When is a Trucking Company Liable for an Accident?November 2, 2021
Thousands of people are injured and killed in truck accidents every year, and these accidents can involve commercial 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, flatbed trucks, and tank trucks. Because of their great sizes and weights, the personal injury and property damage are more severe than when smaller trucks are involved. The aftermath of a large truck accident can be disastrous, and once the victims are taken to the hospital and the vehicles are towed elsewhere, the question of liability comes to the forefront. You will surely wonder who is going to be held accountable for what happened. Will it be you, the truck driver, the trucking company, or another party?
What if the Truck Driver was an Independent Contractor?
Although truck drivers can be employed by trucking companies and be on their payrolls, it is also common for them to act as independent contractors. These drivers sometimes own their own vehicles as well and sign contracts with shipping companies. Or they may be contracted to use company trucks but are still independent operators. When they own their own trucks, they pay for their own gas, repairs, maintenance, insurance, and other fees. When the truck is owned by company, that company handles all those costs. Also keep in mind that the actual cargo inside might be owned by yet another entity.
In the past, trucking companies may have argued that the person driving their truck was an independent contractor, meaning that the company was not liable for the collision. Accident victims could be forced to make claims against the driver through the driver’s insurance company. Obviously, this would be a disadvantage, because even a well-insured driver does not have the same monetary resources as a large trucking company.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) changed their regulations years ago, eliminating the distinction between truck company employees and independent contractors. This can take the entire liability off an individual driver’s shoulders and instead place it on the shipping companies for which they work. These drivers are now all called statutory employees of motor carriers, so those companies may carry the liability in accidents even when drivers are at fault. However, time has passed since that change was made, and accident victims may still be able to hold truck drivers liable in some accidents. As in with all claims, settlements, and lawsuits, every situation is different.
When Would the Trucking Company be Responsible?
You will need strong evidence to show that a trucking company is responsible for an accident. Oftentimes, these companies cut corners to save money on important things such as inspection, maintenance, and repairs, while attempting to hide the proof. These companies are responsible for keeping their trucks in good working order, from the tires to the smallest internal workings. Every part of the trucking industry is regulated, including those small parts as well as other things such as weigh stations.
Another big problem is when trucking companies pressure their drivers to meet certain deadlines, forcing them to work overtime when they are fatigued. This is a more common occurrence during the holiday season, when companies around the country are rushing to get out their orders in time. Cutting corners on safety, knowingly operating an unsafe vehicle, missing truck inspections, and hiring inexperienced and unlicensed drivers can all be seen as forms of negligence.
Trucking companies can also be at fault if they were made aware of part recalls and did not take the appropriate action. Imagine if a manufacturer issued a recall for a defective brake part, and a trucking company ignored it to get a delivery out on time. It is also possible for a manufacturer to be held responsible for an accident if they did not do their due diligence and alert the industry about that defective part.
Truck accidents also occur because of improperly loaded and secured cargo. There are state and federal laws that govern how cargo is loaded, and rules for maximum weights and volumes. If cargo is too heavy or if it shifts, the driver could easily lose control of the vehicle. In worst-case scenarios, cargo has been known to fall off trucks, hurting and killing other drivers.
Is Maryland a Fault or No-Fault State?
Maryland falls into the fault state category for financial responsibility pertaining to losses resulting from a car accident. Therefore, the party who is at fault for causing a truck accident is responsible for the injuries, property damage, and lost income sustained by the injured party. The injured party can file a claim with their own auto insurance company, as long as the loss is covered by it. The provider will then usually end up pursuing a subrogation claim against the liable driver’s company.
Another option is filing a third-party claim with the responsible party’s insurance carrier. Insurance policies do have limits for compensation, and these must meet state minimum requirements. These can vary, and the monetary amounts can be larger when there is a major trucking company at fault for an accident. The third choice is to file a personal injury lawsuit, and this is done in civil court.
How can I Prove that a Trucking Company was Liable for My Accident?
The FMCSA is the federal government’s main agency for safety oversight of commercial vehicles and is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The FMCSA regulates more than 500,00 commercial trucking companies, interstate bus companies, and over four million commercial driver’s license holders. One of their areas of regulation is the number of hours that drivers can work in a shift. There may also be additional state laws that apply as well, depending on where they are driving.
Truck drivers are prohibited from driving more than 60 hours over seven straight days, or 70 hours over eight straight days. In addition, every duty period has to start with a minimum of 10 hours off duty. After a 10-hour off-duty period, drivers are permitted to have a 14-hour shift, but only with 11 hours of actual driving time. There also needs to be breaks during their driving, and there may be exceptions made if there are adverse conditions that slow down their routes, such as construction and poor weather. To keep track of their driving hours, they are supposed to maintain driver’s logs. These logs can serve as evidence in a truck company lawsuit.
The FMCSA also requires that truck drivers be properly trained and vetted before being allowed to drive these large trucks. Those who do not possess the right skills might break traffic laws, drive too aggressively, and not know how to handle their vehicles in emergency situations such as slipping on black ice or if a car rear-ends them. There are trucking companies who do not screen their drivers as they should and send them out on the roads and highways with little or no instruction or assistance. These drivers must have commercial driver’s licenses to legally handle big trucks, but there are different kinds of these licenses, and the driver in question might not have the right kind. Looking into the truck driver’s training and driving history could provide some clues about this.
Again, there is also the chance that the trucking company was not fully negligent or the accident was caused by an independent truck driver; a manufacturer; a company subtracted to perform maintenance, repairs, or cargo loading; or a combination. An experienced truck accident lawyer will be able to investigate the collision and can investigate the driver’s logs, background and experience, and company records.
Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton are Highly Experienced with Truck Accident Cases
If you were involved in a truck accident because of another party’s negligence, reach out to the experienced Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will help determine if the driver or the trucking company can be held liable, and if their insurance company will be asked to pay for the damages. Our legal team can provide the trusted legal guidance you need to understand your legal rights. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.