How to Determine If a Trucking Company Was to Blame for a Truck Accident

Key Points:

  • Truck drivers may not be the only ones who can be held accountable for a truck-involved accident.
  • The trucking company may also be to blame if there was improper training, failure to service and maintain the truck properly, or if the driver was permitted to work beyond legally-allowed hours.
  • Knowledge of state and federal regulations and how to investigate a trucking collision are essential to the success of trucking accident cases.

After a trucking accident it is important to know that the trucking company itself – and not simply the driver or the truck – is often the cause of the accident, due to improperly training the driver, failing to properly service and maintain the truck, or by requiring the driver to work more than his legally allowable hours.

Here are some answers to common questions concerning trucking company liability, contact our office for more free information and answers to other trucking accident questions:

  • How can a “trucking company” and not just a “truck,” cause an accident?
  • If the police report says the driver was at fault, can we sue the company he works for as well?
  • How can we prove the accident was the trucking company’s fault?
  • How can we know if the truck’s maintenance was neglected?
  • What kind of “specialist” will I need to handle my claim?

How can a trucking company cause an accident?

Trucking companies are governed by many State and Federal regulations that are meant to make sure they work to keep the public safe on the highways. Many are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, which is somewhat expensive and time consuming to comply with.  Therefore, truckers and trucking company may be tempted to cut corners and not comply with all of the regulations concerning driver training and qualification, hours of service, and truck maintenance requirements.  When trucking companies put profits before safety, innocent people get hurt. Here are just a few ways in which trucking companies can be found negligent in deadly accidents:

  • They can be held responsible for the acts of their employees. In legal terms, this is referred to as *vicarious liability.  Essentially, this means that whatever the driver does, it is as if the trucking company is doing it. When he is working, the driver IS the company. If the driver is careless and runs a red light, then it is just as if the trucking company was careless and ran a red light, since the driver was working for the company and doing his or her job at the time.  In some cases, even if the driver is not a direct employee of the trucking company, the company may still be responsible to compensate you for the accident.
  • Trucking Companies are sometimes negligent in hiring or keeping the driver. If a reasonably cautious trucking company wouldn’t have hired this particular driver, then the trucking company could be liable for damages on the basis of negligent hiring. For example, if a trucking company hires an unqualified driver or a driver with DUIs on his/ her record, this could be an example of carelessness that results in the trucking company’s being held responsible for paying damages. The same is true in cases of *negligent retention, where a reasonable trucking company would have fired a driver based on the driver’s safety record.
  • They are sometimes negligent in supervising the driver and enforcing the rules and regulations: There are a host of federal and state rules imposed on truck drivers, including rules about how long the driver can operate the truck without a rest. If the trucking company failed to follow regulations and/or failed to ensure its drivers were complying with the law, then the trucking company could be held responsible.
  • Negligence in inspecting and maintaining the truck. Trucks require frequent inspections of all parts, and they should be properly serviced on a regular schedule or whenever a potential problem develops. If a trucking company did not comply with required maintenance schedules or sent a driver out in a truck that was dangerous or in disrepair, the trucking company could be found to be liable for the trucking crash.
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Head-on crash with truck

If the police report says the driver was at fault, can I sue the company he works for as well?

Probably. Trucking companies may be liable through vicarious liability (discussed above) but also if the accident was caused by the trucking company’s negligence. Some examples of claims against trucking companies include negligent hiring, negligent retention, and negligent maintenance.  For example, worn brakes are often a cause of accidents and when the brakes are not functioning properly it is both the fault of the driver and his company for negligently allowing the truck on the road.

Another common cause of trucking accidents is driver fatigue or driving more hours that allowable under the FMCSA.  When this happens, it is important to investigate whether the company had encouraged or tolerate driving in excess of the legally allowable time limits.

In cases like these the driver of the truck may have been at fault in the accident, but the trucking company may be equally at fault.

How can we prove that the accident was the trucking company’s fault?

The answer to this question lies in completing a thorough investigation of the trucking company and the factors contributing to the accident. For instance, if the driver fell asleep, why did he fall asleep?  Was it because the company was requiring too-much driving?  In a rear-end collision, did the truck’s brakes fail due to improper or neglected maintenance?  We believe it’s always best to engage a specialist on trucking accidents when you’re considering a claim against a trucker and/or his company. At the very least, do not settle your case without having consulted an experienced truck accident attorney.

Multi-vehicle accident with truck

How can we know if the truck’s maintenance was neglected?

Your attorney will seek to obtain the necessary maintenance records for the truck in question. If the records are missing, this can be a huge problem for the trucking company.  Once obtained, the records can be compared to the maintenance schedule required by the Federal regulations and the truck’s manufacturer.  Failure to inspect and maintain large semi-trucks can be a serious problem for a trucking company, and one we see all too often.

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What kind of “specialist” will I need to handle my claim?

Unlike a simple car accident case, knowledge of State and Federal regulations and how to investigate following the collision, are essential to success in trucking accident cases.  Additionally, these cases carry the possibility of involving and suing the driver and multiple companies.  We suggest you find a personal injury lawyer who handles trucking industry claims as one of his/her specialties.

When a truck and car accident lawyer handles this kind of case day in and day out, he develops a network of associates – such as experts in accident reconstruction, or medical experts who have experienced what happens when  a mighty hunk of metal crushes a small passenger vehicle – who can help to prove your case. Additionally, such a specialist is difficult to surprise when the chips are down.

A complicated truck/car collision can bring up unusual situations and challenging circumstances. If your lawyer is “at home” in the trucking arena, he is more likely to be able to diffuse harmful or otherwise unexpected information. The ease and competence that your legal team brings to the claim can make your chances of winning the day much greater.

At The Millar Law Firm, we offer a free initial case evaluation to help you know what you need in a law firm. We will examine your facts and give you an evaluation of the best path forward.

Before you take on a big trucking company in court, it’s best to have a law firm behind you that is experienced in this complex field of Federal and Georgia law. Our team has over 65-years of experience representing truck accident victims – our expertise and our reputation give you the winning edge. Call us today.

*Vicarious liability: The state of Georgia holds to the doctrine of respondeat superior. This Latin term means that an employer must answer for his employee’s actions and can be held financially responsible for negligent acts committed by its employees while they were within the “course and scope” of their employment. (O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2.) Generally speaking, when a driver is working, he is a representative of his company, which (with limited exceptions) is usually responsible for his actions.

*Negligent retention: Georgia Law provides that an employer is bound to exercise ordinary care in the selection of employees and not to retain them after knowledge of any incompetence. (O.C.G.A. § 34-7-20.)

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