It’s no wonder that many drivers try to avoid being on the road near a heavy truck. The idea of a collision with a tractor trailer or other commercial truck is particularly frightening, due to the potential for serious injury from an accident involving such a large, threatening vehicle. But what if you have been involved in a truck accident and sustained serious injuries – who is responsible? Determining truck accident liability can actually be pretty tricky.
One reason for this is that more than one party may be found to be at fault, and in all likelihood, the various parties will attempt to point fingers at one another in order to avoid taking responsibility. Because of the potential for multiple parties to be involved, you should hire a lawyer who has successfully handled these types of lawsuits in the past and is well versed in the laws regarding truck accidents.
Pennsylvania Truck Accident Statistics
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) 2016 Crash Facts & Statistics Report, the total number of heavy truck crashes was trending upward from 2012 to 2015, although the incidence of fatal injury crashes in 2015 was the lowest in the five years between 2012 and 2016.
Between 2012 and 2016, there were an average of 137 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks per year and an average of about 6,500 total heavy truck crashes on Pennsylvania roads. The most common vehicle defects that cause accidents are tire and wheel problems, followed by brake malfunctions, power train failures, and steering system failures. More than half of accidents involving a heavy truck occur on state-maintained roads that are not designated as interstates, followed by interstate highways, local roads, and a handful on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Determining Truck Accident Liability
Most people would assume that when a truck driver causes an accident, his or her employer is legally at fault. However, determining liability in an accident involving a truck is often far from straightforward. If the driver was drunk driving or failed to take legally mandated breaks from the road, the trucking company can be held liable as the employer. However, what if malfunctioning breaks or faulty tires are the cause of the crash? What if, beyond the driver’s knowledge or control, the shipper or loader of the truck weighted the cargo beyond the truck’s hauling capacity and that was the cause of the accident?
To put it simply, any party involved in ownership, maintenance, or operation of the vehicle may be held liable if they were negligent in meeting their legal responsibilities in manufacturing or maintaining a road-worthy vehicle. Proving fault can be challenging and should always be handled by an experienced truck accident lawyer.
How Trucking Companies Try to Avoid Crash Liability
In the event of an accident involving one of their drivers, a trucking company’s insurer may try to raise a “scope of employment” defense. The scope of employment is a legal concept that defines when an employee is or is not acting on behalf of his or her employer.
For instance, if a truck driver causes an accident during a break from work or in the process of returning a leased truck to its owner, the employer may attempt to avoid liability given that the employee or contractor was not working at the time of the crash. Of course, in these instances the driver was involved in necessary, work-related activities and is legally considered to be “working.” On the other hand, if the driver was using his work vehicle on a day off to help a friend move furniture to a new residence, he was acting outside of the scope of employment, and liability would therefore rest with the driver.
Over the years, companies tried to avoid truck accident liability by attempting to put distance between themselves and their drivers. They claimed their drivers were not employees but independent contractors and argued that drivers operating leased vehicles were not the responsibility of the company; therefore the company was not legally responsible when the vehicle was involved in an accident. While this argument has been invalid since a 1956 federal regulation outlawed it, there are attorneys who will attempt to invoke it out of desperation.
Damages Due to Victims of Truck Accidents
There are many possible consequences of an accident with a heavy truck that reach beyond the damage or loss of your vehicle. You or your passengers may be injured and require medical care, including doctor and hospital visits, medications, and in-home care. If your injuries cause you to miss work, you may sue for lost wages; if your injuries are extensive or permanent, you may also sue for the loss of your capacity to earn money in the future. You may also be entitled to damages for pain and suffering if you’ve experienced mental and emotional hardship due to the accident.
If your spouse has been seriously injured or even killed in an accident with a truck, you may also sue for loss of consortium , which compensates you for the loss of companionship and intimacy that was previously afforded to you by your relationship. An experienced truck accident liability attorney will maximize damages that you and your family are entitled to after a painful and stressful accident with a heavy truck.
Experienced Truck Accident Lawyers in Media, Pennsylvania
Due to the complexity of determining truck accident liability, victims of truck accidents must choose a lawyer with a proven track record of winning cases specifically involving large trucks. An experienced truck accident lawyer understands that the parties involved may attempt complex legal maneuvering to avoid liability and knows how to find the guilty party or parties responsible.
Donaghue & Labrum has been winning cases on behalf of truck accident victims for more than 25 years and will fight relentlessly on your behalf until you get the compensation you need and deserve. We have convenient offices in Media and West Chester, and we offer a free in-home consultation should it be difficult for you to get to us. Call Donaghue & Labrum today if you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident.