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Can the Truck Driver be Held Liable for a Truck Accident?

Posted on: July 6, 2021

Thousands of commercial trucks use New Jersey highways and byways every day. Trucking is a significant industry, providing millions of jobs and delivering the consumer goods Americans need for a good quality of life.

With so much trucking activity, accidents are bound to occur. Truck accidents differ from car accidents in many ways. First, the sheer size, weight, and force of a truck will often cause more severe personal injuries than an accident between two passenger vehicles. They also lead to more fatalities.

In addition, there may be various negligent parties in a truck accident; the truck driver may not even be at fault. A truck accident lawyer has their work cut out for them; determining who caused the accident is a complex and critical part of their job.

What is Considered a Commercial Truck?

Any vehicle that is used to transport goods can be considered a commercial truck. These include tractor trailers, 18-wheelers, cement mixers, flatbeds, oil and gas tankers, dump trucks, garbage trucks, and heavy haulers, such as car haulers. Smaller passenger trucks are not considered commercial trucks.

What are Common Causes of Commercial Truck Accidents?

There are several reasons a commercial truck may crash, wreck, or get tangled up with a passenger vehicle. Some of the most common causes include the following:

Drowsy truck driver: Truck drivers often face unrealistic delivery deadlines. Some of them are even rewarded for delivering goods early. Others try to make up time after running into bad weather or traffic snarls. Whatever the motivation, some truck drivers will push themselves to get to their destination.

Truckers may disobey federal mandates that require rest breaks and sleep after so many driving hours. They may try to stay awake with coffee or even drugs, but nothing can replace rest and sleep. A drowsy truck driver is a dangerous menace on the road, especially when driving at night. Their ability to react quickly or make good decisions is impaired when they are tired. Some even fall asleep when driving.

Following are the primary federal guidelines regulating driver rest and sleep breaks when truck drivers are carrying cargo but no passengers:

  • Maximum 11-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • Cannot drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
  • Must take a 30-minute break after eight cumulative driving hours without at least a 30-minute break of non-driving, such as meals.
  • Cannot drive after 60/70 hours on duty in seven out of eight consecutive days. Can restart a seven-out-of-eight successive day period after 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.

Improper cargo loading or overloading: Trucks are susceptible to how cargo is loaded and the total weight of the shipment. It is easy for a truck driver to lose control when cargo shifts or is over the weight limits to start. Highway weigh stations exist to ensure overloaded trucks are not on the highway.

A warehouse employee, trucking company employee, or a third-party warehouser or logistics company may purposely overload a truck to fit all the cargo. Inexperienced employees may improperly load and balance the truck’s goods.

Whatever the reason, various accidents can occur when trucks are loaded improperly, including the following:

  • Braking becomes more difficult and takes longer. A truck carrying thousands of pounds of cargo cannot stop on a dime. Trucks need time to stop, so anything requiring quick braking can easily lead to an accident.
  • Rollovers can occur when cargo shifts while driving. Everyone has seen trucks lying on their sides on a highway. This often happens when the truck driver loses control because of shifting cargo. It also occurs when cargo shifts while the driver is turning.
  • Jackknifing can happen when trucks are overloaded. Again, drivers can lose control when cargo is over the weight limits. On sudden braking or swerving, the truck’s cab can move in a different direction from the trailer, causing a jackknife.
  • Mechanical system failure can occur when a truck carries too much weight. Trucks are built to carry a maximum weight limit. When a truck is overloaded, it puts stress on mechanical systems, brakes, and the engine, potentially leading to parts failure and serious accidents.

Tire and parts failures: Truck and parts manufacturers and assemblers sometimes furnish defective products. Other times, a trucking company or truck owner may not adequately inspect, maintain, and repair a truck’s tires and operating systems.

Trucks with inappropriate tire sizes or under- or overinflated tires are a genuine road hazard. A truck tire can split or shred in an instant, causing the driver to lose control. Braking and steering systems that are not regularly maintained are also dangerous to the truck driver and nearby motorists.

Hazardous spills: Some trucks carry dangerous cargo, whether oil, gas, or other toxic substances. In an accident, fire or inhalation of hazardous substances can severely injure or kill other motorists. Sometimes a tanker truck will leak, also causing significant problems to the environment and nearby drivers.

The Truck Driver’s Liability for a Truck Accident

A truck driver can most definitely be held liable for a truck accident. Anyone involved in an accident with a truck will need to prove who was at fault, including the truck driver.

An experienced truck accident lawyer will know how to prove whether a truck driver can be held liable in a truck accident. They can determine whether the truck driver was:

  • Drowsy or fell asleep at the wheel
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Distracted, such as using a cell phone, talking on a radio, listening to loud music, diverting from a focus on the road, or other distraction
  • Inexperienced or untrained
  • Unlicensed or had the wrong or an invalid license
  • Driving without regard to federal mandates for time off, rest breaks, sleep breaks
  • Driving recklessly, including speeding, ignoring road signs, changing lanes frequently or dangerously, tailgating, driving aggressively

However, it is important to note that truck drivers who do not own their trucks usually do not carry large amounts of insurance. Often, it is a trucking company, a truck owner, or another party that holds the insurance for a truck and its driver.

Therefore, the cause of the accident is paramount. A truck accident lawyer will need to get to the bottom of why the accident happened and who should be held liable. It could be someone other than the driver. For example:

  • A shredded tire or mechanical system failure, such as brakes, steering, or engine, could put the liability for an accident on the parts manufacturer or assembler.
  • Other truck part failures could be the fault of the trucking company or truck owner, who did not inspect and maintain the trucks as required.
  • A tired driver could be innocent because it is proved that their trucking company had unrealistic deadlines or expectations or other dangerous policies and practices.
  • A municipality could even be blamed for an accident if they did not properly maintain a road or highway. 

A truck accident is rarely cut-and-dried. A trucking company’s insurer will always try to put the blame for a truck accident on the other drivers involved. They may intimidate these innocent drivers and will offer to settle with compensation that does not cover a victim’s total damages.

Therefore, anyone involved in an accident with a commercial truck should hire a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible and never accept a settlement offer.

What Should I Do after a Commercial Truck Accident?

There are several steps to take. A driver should do as many as the following as possible:

  • First and foremost, contact the police and ask for an ambulance.
  • Accept on-scene medical attention, even if injuries are not apparent.
  • Seek medical attention after the accident as well for a thorough examination and when any symptoms arise.
  • Get the truck driver’s contact and insurance information, including for whom they are driving.
  • Take pictures and video of the scene if able: property damage, vehicle locations after the accident, road conditions, weather conditions, injuries, strewn parts.
  • Talk to bystanders and witnesses. Get statements about what happened and their contact information.
  • Do not admit fault, guilt, or any responsibility for the accident to any person or first responder on the scene or later.
  • Do not talk with the trucker’s insurance company or anyone else who asks about the accident. Refer them to a truck accident lawyer.
  • Hire a truck accident lawyer. A lawyer specializing in truck accidents knows how to defend against the insurer’s claims and prove who was at fault. They can help victims win compensation for their injuries, property damage, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Freehold Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Truck Accident Victims

An accident with a truck can result in severe injuries or even death. Financial devastation, including loss of wages, can dramatically change an innocent person’s life. If you or a loved one was involved in an accident with a commercial truck, contact the Freehold truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law today. The sooner we can get started, the more time we will have to prove negligence. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Marlboro Township, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.