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Understanding Liability and Trucking Accidents

Trucking accidents have been on the rise over the past twenty years, according to FMCSA (the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) and in a typical year nearly 5000 people lose these lives in trucking accidents. Another 130 000 people a year sustain serious injuries, such as brain injuries, amputations, spinal cord injuries, and other serious injuries. Truck accidents are also more likely than car accidents to result in serious personal injuries, substantial property loss, and fatalities.

After a trucking accident, it is often far more difficult to assign liability or responsibility. Unlike car accidents, trucking accidents often involve multiple parties – the driver of the car, the truck driver, the owner of the truck, the company renting or managing the truck. In addition, some trucks consist of a cab and trailer owned and managed by separate companies. In many cases, a truck is leased from an owner, so that the leasing company may be held partly liable. The shipper or loader of a truck may also be held liable if a load was incorrectly secured. Finally, the manufacturer of the truck or various truck parts may also be held partly responsible for a trucking accident.

There are many regulations and laws which determine who is responsible or liable in a trucking accident. Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations outlines most of the federal legislation governing trucks. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), state laws, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) also govern the trucking industry. Determining which party may have violated some laws or regulations usually requires the services of a savvy and experienced personal injury attorney.

Often, after a trucking accident, no one wants to take blame. The leasing, hauling, and trucking companies often engage in finger-pointing, as none want to use their insurance company to pay the person who has sustained injuries. For instance, the leasing company may blame the owners of the trucks for renting a poorly-maintained truck. The owner of the company may blame the manufacturer of the brakes, claiming the brakes are defective. The manufacturer may blame the loader, claiming a truck was overloaded. While these parties argue amongst themselves, the victim recovering from serious loss and injuries usually has no recourse to financial help to cope with growing medical bills.

Years ago, trucking companies created barriers between themselves and drivers by hiring drivers through contractors and by leasing trucks through other companies. In the event of an accident, the trucking company could claim that the driver is not one of their employees and that the truck was not their property. In this way, trucking companies hoped to avoid some liability. However, today’s federal laws do not permit this sort of slight of hand. Now, every time a company places its name or placard on that truck, the company is responsible for the truck, regardless of whether the truck and driver are directly associated with the company or not.

Another issue when determining liability in a trucking accident is the gathering of evidence. Due to the damage a truck accident causes, some evidence may be lost. Laws require certified truck inspectors to gather evidence and inspect trucks involved in accidents immediately. Trucks today also use “black boxes,” much like planes, which gather crucial evidence. These rules allow investigators to gather more evidence about accidents. As well, many Florida personal injury attorneys work closely with private investigators who are experienced in accident reconstruction and other techniques which are useful in gathering evidence and facts after an accident.