Truck accidents commonly result in severe injuries and even fatalities, particularly to occupants of other vehicles and to vulnerable roadway users such as motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. When a truck accident occurs, the focus is often not only how severely the victims were injured but who is liable.
This is because the liable party is responsible for compensating others that their carelessness or recklessness has harmed. However, proving liability is not always a simple matter, particularly in a truck accident.
How Can You Prove Liability?
To prove who was liable for the truck accident that resulted in your injury or loss of a loved one, you must show:
- The at-fault party owed a duty of care, which are the actions that a reasonable person would take in similar circumstances to protect others from incurring physical harm or property damage. For example, truck drivers’ duty of care to others on the roadway includes operating their vehicles safely and legally, following state and federal requirements. The duty of care owed by trucking companies includes ensuring that the drivers they hire are properly licensed and trained and that their truck is adequately insured and maintained. The duty owed by the manufacturers of vehicle parts used on the truck and other vehicles on the roadway is to ensure that their manufactured parts are reasonably safe when used according to labeled instructions.
- A breach of duty of care occurred when the at-fault party acted contrary to protecting others from incurring physical harm or property damage, such as the truck driver driving while fatigued or the trucking company failing to provide regular maintenance on the vehicle.
- The breach resulted in an accident where you were injured or lost a loved one. Consequently, you incurred expenses that impact your quality of life as a consequence of this injury or loss.
Who Are the Potential Sources of Liability for a Truck Accident?
Many types of negligence can result in an accident involving a commercial truck. This negligence can come from any party on the roadway and even some who aren’t.
Your truck accident lawyer can provide a thorough examination of all the potential sources of liability, such as:
- The truck driver whose negligent actions resulted in a crash. Truck accidents are sometimes the result of tired drivers, driving too fast for the roadway conditions, having failed to check their blind spots, or whose vehicles suffer maintenance issues that should have been observed during the pre-trip inspection.
- The trucking company that employs the driver and holds vicarious responsibility for their actions. Trucking companies must provide insurance for their trucks and their drivers. They must also make sure their drivers are qualified to operate the truck.
- Other drivers on the roadway, whose negligent actions could have factored into the cause of the crash. Common causes of car accidents include distracted driving, speeding, alcohol impairment, and failure to yield.
- The entity tasked with performing maintenance services on the truck if the accident resulted from a mechanical issue that should have been noticed and remedied by the mechanic performing routine service for the trucking company or the owner/operator.
- The manufacturer of defective parts used on the truck or other vehicles involved in the accident
- The government agency is responsible for maintaining the roadway if the accident results from a road defect.
Can More Than One Liable Party Cause an Accident?
Yes. Not every truck accident case is so simple as to have one source of liability. Often, a truck driver is liable, but so is another driver, the truck driver’s company, or even a manufacturer or a mechanic. Your attorney will carefully examine your claim to determine all sources of liability. Each of these sources will also assess the presence of liability insurance policies that can be accessed to compensate you.
What Evidence Can Prove Liability in a Truck Accident Claim?
Several types of evidence are used to prove your expenses when seeking compensation for your injuries, such as photographs of visible wounds, medical bills, documents from your employer showing wage loss, and more. To prove liability, you also must show evidence. The type of evidence you need depends on the details of your claim. If a negligent truck driver caused your accident, here is a brief look at some of the evidence your attorney will likely need to see.
Accidents Involving a Mechanical Failure on the Truck
Your attorney will want the truck’s data recorder—often referred to as a “black box”—which will usually indicate if the truck was being operated with a mechanical issue. Additionally, your attorney can request documents such as pre-inspection reports or service statements that can show if the truck was on a regular maintenance schedule and was being inspected by the driver before every trip as required by federal trucking regulations.
