Truck drivers have a hard enough job. It is certainly not easy to control a large truck while dealing with the usual road hazards. Truck drivers rely on their companies to provide them with roadworthy vehicles. As a motorist on the road, your health and safety also depend on how the trucking company fulfills its legal obligations.
Some trucking companies put profits over your well-being, either entirely ignoring their maintenance requirements or trying to do the bare minimum to keep the trucks on the road. The trucking company is legally responsible when its truck has caused an accident. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in any type of truck crash, a truck accident attorney can help you fight for financial compensation.
Practically Any Part of a Truck Can Cause an Accident
When fully loaded, a commercial truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Every single part of the truck must be in proper working order. Even a small mechanical failure can cause the truck driver to lose control of the vehicle or be unable to react in time to avoid an accident.
Here are some parts of the truck that can fail and cause an accident:
- Coupling of the tractor and trailer
- Windshield wipers
Truck drivers need to apply the brakes at a moment’s notice effectively. The brakes must be in perfect working order, given the time required to bring a truck to a complete stop. They cannot be worn, and there must be adequate brake fluid. Similarly, trucks need every one of their 18 tires to be structurally intact and free from the risk of failure. Tire blowouts are the leading cause of truck accidents, and even the most experienced truck driver struggles to control a truck with a blown tire safely.
Federal Trucking Regulations Regarding Maintenance
Federal regulations impose strict restrictions on a trucking company concerning inspecting and maintaining vehicles.
Here are some of the requirements from the relevant federal regulations:
- A trucking company must “systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles subject to its control.”
- Auto parts and accessories must be in safe and proper condition at all times
- Drivers may not operate trucks in a condition likely to cause an accident or a breakdown of the vehicle
- Every commercial vehicle must have a periodic inspection performed at least once every 12 months
Trucking companies that own vehicles must keep records related to maintenance and inspection. They must show that they comply with federal regulations. If you have suffered an injury in a trucking accident, these records can help your legal case, especially when they show that the trucking company did not follow the rules.
Federal or state inspectors often launch a surprise inspection of a truck. If they do not believe that the vehicle complies with the requirements, they will order it pulled off the road until it can come into compliance. The situation actually happens far more often than you think because federal inspectors are very discerning. However, not every truck gets inspected all the time, and many are on the road in poor operating condition.
If a truck driver receives a roadside inspection report, they have a legal obligation To deliver it to their employer. Then, the trucking company must sign the inspection report and certify that they have corrected all violations. They must return the signed report to the address provided.
Even after the trucking company staff performs all necessary maintenance on the vehicle, the driver has their own responsibility to inspect the truck every time it heads out onto the road. The driver must make a visual pre-trip inspection to see if anything looks wrong. They are not allowed to repair the vehicle themselves if they notice anything during the inspection. The driver must also inspect the cargo after 50 miles and at either 150 miles or three hours into their shift.
The driver must also make a written report At the end of each shift. A shift is reaching their destination, but rather the maximum allowable amount of time they can drive before taking a mandatory rest break.
The Trucking Company Must Pay for Damages Caused By Improper Maintenance
No matter which trucking company employee was responsible for the condition that caused the accident, the trucking company has the legal obligation to pay for your damages. Every employee is an agent of the trucking company. There is a legal theory called respondeat superior, Latin for “let the master answer.” So long as the employee was on the job at the time of the accident, their employer is responsible for paying for the legal damages they caused.
You Can Hold Trucking Companies Responsible for the Actions of Third-Party Maintenance Companies
Some trucking companies do not have the personnel on their staff to perform the necessary maintenance on their trucks. They outsource this function to specialized companies that maintain trucks on behalf of trucking companies.
Outsourcing maintenance does not absolve a trucking company from the obligation to comply with federal regulations, nor does it keep them from being liable in a lawsuit when one of their trucks malfunctions.
The trucking company may point the finger at the third-party maintenance provider, but it can be held responsible for hiring them. Trucking companies must adequately screen and supervise contractors. You can add them to the lawsuit to the extent that there was a third-party service provider.
