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Why Liability is the Foggiest Legal Issue in the Trucking Industry

— June 19, 2020

When a truck crashes and causes an injury, who’s to blame? The answer isn’t as simple as you’d expect.

In a perfect world, you’d know exactly who was at fault the moment you suffered a catastrophic injury. You’d know the long-distance trucker who collided with your car only did so because his company didn’t bother doing a maintenance check on his vehicle. You’d know the accident your friend was involved in only happened because the driver behind the wheel was drunk.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. When an injury occurs as the result of a collision with a transport truck, figuring out who to hold responsible can seem like a herculean task. Right off the start, there are a multitude of questions that must be covered: 

  • Was the driver impaired?
  • What condition was the driver’s vehicle in?
  • What were the weather conditions like? 
  • What is the management at the driver’s company like? 

And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Employee/Contractor Liability is Foggy

To compensate for driver shortages and cost, many trucking companies are turning towards independent contractors. This is bad news for anyone involved in a collision with a trucker because there are even more questions to ask here.

A FedEx Ground delivery van in Provo, Utah, July 2015; image by An Errant Knight (Own work), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, no changes.
A FedEx Ground delivery van in Provo, Utah, July 2015; image by An Errant Knight (Own work), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, no changes.

How much control does the driver have over when and how they work? Can the trucking company dictate the driver’s work? Who chooses the routes? Is the driver required to wear a uniform on the job? Is the driver on-contract solely with a single company? What company standards is the driver subject to?

Sometimes, a truck doesn’t have a driver at all, and sadly, there are more of those than you’d think. 

Autonomous Trucks are Still Uncertain Ground

Historically, lawmakers and regulatory agencies have a tendency to lag behind where new technology is concerned. Self-driving trucks are certainly no exception. Although in many states they are already on the road, the laws surrounding these vehicles are still very much in their nascent stages. People still aren’t sure what to make of any vehicle that drives itself, juggernauts that weigh several tons nonetheless. 

After all, determining fault is hard enough when a human driver loses control. When a self-driving truck veers off the road and kills someone, who takes the lion’s share of the blame? Is it the company that put the truck on the road or the company that developed the autonomous driving software? 

Protect Yourself from Bad Trucking

If you’ve been injured in a trucking accident, liability can be an overwhelming challenge to navigate. At the end of the day, there’s really no easy answer to it. It’s a matter of context and every situation has its differences. Maybe one day, there’ll be an easy system for figuring out who to hold accountable for a given accident within moments. 

But for now, that’s why there are lawyers. 

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