According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), nearly 11 million commercial vehicles were registered for interstate use in 2015. While these large trucks play a critical role in the U.S. economy by transporting goods and other items, they also present the risk of severe injuries to motorists. When fully loaded, commercial vehicles can legally weigh as much as 80,000. When these large vehicles collide with passenger vehicles, the damage to the smaller cars or even SUVs can be extreme and truck accident victims are often left with life-changing injuries.
If you suffer serious injuries in a crash, you will likely want to know who can be held liable for your medical bills and other injury-related losses. It is important to have an attorney who is experienced in evaluating truck and auto accident cases review your accident to help determine which parties can be held accountable. Unlike regular auto accidents, the driver is generally not the primary party against whom you will bring a claim. Instead, in the majority of truck accident cases, you can bring a claim against the trucking company that employed the driver and owned the truck. This is important as trucking companies often have larger insurance policies and greater assets, which can greatly increase the amount of compensation you can actually obtain. The following are only some examples of when a trucking company can be responsible for a truck accident.
Negligence of Employees
FMCSA research shows that the primary cause of truck accidents is errors on the part of the truck driver. Truck drivers can be negligent in many ways to cause truck accidents, including the following:
- Distracted driving;
- Fatigued driving resulting from hours of service violations;
- Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol;
- Violating traffic laws, including speeding or tailgating;
- Aggressive driving and intimidating behaviors;
- Violating other FMCSA regulations;
- Driving with serious health risks or mental conditions; and
- Failing to complete pre-trip inspections.
Even though the driver is the one at fault in accidents caused by the above negligent acts, a legal doctrine called “respondeat superior” allows injured accident victims to hold employers liable for the negligent actions of their employees while they are on the job. This allows you to hold trucking companies liable if their drivers were negligent and caused your collision.
Understanding how respondeat superior works is highly important any time you are involved in an accident with someone who is on the job, and truck accidents are no different. Our experienced lawyers understand how to maximize your award or settlement by using respondeat superior laws and strategies.
The Company was Negligent
In addition to the actions of truck drivers, trucking company owners and managers can also be negligent in ways that lead to collisions on the roadways. One of the main forms of trucking company negligence is negligent hiring of drivers. The FMCSA requires that every truck driver have a proper commercial driver’s license (CDL), which requires special training, education, and testing to receive. Drivers must also renew their CDLs at regular intervals and must meet certain criteria to do so. Unfortunately, some trucking companies sometimes hire or retain individuals who do not have the necessary CDL or who have had their CDL lapse or expire. This is highly dangerous behavior as operating commercial vehicles requires particular skills and knowledge and not having the proper training can seriously increase the risk of crashes.
In addition to a CDL, drivers must have special credentials if they wish to drive certain types of commercial vehicles, such as those carrying hazardous materials, commonly known as HAZMAT trucks. If a company allows a driver who does not have the extra training operate a HAZMAT truck or other type of more dangerous vehicle, it can be found to be negligent for the purposes of a subsequent legal claim.
Another form of negligent hiring is the hiring of drivers who have driving records that may indicate they can be dangerous on the roads. If a driver has a history of traffic violation convictions, accidents, or driving under the influence (DUI) arrests, it may be a sign that the driver should not be allowed behind the wheel of a large truck. Many trucking companies may hire people they know and may overlook questionable driving records, which leads to potentially dangerous drivers behind the wheels of large, heavy trucks.
Trucking companies can also be negligent if they fail to perform the random drug and alcohol tests required by the FMCSA or similar post-accident testing. Such tests are necessary under the law and failing to perform these tests can allow drivers to get away with driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, if a driver does test positive for drugs or alcohol, a company will be negligent if it does not properly suspend the driver, require treatment, or otherwise take proper disciplinary measures.
Another important way that trucking companies can be negligent is by failing to adequately inspect, maintain, and repair trucks that it owns. All trucks in a fleet should be regularly inspected for any possible malfunctions or worn parts. In addition, regular maintenance and repairs are necessary to keep these large vehicles safe for the roads. If tires, brakes, couplings, or other important truck parts are not repaired or replaced, they can cause severe accidents.
Complex Cases Against Trucking Companies
Filing a case against a trucking company can be more complex and intimidating than a claim against an individual. For this reason, you need a law firm on your side that has the resources and experience needed to face off against large companies, their legal teams, and their insurance companies. Also, having a lawyer who fully understands the complicated nature of truck accident cases can increase your chances of sufficient financial recovery.
Call an Experienced South Carolina Auto Accident Lawyer For Help
At the law firm of Ayers, Smithdeal & Bettis, P.C., we know how to best handle any type of auto accident case, whether it involves small passenger vehicles or large commercial trucks. Please call our dedicated South Carolina auto accident lawyers today for a free consultation if you have been injured in an accident.