Fault in ordinary car accident cases is often straightforward, but truck accident cases tend to be more complex. A greater range of people and entities may have caused or contributed to a crash. This is one reason to hire an attorney when pursuing a truck accident lawsuit. They can investigate the events leading to the crash and bring all the appropriate parties into the litigation. This can be critical in ensuring that a victim receives the full amount of compensation to which they are entitled.
Suing a Truck Driver
The most obvious defendant in a truck accident case is usually the driver of the commercial vehicle. More often than not, dangerous behaviors by a truck driver contribute to an accident. A trucker may speed, drive while they are excessively fatigued, abuse alcohol or drugs, or get distracted behind the wheel, among other problems. Some errors may involve the distinctive nature of these vehicles, such as failing to check the large blind spots around a truck or failing to properly execute a wide turn at a busy intersection.
However, an individual truck driver may have limited resources and insurance to pay a settlement or judgment. Bringing them into the lawsuit thus may be only a first step.
Suing a Trucking Company
A victim may hold a trucking company either directly or indirectly liable for an accident. Direct liability arises when the trucking company contributed to the crash through its dangerous actions. This may involve hiring an unqualified driver, failing to supervise its drivers, or failing to keep up with maintenance on its trucks. On the other hand, indirect (vicarious) liability does not require showing that the trucking company did anything wrong. The victim merely needs to prove that the company had an employment relationship with the driver, and they were on the job when they caused the crash.
Sometimes a trucking company tries to prevent the application of vicarious liability by classifying its drivers as independent contractors. This classification is not decisive, though, and courts often find that an employer has misclassified a worker as an independent contractor when they are an employee.
Suing a Truck Manufacturer
Some truck accidents result from a defect in a commercial vehicle or one of its components. This can support a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. Most truck accident cases based on defective products involve manufacturing or design defects. A manufacturing defect involves a mistake in making or assembling an item, which affects only a single item or a limited group of items. By contrast, a design defect involves an inherent safety hazard in the design of the item, which affects the entire line. In many states, manufacturers are strictly liable for defective products. This means that a victim does not need to show that the manufacturer failed to use reasonable care but only that the product contained a defect that caused their injuries.
Suing a Truck Maintenance Company
Sometimes trucking companies retain separate maintenance companies to perform repairs on their vehicles. If the truck or one of its components broke down, causing an accident, a victim may have a claim against a maintenance company. They would need to show that the maintenance company did not perform the necessary repairs, or failed to perform them competently. Many of these cases also involve claims against the truck driver and the trucking company, both of which have incentives to cut corners regarding inspections and maintenance.
Suing a Cargo Loader
Falling cargo poses serious hazards to everyone on the road. Debris falling from a truck may strike other vehicles or cause secondary accidents as drivers swerve to avoid the hazard. Overloading a truck also increases the risk of accidents because a driver may lose control of the truck. If a third-party loader failed to load and secure the cargo properly, a victim may have a claim against this entity after a crash. Truck drivers also must inspect their loads before going out on the road, so a victim often has a claim against a truck driver (and potentially their company) in these cases as well.
Suing the Government
In relatively unusual cases, a crash results from a defectively designed or poorly maintained road. When this happens, a victim may have a claim against the government agency that was responsible. These cases follow distinctive procedures and may need to be filed much sooner than ordinary personal injury lawsuits. A victim may need to overcome the hurdle of government immunity, sometimes by proving that a road defect or maintenance problem met specific criteria.