In a typical car accident, there are typically two parties involved, and determining who is responsible can be a simple process. In a trucking accident, deciding who is responsible is more complicated since there are many parties involved. Understanding the different people and entities that could be involved in a trucking accident is imperative for understanding if you have a claim and who may be held liable.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the amount of truck accidents has increased by 20 percent over the past two decades. Though large trucks are responsible for only 3 percent of motor vehicle accidents that result in injury, the injuries caused by trucking accidents tend to be more severe, due to the size and weight of most trucks.
There is a variety of parties that could be involved when a trucking accident results in injury, including:
- the truck’s driver
- the owner of the truck or trailer
- the company or individual that leased the truck or trailer from the owner
- the manufacturer of the vehicle, tires, or any other parts which were involved in causing the accident
- the shipper or loader of the truck’s cargo, if the case involves improper loading
Some of these parties, such as the trucking company, leasing company, and hauling company, may have to determine amongst themselves whose insurance will cover the incident. It all depends on the details of the accident. One thing trucking companies have attempted to do in the past to avoid liability is distance themselves from the the driver, vehicle, and equipment.
When a trucking company acquires the necessary permits to operate the truck, the company often does not own the trailer or other equipment. Instead, the equipment is leased from another owner. In addition, the trucking company does not directly employ drivers. The trucking company will instead hire drivers as independent contractors from the owner or operator. Then the trucking company will give the owner a “placard” which states the name of the trucking company as well as the permit numbers. This placard is attached to the door of the tractor, so it appears as if the truck is owned by the named trucking company, and that the driver is an employee of that company.
So if a truck is in an accident and the trucking company is sued, the company would argue that the driver was not the trucking company’s employee, so they are not liable for the driver’s error. They would also argue that since the trucking company does not own the equipment, it is not responsible for the operation, maintenance, repair, or inspections of the equipment.
Today, there are federal laws in place to prevent this kind of conduct. The law dictates that any company owning a trucking permit is responsible for all accidents involving a truck with it’s name displayed on the vehicle’s placard, no matter what the lease says or if the driver is an independent contractor. Keep that in mind if the trucking company attempts to distance itself from your trucking accident. Because the trucking industry can be so complicated, it is always recommended that you seek help or advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer.