When is a Company Liable for Its Driver’s Conduct?
The average weight of a vehicle is around 3,000 pounds, while the larger, commercial trucks typically weigh 10,000 pounds or more. A fully loaded truck, such as a big rig, can weigh nearly 25 times more than a vehicle. Based on this simple relation, it is easy to see how 86 percent of fatalities in commercial truck vs. vehicle accidents occur in the smaller vehicle.
A 2013 Traffic Safety Facts report prepared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that there were 3,964 people killed and 95,000 injured in crashes involving large trucks. But in many cases, the accidents were not caused by negligent or intoxicated drivers. They were more often the result of unseen road hazards and the negligence of other drivers. Keep in mind that many motorists don’t fully understand the limits a commercial truck places on its driver to respond to an emergency.
Truck accidents can also be made worse because of the truck’s cargo, and hazardous or flammable materials can cause secondary injuries. If the truck driver is working as an independent contractor carrying cargo from several companies, it can be difficult to hold a single company at fault. Plus, if a driver caused the commercial truck to crash, and the truck’s cargo injured others, who is at fault for the secondary injuries?
Determining Fault in a Commercial Truck Accident
Commercial truck accidents tend to involve more issues and have the potential to be much more complicated than car accidents. In Arizona, drivers of two vehicles involved in an accident are subjected to the state’s comparative fault rule, which means that fault is appropriated to both parties based on witness testimony, official accident reports, and other pieces of evidence.
For commercial truck accidents, determining comparative fault requires the use of experts who can, for example, give their opinions on air brake adjustments, driver fatigue, steering, speed, and possibly defective truck components.
Furthermore, determining fault in these cases relies upon the motorist’s ability to recognize the limitations of a commercial truck. The truck driver may not be able to see an unsafe lane change, or might not have enough time to conduct an emergency stop or maneuver.
Potential Defendants in a Commercial Truck Accident
In addition to determining fault, it is equally difficult to discern the defendants. A good example involves a truck driver forced to drive for 15 hours or face consequence from his/her company. For safety’s sake, the driver should have taken a quick nap, but an accident nonetheless occurred due to fatigue. Is it the company’s responsibility to create a safe environment for the employee and other drivers on the road by mandating rest times? Or is the majority of fault placed on the driver?
In order to collect an appropriate compensation for injuries suffered in a crash, it is important to identify as many potential defendants as possible. This may not be limited to the driver, and could include the trucking company, a contractor, or even the insurance company. An attorney experienced in commercial truck accidents can prove, in some cases, that a company exerted some degree of control over the driver and that the accident occurred within the sphere of the employment relationship.
Having multiple defendants in a claim can have several results. Depending on the facts of the case, defendants may be equally responsible for paying all of the plaintiff’s damages, or they might only be responsible for the specific damages they caused.
Strengthening a Commercial Truck Accident Claim
The minimum insurance liability for commercial trucks currently hovers around $750,000, which means that if a family of four were in an accident, the family and the truck driver could receive up to $150,000 each. Although it seems like a lot of money, it may not be enough to cover the rising cost of medical bills.
Furthermore, most companies have their own Accident Response Teams that immediately begin orchestrating a defense against an injury claim. Often, these response teams are quite skilled, and in a comparative fault state like Arizona, any inconsistency in the claim or accident-related documents (which includes medical bills, lost wages, and so forth) could result in a significantly lower settlement for the plaintiff.
For this reason, it is essential to contact an attorney immediately to help collect, preserve, and organize evidence. Important elements for a case could include photographs such as skid marks, yaw marks, and scuff, as well as medical bills and documents, an accurate report of lost wages due to injury, a diary showing pain and suffering, and so forth. Also, mandatory accident related reports are gathered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) and only kept for a certain period of time.
More evidence in these cases, especially those involving multiple defendants, can help the plaintiff and attorney build a stronger case that carries a higher potential for an accurate, reasonable reward.
If you or a loved one was involved in a commercial truck accident, we invite you to give us a call at (480) 502-0708 or send us a message for a free initial consultation.
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