When it comes to recovering damages after a truck crash in Florida, you need to know whom you will sue so that you can be compensated. This narrows down to the issue of determining who was responsible for your injuries. Determining liability seems straightforward, but it can get very complicated when more than one party is to blame. In this case, you should know that in addition to the truck driver, you can also sue other parties for compensation.
Since it may be challenging to determine the exact liable party on your own, you need to consult an experienced personal injury attorney. Apart from giving legal advice on who should be sued, the attorney will help you with the process of filing a lawsuit, so you can concentrate on getting better. At the Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney, we have lawyers with expertise in handling personal injury cases. If you have been in an accident and are finding it hard to determine liability, reach out to us as soon as possible.
Truck vs. Passenger Vehicle Crashes
Trucks are worth 80000 pounds of danger if operated negligently. Putting in mind that hundreds of trucks are driven all through Florida every day, it poses the concern of what can be done if a trucking accident crash.
Being in a crash with a truck differs from being in an accident with a passenger vehicle. Also, the procedure involved in bringing personal injury lawsuits for truck accidents differs from that of passenger vehicles, which is mainly on the issue of liability.
Accidents involving commercial trucks and PSVs are more like the scenario of the big object trashing the small. Often, tractor-trailers carry wide loads taking up almost the entire width of a lane. Additionally, these tractors are several cars heavy and long. For instance, a truck can weigh more than 20 times the weight of a passenger vehicle. Thus, when a car suffers a crash at the truck’s fault, a lot of tons are slammed against the car, which only weighs 5000 pounds.
Common Truck Accident Causes
Like it is with all other personal injury lawsuits, you must prove negligence before the issue of liability is discussed. Since there are several levels of responsibility involved in truck accidents, taking time to analyze what could have caused the accident is crucial. As we mentioned earlier, trucks are quite huge compared to cars. When improperly handled, various negligent reasons for an accident will occur. This is also the case if the driver does not adhere to the proper protocol when driving. Reckless causes that could lead to a truck accident include:
- Driving over the stipulated speed limit
- Failing to maintain the truck. This includes truck’s parts like tires, valve systems, or brakes
- Improper overtaking
- Not using traffic signals
- Operating the truck without adequate sleep
- Inexperienced drivers
- Failure to stop at traffic signs or lights
- Large blind spots
- Carrying heavy loads outside legal parameters
Because truck sizes are large, failure to obey traffic signals or speeding can be fatal. Apart from crashing into another vehicle with a high force, recklessly driving a truck makes a driver incapable of pulling it up as quickly. Trucks have an extra 40% of the time required to stop compared to passenger vehicles.
Similarly, there are cases of drivers transporting loads outside of the legal weight limits. These loads may fall off on other vehicles resulting in a fatal accident. Also, most drivers operate their trucks for hours without getting enough sleep in an attempt to transport given materials from one place to another on time. When a driver drives while sleepy, he/she is not 100% attentive, which could easily lead to an accident.
The above causes of a truck accident are majorly the driver’s fault. Other reasons that are not a driver’s fault include:
Poorly-loaded cargo - A cargo on a truck should be balanced. If it isn’t well-distributed, it can fall off on other cars on the road. Also, it may make the truck tip over, causing an accident.
Poorly-maintained trucks - A truck that is not properly maintained may have a brake or tire failure, or a steering malfunction. All these are factors that can contribute to an accident. Additionally, side-view and rear mirrors that are poorly adjusted give a poor viewing, which increases the blind spot. Accidents may also happen because of electronic failures.
Poor conditions of the road - This includes uneven roads, potholes, exposed rebar, road cracks, and broken concrete. If a truck driver hit a large pothole, the tire could burst, causing the truck to lose balance and collide with other vehicles.
Liability in Truck Accidents
The main reason why personal injury lawsuits involving large trucks are quite complicated is that several parties can be held liable for only one accident. Filing a lawsuit against the party at fault in truck-related accidents is quite different from other personal injury suits. Depending on what caused the truck accident, typical liability would fall on separate parties.
Filing a lawsuit against another car is perhaps the most common form of personal injury suit with which you’re familiar. In case you were involved in a crash, and the driver of the other car was to blame, you would be compensated for the harm you sustained because of their negligence. Here, the driver that is to blame would be responsible for your injuries.
Also, even though trucks are commercial motor vehicles, they are much different from other commercial vehicles that are usually used for business. For instance, they differ from ridesharing cars or delivery vehicles. When these other commercial vehicles cause an accident, you can hold two parties responsible for your injuries, the driver and the company that owns the truck.
