be imperative for you to be truthful and forthright about your prior injuries, medical conditions, financial position, employment and lifestyle prior to the accident. This way, a baseline can be established to fully assess all damages.
There is no reason for you to be vulnerable to the tactics of the insurance companies and their attorney who are involved in the case.
The attorneys at Killian, Davis, Richter & Mayle, PC are experienced and knowledgeable in truck accident law and are available to represent you and to protect the position of your family.
If you would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss the facts of your collision and its consequences, then call 970-241-0707 or complete the online application found within the “Contact” tab at the upper right-hand corner of this page.
The attorneys and the team of legal professionals at Killian, Davis, Richter & Mayle will be polite and help protect your rights and help you secure your family’s future.