Who Are The Liable Parties In A Commercial Vehicle Accident?
The possible liable parties would be of course the driver of the vehicle as an individual and as the employee who is working at the time of the accident. The second most likely targeted party would be the employer whom the driver works for. The company has a legal responsibility to train, monitor and provide assistance to the driver. They often are sued in these cases from the fact that they are legally responsible for the trucker’s negligence in most states. The third party that can be legally responsible is the insurance carrier. Federal law actually allows you to sue the insurance carrier as a named party in addition to suing the driver and the driver’s employer.
There is a federal law that allows for a direct claim to be made against the insurance carrier which is an exception, because in most situations, you have to sue the driver or the driver’s employer and hope for a judgment against them before you can pursue the insurance carrier directly. The last common party in such a claim is the load owner. They could be sued or be found liable if the load owner had the responsibility either from the way they placed the load on the truck which contributed to the accident or possibly due to an agreement between the load owner and the driver or the driver’s employer.
Sometimes, you have to look at the contracts between both parties to determine whether or not you can sue the load owner for their contractual responsibility or in your investigations determine if the load owner contributed to the accident in a sense that they were negligent in their conduct in the dangerous load that contributed to or caused the accident.
If The Driver Of The Commercial Vehicle Is An Independent Contractor, How Does It Impact The Claim?
It does make some difference. If the individual is an independent contractor, then you do not have the insurance coverage that the employer often gets to protect their fleets. To put it another way, the independent contractor usually has a lot less insurance available to them than the bigger trucking companies have. In most cases, the independent contractor’s level of insurance is much less than the level of insurance of an employer or big trucking companies who are in big business.
In most cases, we end up pursuing the driver and the driver’s employer. We really do not have all of the facts and the documentation as it pertains to their relationship. So we do not really know who the best party to pursue is, and legally, we can pursue both. We usually go ahead and file the claim and the suit against both parties out of an abundance of precaution even though the targeted party is probably the employer and the employer’s insurance.
How Do Commercial Vehicle Accidents Differ From Passenger Vehicle Accidents?
The difference is physics. The momentum of a truck, which is basically the mass and speed of a truck, is so much greater than a Sedan that it just changes the physics of an accident entirely. It makes almost all accidents significant in force, more in property damage, and more chances of a personal injury. The force is so much greater when a large truck collides with a smaller vehicle or when two trucks collide. In either event, the amount of damage caused is almost always greater because the forces are so much greater when an accident involves a semi-truck.
The second main difference between a commercial vehicle accident versus a passenger vehicle accident is the level of regulations governing the operating of the commercial vehicle. You will find that there are just so many more rules and regulations that have to be evaluated when it involves the operation of a commercial vehicle involved in an accident. You have to study these rules and regulations to determine their applicability in the case and sometimes you use those rules and regulations to prove negligence by the employer or truck driver. Knowledge of the regulations and their use is extremely important in commercial vehicle accidents. In automobile only accidents involving passenger vehicles, the rules of the road are easily known by most people.
The last main difference that I see between passenger vehicle and commercial accidents is the involvement of the black box. The black box is a small on-board computer that is usually in the engine compartment of most semi-trucks, and these black boxes have been designed to collect accident and travel data for most commercial vehicles. These black boxes are not offered on passenger vehicles at this time, but we know technology is changing and eventually that will happen.
This data from a black box can be extremely critical to any personal injury case. The preservation of the black box is something that is just an essential item. If we can obtain that evidence early on in a case, then the odds are more favorable for a positive outcome.