You Must Prove Negligence to Win a Truck Accident Lawsuit
In every truck accident case, the operative test for whether you deserve financial compensation is whether you can prove that the truck driver or their company was negligent. Proof of negligence can either come from showing the circumstances of the accident and what the driver did or demonstrating that the trucking company did not follow the necessary legal requirements.
If you can prove that the trucking company did not follow federal regulations regarding maintenance and inspections, you may automatically show that they were negligent. There is a concept in personal injury law called negligence per se.
There is a form of strict liability for someone who has proven to have broken the law. Once you can show that the trucking company either put a dangerous truck onto the roadway or did not perform the necessary repairs, you can shift the burden onto them to then show why they were not negligent.
You Need an Attorney To Obtain Relevant and Necessary Records
If you are filing a truck accident lawsuit after the vehicle has had a mechanical failure, the maintenance records will be vital to the success of your lawsuit. To be clear, you may still prove your case even without showing that the trucking company did not adequately maintain the truck.
The mere fact that a truck lost control or did something to hit you may be enough evidence of negligence. However, you want additional evidence because it can strengthen your bargaining position and entitle you to punitive damages if the trucking company’s conduct was bad enough.
Trucking Companies Can Hide, Alter or Destroy Maintenance Records
The trucking company will certainly not make it easy for you to get any of the necessary records that you need to prove that they failed in their job. However, this is precisely why you have the discovery process in a truck accident lawsuit. You can formally request these records at a specific stage of the case.
The trucking company has a legal obligation to maintain these records. According to federal regulations, the trucking company must maintain these records at the truck’s location for one year. If you wait too long to take legal action, you may risk losing access to these records.
Even though the trucking company has a legal obligation to maintain them, you never know what they are capable of when they can be legally responsible for a truck accident.
Once you hire a truck accident attorney, your lawyer will take immediate action to direct the trucking company to preserve all relevant records in advance of potential litigation. Then, if the trucking company has destroyed or not properly preserved maintenance records, they can be in even bigger trouble if the case goes to a jury.
Federal government inspectors may also perform their investigation after a serious truck accident. However, you need your own attorney to perform an investigation, so you can reach your own conclusions about who is to blame for the accident. You cannot rely on the government to do all the work and reach informed conclusions. You need your experienced lawyer to get to the bottom of what happened and assemble the proof necessary to put you in a position to recover financial compensation.
Insurance Companies Will Still Not Want to Pay You Fully
Liability is just the first crucial issue in your truck accident case. The law entitles you to compensation for the full scope of the damages that the trucking company has caused you. Truck accident damages include both the economic costs that have come out of your pocket and the non-economic costs that represent your truck accident experience.
The insurance company will do everything it can to ensure you do not get the money you deserve. They know, especially when their policyholder has not followed laws, that they will be on the hook for a large amount of money. The insurance company then goes into its own damage control mode to reduce your financial recovery. Here is where you absolutely need an experienced truck accident lawyer.
Your Truck Accident Lawyer Will Fight for Maximum Compensation
Your attorney will determine the value of your claim, reducing the risk that you will settle your case for less than you deserve and be without the money you need. Calculating your losses is more complex than most people imagine, so you always want to leave this up to a legal professional. There are many losses that injury victims fail to consider because they do not automatically realize they can recover for future or intangible losses.
Your attorney will assess any settlement offers that the insurance company makes in light of your losses, advising you whether to accept an offer or not. If you reject the settlement offer, your attorney will communicate your position and make a demand for the money that you legally deserve. Sometimes, the insurance company will realize that you mean business and offer the total amount you need. Other times, the insurer will continue to play hardball, and your lawyer might need to escalate the matter to litigation.
Your lawyer will argue your case to the jury if you cannot reach a settlement agreement during pretrial litigation. If the trucking company has violated federal regulations, they should have a reason to fear you in court, as juries will know the trucking company violated safety standards. The court can hit them with a large damages verdict if your case goes to a jury.
You have more leverage than you think in a truck accident case, and an experienced personal injury attorney knows how to use it in settlement negotiations. Especially when the truck company has done something glaringly wrong, they have every reason to be difficult.