If you can establish the existence of an employment relationship between the truck driver and a trucking company or motor carrier, then you may be able to recover from both the driver and the company under a legal theory known as "respondeat superior." Contact an experienced truck accident attorney who can help you determine whether you have a claim.
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Truck Accidents - An Overview
A traffic accident involving a large commercial truck can have disastrous consequences. A typical fully loaded 18-wheeler or semi truck can weigh over 80,000 pounds; compare this to the average passenger vehicle, which only weighs around 4,000 pounds. The massive size of these trucks means that any collision between them and a vehicle that is 20 times smaller is likely to result in serious or fatal injuries. If a truck is carrying hazardous chemicals or flammable materials at the time of an accident, the resulting injuries may be even more severe because secondary injuries, such as burns and respiratory injuries (to vehicle occupants and innocent bystanders), attributable to the dangerous or toxic cargo can result.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your injuries by bringing a legal claim against the responsible parties. An experienced trucking accident attorney at Culpepper Kurland in Tampa, FL, can help determine whether you have a claim.
Proving your case
In general, the main legal theory of liability in a truck accident case (or any other motor vehicle accident case) is negligence. To establish a case, the injured party, known in legal terms as the "plaintiff" must show that the truck driver or other party (the "defendant" or "defendants"):
- Owed a duty to the plaintiff to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances
- Breached or failed in that duty
- This breach was the cause of the plaintiff's injury
- Plaintiff suffered harm because of the breach
It is critical to begin investigating an accident as soon as possible so that evidence is preserved. There are a variety of types of information to be gathered after a crash that could be relevant to legal claims. These include information about previous violations of regulations by the trucking company or driver involved, the truck's maintenance records, the speed the truck and your vehicle were traveling, the location of the impact on the vehicles' exteriors, the truck driver's log book and statements from eye witnesses or first responders to the accident scene (emergency personnel like police officers, firefighters, EMTs or state motorist assistance crews). Another crucial piece of evidence is the truck's so-called "black box," which records data before, during and after a collision. It will probably also be useful to investigate the trucking company's policies and procedures.
An expert can also be a tremendous resource to use in proving your truck accident case. An expert can testify about the possible negligence of a trucking company based on his or her familiarity with trucking regulations and industry standards. An expert can be any person who has significant experience in the trucking field, such as a trucking company's safety director, the former owner of a trucking company, a former investigator from the Department of Transportation (or the state-level equivalent) or a computer expert who can help interpret data pulled from a "black box."
Depending on the specific circumstances surrounding your truck accident, your lawyer may be able to pursue claims against third parties in addition to claims against the truck driver him or herself( and his or her insurance company). If the trucker is not an independent operator, then the trucking company or motor carrier employer, safety director for the carrier, diesel mechanic or tech who worked on the truck, state vehicle inspector and a truck or part manufacturer may also be liable for your injuries.
When a commercial truck accident occurs, if an employment relationship is established between the truck driver and a trucking or shipping company, then that company could be held liable for the driver's negligence under a legal theory known as respondeat superior. Under this doctrine, a trucking company or other employer can be held responsible for the wrongful acts of its employee (in the case, the at-fault driver). Trucking companies may try to fight liability under this theory by arguing that the wrongful act did not occur within the scope of employment or that the driver was an independent contractor rather than an employee.
In some cases, the manufacturer of the truck may also be held liable if the accident was caused by some defect in the truck or one if its vital components, as might the maker of a particular part (if they are different legal entities). Liability might also lie with a shipper of hazardous materials carried by the truck if injuries were caused or exacerbated by the truck's cargo. For example, if a shipper fails to advise a truck driver or trucking company of hazardous material contained in a load of freight, the shipper may be liable for injuries that result if that material catches fire or is released.
If a third party logistics company (a company that specializes in brokering transportation services but is not itself a motor carrier) is involved, it may be difficult to recover from that company. Examples of well-known third party logistics providers include DHL, Nippon and C.H.Robinson. Many court cases on this subject have held that the respondeat superior doctrine cannot be used against logistics companies because they generally engage in independent contractor relationships with common carriers and are therefore exempt from liability. In addition, certain provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's regulations serve to limit the liability of third party logistics companies in personal injury cases.
Speak to a trucking accident lawyer
A traffic accident involving a tractor trailer, 18-wheeler, semi truck or other commercial vehicle can result in serious physical injury and property damage, particularly to occupants of smaller passenger cars and trucks. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, you may be entitled to compensation. It is important to contact an experienced truck accident attorney at Culpepper Kurland in Tampa, FL, to discuss your case as soon as possible.
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