Vehicle accidents, no matter who is involved, can be devastating and complicated. But Maryland accidents involving large commercial trucks can be even more complex and have tragic results.
Commercial trucks weigh thousands of pounds more than standard passenger vehicles, which means the injuries and damages that passenger vehicle occupants often suffer after a truck accident are so much more severe.
In 2020, over 4,000 people were killed in large commercial truck accidents, and 68% of those who died were occupants of passenger vehicles.
With such severe and even fatal injuries, the victims and their loved ones must get the compensation they deserve from a personal injury claim or lawsuit. Unfortunately, filing claims against truck drivers and trucking companies can be difficult.
In many cases, it can be challenging to figure out who is the one ultimately responsible for the accident to determine who is liable for the damages and the personal injury settlement. Is it the truck driver? Is it the trucking company?
Let’s dive in below to find out.
Federal Commercial Truck Regulations
First, it’s important to note that truck drivers and truck companies are required by law to follow certain rules and regulations. And if they disobey those regulations, they can be found negligent and thus responsible for any accidents that occur as a result.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a strict code of regulations that truck drivers and companies must follow to maintain safety. These regulations cover such things as:
- Hours of service and rest requirements to keep drivers from becoming fatigued after driving for too many hours
- Cargo weight limits to ensure trucks are not overloaded
- Hazardous waste material regulations to ensure dangerous materials are transported properly
- Cargo securement guidelines to ensure cargo is adequately secured and will not get loose during transportation
- Light and reflector requirements to ensure trucks can easily be seen by other drivers
Issues That Can Lead to Truck Accidents
There are many reasons why a truck driver might cause an accident, and not all of the reasons are a result of the truck driver or truck company’s negligence. This can include:
- Driver fatigue
- Improper lane changes
- Wet or slippery roads
- Hazards or debris in the road
- Blind spots (trucks have larger blind spots)
- Other cars driving recklessly around trucks
- Cargo coming loose
- Weight imbalances that cause trucks to lose control or tip over
- Poorly trained truck drivers
- Truck companies pushing their drivers to drive past hour of service limits
- Bad weather causing low visibility
- A maintenance or equipment issue with the truck
In most cases, the reasons for truck accidents listed above are likely due to someone’s negligence, even if it is not the direct fault of the truck driver or the truck company. And if someone can be found negligent, you can file a claim against them to receive damages.
Who’s Liable in a Truck Accident?
So, who are all the potentially liable parties that could be found negligent in a truck accident?
- The Truck Driver: If a truck driver was speeding, swerving, making improper lane changes, driving while intoxicated, or disobeying any other standard traffic laws, they can be held liable for any accidents that occur as a result.
- The Truck Driver’s Employer: The company that employed the truck driver can also be held liable if one of their drivers caused an accident while working. If the employer was forcing their driver to drive long hours and ignore hours of service regulations or any other FMCSA guidelines, they can also be held liable.
However, it’s important to note that things can get more complicated if the truck driver is an independent contractor and not an official employee. For example, some truck drivers work independently but might get hired contractually by trucking companies. In this case, determining liability will be a matter of investigating who had more control over the driver at the time of the accident—the driver themselves or the company they were hired by.
- The Owner of the Truck: Sometimes, truck drivers will own the truck they are driving, and other times the truck will be owned by someone else or another business. So, if an accident occurs, the owner of the truck could bear responsibility for what happened.
- The Cargo Company: If something was wrong with the cargo, such as the cargo not being secured properly, the fault could fall back on the party responsible for loading and securing the cargo. Truck drivers often do not load cargo themselves, so if something was wrong with the way the cargo was packaged or secured, the company responsible for that cargo could be held liable.
- The Truck Maintenance Company: Truck accidents can also happen as a result of a maintenance error. In this case, the negligence and liability could be traced back to the company or mechanics responsible for the upkeep of the truck.
- Local Municipality: If the truck accident happened due to unsafe road conditions, such as faded lines that make it hard to identify lanes or potholes that have been left unrepaired for too long, the local government or municipality responsible for maintaining the roads could be held liable.
- Another driver: Of course, it is also possible that another driver could be responsible for the accident involving a commercial truck. For example, if another driver was speeding or cut off the truck driver, you could file a claim against that negligent driver for the accident instead of the truck driver.
Have a Legal Question? We Have Answers.
As you can see, multiple parties could potentially be held liable for a truck accident. As such, this can make filing a claim more challenging than it would be with a standard vehicle collision.
And even if you do determine who was responsible, their insurance company could still put up a fight and try to offer a reduced settlement that is less than you deserve. For these reasons, it is crucial that truck accident victims work with a personal injury attorney who has experience handling truck accident cases.
At Zirkin and Schmerling Law, we have handled countless Maryland truck accident cases and know what it takes to hold the right party accountable. We also know how to work with insurance companies to ensure they pay the full settlement our clients deserve. Contact us or call us at 410-753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our personal injury attorneys today.