Looking Beyond the Truck Driver for Liability

Most trucks are commercial vehicles, which makes determining liability in a trucking accident more complex than in a passenger car accident. Multiple parties can be involved in the loading, maintaining, transporting, and hiring of the trucks and its cargo. This includes the trucking company, the truck’s manufacturer or mechanic, the cargo loaders, and more. Therefore, parties other than the driver may share some of the fault in a trucking accident.

For example, in one of our recent cases, we proved a trucking company was responsible for a fatal accident that occurred when their contracted driver struck a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The trucking company contracted with a “sub-haul” trucker that owned his own tractor. However, the trucking company failed to thoroughly investigate the driver’s record before allowing the truck driver to transport their freight. Had the trucking company conducted a cursory background check, they would have found multiple infractions involving the driver including a DUI and speeding charges. The trucking company also provided little to no training to the driver, and proceeded to place him on the road, endangering the public.

Unfortunately, incidents like these are common in commercial vehicle accidents.

Truck Owner’s Liability

According to California state law, “for hire” motor carriers, such as the trucking company in our suit, are subject to non-delegable duty doctrines that prevent the trucking companies from shielding themselves from liability by hiring an independent contractor. This means that even if a trucking company designates drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, the trucking company is still liable for the drivers’ actions. In fact, federal law specifically defines independent contractors hired to haul freight as employees of the trucking company.

Cargo Loaders’ Liability

Cargo must be loaded safely and evenly into trucks to prevent accidents such as when a truck jackknifes. Jackknifing occurs when the truck goes into a skid and the trailer swings out to form a 90-degree angle with the tractor. Jackknifing can occur because of improperly loading the trailer. Cargo loaders may be held liable for a trucking accident if they did not fully inspect the cargo and load it properly, which then causes an accident.

Trucking Company’s Liability

Trucking companies are responsible for the actions of their drivers and the maintenance of their fleet. A trucking company is required to perform a driving history background check. The trucking company also has an ongoing duty to ensure their drivers are qualified. If a trucking company hires someone who should not be operating a commercial vehicle and that person causes an accident, they will likely be liable for endangering public safety.

Trucking companies are also required to keep their vehicles in a safe working condition. This includes maintaining the entire truck from the brakes to the engine. Sometimes the trucking company will utilize an outside mechanic to perform the maintenance. If the mechanic fails to properly fix a truck, the mechanic then may be liable for any collision caused by a defective truck. California and Federal law mandate trucking companies to perform routine maintenance inspections. These inspections are very important in preventing trucks from causing serious injuries to the general public.

Injured in a Truck Accident? We Can Help

The trucking industry is highly regulated to protect drivers and pedestrians from catastrophic injuries. Unfortunately, many trucking companies and drivers do not understand or follow these safety regulations.

If you have been injured in a truck accident that wasn’t your fault, our team at Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn is here to make sure your voice is heard.

We’re here to help you through this difficult time. Contact Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinnat (415) 940-7176 for a free consultation today.

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