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Determining Liability in Truck Accidents

— October 18, 2023

One of the worst outcomes of any type of motor vehicle accident is to be found liable when you were not.

Each day, millions of commercial trucks traverse highways and interstates across the United States. Even though these trucks carry necessary goods nationwide, they are cumbersome. They tend to handle quite poorly, have huge blind spots, and are operated by drivers who cover tens of thousands of miles every single year. 

With this in mind, it really isn’t shocking to learn that hundreds of commercial truck accidents happen daily, ranging from minor accidents to fatal crashes. When a serious trucking accident takes place, especially one that results in injuries or death, the focus of the ensuing investigation is going to be liability. 

The best trucking accident lawyer to work with in this situation is one with decades of experience who is not afraid to protect your rights and go after the financial compensation you truly deserve. 

What Is Liability?

In legal terms, liability means being responsible for the damages you cause to another person or their property. For truck drivers specifically, the phrase liability references their legal responsibility to be held financially accountable for any damages they caused during a truck accident.  

A liable or “at fault” truck driver would be expected to compensate an accident victim by covering their:

  • Medical bills
  • Property damage
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

Additionally, if the truck accident brought about criminal charges or caused serious injuries or death, the at-fault driver could face further penalties including fines, the suspension or revocation of their commercial driver’s license, and even incarceration. 

How is Liability Determined in a Truck Accident?

Even in cases where the truck driver obviously caused the accident, establishing liability is rarely a straightforward process. The driver could be liable, or the trucking company could actually be responsible. Sometimes, liability for a commercial trucking accident falls to the person or company who was in charge of loading the vehicle.  

In most truck accident cases, multiple parties are at fault, and liability is divided between them.  

Potentially liable parties for an Albuquerque commercial truck accident may include:

The Truck Driver

Under most circumstances, the driver of the commercial truck will initially be considered for liability. After all, that’s who was driving the truck when the accident took place. To that end, your attorney will need to establish whether the truck driver was: 

  • Negligent: Did the driver fail to uphold the duty of care they owed to those around them? 
  • Breaking the law: Was the driver obeying all driving laws or were they speeding or under the influence?  
  • Disregarding regulations: Did the driver willfully and deliberately violate regulations enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration such as the Hours of Service rule or conducting routine inspections of their rig? 

Proving liability is a much simpler task in cases where the truck driver clearly broke the law or violated trucking regulations.

The Other Driver

The driver of another vehicle could be liable for the accident, especially if the commercial truck was sideswiped or attempting to avoid a head-on collision or debris in the road.  

Plainly stated, whoever’s actions were the direct cause of the crash will usually be the party considered to carry most of the liability. 

The Freight Company

Trucks in mechanics bays for service; image by Carlos Daniel, via
Trucks in mechanics bays for service; image by Carlos Daniel, via

While there are some truck drivers who are owner/operators, most professional truck drivers are employees hired to work for a freight company. Proving that a freight company is liable for an accident, however, requires the experience of a shrewd commercial truck accident attorney to collect relevant evidence and show that the company’s negligence was the immediate cause of the accident.

For instance, the freight company could be found liable if it failed to perform a scheduled vehicle inspection, failed to perform routine maintenance, or incentivized, coerced, or bullied drivers into breaking the Hours of Service rule. 

Truck Manufacturer/Parts Manufacturer

Likewise, if a mechanical failure or other issue caused by a defective component caused or contributed to the trucking accident, the manufacturer could be held liable for the injuries and other damages that followed. 

For example, if a truck driver experienced a tire blowout caused by a flaw in the tire’s design and that blowout led to a collision with another vehicle, then the manufacturer of the tire could be held accountable for putting a defective product on the market. 

The Loading Company

Commercial truck drivers do not typically load their own shipments. Instead, there is a person, team, or company tasked with that responsibility.  

If an individual in charge of loading the truck failed to properly inspect or tie down the payload or failed to disclose that the freight contained hazardous materials, they could be held liable.

For example, if cargo fell off a truck and caused a crash or cargo that was not properly secured shifted and caused the truck to overturn, the loading company would most likely be at fault for the accident it caused.  

What is a Truck Driver Supposed to Do After an Accident?

When a commercial truck driver is in an accident, there is a protocol in place they are expected to follow.

  • Remain at the scene: Even if they did not cause the accident, they are expected to exchange contact and insurance details with the other people involved in the incident, just like any other driver. 
  • Report the accident: New Mexico law states that law enforcement must be informed of an accident “immediately, by the quickest means of communication possible” anytime an accident leads to death, injury, or more than $500 worth of property damage.  
  • Consent to an investigation: If the driver works for a freight company, they will most likely be the subject of an investigation and asked to submit to an alcohol and drug test.

One of the worst outcomes of any type of motor vehicle accident is to be found liable when you were not. That is why it’s crucial to fully investigate the incident and accurately identify the liable party. An Albuquerque truck accident lawyer will know the most effective investigation methods and how to ensure you are fairly compensated for your truck accident damages. 

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