Determining liability and assigning fault in a truck accident can be extremely difficult. Even if the accident was caused by the truck driver, other parties can also be held liable for your injuries – depending on the factors that contributed to the accident.
Parties that Can Be Held Responsible for a Michigan Truck Accident
The Truck Driver
If the truck driver’s negligence or recklessness caused or contributed to the accident, they can be held liable for your injuries and monetary losses. The most common ways a truck driver’s negligence can cause an accident include:
Automobile accidents can happen in a split second. It is particularly true for commercial trucks, which are much larger, heavier, and harder to control compared to passenger vehicles. If the truck driver gets distracted or loses concentration even for a brief moment, the consequences can be devastating. The most common types of distractions that can cause a truck driver to lose their concentration or take their eyes off the road include:
- Talking on the phone
- Eating and drinking
- Using the GPS
- Flipping radio channels
- Adjusting climate controls
Driving While Impaired
Data shows that alcohol and drug use is common among truck drivers – largely due to the physically and mentally demanding nature of their job and the stressful working conditions. Data also shows that truck drivers tend to consume stimulants to stay alert while they are on the road and to increase their productivity.
Alcohol – being a depressant – can slow down the reflexes of the truck driver and make it harder for them to control the vehicle. Stimulants, on the other hand, can cause the driver to take more risks than they would normally take, which in turn can increase the risk of accidents. Similarly, when the effects of these stimulants wear off, the driver might feel tired and sluggish and might make mistakes that they otherwise would not.
One of the biggest issues in the trucking industry is that drivers are often required to meet unreasonable delivery deadlines. Apart from this, external factors like traffic, inclement weather, maintenance issues, and delays in loading the truck can extend the amount of time needed to make a delivery. As a result, truck drivers are always in a hurry and are forced to speed and engage in other unsafe driving practices in order to meet their deadlines.
Assuming that a fully loaded semi-truck is traveling at 65 miles per hour, it can take anywhere from 4 to 6 seconds for it to come to a stop after the brakes are applied. During that timeframe, it might cover a distance of 400 to 500 feet. At high speeds, it can take even longer for the truck to come to a stop and it might cover even more distance before it stops. Under such circumstances, the risk of colliding with other vehicles is extremely high.
Data shows that fatigued driving is one of the major contributors to truck accidents in the country. Rotating shift schedules can make it harder for truck drivers to get adequate rest on a daily basis.
Apart from that, trucking companies in Michigan often violate hours-of-service (HOS) regulations and force drivers to stay on the road for long hours in order to meet delivery deadlines. In fact, some trucking companies even encourage their drivers to falsify their logbooks so that they can drive more and make more money.
Fatigued drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel and are at greater risk of being involved in an accident – particularly at night. A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2007 to analyze the causes of truck accidents revealed that nearly 13% of truck drivers were fatigued at the time of the accident.
Failing to follow the Rules of the Road
Failing to follow the rules of the road can also increase the risk of truck accidents significantly – particularly at dangerous intersections and in adverse weather conditions. The most common driving errors that can lead to a truck accident include:
- Following a vehicle too closely
- Making unsafe turns
- Failing to yield the right of way to other vehicles
- Running stop signs and red lights
- Failing to check the truck’s blind spots
- Driving aggressively
The Truck Company
Depending on the circumstances, the truck company can be held directly or vicariously liable for the accident.
The trucking company can be held directly liable for the accident under the following circumstances.
- If it did not have a proper screening and evaluation process in place and hired an unqualified driver.
- If it hired a driver with a history of alcohol and drug use, aggressive driving, and other traffic violations.
- If it failed to provide the proper training to the driver.
- If it did not have a proper alcohol and drug testing program in place.
- If it failed to enforce reasonable safety standards in accordance with federal regulations.
- If it failed to service the truck and maintain it in good condition.
- If it pressured the driver to meet unreasonably strict deadlines and encouraged the driver to break federal rules and regulations.
- If it allowed the driver to operate the truck despite knowing that they were not physically and/or mentally fit enough to drive.
One of the unique aspects of a truck accident claim is that the trucking company can be held liable for the accident – even if it was caused as a result of the driver’s negligence or recklessness – under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Respondeat superior – more commonly known as vicarious liability – is a legal doctrine whose origin can be traced back to ancient Rome. Under the doctrine, an employer can be held vicariously or indirectly responsible for their employees’ actions.
It should be noted that the legal theory of vicarious liability can be applied to a truck accident claim only if the driver in question was on duty and was acting within the scope of their employment.
For instance, if the driver caused an accident while making a scheduled delivery, the truck company can be held vicariously liable for the resulting damages. On the other hand, if the driver used the truck for personal purposes and caused an accident, the company cannot be held liable.
Similarly, the concept of vicarious liability is only applicable if the driver in question was under the employment of the company at the time of the accident. If the driver happens to be an independent contractor, the company cannot be held liable for the accident.
Common Defenses Used by Trucking Companies to Deny Liability
Trucking companies in Michigan often use the following defenses to deny liability following an accident.
The Independent Contractor Defense
The truck company might claim that the driver who caused the accident is not under their direct employment and is only an independent contractor. With that said, the mere fact that the driver is classified as an independent contractor cannot shield the company against a tort claim. If the driver in question worked exclusively for the company or if the company exercised control over how the driver performed their duties, the driver cannot be considered an independent contractor.
The Frolic and Detour Defense
Yet another defense that the trucking company might use is that the driver in question was not acting within the scope of employment when the accident occurred. They might argue that the driver was acting on their own and not performing any work-related duty when they caused the accident.
This defense can only be used if the driver in question used their truck for an explicitly personal purpose like taking their children to the park or going to a game. Otherwise, the company can be held liable for the driver’s actions.
