Atlanta Commercial Vehicle Accident Lawyer
Atlanta Commercial Vehicle Accident Lawyer: Driver and Company Liability for Commercial Truck Accidents.
After a truck accident, is the driver on the legal hook or is an employer or business financially responsible? When you have been injured in an accident involving a big rig, semi-trailer, or commercial truck, the most important thing after seeking medical attention is to partner with an experienced, professional, reliable and dedicated Atlanta commercial vehicle accident lawyer to protect your rights.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 5,000 people were killed and an estimated 159,000 people were injured in crashes involving large trucks in 2019. Many large trucks are commercial trucks, including delivery trucks, 18-wheelers, big rigs, and tanker trucks.
If you have been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, you need to know:
- the truck driver’s employer and others might be on the hook for your losses, and
- state and federal regulations might help you prove the driver was at fault for the accident.
Who Is Legally Responsible for a Commercial Vehicle Accident?
Accidents involving commercial trucks are much more complicated than a typical car accident claim. In a typical two-car accident case, you might be able to sue the at-fault driver and file a claim with an insurance company.
In a commercial truck accident, you will probably be able to file claims against more people and companies, including:
- truck driver
- truck driver’s employer
- owner of the truck
- cargo owner and loader, and
- truck maintenance company.
Not all commercial truck accidents involve all of these entities. For example, some truck drivers are independent contractors who own their own big rigs.
Truck Driver Liability
Commercial truck accidents happen for all kinds of reasons. Some accidents are caused by driver errors, some occur due to bad weather conditions or faulty road designs, and others are caused by equipment failures.
For example, a truck driver might speed to get to the next truck stop, make an unsafe lane change, or rear-end a car stopped in traffic. Drivers who are tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more likely to make mistakes and cause accidents.
If the trucker who hit you was negligent (careless), you can bring an injury-related insurance claim or lawsuit against the driver after the accident. You will also want to look into other potentially liable parties, like the truck driver’s employer.
Is the Truck Driver’s Employer Liable?
A truck driver’s employer can be responsible for an accident caused by a truck driver under a legal theory called respondeat superior, meaning “let the master answer.”
Under this theory, an employer can be liable for an employee’s actions if the employee was working at the time of the accident for the employer’s benefit. But trucking companies often try to avoid liability by arguing that the driver is an independent contractor and not an employee or that the driver wasn’t working at the time of the accident.
Therefore, you need an experienced Atlanta commercial vehicle accident lawyer to help you gather enough evidence to build a strong case to hold a truck driver’s employer liable.
Let’s now take a closer look at these arguments
Is the Driver an Employee or Independent Contractor?
Laws vary from state to state, but to show that a driver is an employee of the trucking company and not an owner-operator of a rig, you will need to focus on how much control the company has over the trucker’s schedule and ability to enter into contracts with other trucking companies.
You will also want to look at how the trucking company pays the driver and who is responsible for paying for the truck’s registration, permit, and insurance.
Courts and insurance companies will ask these questions and more to decide how much liability to assign to the driver and the trucking company.
For example, if a truck driver uses his own truck, pays for his own liability insurance coverage, buys his own gas, assumes the cost of maintenance and repairs, gets paid on a “per route” basis, and receives no benefits from the trucking company, the driver is probably an independent contractor.
However, if the trucking company leases the truck from the driver, controls the driver’s routes, and obtains the necessary permits, the company will probably be responsible for accidents involving the truck.
When Are Drivers Acting Within the Scope of Employment?
For a trucking company to be liable, the truck driver must be an employee who was working at the time of an accident for the employer’s benefit (or “acting within the scope of employment”). Courts tend to look at:
- the nature, time, and place of the employee’s conduct
- the intent of the employee at the time of the accident
- the type of work the employee was hired to do
- the amount of freedom an employee typically has in performing duties, and
- the incidental acts the employer should reasonably expect an employee to do.
For example, if a truck driver rear-ends you while making a delivery, the driver’s employer will probably be liable for your accident-related losses because the truck driver was acting “within the scope of employment” at the time of the accident.
But let’s say a truck driver leaves work early to go to a basketball game and hits you outside of the stadium. Here, the driver’s employer will argue that the company isn’t liable for the driver’s negligence because the driver was not acting “within the scope of employment” at the time of the accident.
How Do Multiple Defendants Affect a Truck Accident Lawsuit?
When you (the “plaintiff”) file a personal injury lawsuit against more than one party or entity (the “defendants”), the defendants might be equally responsible for your losses (damages), or they might only be responsible for the portion of your damages they caused.
For example, a tired truck driver might share partial responsibility for an accident, along with the manufacturer of faulty tires. You can sue the driver (or the driver’s employer), as well as the tire manufacturer.
The defendants will have to sort out their share of fault to reach a settlement or let the jury decide at trial. You should consult an experienced Atlanta commercial vehicle accident lawyer to help you identify all potential defendants in your lawsuit.
What If the Driver’s Acts Were Intentional?
Generally, employers aren’t liable for intentional torts (like assaults) committed by employees. Employees are typically not acting “within the scope of employment” when they steal credit card information, for example, or punch customers in the face.
So, if a truck driver slams into you because you are sleeping with the truck driver’s spouse, the trucking company probably isn’t liable for the truck driver’s actions.
State and Federal Trucking Regulations
Truck drivers, owners, and manufacturers must comply with state and federal regulations. Regulators control how long a driver can go without rest, how much weight a rig can haul, and many other aspects of the trucking industry.
When a commercial truck is involved in an accident, there is a good chance that a state, federal, or local law was violated. Proving a violation of law greatly increases an injured person’s chances of winning an insurance settlement or in court.
State and federal regulations typically require truck drivers and owners to have more insurance than non-commercial drivers. Defendants who have higher insurance policy limits have deeper pockets are more likely to be able to compensate you for the full value of your claim.
Talk to a Lawyer
Commercial truck accidents are more complicated than the average car accident case. You might be able to handle your case yourself, but you might short-change yourself if you do.
Learn more about commercial truck accident claims/lawsuits, and talk to a lawyer. An experienced Atlanta commercial vehicle accident lawyer can help you make an insurance claim, negotiate a settlement, and represent you in court.
Atlanta Commercial Vehicle Accident Lawyer
If you have been involved in a commercial vehicle accident, contact Bobe & Snell Law Office LLC today to talk to an attorney with vast experience handling commercial vehicle accident cases. Call us now at (470) 268-5802 or contact us online to schedule a FREE, no-obligation case review/ consultation.
Atlanta Commercial Vehicle Accident Lawyer