According to the Federal Highway Administration, in 2011, large truck and bus accidents resulted in over 4,000 deaths, and 112,000 injuries. The estimated cost of those crashes totaled $87 billion.
When the worst happens and people are seriously injured or killed in a commercial vehicle accident, the following entities may be held liable.
• Driver: The driver may be found to be at fault in the crash. Things like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, failing to exercise proper standards of care while behind the wheel, driving while distracted by a cell phone or other item, or driving at excessive speeds can all be factors in determining driver fault.
• Company Employing the Driver: Types of company negligence include failing to properly maintain the vehicle, conduct regular inspections, provide adequate driver training, and in general, provide for the safety of the fleet. In addition, if the company is responsible for loading the cargo and did so improperly, or if they pressured drivers to go too fast or work longer hours than allowed by law, they may be liable for damages.
• Truck and/or Trailer Owner: Sometimes, the owner of the vehicle is the driver himself, or the company, a parent company, or even a third party. Depending on the particulars of the accident, the owner may also be partly liable for damages.
• Maintenance Company: If the main trucking company outsources the maintenance of their vehicles, this company may be held liable if it is determined that there was a maintenance issue with the truck, cab, or trailer. Perhaps the maintenance issue didn’t cause the accident, but made it worse because of a malfunction, or less-than-optimal reaction in the truck itself.
• The Other Driver: If another vehicle was involved in the accident, that driver may be held liable if he or she was driving while under the influence, while distracted, or while fatigued. If there was a defect with the vehicle, the manufacturer may also be liable. If the other driver was operating the vehicle as part of his employment, the company may share in the responsibility.
• Truck Manufacturer: In some cases, a malfunctioning truck part can be a factor in an accident. This could include air bag, tire, brakes, computer systems, engine, or hardware defects. Investigators may find a defect in the truck itself, or in the tractor-trailer cab or trailer. If multiple manufacturers are involved, they may all share in potential liability.
• Loading Company: Was the cargo properly loaded? Was it packed in such a way as to ensure safety and security? Did the cargo-loading company fail to secure the load properly, or overload the truck? All these mistakes can lead to weight and balance problems that can increase risk of an accident.
• Route-Planning Company: If the trucking company used route-planning services to map out a route, and then there turned out to be safety issues with that route, the route-planning company could be held liable. Such safety issues may have been foreseen, for example, like an environmental barrier, heavy construction area, or narrow road.
• State or Local Road Authorities: Perhaps the problem was not the truck or the driver at all. Maybe there was a safety issue in the road itself. Factors could include a poorly maintained roadway, lack of visible safety or traffic signs, poorly designed intersections, or poorly marked construction areas. (In this case, the construction company may be at fault.)
Considering the many possibilities, it’s important that a thorough investigation take place after the accident. Key activities include creating a reconstruction of the accident (often with computer animations), reviewing driver logs and corporate documents, taking complete witness accounts, reviewing company training and hiring practices, and more. Those attorneys experienced with such accidents are in the best position to fight for compensation for victims.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs, especially in mass tort litigation, Eric Chaffin prides himself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of his clients and their families. Both his work and his cases have been featured in the national press, including on ABC’s Good Morning America.