By: Matthew Dolman
In [a] previous article, we examined how truck driver errors commonly lead to commercial truck accidents. However, drivers are far from the only parties that may be responsible for causing a serious crash. In many cases, liability for a truck accident can be traced back to negligent acts of the trucking company that owned the truck and/or employed the driver.
Trucking companies have the legal duty to act in a reasonably safe manner for others as well as to comply with all federal and state regulations. When a company breaches this duty and injuries result, the company can be found negligent and accountable for the losses of any injured accident victims. The following are some ways that a trucking company can be negligent in truck accident cases.
When making hiring decisions, trucking companies should take several steps to ensure their employees will not pose an unreasonable risk to others. Such steps include:
- Ensuring that a driver is properly licensed and qualified to operate a certain type of commercial vehicle
- Reviewing an applicant’s driving history to determine whether they have a pattern of dangerous behaviors on the road or traffic violations
- Reviewing an applicant’s criminal history to determine whether they have a history of driving under the influence or other relevant crimes
- Ensuring that a driver has passed the required medical evaluation
When a company hires unqualified or potentially risky drivers, it may be liable if that driver then causes an accident.
A trucking company is expected to properly supervise employees to ensure they are in compliance with all safety regulations. Companies should also take certain action if an employee may be violating the law or engaging in dangerous behaviors. In many cases, however, a trucking company may conveniently look the other way to avoid turnover and the cost and resources needed to hire and train new drivers.
In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that trucking companies conduct drug and alcohol testing on drivers before they start employment and at random times throughout their employment. If a company fails to administer the required tests or does not take appropriate action when a driver fails a drug or alcohol test, it can be deemed liable if that driver then causes a drunk driving truck accident.
Inadequate Truck Inspection and Maintenance
Whether a trucking company has a few trucks or a fleet of hundreds of vehicles, it has the duty to ensure that the trucks are in proper working order. The requires a company to regularly perform thorough inspections on trucks and make any necessary repairs before a truck is allowed back into operation. In addition, regular maintenance should be performed on every truck.
In recent months, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) conducted inspections of thousands of commercial vehicles in the United States and Canada. 22 percent of the vehicles inspected were removed from operation based on vehicle violations and 14 percent of the vehicles had brake-specific violations. This is only one indication of how commercial truck inspections and maintenance can fall by the wayside. When a truck suddenly malfunctions, a driver will often lose control and crash and the company that owns the truck may be held accountable.
Unsafe Company Practices
Like any type of business, trucking companies are focused on their bottom lines. More deliveries often mean more profits and some companies may cut corners or urge employees to engage in certain unsafe practices to complete as many deliveries as possible. Companies may even encourage or pressure drivers to exceed hours of service regulations to fit in more orders, which can lead to fatigued driving. Any unsafe practices of a trucking company that result in a crash can be the basis for company liability.
Covering Up Driver Violations
We mentioned above that some trucking companies may fail to take disciplinary action against unsafe truck drivers and instead, allow the drivers to remain on the road. In some situations, companies may even go a step further and try to cover it up when a driver has violated the law. This can be especially common if a violation led to a crash.
Employers can often be held strictly liable for injuries caused by negligent employees—even if the company was not negligent on its own. Therefore, if a driver causes a crash, a company will likely take steps to avoid liability whenever possible. In extreme circumstances, this can include concealing evidence of the violation. By protecting the driver, the company is also often protecting itself. While many companies are honest in this type of situation, there are always some owners who are willing to engage in a wrongful cover-up after a crash.
It is important for truck accident victims to identify when a trucking company may be held liable for their losses—whether on its own or in addition to the truck driver. Florida law requires trucking companies to carry substantial insurance policies, which can make it easier to ensure that all losses may be covered by an insurer. The losses suffered in truck accidents can be extensive and may include the following:
- Medical bills
- Future medical costs
- Lost income
- Lost future earnings
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent injuries and disabilities
Truck accident insurance claims can be complex, especially if you file a claim against both the truck driver and the trucking company. These insurers are often out to avoid liability, as will be the trucking company in most cases. The settlement offers you receive will likely be much less than you deserve and insurance adjusters may be difficult to communicate with. An experienced truck accident lawyer can communicate with the insurance company, review any settlement offers, and negotiate a higher offer to make sure your losses are covered whenever possible.
Truck drivers and trucking companies are often involved in truck accident claims, however, they are not the only parties that may be negligent and cause a truck accident. In the next article, we will examine how commercial truck manufacturers may be responsible for a truck accident and the resulting losses.