Each day, America’s streets and highways are flooded with millions of commercial trucks. Although these vehicles transport vital goods across the country, they’re cumbersome—having large blind spots and poor handling—and their drivers spend tens of thousands of miles on the road each year.
So, it should come at no surprise that there are hundreds of truck accidents each day, ranging from minor fender benders to deadly collisions.1 And, whenever one of these unfortunate incidents occurs—especially in the event of injury or property damage—the ensuing discussion will typically center on determining fault.
In other words, what happens when a truck driver has an accident and who is liable?
What Is Liability?
Before we get into truck accident liability, let’s define liability in general. In legal terms, liability denotes the person or entity that’s legally responsible for the damages or harm caused to another motorist or pedestrian, or to a person’s property. For motorists, liability refers to their legal responsibility to account for damages that were the result of trucking accidents.
A liable driver may be expected to compensate a truck accident victim by paying for:
- Medical expenses
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
Be sure to check what the average settlement for a truck accident is. Furthermore, if there were criminal actions or if the truck crash resulted in significant injury or death, the liable driver may face additional punishments, such as court-issued fees, suspended licenses, or even jail time.
Determining Liability in a Truck Accident
Even if the driver of a truck is clearly the person who caused an accident, determining truck accident liability isn’t so cut and dry. The driver may be liable, but it could also be the trucking company that’s responsible. Or, the car accident could be the fault of the people who loaded the cargo.
In some instances, multiple parties can be found to be at fault. In such cases, liability may be shared between them.
For example, potentially responsible parties could include:
The Professional Driver
Naturally, the driver of the truck will be the initial consideration for liability. They were the ones operating the vehicle, after all. To that end, you must determine whether the driver of the commercial vehicle:
- Was negligent – Did they fail to exercise reasonable care and caution at the wheel?
- Violated traffic laws – Were they following all of the rules of the road, especially in terms of speeding, driving behavior, and drug and alcohol use?
- Was following regulations – Did they knowingly and purposely violate truck driving regulations, like hours-of-service (HOS), resulting in fatigue, and thus, the trucking accident?
Proving fault is a much easier task if the truck driver clearly violated the law or trucking regulations.
The Other Motorist
If the truck driver was bumped into by another motorist, that person could be liable for damages, especially if the truck driver was rear-ended or side-swiped.
Put simply, whoever’s actions directly resulted in the collision will typically be the first party considered for liability.
The Trucking Company
While some drivers are owner-operators, a significant percentage of professional drivers are hired to work on behalf of a trucking company. However, proving that a trucking company is at-fault for an accident typically requires an experienced and savvy truck accident lawyer to gather the evidence and demonstrate that the company’s actions were the root cause of the trucking accident.
For example, the trucking company may be deemed liable if it didn’t perform a proper inspection, failed to provide preventative maintenance, or pressured drivers to push beyond federal commercial motor driver safety regulations.
Similarly, if there was faulty equipment or a critical failure in the vehicle that contributed to the car accident, the manufacturer may be held liable for the injury or property damage.
For instance, if a truck’s tire blows out due to a design flaw and it results in a crash, the tire manufacturer may be held liable.
The Cargo Loaders
In most cases, the truck driver will not load the cargo themselves. That responsibility is left to the loaders.
So, if the loaders fail to properly inspect the cargo, secure the cargo, or disclose that it contains hazardous material, they may be held responsible.
For example, cargo could fall off a truck and cause an accident. Or, loose cargo could shift the weight in the vehicle, causing it to tip over.
What to Do If You’re In an Accident?
Not sure what to do after a truck accident? If you’re a commercial truck driver that ends up in an accident, there’s a proper legal protocol you should follow:
- Stay at the scene – Even if you didn’t cause the crash, you should wait to exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver, truck accident victim, or the property owner.
- Report the accident to the DOT – If there was serious property damage, injuries, or fatalities resulting from the accident, you must contact the DOT within 24 hours.2
- Submit to an investigation – If you work for a trucking company, you’ll likely be investigated and asked to take a drug and alcohol test.
- Hire the right truck accident lawyer – Before you take any action, you should enlist the services of an experienced truck accident attorney who can investigate the incident, defend you in court, and help demonstrate that the liability was not, in fact, yours.
Here to Help You Avoid Truck Accident Liability
If a truck accident occurs, the last thing you want is to be found liable. That’s why it's so important to thoroughly investigate the crash to accurately determine the at-fault party.
Even if you clearly caused the truck crash, your employer, the commercial vehicle’s manufacturer, or even a third-party, such as cargo loaders, could be found liable—that is, if you have the right legal team on your side.
If you've been involved in a truck accident and are seeking legal support and representation, head over to Mighty's Truck Accident Attorney Directory to find a trusted attorney in your area today.
- FMCSA. Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2020. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/data-and-statistics/large-truck-and-bus-crash-facts-2020
- FMCSA. 4.4.2 Accident Recordkeeping.https://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/safetyplanner/MyFiles/SubSections.aspx?ch=21&sec=62&sub=127
Written ByLuke Krolak
Client Operations Lead
About the author
Luke is a warm-hearted and highly skilled legal operations expert with an impressive 8-year track record in the personal injury field. As the Client Operations Lead at Mighty, he is dedicated to providing exceptional support, transparent communication, and genuine empathy to clients during their challenging journey. His expertise in streamlining processes and implementing cutting-edge technology makes him an indispensable ally for clients, case managers, and attorneys in their pursuit of justice.
About the reviewer