Semi-trucks transport tens of thousands of pounds of cargo across the country on a daily basis. Any lapse in loading and securing the cargo can cause the cargo to shift or come loose while being transported, which in turn can result in a catastrophic accident.
The most common causes of cargo-related truck accidents include:
- Overloading the vehicle with cargo
- Stacking the materials too high
- Failing to use the right kind of securement devices
- Failing to use the right number of securement devices
- Loading the materials in an unbalanced manner
- Using worn-out or faulty devices to secure the cargo
How Cargo-Related Mistakes Can Lead to a Truck Accident
One of the biggest risks associated with improperly loaded or secured cargo is that it can shift while the vehicle is in transit. It can impact the truck’s center of gravity, which in turn can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle – particularly while making a turn.
A cargo shift can lead to a rollover accident (in which the truck overturns and falls onto the side) or a jackknife accident (in which the trailer portion swings out and forms a shape resembling a jackknife).
If cargo is not secured in accordance with federal regulations, it can come loose and spill onto the road when the driver makes a sharp turn or when the driver brakes suddenly. If and when it happens, the pieces of cargo can hit other vehicles and cause them to crash.
When a truck is overloaded with cargo, it can make it harder for the driver to operate and control it. Also, overloaded trucks might take more time to stop, which can make it harder for the driver to correctly judge the distance needed for the truck to come to a stop after the brakes are applied. Needless to say, it can increase the risk of accidents to a great extent.
Overloading the truck can also damage the mechanical components in the truck. It can lead to tire blowouts, brake failures, and broken axels, which can result in serious accidents.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has several rules and regulations in place for properly loading and securing cargo on commercial trucks.
FMCSA regulations address a wide range of cargo-related issues including:
- The maximum amount of cargo that a truck can carry (depending on the length of the truck, its weight, and the number of axles).
- The different types of securing devices that can be used to secure cargo (shackles, grab hooks, synthetic webbing, steel strapping, synthetic ropes, and more).
- How the anchor points must be positioned.
- The number of tie-downs required to secure the cargo (depending on the amount of cargo being transported).
- The use of edge protection to prevent the abrasion of tie-downs.
- The use of chocks, cradles, wedges, and other such devices to prevent cargo from rolling or shifting while the vehicle is in transit.
- The securement requirements for different types of cargo (logs, packaged lumber, concrete pipes, metal coils, automobiles, boulders, and more).
If the loading company, shipper, or contractor failed to follow these rules and regulations, they can be held liable for the accident.
On the other hand, if the cargo shifted or spilled due to defective securement devices, the company that manufactured the devices in question can be held liable as well.
If the accident was caused by a defectively designed or faulty component, the company that manufactured it can be held liable.
Why You Need an Experienced Michigan Truck Accident Lawyer on Your Side
There are many reasons why it is critically important for you to have a skilled and resourceful personal injury attorney on your side. These include:
Determining and Establishing Liability
Determining who can be held liable for a commercial truck accident is a complicated task that requires the expertise of a seasoned Michigan truck accident attorney.
Your attorney will investigate your case and consult with experts to determine who can be held liable for the accident and to gather the evidence needed to establish their liability. The most common types of evidence that your attorney might use to determine and establish liability in your case include:
- The truck driver’s employment history
- Hours of service logs
- Results of alcohol and drug tests conducted after the accident
- Dispatch logs
- Truck inspection and maintenance records
- Post-accident inspection reports
- Data from the truck’s black box
- Footage obtained from surveillance or traffic cameras at the accident site
- Dashcam footage
- Eyewitness statements
- Reports from accident reconstruction specialists and other experts
Calculating the Value of Your Claim
Truck accidents can lead to extremely serious and life-altering injuries. Depending on your age, health condition, and the nature and extent of your injuries, you might require lifelong treatment and care. In some cases, you might be cognitively or physically disabled and your earning capacity could be severely impacted as a result.
In relation to this, your disability might also prevent you from enjoying life and caring for your family members like you used to. Only an accomplished and capable truck accident lawyer can take all these factors into consideration and calculate the value of your claim accurately.
Negotiating with the Insurance Company
Negotiating with the claims adjuster is by far the most challenging aspect of a tort claim. The claims adjuster will try to do everything in their capacity to question the severity of your injuries, the validity of your claim, and the value of your claim. In some cases, they might deny liability altogether and flat out refuse to pay you.
You need an equally knowledgeable and resourceful truck accident lawyer on your side to be able to counter the claims made by the insurance company and recover the damages you are owed.
In the absence of effective and aggressive legal representation, you will almost certainly be bullied or pressured into accepting a low settlement offer, which might only be a fraction of the damages you are actually entitled to.
Injured in a Commercial Truck Accident? Get Our Experienced Michigan Truck Accident Attorneys on Your Side
At The Lobb Law Firm, we are committed to providing the highest level of legal services and representation to auto accident victims in Michigan. Our trucking accident attorneys have an in-depth understanding of Michigan personal injury law and have over 50 years of combined legal experience in handling car accidents, semi-truck accidents, and other auto accident claims in Wayne County, Oakland County, and McComb County.
Our founder – Joseph R. Lobb – is a highly accomplished personal injury lawyer who has represented several truck accident victims throughout his career. With over 30 years of litigation experience in the state as well as federal courts, Joseph R. Lobb is rated highly by his clients and has earned the respect and admiration of his peers.
Our law firm has the financial resources and connections to stand up to any trucking company in Michigan and we will not rest until we recover full and fair compensation – including medical bills, lost wages, mental anguish, pain and suffering, and other applicable damages. When our truck accident lawyers are involved in a case, truck companies know that they are in for a fight.
To discuss your injury claim with an experienced truck accident lawyer (Wayne County and surrounding areas), call our law office today at 248-591-4090 or use our online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.