Should You Sue the Trucking Company or the Driver?
One of the largest looming questions for the victims of accidents with large commercial vehicles will center on the pending lawsuit itself. After all, most individuals will never have dealt with personal injury law before and will have little existing knowledge about how the steps work and what to expect. For many, the most important question will be who can sue and who can be sued. The truth is that cases involving trucking accidents can be complicated as liability can become a complex web. More often than not, there is a whole host of players who may be at least partially responsible for the accident. For this reason, it is crucial that no time is wasted in contacting a professional attorney to assess your situation. At Arnold & Itkin, we can discuss your case during a free consult.
Who Can File a Lawsuit After a Truck Accident?
Before you determine who should be sued, the first step is figuring out who can actually pursue a lawsuit. In the case of 18-wheeler accidents, anyone who has "standing to sue" may file a lawsuit in the aftermath. Standing to sue is a legal requirement that is used to determine whether the individual bringing the suit has a personal stake in the outcome of the case, which may refer to injury, causation, and more. Most often, this will be the driver or passenger of the vehicle that was involved in the accident. However, in fatal trucking accidents, this will change as it will become a wrongful death claim. In wrongful death claims, "real parties in interest" may file a claim.
Real parties in interest may include the following:
- Immediate family members
- Life partners & financial dependents
- Distant family members
- Individuals who suffer financially
Who Can Be Sued After a Truck Accident?
Determining who can be sued after a truck accident can become trickier as it is not always obvious.
Some people and companies who may be the defendant in a truck accident case include:
- Truck driver
- Owner and/or leaser of the truck
- Shipper or freight loader
- Manufacturer of the truck / truck parts
Who can be sued will be entirely dependent on the case at hand. For example, if the accident was caused by truck driver negligence (ex: drinking), they would likely be eligible. In some cases, it might be the trucking company who employed the truck driver for failing to properly maintain the vehicle or having negligent hiring practices. Still yet, it might be the truck manufacturer if it is found that there were defects in the design of the truck,
Holding a Trucking Company Liable
As mentioned, trucking companies can be held liable for a catastrophic injury or wrongful death caused by their drivers. This means that the actions of the driver—if the wreck occurs in the course and scope of the driver's employment—are imputed to the trucking company. For instance, the company could be responsible for the trucker drinking or texting while behind the wheel if they had a history of impaired driving. Even though the company was not directly involved in the accident, they are still responsible for the conduct of their employees.
The trucking company may also be held directly liable in the following cases:
- For hiring a truck driver with a bad driving record
- For hiring a truck driver with a criminal background
- For hiring a truck driver with a history of health problems
- For inadequately training their employees
- For negligently supervising the employees
- For encouraging employees to break federal trucking regulations
It is best to have a legal professional determine who was at fault for your accident because you may not realize how important the driver's background information is to your case. The driver’s history, logbook entries, and other trucking regulations are of utmost importance in your case.
Employer Negligence: Hiring Unsafe Drivers
One of the most obvious ways that a truck employer could be responsible for an accident is when they have unsafe hiring practices. This form of employer negligence is manifested in companies that hire drivers who are unqualified or unfit to operate a commercial truck. It is the duty of the trucking company to make sure that the drivers they hire are fully qualified. To ensure drivers are qualified, they must meet the following criteria:
- Must possess a valid commercial motor vehicle driver's license
- Most be able to safely operate an 18-wheeler
- Must pass a driver's road test with safe driving techniques
- Must prove that they know how to use emergency equipment
- Most show that they can perform a valid pre-trip inspection
Truck companies are responsible for looking into the individual themselves. For example, before a driver is hired, they should pass a drug and alcohol test; upon being hired, they must also continue to pass drug and alcohol tests when randomly administered and after serious accidents. The trucker's record should also be examined prior to being hired to show that they are a safe driver who has not violated traffic laws in the previous 12 months.
Holding a Company Liable for Driver Conduct
There is a theory of liability known as respondeat superior ("let the superior make answer"). This means employers may be held liable for the actions of their drivers if accidents were not intentional and happened in the scope of employment. This is based upon the reasoning that certain instances are going to happen in an employer's business, who should be held responsible for them. This is also important, as employers typically have more funds available to handle such cases than average truck drivers.
Factors considered to determine if something was within the scope of employment:
- Overall intent of the employee
- Nature, time, and place of the conduct
- What the employee was hired to do
- What the employer should expect the employee to do
- How much freedom each employee is granted
- How much time is dedicated to personal activity
Holding the Truck Driver Responsible
While the trucking company may be held partly liable for many of the employee’s actions, the employee can also be held liable for a trucking accident. An employee’s motive and other factors are also considered when holding the employer or the employee liable for a victim’s injuries.
An employee can be held responsible for the following:
- Failure to inspect the truck before a shift
- Driving too fast for weather conditions
- Making an unsafe or illegal turn
- Failure to brake
- Drowsy driving
- Failure to properly secure loads
- Using a cell phone while driving
- Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol
Our Houston truck accident attorneys can sift through accident scene information such as logbooks or company records to determine the cause of the truck accident. We refuse to cut corners. We know our work changes lives.
For more information about our representation, request a free case evaluation today or call (888) 493-1629.