Posted by Michael Silverman on 05/30/2023

How Do You Sue a Trucking Company for Negligence?

How Do You Sue a Trucking Company for Negligence?

Big trucking is big business. Thanks to big box stores and mega-warehouses, you can have almost anything delivered straight to your door within hours or days. But the cost of convenience is increasingly crowded roads and highways. According to the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were 10,500,105 single-unit straight trucks and 2,979,277 combination trucks, or tractor-trailers, registered in the United States in 2020. That’s nearly 13.5 million big commercial trucks crisscrossing the nation’s roads every year.

And when we say big, we mean big. Even the most intrepid drivers might get a bit of an adrenaline surge when they’re boxed in by a couple of big rigs on the highway. Any type of accident is scary, but just thinking about a run-in with a tractor-trailer is terrifying. It’s not that commercial trucks are necessarily more prone to danger, but they’re larger and heavier than the average vehicle, even when they’re not fully loaded with freight. That’s why most accidents with large trucks are way more serious than a standard car-on-car fender-bender.

Deciding who is liable for an accident

What is liability, and can a trucking company be held liable for the accident that injured you? Simply put, liability means being responsible for the accident in the eyes of the law. Bypassing the proper safety protocols can determine who is at fault in the event of an accident—and it may indeed be the driver or the fleet owner.

On-road safety between big trucks and smaller vehicles is a two-way street. If you’re driving a car or smaller vehicle, you need to respect the big rigs. Always obey any signs posted on the trucks that alert you to the vehicle’s limitations, like a wide turning radius, or the driver’s blind spots (“If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you!”) 

Likewise, truckers need to plan for road safety, too. It is quite literally part of their job. In fact, training counts toward a trucker’s billable hours. Tractor-trailer and straight-truck operators need to follow certain basic protocols, such as maintaining their vehicles regularly, driving at safe speeds, and refraining from drunk or distracted driving.   

When a trucking company might be liable 

A trucking company can be held liable for accidents, injuries, and even wrongful death in many ways. 

ROAD & WEATHER CONDITIONS: A trucker needs to take into account any unusual road conditions and drive appropriately. This includes inclement weather such as rain, snow, and dust storms as well as construction or unrepaired roads. Failure to alter their speed accordingly or take steps to prepare adequately for the conditions can make the truck driver liable in the event of an accident. Severe snow and ice storms might require putting chains on the tires. Extreme heat may mean you need to adjust your tire pressure. A trucker must constantly monitor the environment, especially as it may change frequently on a long-haul trip.

SPEED & DISTANCE: When considering their speed, a trucker needs to account for longer stopping distances and leave enough room between vehicles. The rule of thumb is that tractor-trailers need about the length of two football fields to come to a full stop. If a driver was speeding or tailgating, they may be liable for an accident or wrongful death. Failing to slow down appropriately for curves is another dangerous behavior related to excessive speed. Curves are particularly dangerous for trucks as their height can make them vulnerable to rollovers on tight turns. This is particularly true if a truck’s load is not secured properly and becomes unbalanced during transit. 

WEIGHT & SAFETY: A driver must always perform the proper safety inspections of both the truck and its cargo. This includes paying attention to any height and weight limitations on the planned route as well as stopping at any open weigh stations along the way. If a trucker avoids weigh stations, it may be because the trucking company has knowingly sent them out with an overweight and dangerous load. A trucker may be fined or even lose their license for this offense, but they may also be proven liable in the case of an accident.

TIME & REST: The driver’s logbook may also be inspected at a weigh station. Inspections look for any mishandled or manipulated data on the truck’s electronic logging device (ELD). One of the main purposes of an ELD is to track the driver’s hours of service (HOS), though it also acts as a GPS for the vehicle. Drivers must obey the rules regarding HOS and make sure they are getting the proper amount of rest. Driving drowsy whether from lack of sleep or use of prescription medicines can be treated as negligence under the law.

DRUGS & ALCOHOL: Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is never acceptable. Truckers in an altered state will have slower reaction times and are less likely to perceive danger, making them more likely to engage in risky or negligent behavior. Anyone who operates a vehicle with a blood alcohol level above 0.08% is in violation of U.S. federal law and can be held accountable for an accident.

Do you need a lawyer to sue for negligence? 

To sue a trucking company for negligence, you—or your representation—will have to prove that the driver or trucking company failed in their duty to be responsible. A Delaware truck accident lawyer will conduct a full investigation in order to prove that liability. A legal team can check logs, conduct interviews, evaluate the route taken and any stops made, research the weather conditions, and much more. Having professional representation not only makes the process less stressful for the injured party. It also makes it more likely that they will receive any compensation they’re entitled to from the negligent party.

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