Accidents involving tractor-trailer trucks often cause significant property damage, serious injuries, and fatalities. In many cases, even a simple jackknife accident can set off a chain of subsequent accidents as speeding vehicles are unable to stop suddenly. These multi-car pileups can obscure liability and hamper an injured person’s ability to recover compensation for their injuries.
Because of the nature of interstate commercial traffic, the trucking industry is heavily regulated by both federal and state laws. Often, a tractor-trailer involved in a collision is owned by a company from a different state and operated by a driver based in yet another location. Negotiating claims with multiple commercial liability insurance carriers and pursuing litigation after a tractor-trailer accident can be complicated and time-consuming.
Determining the Causes of a Tractor-Trailer Accident
Many things can cause heavy truck and tractor-trailer accidents. Like other motor vehicle collisions, many truck accidents are caused by driver error or negligence. Common negligent acts include failing to properly secure the cargo, skipping or delaying required maintenance, and driving while exhausted or impaired. A company may be complicit in the decision to delay or avoid necessary maintenance, overload or improperly balance a load, or apply pressure to drivers to meet deadlines too aggressively.
However, tractor-trailers are enormous vehicles with many potential mechanical and structural failure points. Vital components and safety mechanisms often fail, causing drivers to lose control of vehicles. A recent large-scale study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that brake issues contributed to 30 percent of large-truck accidents. Power train failures, broken couplings, and tire separation or failure are other frequent causes of tractor-trailer accidents. These issues can be caused by inadequate maintenance, but they can also result from faulty or defective products or parts. Poorly made tires, for example, can fail at high speeds and cause even the most experienced driver to lose control.
Trucking Company and Driver Liability
Trucking companies are responsible under federal law for their drivers’ negligence. The driver acts as an “agent” of the trucking company. When a driver’s negligence causes harm to others, the trucking company is responsible.
However, truck drivers may also be independent contractors rather than employees of trucking companies. Many drivers own or lease their own rigs and contract with trucking companies to carry cargo, while others negotiate directly with brokers and shippers. This can impact the distribution of legal responsibility between the driver and the trucking company. It takes experience, patience, and a thorough understanding of liability and transportation law to successfully recover damages from the many insurance companies involved in these kinds of cases.
Truck drivers travel thousands of miles in all kinds of weather and driving conditions, which puts significant stress on the equipment. Federal law requires owners and operators to perform maintenance on a prescribed schedule to help keep tractor-trailers safe and roadworthy. Truck owners and operators must maintain, inspect, and keep detailed records showing compliance with this schedule. The records must show when brakes, tires, and other equipment (including the wheels, axles, frame, paneling, lights, suspension, and steering systems) are inspected, fixed, and replaced.
Negligent failure to perform appropriate maintenance or keep compliant logs can lead to liability if vehicle failure leads to an accident. Trucking companies and drivers share legal responsibility for ensuring that maintenance is complete and that the logs are updated correctly.
Broker and Shipper Liability
Brokers and shippers may also share responsibility for some collisions or tractor-trailer accidents. Often, brokers will hire trucking companies to ship loads of cargo. In those cases, the brokers can take on agency responsibility for the trucking companies and the drivers. Shippers frequently take responsibility for loading their own freight and ensuring the loads are safe and secure. If cargo loaded by a shipper is unbalanced or overweight and contributes to a collision, the shipper may be partially or fully liable for damages.
Recovering for Your Injuries After a Trucking Collision
If you have been involved in a collision with a tractor-trailer, it’s vital to retain an experienced attorney to represent you. You may be entitled to recovery for your physical injuries and other economic damages as well as lost wages, pain and suffering, and other non-compensatory damages.
These types of accidents are incredibly complex. Pursuing insurance claims or litigation can take many months or years, and the parties involved may be located all over the country. These cases often require expert witnesses and analysis, including accident reconstruction modeling and testimony about the causes and conditions that led to the collision. You may have to file your case in a court outside your home area, which can be costly and inconvenient.
Trust our experienced truck accident lawyers with your case. We have many years of experience working with insurers, attorneys, and experts to negotiate and litigate cases just like yours. We can help you put your life back together and recover what you deserve for your injuries.