Proper Defendants in Trucking Lawsuit

Proper Defendants in a Truck Crash Case

December 5, 2023 in Articles, Personal Injury Articles | MARTIN WREN, P.C. | LEAVE A COMMENT

Figuring out who is legally liable for injuries from a truck crash can be difficult. The transportation industry has many types of people and companies playing numerous roles. Basically, from the time a product leaves a factor until the time it hits store shelves, there are numerous parties that will touch the product during that time. A number of those parties may bear some share of responsibility when crashes occur, depending on the cause of the crash.

Responsible parties in a tractor trailer claim can include the following:

  1. Truck Driver. The driver of the tractor trailer that caused the crash is usually the starting place in determining responsibility. It was the driver, after all, who was supposed to have the truck under proper control when the crash happened. Truck drivers may violate the rules of the road for a large number of reasons, including fatigue from violating hours of service requirements, distracted driving or other forms of inattention, drug or alcohol use, or bad judgment due to lack of proper qualifications.
  2. The Trucking Company, or Motor Carrier. Trucking companies can be legally responsible for their drivers’ actions usually in one of two ways. First, it may be the case that a trucking company knowingly put or kept a bad driver on the road. The trucking company could be liable for negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent retention, or negligent supervision.  Second, the motor carrier can also be legally liable under what is called agency law, where the trucker is the employee or statutory employee of the trucking company.  The law has doctrines called respondeat superior or vicarious liability where the employer is responsible for the acts of their employees who are acting in the scope of their employment. Based on the statutory employment doctrine, there may be an agency relationship even when the driver is an independent contractor.
  3. Brokers. Freight brokers are parties that help match shippers (those parties who are sending cargo to another party) with truck drivers and/or motor carriers, who will perform the actual driving. Brokers have a financial incentive to hire the cheapest driver to transport a load, so they may be tempted to hire an unqualified or dangerous driver. Brokers should investigate the safety record of any drivers they hire to ship a load, as they may be on the hook for negligent selection if they hire a dangerous driver who ends up causing a crash. Brokers could also be responsible if they exercise control over the driver.
  4. Shippers. Like brokers, it is possible to hold a shipper legally responsible for harms caused by a motor carrier. Shippers may have control over a driver to such an extent that they make the driver their agent.  Shippers may also be liable if they negligently selected a dangerous driver. Shippers can also be liable if they negligently load the trailer and that improperly secured load causes injuries to others.
  5. Truck Maintenance and Repair Facilities. Tractor trailers must be in good working condition to be safe on the road for other motorists. If a company negligently repairs or maintains its vehicles, and that truck crashes due to improper repairs or maintenance, the maintenance or repair facilities may be responsible.
  6. Truck Manufacturer. If a defect in the truck contributed to the accident or made the injuries worse, the manufacturer may be responsible under what is called a product liability claim.  These types of claims can typically arise for underride accidents, where a passenger vehicle slides under an open portion of a trailer, causing devastating injuries or death.
  7. Cargo Loading Companies. Companies that overload or improperly load or secure cargo onto trailers or into straight trucks can lead to accidents. Improper cargo securement can cause trucks or trailers to be imbalanced and crash, or they can create road debris that puts other motorists at risk. The party that improperly loaded or secured cargo can be legally responsible for any damages they cause.
  8. Government Entities or Contractors. It may be the case that a crash occurs because a road is improperly maintained, road signs are missing, or there are inadequate warnings of problems for motorists. Many jurisdictions might bar claims against local or state governments under immunity theories, but other jurisdictions may allow such claims. But even where immunity applies, it may be the case that a third-party construction company or government contractor negligently performed the work or was negligent in creating a dangerous condition in the first place.
  9. Insurance Companies. Though uncommon, insurance companies will occasionally vet potential truck drivers for trucking companies.  If insurance companies exercise enough control over the hiring of an unqualified driver, it is possible that the bad driver can be considered their agent for purposes of vicarious liability. There might also be a claim against an insurance company that acts in bad faith.

As this article shows, identifying the proper defendants to a trucking litigation case often depends on a number of factors such as why the crash happened, what role the various parties may have played in causing that crash, and other factors. When these situations arise, it is important to hire an attorney and law firm that has the resources, knowledge, and experience to investigate, pursue, and, if necessary, litigate a truck injury claim caused by negligence. It is important for an experienced attorney to know who can be sued for a tractor trailer crash.

Call experienced truck accident lawyer Robert Byrne at 434-817-3100 for a no-obligation, free consultation to discuss your options after a truck crash.  Bob can help evaluate your best options for proceeding and give you the peace of mind you need.


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