California highways are full of commercial trucks every day at any given time. These vehicles are essential to companies, but they present a unique danger to other drivers, particularly those in passenger vehicles. In a collision, the resulting damages can be devastating for victims, often leaving them with overwhelming medical bills and lost work opportunities. Tort law allows victims to sue the at-fault party and collect the damages incurred due to negligence. However, the first step is to determine who is at fault and how you can prove it.
Who Can You Sue for a Truck Accident?
The number of potentially liable parties makes truck accidents unique compared to other types of auto accident cases. Once you determine who is at fault in your case, you can decide how to pursue compensation for damages. Filing a lawsuit is not always the best or first option. You can start by filing a claim with the liable party's insurance provider.
Suing the Truck Driver or Their Employer
The truck driver and their employer are two connected entities. The employer is generally responsible for an accident when the truck driver is at fault and acting within the scope of their job. However, the truck driver is liable for their actions. For example, if the driver violated federally mandated hours of service and caused an accident due to fatigued driving, they would be responsible. The same is true if they violate road laws, such as driving recklessly or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
However, the truck company is responsible for adequately vetting drivers and ensuring they have sufficient training before allowing them to hit the road alone. Additionally, trucking companies are liable for any accident caused by a poorly maintained truck. Therefore, companies must conduct routine inspections and regular maintenance on their fleet as part of their duty of care to their truck drivers and other people on the road. Failing in any of these responsibilities could cause an accident and cost the company financially.
Suing the Truck Manufacturer
Sometimes a truck malfunction is a production issue. A defective part or system on the truck could cause the driver to lose control and wreck. For example, if the braking system failed while the truck approached slowing traffic, the consequences could be catastrophic. In that case, the victims could sue the truck manufacturer by filing a product liability lawsuit. However, defects can occur at any stage during the design or manufacturing process, making product liability cases challenging when trying to establish negligence. Any layperson would likely need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney with expertise in truck accident and product liability cases.
Suing a Third-Party Company
Other companies and parties can play a role in a truck's safety. For example, suppose the trucking company outsourced inspection and maintenance responsibilities to a third-party mechanic. In that case, the mechanic could be liable if an accident directly relates to a malfunction missed during an inspection or ignored during maintenance. For example, if a bald tire blows, causing the truck to crash into another vehicle, the mechanic company responsible for checking and changing worn tires during inspection would be liable.
Another potentially liable third party is the cargo loader. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration strictly regulates cargo dimensions to avoid overloading and poorly secured cargo, both of which are a high risk for truck accidents. When the company or individuals responsible for loading the cargo in a truck trailer fail to abide by regulations, they could be liable for damages in the event of an accident.
What if You Are Both Liable for the Accident?
California is an at-fault state. Therefore liability is always essential when you want to file an auto insurance claim or a lawsuit following a truck accident. However, liability does not always definitively belong to one party, and a common tactic for avoiding substantial payouts is to claim the victim is, at minimum, partially at fault for the accident and the resulting injuries. If you sue the other party in your case, and the court determines you are partially liable for damages, it will impact the compensation you can recover. However, it does not make you ineligible for an award entirely.
California's Comparative Negligence Rule
Most states apply some version of the comparative negligence rule to cases involving shared fault. For example, California uses the pure comparative negligence rule, which allows you to recover a percentage of your damages equal to the defendant's percentage of liability, even if you are more liable. In practice, the court can find you 95% responsible for the accident and value your damages at $100,000, reducing your award for damages to $5,000.
What Damages Can You Recover?
The recoverable losses for your accident and injuries are known as compensatory damages and can vary drastically from case to case. Additionally, the law further divides them into economic and non-economic losses. The former affects you financially, and the latter affects you psychologically.
The specific economic and non-economic damages available in more truck accident cases include:
- Medical expenses. The liable party in your case is responsible for the costs of emergency services, medications, hospital and outpatient visits, necessary medical devices, ongoing rehabilitative treatments, and any other medically necessary care.
- Missed income opportunities. You can claim lost wages from the days, weeks, or months of missed work you needed to recover from your injuries. You can also claim loss of earning capacity if your injuries caused a disability that inhibited your earning opportunities.
- Property damage. The party responsible for the accident is also liable for the damage to your vehicle. Depending on the severity, it may require repairing or replacing it.
- Pain and suffering. You can also claim the physical and emotional pain incurred after the accident. This can take many forms, including loss of enjoyment in life, mental anguish, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Identifying and valuing these claims is your responsibility. You also have to provide sufficient evidence to support them. When you hire a truck accident attorney to handle your case, they also take care of all these components of building the case. The process can be tedious and challenging, especially when healing from a devastating accident. Having a professional's support can profoundly impact your case's outcome.
When Should You Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer?
You can contact a truck accident lawyer in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Collisions involving commercial vehicles are uniquely complex because the liability component can differ drastically from case to case. Therefore, ensuring you have all the evidence you need to support your negligence argument and prove your damages is vital to your lawsuit. An experienced truck accident lawyer has the legal expertise to adequately value your claim, fight to protect your rights, and get you on the fast track to financial, physical, and emotional recovery.
The legal team at Johnson Attorneys Group can help you understand what you need to maximize the damages available to you. We work nonstop to build your case and offer 24-hour access to your legal team, so you know we care. Our confidence comes from proven success and boundless determination. To learn more about how we can help you and to schedule your free case review with an experienced attorney, contact us at (800) 208-3538 today and get the justice you deserve.