Large commercial trucks transport basic consumer products and essential items to every city and town in the United States. These trucks are absolutely imperative to a flourishing economy, but big trucks can also put you and your family in some genuine danger.

Over 3,700 people were killed in commercial trucking accidents in the U.S. in 2015. Thousands more suffered severe injuries.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE IF YOU’RE INJURED BY A NEGLIGENT TRUCK DRIVER?

Even if the driver of the truck is clearly at-fault – it is sometimes quite difficult to determine – in the legal sense – which party is actually liable for your damages in a truck accident.

While this is a general introduction to trucking collisions and liability here in California, if you’re injured in a trucking accident in this state, you will need specific legal advice that explains how California law applies in your own particular case.

You must have the representation and advice that an experienced Fresno personal injury attorney will provide, and you must reach out to that attorney immediately if you’re injured by a negligent truck driver.

WHICH PARTIES MAY HAVE – OR SHARE – LIABILITY?

Who is accountable for a commercial trucking accident in California? Are trucking companies accountable for the negligence of their drivers? And who else may share liability? You’re about to learn the answers.

In a commercial trucking accident, one or more of these parties may have liability:

1. the driver
2. the trucking company
3. the truck owner (if separate from the trucking company)
4. the cargo loader
5. the truck manufacturer (or a truck parts manufacturer)

WHAT’S VICARIOUS LIABILITY AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

A legal principle known as “vicarious liability” allows employers to be held liable for the carelessness or negligence of employees, so long as that negligence was not intentional and took place within the “scope” of the employee’s job duties.

If you’re injured in a commercial trucking accident, you should understand that what’s deemed to be within the scope of a truck driver’s employment duties is interpreted quite narrowly by California judges.

For instance, if a driver injures someone while making a delivery, liability will probably fall on that driver’s employer.

However, if that same driver were to injure you in a convenience store parking lot while making an unscheduled stop for coffee, the liability will most likely be the driver’s exclusively, because unscheduled coffee stops are not in the scope of a driver’s employment duties.

WHAT ABOUT ACTIONS THAT ARE INTENTIONAL?

Trucking companies are not held liable for employees who intentionally cause harm, for instance, in a road rage or hate crime incident. Employees are entirely outside the scope of their employment duties in these cases.

Every case is different, and the details of your own case will need to be scrutinized by a California accident attorney.

In any specific commercial trucking accident, whether the employer has liability will be determined by these three questions:

1. Was the driver an independent contractor or an employee?
2. Was the negligence unintentional or intentional?
3. Did the negligence happen in the scope of an employee’s job duties?

WHAT IF THE DRIVER WHO INJURES YOU IS A CONTRACTOR?

If the driver works as a contractor, vicarious liability most likely won’t apply. Employers may be liable for an employee’s negligence but can almost never be held liable for a contractor’s behavior.

Trucking in California is regulated by numerous state and federal guidelines. What a truck may carry and how long a truck driver may stay behind the wheel are matters regulated by the federal Department of Transportation.

Thus, if you’re injured in a commercial trucking accident, any violation of federal or state regulations by the truck driver or by the trucking company may be considered as evidence of negligent behavior.

WHO ELSE MAY BE LIABLE IN A COMMERCIAL TRUCKING ACCIDENT?

What makes commercial trucking accidents so complicated legally is the likelihood that multiple parties may share liability. If the trucking business, for example, does not own the truck but leases it, the actual owner of the truck may have liability.

Owners are responsible for the maintenance of commercial trucks, and federal regulations govern commercial truck maintenance and inspections.

Federal regulations also require that the cargo on a truck must be secured firmly. If the cargo loader did not fully inspect and secure the cargo, and if cargo falls off the truck – or tips it over – the cargo loader probably has liability.

If you’re injured in a commercial trucking accident because of a defect in the truck or a defect in an essential truck part – like the tires or brakes – you will probably be able to pursue a product liability lawsuit against the vehicle or part manufacturer.

WHAT WILL YOU HAVE TO PROVE IF YOU FILE A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM?

Multiple defendants can all have a share of the liability for causing a commercial trucking crash with injuries. Especially in California, these cases can very quickly get legally complicated.

In personal injury cases, the plaintiff (that is, the injury victim) must demonstrate that the defendant (the supposedly negligent party) was in fact negligent.

Furthermore, a plaintiff must also prove that a defendant’s negligence was a direct cause of the plaintiff’s personal injury or injuries.

When the injuries sustained in a commercial trucking accident are not fatal, those injuries are often catastrophic. The injuries frequently sustained in these accidents include traumatic brain injuries, severe spinal cord injuries, multiple bone fractures, and injuries requiring amputation.

WHAT MUST BE YOUR TOP PRIORITY AFTER A TRUCKING ACCIDENT?

If you or someone you love is injured in a traffic collision with a large commercial truck, seek medical attention at once. That is absolutely the top and immediate priority after a truck accident.

If you’ve been injured, retaining legal counsel is your next priority. Do it at once. As soon as you’ve been seen by a doctor or another healthcare professional, arrange immediately to meet with a qualified personal injury attorney.

In California, the victims of negligence are entitled by law to full compensation for their medical expenses, their lost wages, their personal pain and suffering, and all other accident-and-injury-related damages.

If a negligent driver injures you in California, you have the right to be compensated, and you have the right to an attorney’s help. Make the right choice and exercise those rights if you’ve been injured by negligence. Nothing is more important than your health and your future.