Basically, after a crash, with a commercial vehicle that is not a truck, you may file your personal injury lawsuit against the insurance company of the driver. This is if the driver was negligent and led to the accident. You can also file a suit against the company that the driver works for if the driver was on duty or ferrying passengers when the accident took place.
In commercial truck accidents, there are more than one or two parties you can hold responsible for your losses. Similar to crashes with other commercial vehicles, the driver’s company and the driver himself/herself are responsible for compensating you for the injuries you sustained. However, other parties that can also be responsible for your loss include:
- The truck owner
- The loader or shipper of the truck’s load
- The company which leased the vehicle
- The truck’s manufacturer
- The manufacturer of the truck’s parts
In most cases, the apparent liable party in an accident case is the driver. A driver is responsible for his/her actions when behind the wheel, and a truck driver is bound to make similar mistakes as a personal driver. The only difference is that a truck driver’s errors often result in much more damage. Whether the driver unsafely performed a lane change or was distracted when driving, their contribution to the accident makes them responsible for your injuries. Other reasons that can make the driver liable are if he/she was driving while intoxicated or speeding.
The Driver’s Company (Employer)
In case the trucking company did not take proper safety measures when hiring drivers, it may be held responsible for the damage caused. Also, if the company forced the driver to drive in unsafe conditions, it could equally be held accountable.
Despite federal and state laws, there are trucking companies that allow their drivers fewer brakes, pressure them to operate during unsafe hours, or in hazardous weather conditions. A few companies have even forced their drivers to work extra hours and forge their logs through withholding their paycheck and other deceitful methods.
Trucking companies that do not retain drivers for long may not conduct proper safety and background checks on hires. Not conducting adequate background checks may lead to hiring drivers with questionable driving records. Additionally, the FMCSA has put in place strict inspection and maintenance requirements for truck companies that own their vehicles. Failure for a company to conduct a routine inspection or to follow the required maintenance schedule could make them responsible if the truck fails and causes an accident.
However, it is not always that the company becomes responsible for an accident. After a crash involving a commercial truck, the first thing to determine is whether the driver was an independent contractor or a company's employee. This difference is crucial since a trucking company is typically not responsible for the negligent behavior of an independent contractor.
In most cases, the distinction of a driver being an employee or an independent contractor depends on whether or not the employer has the right to control how work is done. In case the employer controls the outcome of the job done, but not how the results are achieved, then the driver is likely an independent contractor.
Also, there’s an exception to the rule that a company is responsible for crashes caused by its employee drivers. In general, an employer cannot be held accountable for the deliberate wrongful acts its employee commits. The idea here is that when the driver’s actions are not related to his/her business enterprise, then the company won’t take responsibility if those acts lead to an accident.
The Loader or Shifter of the Truck’s Load (Cargo Company)
Cargo companies mostly rely on trucking companies and truck drivers to move products from one point to another. When doing this, they may unintentionally or intentionally overlook safety measures. A company may either improperly load the cargo or overload it on a truck to obtain more from each trip and reduce the costs. An unbalanced load could make a truck tip over, leading to an accident.
The Manufacturer of the Truck or its Parts
Defective vehicle parts or vehicles themselves are one of the most common causes of truck-related accidents. Parts that are poorly designed or mechanical problems because of design flaws may make a manufacturer responsible for damages in case a crash occurs. Your lawyer can pull product recalls or maintenance logs or any other documentation that would show whether the faulty part contributed to your accident.
Apart from the main parties mentioned above, you can also sue the government or a construction company responsible for highway damages or defects that contributed to the accident. Mechanics and other persons responsible for repairs or maintenance can also be held accountable if they were negligent in their duties.
Generally, there are several possible liable parties in trucking accidents as opposed to only two in other commercial vehicle accidents. The loading, leasing, and trucking companies often disagree among themselves on whose insurance coverage will compensate the injured party. For instance, the trucking company may allege that the crash happened due to defective brakes. The brake company would then accuse the leasing company, arguing that it did not keep the brakes in proper working condition. However, with the help of an experienced attorney, you can draw proof that indicates which party was at fault.
Note that you can also be at fault for a truck accident. If you contributed to the occurrence of the crash, you would be the other liable party. The good news is that even if you are responsible for an accident, you may still be entitled to compensation. However, the amount of compensation you would have received is reduced by the percentage with which you were responsible for.
Florida uses the pure comparative fault law, whereby your extent of the fault will not bar you from recovering damages for your injuries. This is so even if you were majorly to blame for the accident. The law provides that contributory negligence chargeable to you reduces your compensation evenly, but does not prevent recovery. Therefore, if, for example, the jury finds that you are 90% to blame, you will still recover 10% of your compensation from the at-fault party.
