How Is Driver Liability Determined in Trucking Accidents?

The first reaction after a trucking accident may be to assign fault to the driver of the truck. After all, a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration identified driver behavior as a factor in 87% of collisions involving large trucks. However, a look at some of the most common causes of trucking accidents can be revealing. As personal injury attorneys know, the cause of a crash frequently identifies parties in addition to the driver who may be held liable for payment of compensation. 

Common causes of trucking accidents

The FMCSA study grouped common causes of accidents attributable to a truck driver into the following four categories:

  • Non-performance: This category focuses on situations that may cause drivers to be unable to safely operate their trucks, including fatigue and drowsiness, incapacitation due to seizures or other health-related conditions, and impairment caused by drugs or alcohol.
  • Recognition: The inability of a driver to recognize and respond to traffic and other road conditions includes distraction and inattention.
  • Decision: Various decisions made by a driver may increase the risk of a crash, including speeding, following too closely and unsafe lane changes.
  • Performance: An inexperienced or poorly trained driver may exercise poor or inappropriate control over a truck that may increase the risk of a crash.

Other parties may also be at fault by contributing to truck accidents, including trucking companies, truck owners and cargo loaders.

Trucking company liability

Trucking companies that hire new or inexperienced drivers without providing adequate training and supervision may be at fault when the performance of a truck driver causes an accident. A company should have an ongoing program for training new drivers and periodically evaluating the performance of established drivers already working for the company in order to improve driver performance and improve safety.

Liability of truck owners 

The various parts and systems in a truck require routine maintenance in order to properly operate. The failure of brakes, steering, tires and other components of a truck to function safely and perform when needed may be a factor in causing a collision. 

The party responsible for ensuring a truck undergoes inspections, repairs and maintenance is its owner, but the owner may not be the trucking company. A leasing company or other party may own the vehicle used by a trucking company in the operation of its business. When an equipment or system failure causes a truck accident, liability may be traced to the driver for not taking proper steps to maintain control over the vehicle and the owner of the truck for not maintaining it.

Cargo loaders may be at fault causing a crash

Improperly secured or loaded cargo may fall off a truck and strike trailing vehicles, or it may shift and cause a truck driver to lose control over the unstable truck. When a driver loses control over a truck and crashes, an accident investigation may reveal the cargo as a contributing cause. Depending upon the appropriateness of the driver’s response, the loader and driver may share liability or blame may be assigned only to the loader of the cargo. 

Conclusion

A determination about driver liability in a trucking accident should not be made on first impressions alone. A thorough investigation and evaluation of all of the evidence to identify factors contributing to the crash may reveal more than only driver error as the cause.

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