Theories of Liability: Truck Driver or Employer
Trucking is one of the most important industries in the United States, transporting over 70 percent of the nation’s shipped goods. Transportation is one of Nebraska’s top five industries and an important piece of the state’s economy. Thirteen percent of the 15.5 million registered trucks in the U.S. are classified as “heavy trucks” and include semis, big rigs, 18 wheelers, and tractor trailers. Recent statistics indicate that almost 98 percent of all semi accidents result in at least one fatality. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to prove that either the truck driver or the trucking company caused your accident and injuries. Either way, you have a right to demand compensation for the full cost of your injuries, provided that you are not personally at fault.
The most common causes of truck accidents are:
- Impaired drivers
- Mechanical problems
- Traffic flow
- Traveling too fast for conditions
The Truck Driver May Be Held Liable
In some cases, it is obvious that the truck driver is at fault, such as if he or she was driving drunk or falling asleep at the wheel. In other cases, the driver may have made mistakes that caused the accident. Hitting the brakes suddenly can cause a jackknife accident, while cornering too quickly may lead to a rollover. Driver error is a common cause of accidents and driver errors are usually considered intentional. A commercial truck driver is obligated to follow the rules and regulations of the road and remain free of distractions. Aggressive driving is never justified. Negligence is not tolerated, reckless behavior can be deadly, and there is no legal excuse for driving while distracted. If the driver was engaged in some form of careless or reckless behavior at the time of the accident, then he or she can be held legally accountable.
Aggressive driving behaviors may include:
- Exceeding the speed limit
- Following too closely (a.k.a. tailgating)
- Passing on a two-lane road
- Improper or erratic lane changing
- Failure to yield the right-of-way
- Failure to signal
- Driving shoulders, medians, or sidewalks
It is easy to become distracted while driving, especially when traveling a long distance. Diverting focus away from the road can have catastrophic consequences. Recent statistics released by the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) are particularly eye-opening. Consider the following:
- Nine people die every day in the United States from distracted driving.
- 11 percent of car accidents leading to fatalities are related to distracted driving.
- Taking your eyes are off the road for 5 seconds is like driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
- You are 3 times more likely to crash when performing a visual or manual activity—such as reaching for a phone or the radio.
No one can drive safely while:
- Using a phone and/or texting
- Watching videos on any sort of device
- Eating or drinking
- Grooming, such as shaving or applying makeup
- Using any PDAs or navigation devices
Drivers must follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) hours of service rules that regulate the number of hours that they are allowed to drive. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of commercial truck accidents and can impair a driver’s manual, physical, cognitive, and auditory responses. This condition prevents them from:
- Sound decision making
- Reacting to traffic conditions
- Recognizing danger signs
Have you sustained an injury in a trucking accident in Nebraska? Call the Robert Pahlke Law Group at (308) 633-4444 today for legal assistance. One of our experienced Nebraska trucking accident attorneys can investigate the details of your accident and determine who should be held liable. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result in your case, your attorney will take aggressive legal action to help you secure compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Our truck accident lawyers help people who have been injured on highways throughout Nebraska, as well as on I-90, I-80, I-76, and I-25.
When the Trucking Company May Be Liable
The truck driver is not the only party that may be held liable following a truck accident. Nebraska trucking companies are also required to follow strict federal trucking regulations governing vehicle maintenance and other matters. When truck companies fail to follow these rules, their trucks may be unsafe to the degree that it would be difficult or even impossible for the driver to avoid an accident. One possible theory of liability holds a company responsible for a traffic accident caused by their employee; the doctrine of strict liability holds that an employer liable for the wrongful acts of its employees if the acts were unintentional and were committed within the scope of employment.
Big trucking companies know that this is a cost of doing business, and they frequently have insurance policies that cover their drivers. Despite this insurance coverage, many trucking companies still try to avoid liability and having to pay out any compensation. However, there are several ways that our attorneys may be able to establish that a trucking company is at-fault for a victim’s damages. Your attorney will start by considering the following:
Who owns the vehicle?
Ownership is important. The trucking company may lease its trucks from another company that is required to maintain and inspect the rig. The vehicle’s registration is definitive proof of ownership.
What are the company’s practices?
Federal laws require trucking companies to ensure that drivers are well rested and vehicles are properly maintained. These laws and regulations make it illegal for employers to impose unrealistic deadlines that force drivers to violate the required sleep schedule.
Was there an equipment failure?
Equipment failure is another common cause of truck accidents, and may involve:
- Defective brakes
- Broken tractor-trailer hitch
- Transmission failure
- Defective steering wheel
- Worn or defective tires, resulting in a blowout
- Defective lighting
All of the above can directly contribute to a collision.
Negligent truck maintenance?
Under federal regulations, trucking companies are required to adequately maintain their fleet. This requires regular documented inspections of the braking systems, steering systems, and tires on their trucks. If a trucking company skips safety inspections or repairs, they can be liable for any damages as the result of an accident.
Mandatory hour violations?
Truck drivers cannot spend too many hours behind the wheel during a certain period of time. This is the law, and there are no legitimate excuses for violating these regulations. If a company requires its drivers to continue to remain on the road beyond the maximum hour limit, the company will be liable for any resulting accidents.
Negligent hiring practices?
A trucking company is required to hire only qualified, licensed, and properly-trained drivers. When companies are negligent in their hiring process, they may be liable for any accidents caused by its drivers.
Police reports, photographs of the accident scene, and witness statements are all important in determining liability in big rig truck accidents. At the Robert Pahlke Law Group, our skilled litigators understand the importance of:
- Video recordings. Some trucks are equipped with cameras in the cab of the truck. The trucking company may not be under any obligation to tell a victim if a camera was present, but it may be possible for a lawyer to find out and secure a copy of the footage.
- A driver’s logbook. Every truck driver is required by federal law to keep a detailed log that includes the number of hours driven each day, when the driver took breaks, and how many miles he or she drove. A review of these records will help determine if a driver violated any federal regulations.
- Automatic on-board recording devices are electronic versions of the driver’s logbook.
- Truck maintenance records. These are vital pieces of information in discovering when the truck was inspected last, what maintenance was indicated, exactly what was done, and who performed the maintenance.
- Drug and alcohol records for the truck driver. In addition to mandated random drug and alcohol testing, following an accident, a truck company must perform post-accident testing on the truck driver. If these records do not exist, or if they show a pattern of substance abuse, a company may be held liable for the accident and resulting injuries.
An often overlooked area of liability in tractor-trailer accidents is that of the shipper or cargo-loading company. In some instances, the shipper, as well as the trucking company and its driver, may be liable to victims of a tractor-trailer collision. For example, if the shipping company hires an independent contractor who is not qualified, that individual is negligent in loading the tractor-trailer, and the improperly loaded vehicle contributes to the crash, the shipper may be partially or fully liable for the accident.
Contact the Robert Pahlke Law Group if a Truck Driver Injured You
When you retain the Robert Pahlke Law Group, one of our experienced Nebraska trucking accident attorneys will investigate the details of your accident to determine who should be held liable. If a trucking company is in any way responsible for causing your accident, we want to help you take action to secure justice. When we represent truck accident victims, we take the time to explore all possible sources of compensation, which can include filing a claim against the driver, the company, or both. Call the Robert Pahlke Law Group today at (308) 633-4444, or contact us online, to speak with one of our experienced attorneys and to determine your eligibility to seek compensation for your injuries.