What is Trucking Accidents Law?
When semitrucks and cars collide, the law offers some options
on December 15, 2016
Updated on October 17, 2022
Trucking accidents can be particularly traumatic because they involve a vehicle 25 times the size of a car. If you were involved in an auto accident with a semi-truck, you might have serious injuries and extensive medical bills, including prolonged medical care.
Truck accident victims may be able to get the responsible party to pay for medical care and for pain and suffering. The legal system can be confusing, so if you’re not sure where to start, the following is a brief overview of some common issues that come up in trucking accident lawsuits.
Trucking accident law is a special area of personal injury. You will often base your personal injury case on negligence, except in the situations where you are arguing the truck malfunctioned. In those cases, you will likely argue strict products liability. In the worst cases, family members may consider filing a wrongful death case.
If you choose to file suit against the driver of the truck, a negligence case can be straightforward. To prove negligence, you will need to show that a reasonably prudent person would have acted with greater care in the same situation. This is often shown by hiring experts, like experienced commercial truck drivers, who can testify about the professional standards. Their testimony can help you establish what a reasonably prudent trucker would do.
Your case can get more complicated if you choose to also sue the company that employed the driver. You will need to establish that the driver was acting “within the scope” of their employment when the accident occurred and that this was a situation the employer should be held vicariously responsible for. Also, this will usually require you to establish that the trucking company employed the driver.
Vicarious liability is a legal theory that holds an employer liable for their employees’ negligent actions. You may hear this theory referred to as respondeat superior, Latin for “let the master answer,” and it can be used to hold an employer liable regardless of whether the employer was monitoring the employee.
States are permitted to set their own standards for the application of vicarious liability, but most jurisdictions either use the benefits or characteristics test. The benefits test looks at whether the employee’s actions were endorsed by the employer or are of some benefit to the employer. If yes, then the courts in these jurisdictions will apply vicarious liability. Courts in characteristics test jurisdictions will apply vicarious liability if the action is common for the job and can fairly be deemed to be a characteristic of the job.
Proving that the driver is an employee of the trucking company is an important part of your truck accident cause because vicarious liability will not apply if the driver is not an employee. This is a fact-specific inquiry, but it primarily looks at the level of control the company has over the driver. There is no one fact that will turn a worker into an employee, though companies usually exercise more control over employees than they do over independent contractors.
Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with a truck accident attorney for the first time.
- Can I sue the company that employed the truck driver?
- Can I sue more than one person?
- How do I get copies of the trucker’s investigation?
- How do I show the driver was acting within the scope of their employment?
- What kinds of damages can I recover?
Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs
It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory, and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a personal injury lawyer with experience with commercial trucking accidents.
Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?
You can be sure that the truck driver and trucking company will have truck accident lawyers and insurance companies working on their truck accident case. Those lawyers and insurance agents will conduct thorough investigations, sometimes even at the scene of the accident. You may want to consider hiring an experienced attorney to level the playing field. Your lawyer can help you get copies of the other side’s records and copies of your medical records to prove your damages.
An experienced truck accident lawyer will also be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and give legal advice on how to approach them. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.