Joint and Several Liability
When three or more parties contributed to a crash, the issue to solve here is whom to recover damages from and how much you will recover. The State of Florida did away with the joint & ‘Several Liability.’ Joint & ‘Several Liability’ is an old legal concept, which permitted a victim to choose from whom he/she wished to get the full compensation.
For instance, let us say you were operating Car A then got in an accident that was Truck A and Car F’s fault. The jury establishes that you don’t share any blame in the crash, but Car F was 90% to blame, and Truck A was 10% to blame. If Truck A had a high insurance coverage than Car F, you would have the legal right to choose that Truck A pays all the damages despite sharing negligence with Car F. Then, Truck A could sue Car F to contribute to the compensation. Today, this no longer applies. What happens today is that drivers involved in several collisions are only liable for the percentage of negligence assignable to them.
Components of Establishing Liability
Since commercial vehicles are generally large and they frequently make interstate travels, their insurance coverage is often high. For instance, the insurance coverage of a truck can be worth 50 times over the insurance coverage of a personal or passenger vehicle. Therefore, the trucking company may often try to deny being entirely negligent.
Thus, for you to justify your claim, you need to be extremely proactive. As it is with all other cases involving personal injury lawsuits, the precise facts surrounding the crash are critical to establishing liability. The relevant facts which you must note down are as follows:
- The name/names of the driver/drivers involved in the crash
- The company in charge of the truck’s operation
- Weather conditions for when the accident happened
- Your speed when the collision occurred
- Factors you believe might have led to the crash, for instance, failure to use traffic signals, failure to obey traffic laws, and the driver’s physical and emotional state.
- The damage registered to the vehicles involved in the accident and their parts
As the general protocol, try and take photos of the accident scene and both vehicles. Also, note down the contact details of anyone who witnessed the crash.
Collecting Information to Establish Liability
Sometimes, the immediate outcome of the crash demand that you pay for your medical expenses and any other out of pocket bills as you await compensation. When this happens, make sure you keep track of the bill and have the record with you. It is crucial to hire a personal injury lawyer to represent you during this time.
What an Attorney Will Do
Determining liability in truck accidents can be hard. As we have seen, several parties can be blamed for these types of accidents. Truck accidents may occur due to someone else's negligence or not. Whatever the cause, you need assistance recovering from the injuries and handling the situation if you come out of a truck accident alive. For instance, you need to know how you will pay for your outstanding hospital expenses, deal with income loss, job loss, and the pain & suffering you are going through. Seeking an attorney’s help may be more comfortable for you to handle all these. The attorney will be able to:
Collect the required proof - Your attorney could, for instance, subpoena the black box of the truck if it has one. The box should be subpoenaed as soon as possible before critical information is destroyed. It is not easy for trucking companies to hand over this box. This is because it may contain the information your lawyer needs to sue for your rightful compensation. Black boxes record the maximum and average speed and hard stops. They also keep a record of how the truck has been in operation. If the crash was due to a worn-out vehicle, the information therein could build a strong case. The book also contains the driver’s driving pattern. If the driver was driving recklessly, your attorney would know.
Ensure no crucial evidence is hidden or destroyed - Sometimes the truck involved in the accident can be taken to a location it cannot be inspected for proof. Your attorney can obtain a court order and prevent this from happening. He/she will make sure the truck is assessed for any proof of improper maintenance or defective parts. The attorney will also do a follow up with the police report obtained from the accident scene to evaluate the driver’s condition when the accident took place. A skilled lawyer would know how he/she can recreate the scene of the crash and identify the critical evidence to justify your case.
An attorney is also crucial as he/she will help you negotiate with the insurance companies of the liable parties. As soon as an accident happens, insurance companies will attempt to offer you a little amount of money so that they avoid paying for the entire amount they owe you. If you are not careful, you may accept their offer and end up only with peanuts. An attorney knows approximately how much your injury is worth. If you let him/her do the negotiations, he/she may be able to get you your deserved compensation.
Contact a Truck Accident Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Every truck-related crash is unique. This means you should be thorough when establishing who is at fault for the accident. Additionally, you need a well-thought-out legal strategy to make sure all responsible parties provide the rightful damages you deserve. Instead of handling this complex issue of liability by yourself, an attorney can help. At the Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney law firm, we have attorneys to whom you can trust your claim, and will give all the help you need. We will fight your case to the end and ensure you get fair compensation. Call us at 904-800-7557 if you have a truck accident case you need to share with us, and we will start working on it immediately.