When Is a Trucking Company Liable for an Accident?

When Is a Trucking Company Liable for an Accident? Trucks are vital to life in the modern world as we know it. Long-haul truckers bring us the things we need to get through our daily lives. We depend on truck deliveries to put most of our food on the table. Truck deliveries help keep the shelves stocked in our grocery stores and bring us the goodies we need to celebrate our holidays and special occasions. Everything from wrapping paper to roasting pans probably spent a few good hours on a truck.

The vast network of trucks on U.S. highways runs seamlessly most of the time. But there are bound to be some accidents with so many trucks barreling down the road at all times.

When an trucking company is liable in personal injury cases

An employer is generally held responsible for an employee’s words and actions. This is why a company might quickly issue a statement and distance itself from an employee who is involved in a high-profile public scandal. An employer’s responsibility in such cases is what’s legally known as vicarious liability for the employee.

Vicarious liability can apply when someone causes physical harm to another party, such as in a truck accident. A trucking company may be proven vicariously liable whether or not it explicitly asked an employee to engage in certain behavior that may have led to the accident. The trucking company may be held liable even if their driver’s actions were entirely their own or were totally unintentional.

Four examples of trucking company negligence

Negligence in general is the failure to take proper care in doing something correctly. Trucking companies must take care to ensure their fleets are safe, secure, and road-worthy. It also means taking care of their drivers, and ensuring that the folks they hire are safe while on the road. Here are four ways a truck company may engage in negligent actions.

  • The driver was not properly trained to operate a commercial truck. All entry-level driver training requirements must be met for any new drivers. This includes successful completion of the necessary behind-the-wheel (BTW) range and public road training led by a qualified instructor. Only instructors on the FMCSA Training Provider Registry (TPR) can provide entry-level driver training (ELDT) for drivers who are looking to test for certain CDL classes. If a trucking company fails to ensure its drivers have the proper training – or knowingly hires someone who does not – the company may be liable for any accidents which occur.
  • The driver did not have the proper license and credentials. Certain trucks require that their driver have a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). The license may be Class A, B, or C depending on the weight class of the vehicle and what it may be towing. Companies who allow non-CDL drivers to handle inappropriate vehicles can and should be held accountable.
  • The driver was encouraged to work extra time in violation of FMCSA’s hours of service (HOS) regulations. The HOS rules are in place to protect drivers and everyone else on and off the road. Commercial truck drivers must follow the administration’s guidelines for property-carrying drivers. The rules specify breaks that need to be taken, and when, as well as the maximum hours of road time for every given scenario. If a company has an aggressive schedule that must be met, it may pressure a driver to violate the HOS guidelines. This requires some level of equipment tampering since most companies now use electronic logging devices, or ELDs, to ensure compliance with federal HOS regulations. A driver’s ELD transmits real-time data and may be checked at weigh stations as well. Drivers and companies can, however, make “edits” to the data – and blatantly changing data to coverup an HOS violation is not allowed.
  • The company failed to monitor the weight of the truck. Trucks are required to stop regularly at open weigh stations to stay in compliance with federal regulations. An extra stop may be warranted if there are any changes to the load; this is especially true if something falls off the trailer. A company that sends a driver out with a dangerous or overweight load may encourage the driver to bypass weigh stations to avoid detection. This is extremely dangerous and illegal. The company that pressured the driver into the behavior may be held liable for any damages in the event of an accident.

How many truck accidents are there in the U.S. every year?

About 415,000 truck accidents were reported to police nationwide in 2020, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA). Heavy trucks account for just over four percent of the 190,291 vehicular accidents recorded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) in 2022.

However, accidents involving heavy trucks are usually worse because of the extra-large size and weight of the vehicle. Large trucks such as tractor-trailers and flatbeds can also cause accidents and damage if their cargo comes loose. Remember when that tractor-trailer crashed in Rostraver Township, about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh? The accident flooded I-70 with more than 15,000 pounds of hot dog filler. Earlier this year, a hit-and-run crash just outside of Pittsburgh left the Turnpike covered in ice cream that took a maintenance crew six hours to clean. While these incidents have an element of humor, truck accidents are no laughing matter.

Truck accidents are serious, no matter who is at fault. They can lead to devastating injuries. But they’re also really complex cases, because even if it seems like a truck driver is solely to blame, the trucking company likely bears some liability, too. And believe us when we say that the lawyers for the trucking company’s insurance carrier know every trick there is to avoid paying out a claim.

You’re going to want help. Carmody and Ging, Injury & Accident Lawyers has fought for the peoples’ rights in Pittsburgh and throughout Allegheny County for 30 years. Contact us or call us today to get a free evaluation of your personal injury case. Our Pittsburgh truck accident lawyers are ready to help you get the compensation you deserve.