Accidents Where You Suspect Impairment, Fatigue, or a Medical Issue
As with accidents involving mechanical failures, the truck’s black box can provide essential data if the suspected cause of the truck accident was impairment, fatigue, or a medical issue. The black box doesn’t just record mechanical problems with the truck; it also records the driver’s acceleration and braking before the collision.
If a driver is traveling at inconsistent speeds, they could be impaired by alcohol or suffer from fatigue, as each of these conditions can produce difficulty controlling one’s speed. Likewise, a medical issue could also result in a loss of consciousness or debilitation that could fail to control one’s acceleration. Black box data can also show if a driver was unable to brake before the crash, suggesting any one of these conditions and distraction.
The drivers of commercial trucks are required to obtain a special license, known as a commercial driver’s license (CDL). One of the provisions of receiving—and maintaining—this license is to submit to drug and alcohol screenings at certain times, including whenever the driver is in an accident.
If you or the police suspect impairment as a cause of the accident, your attorney will want to see the post-crash drug and alcohol screening results. Other evidence that could be useful in proving impairment includes the police report, eyewitness testimony, photos from the scene that depict alcohol bottles that were in the truck driver’s possession, and more.
CDL holders are subject to a reduced legal impairment limit. Most adults over 21 may drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood. However, CDL-holders must adhere to an impairment limit of half that—0.04 BAC.
If fatigue is suspected, your attorney will want to see the truck driver’s hours of service logs. The FMCSA hours of service regulations prohibit drivers from driving too long without an off-duty break or working too many days in a row without taking time off.
Other information that can help prove driver fatigue—which is a factor in about 13 percent of all truck-involved accidents—include statements the driver made to the police during their investigation of the accident, proof of a sleep-related medical condition either treated or untreated, and eyewitness testimony as to the driver’s behavior leading up to the crash.
Drivers must obtain regular physical exams to ensure that they can safely handle the job’s tasks. Drivers are prohibited from driving if they have not adequately treated any medical conditions, including sleep apnea, high blood pressure, or diabetes, that could ultimately be done jeopardize the safety of others.
If a medical condition is suspected, your attorney will want to know about any medical conditions the driver was suffering from that could have resulted in unsafe driving and the medications they were taking (over-the-counter or prescription) that could have impaired the skills they need for safe driving.
Accidents That Suggest Improper Training or an Unqualified Driver
To obtain a CDL, a potential driver must pass a test showing that they know how to operate, inspect, and maintain their vehicle. However, as any truck driver can tell you, handling the day-to-day rigors of unfamiliar roadways, distracted drivers, heavy traffic, and the weather is far more information than any CDL training program can provide. Some trucking companies require further on-the-job training and obtaining endorsements to carry hazardous materials do, as well.
If a truck accident occurs and the suspected cause was improper training, your attorney will want to know about the driver’s training. They will want to see the driver’s license, endorsements, and other certifications and understand the company’s policies on training their truck drivers.
The black box can also reveal a driver who is not comfortable or well-versed in the truck’s operation, such as hard braking, inconsistent speeds, and other issues.
An unqualified driver cannot meet all the requirements they’re subjected to as a condition of their CDL. At the same time, on-the-clock, they were not qualified to be driving a commercial truck on the road.
What if Another Driver Is Responsible for the Accident?
Not all truck accidents are the driver’s fault or the trucking company. If you were injured or lost a loved one because of a commercial truck driver’s negligence, your attorney will want to see the police report, indicating the fault of another driver.
Additional evidence in your accident could include eyewitness accounts of how the accident occurred, the results of any drug or alcohol testing ordered by the police, and evidence of an arrest or citations issued to the driver for the accident.
Let An Attorney Help You Prove Liability in Your Truck Accident Claim
Proving liability in a truck accident can be complex. The trucking company does not always offer the information without a fight, and documentation your attorney needs can even “go missing” during discovery. An experienced truck accident attorney knows what evidence you need to prove a truck accident claim and has a legal team focused on obtaining and preserving this evidence as quickly as possible so that it is available for your case.