In 2016, in the United States, 3,986 people died in accidents involving large trucks.
Two-thirds of those fatalities were drivers and passengers in the vehicles that collided with the trucks.
The danger trucks pose to motorists, passengers, and pedestrians is clear.
What isn’t always clear is what happens after a truck crash.
Can you be compensated for your damages? If so, by whom?
Commercial trucks bring consumer goods and other essential products to every community in our nation, but big trucks also pose considerable risks to other drivers, their passengers, and pedestrians.
This is a brief, general introduction to liability and truck accidents, but if you’re injured in a truck accident here in southern California, you should seek personalized legal advice specific to your own case by speaking to an experienced San Bernardino personal injury lawyer.
A loaded truck might weigh forty tons or more, but a typical automobile weighs under two tons, so if you’re in a collision with a large commercial truck, you are almost certainly going to be injured and require compensation.
Any traffic crash can be a disaster, but because of a truck’s momentum and weight, commercial truck accidents are statistically the most injurious traffic collisions.
CAN AN EMPLOYER BE HELD LIABLE FOR AN EMPLOYEE’S NEGLIGENCE?
Who is responsible legally if a trucker’s negligent driving causes an accident with injuries?
The legal principle that holds an employer responsible for an employee’s negligence is known as “respondeat superior,” a Latin term which means “let the superior make the response.”
An employer is liable for the negligence of an employee if a negligent act was unintentional and was committed in the “course and scope” of the employee’s job and job duties.
In some truck accidents, the respondeat superior principle transfers or “imputes” a truck driver’s liability to the driver’s employer, as if the company itself were the negligent party.
But applying respondeat superior to any specific trucking accident will hinge on several factors:
Is the driver an employee or a contractor? Was the driver’s negligence intentional or unintentional? Did the accident happen within the “course and scope” of the driver’s job duties?
WHAT IF THE DRIVER WHO INJURED YOU WAS A CONTRACTOR?
An injured truck accident victim who seeks damages from a truck company will need to prove that the driver was an employee of the company, because employers in most of these cases cannot be held accountable for the negligence of a driver if the driver is an independent contractor.
If a truck driver was operating a truck that he or she personally owns, maintains, and insures, and if the trucking company does not withhold taxes from the driver’s income, the driver is probably an independent contractor, and liability for any accidents and injuries will probably fall on the driver alone.
HOW IS THE “COURSE AND SCOPE OF EMPLOYMENT” DEFINED?
Usually, it is easy enough to determine if a truck driver is or isn’t a trucking company employee, but determining a driver’s “course and scope of employment” is often quite difficult.
In personal injury cases involving truck drivers, a California court will consider the time, location, and nature of a driver’s negligent behavior and the level of independence the driver generally has in the performance of his or her duties.
Truck companies usually are not held liable for the intentional wrong behaviors of their drivers.
If a truck driver crashes on purpose into another vehicle – in a road rage incident, for instance – the driver’s employer probably will not be held liable for such behavior.
But if a trucker (who is also an employee) collides with you on the way to making a delivery, the truck company may be liable for your injuries, because the driver was acting within the course and scope of the job.
In some truck accidents, liability may extend beyond the driver and the truck company.
A variety of contractors, subcontractors, and leasing companies all play a role in the trucking industry.
If the tires or brakes on a truck were manufactured defectively, if cargo was improperly loaded, or if the truck has been poorly maintained, multiple defendants may have liability for a truck accident with injuries.
HOW ARE MOST PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS SETTLED IN CALIFORNIA?
Personal injury claims in this state are almost always resolved out-of-court.
After a truck accident in southern California, let a personal injury lawyer review the details of the case, determine which party or parties may have liability, and negotiate a settlement on your behalf.
Don’t try this alone. California personal injury law is difficult and complex, and truck accident cases, in particular, can be exceedingly complicated.
A California personal injury attorney is an experienced negotiator who routinely handles settlement negotiations on behalf of the injured victims of negligence.
If you are not offered a reasonable settlement amount in out-of-court negotiations, your personal injury attorney will take the case to trial and fight aggressively in court for justice on your behalf.
Especially in truck accident cases, you must put your attorney to work as quickly as possible.
Your attorney may need to subpoena the truck company’s maintenance records, the driver’s logbook, and other documents as evidence, and it takes time to compile and examine evidence, questions witnesses, and prepare for negotiations.
AFTER AN INJURY, WHAT SHOULD YOU TELL AN INSURANCE COMPANY?
If you’ve been injured, don’t even speak to an insurance company after a truck accident, don’t sign any documents, and do not accept the company’s first settlement offer.
Instead, refer the insurance company to your personal injury attorney.
Your attorney will handle the legal side of the case so that you can focus fully on recovering and recuperating.
The injured victims of negligence are entitled under California law to full compensation for all of their medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering, and all other losses and damages arising from a trucking accident.
If the victim has suffered catastrophically – with a brain or spinal cord injury, paralysis, or an injury requiring amputation – that victim will need the maximum available amount of compensation.
A qualified San Bernardino personal injury lawyer can help. Nothing is a higher priority than your health and your future.
If you’ve been injured in southern California because a truck driver was negligent, let a personal injury lawyer fight for compensation – as well as for justice – on your behalf.