How Is Liability Determined in Trucking Accidents?


Proving liability for an accident and the subsequent damage and injury it causes is one of the most crucial aspects of trucking litigation. In fact, the entire case hinges on establishing and proving liability. However, before liability can be proven it must first be determined which party or parties potentially hold that liability.


Commercial trucking litigation cases are often more involved than cases involving accidents between two regular motor vehicles. That is because, due to the nature of the industry, there are usually more potentially liable parties involved in trucking litigation cases. Each of these different parties may be partially liable for the accident, depending on the role their action or inaction contributed in causing the accident or worsening the severity of the resultant injury or damage.


Any of the following parties may be partially or wholly responsible for a given accident depending on the circumstances of the accident:

The Truck Driver – The truck driver is one of the most obvious and natural candidates for liability. In fact, according to a study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the action or inaction of the truck driver was a contributing factor for 88% of accidents. The reason that figure is so high is because there are so many possible behaviors or conditions that could lead a trucker to be at fault in an accident.

For instance, the trucker may have exceeded his or her legal allowable weekly or daily hours of service; thus resulting in fatigue and diminished driving performance. The trucker may also have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident, or have otherwise been violating the law by speeding or ignoring traffic regulations. Additionally, the trucker bears responsibility in ensuring the safety of his or her rig and is responsible for inspecting the rig before, during, and after a trip.

The Trucking Company – Another commonly liable party is the trucking company. Under the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior the trucking company can be held liable for the actions of its employees if they were acting within the scope of their job duties. Thus, if the trucker has an accident while driving a load for the trucking company, the company may be held liable. This is important since the trucking company typically has more resources and insurance than the individual trucker, and is thus more likely to be able to handle paying damages.

The trucking company might also be held accountable if they otherwise violated industry laws. For example, the trucking company may be guilty of negligent hiring if the trucker was not properly qualified to drive a commercial vehicle but was allowed to anyway. The trucking company is also responsible for conducting random drug tests and attempting to identify and remove at-risk drivers.

The Truck and/or Trailer Owner – Often the truck and trailer are owned by either the trucking company or the trucker. However, occasionally one or both are owned by third parties, possibly even separate third parties. If that is the case and the accident was caused, or exacerbated, due to the condition of the truck or trailer, then the truck or trailer owner(s) may also be held liable.

The Manufacturer of Defective Parts – If a mechanical failure or defect contributed to the accident, then the manufacturer of that part may also be held liable. This could occur if the brakes fail, the tires blow out, or some other part abruptly breaks, despite proper upkeep and handling.

The Shipper or Loader of the Cargo – In some trucking-related accidents the cause of the accident, or the extent of damage from the accident, is due to the cargo. In worst case scenarios, improperly loaded or poorly secured cargo can cause an 18-wheeler to turn over, jackknife, careen out of control, or experience difficulty braking. The cargo itself may also fall or spill off of the truck and cause an accident, even if the truck itself doesn’t hit anything. In cases like this, if a third party company was used to load the cargo, that company may be held liable.

The Maintenance Company – In addition to outsourcing the loading and securing of cargo, some companies also outsource maintenance and upkeep to a third party company. Once again, if the proximate cause of the accident is determined to have been faulty or insufficient maintenance this company may be held liable for damages.

Bars and Restaurants – Texas, as well as some other states, also have what are dubbed “dram shop laws.” This means that bars, restaurants, or other such establishments may be held legally responsible if they serve a trucker (or any patron) alcohol, allow them to get drunk and drive away, and then that person gets in an accident.

As is clear from this extensive list of possible liable parties, determining liability in a trucking accident case is often very challenging. That is why it is so important that victims of trucking accidents, or their loved ones, protect their legal rights by consulting with an experienced, qualified trucking litigation attorney. Attorney experience and expertise are often the deciding factors between a successful lawsuit and a failed one.

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