The Truth About Truck Accident Liability

The first critical step after a commercial vehicle crash (e.g. a trucking accident) is determining liability. Who may be at fault? The answer is rarely simple. There are usually many more people involved in an accident than only the driver holding the steering wheel.


What Happens When A Truck Driver Has An Accident?

With all trucking accidents, the police should be called to the scene. The police officer will inspect the scene and talk to the drivers in all the vehicles involved. The officer will then file a police report based on their interpretation of the accident. If a lawsuit is later filed, this report may be important in helping to determine liability. 

If someone was hurt or killed in the accident, the victim (or the victim’s family) may decide to seek legal counsel. Some attorneys will only look as far as the driver and the insurance policy associated with the truck. When that happens, the full extent of liability is rarely discovered and any settlement will be limited. Identifying the entire transportation cycle in order to determine liability is like a shell game. Companies involved in the cycle will go to great lengths to keep their involvement undetected. 

An attorney that specializes in trucking accidents understands how to uncover the truth about liability and pursue claims against all of the liable parties and available policies of insurance.


Who Is Liable After A Truck Accident?

Determining liability in truck accident cases gets complicated because of what’s called the “transportation cycle.” Your basic transportation cycle includes the following parties:

  • Shipper: the company responsible for transporting the goods.
  • Motor carrier: aka the trucking company.
  • Driver: the individual driving the truck.

However, it’s not always that simple. In most cases, there are more layers in between each party. For example, the shipper could have hired a broker to manage their motor carrier needs, rather than hire one directly. The motor carrier the broker contracts might not have enough trucks or drivers to manage all the work. So, they often subcontract out to additional motor carriers or even drivers who own their own trucks. The number of parties – and insurance policies –  involved in an accident can very quickly double and even triple.

Finding all liable parties and their insurance policies is the difference-maker in a truck accident case because it helps determine liability and can drastically increase the funds available to cover a clients’ damages. That’s why hiring an attorney who specializes in truck accidents is so critical. If the attorney does not understand how to analyze and uncover the entire transportation cycle, clients are often pressured to accept settlements nowhere near the amount needed to compensate for the damage they’ve endured. 


Types Of Liability In A Truck Accident

With so many parties involved, liability can also get complicated. While the driver was the one operating the commercial motor vehicle, other companies were involved in or responsible for completing vehicle maintenance, enforcing safety regulations, hiring qualified drivers, etc. 

There are many factors that can determine liability, including:

  • Contracts and subcontracts 
  • Contractor selection
  • Hiring practices
  • Safety records
  • Driving records
  • USDOT inspection data
  • Vehicle maintenance records
  • Employment status


Do Truck Accidents Always Go To Trial?

Truck accidents do not always go to trial, some don’t even involve litigation. However, every case should be pursued with a full understanding of the potential theories of liability, parties, and insurance coverage. 

When clients secure legal counsel, attorneys will issue letters of representation and preservation letting all involved parties know that there is a potential claim. These letters should ask them to preserve information (or evidence) that could be relevant to the claim. These letters will go to the driver, trucking company, insurance company, businesses in the accident area that may have cameras, and any other entity that may have relevant information.

Unfortunately, involved parties are not always forthright with information and the initial exchange of information falls short in uncovering the full story. Without the full story, all liable parties – and their insurance companies – are not part of the conversation. This tends to require that a lawsuit be filed so that the attorneys can issue subpoenas and have the force of civil procedures to get all the relevant information. 

There are several reasons a case won’t go to trial. Sometimes clients are happy with a settlement offer, and sometimes they are pressured to accept a settlement because their attorney does not want to go to trial. Trying a trucking accident case involves not just knowing how to get all the information, but also knowing how to present that information to a jury so they understand the entire transportation cycle and all the missteps along the way that led to the accident. 

Here’s what to expect with a trucking accident case.

If you’ve been in a truck accident, the attorneys at Coker Law can help. Contact us today to see if you have a case.