Who Is Liable When a Commercial Truck Driver Gets into a Car Accident?
The answer to this question can be rather complex, depending on the circumstances that caused the car accident. The driver, his or her employer, the trucking company, and others all could be held accountable to some degree. To determine who is liable requires the assistance of experienced auto accident lawyers.
Your lawyer has to review the details surrounding the truck accident based on police reports, your statement, witness statements, and even the statement from the truck driver. In Texas, assigning fault after a car accident or truck accident relies on the comparative negligence rule, which is also known as the modified comparative fault rule.
This rule assigns a percentage of the fault to each party involved in the accident. If it is fairly clear that the truck driver was entirely at fault for the car accident, then the driver is assigned 100% of the fault. On the other hand, if there were certain actions that resulted in the accident and both parties contributed to the accident, then each one is assigned an “at fault” percentage.
For instance, you are passing a commercial truck and realize you need to turn right at the next intersection. You speed up and pull immediately in front of the truck. As you flip on your turn signal to turn right, the traffic signal turns red, and you slam on your brakes. The truck driver does not have sufficient time to respond and rear-ends your vehicle.
In this example, you could be found to have contributed to causing the accident because you pulled too closely in front of the truck. The truck driver could equally be found at fault since he or she did not stop in time and rear-ended you. As long as you are assigned 49% or less, you could have grounds for suing for damages with help from your car accident lawyer.
Just keep in mind, any monetary damages awarded will be adjusted by the modified comparative fault rule. This means if your total settlement is $100,000 and you were 30% at fault, you would only receive $70,000 for your settlement.
What if truck drivers are mostly at fault—are they or their employers liable?
In Texas, there is a law called vicarious liability. This law can hold employers responsible for the actions of their employees—so long as they are on the clock performing their specific job duties. If the drivers’ actions result in car accidents while they are performing their jobs—driving commercial trucks—then the employers could be liable for resulting damages.
However, if truck drivers were not on the clock or not performing their specific job duties, then their employers may not have any liability whatsoever. For example, a truck driver decides he has time to kill, so he parks the truck outside a big box retailer and goes shopping. As he is leaving the big box retailer, he causes a car accident.
Since he was not performing his prescribed job duties when the accident occurs, his employer may not be held liable. In this example, the truck driver could be held liable for damages.
When can truck drivers and their employers not be liable?
There are a few cases where truck drivers and their employers may not be liable for damages, even though truck drivers are found to be mostly or fully at fault. One of these cases is when the cause of the accident is related to defective truck parts or defective truck equipment.
Rather than suing truck drivers or their employers for damages, you would sue one or more of the following responsible parties:
- The Truck Manufacturer
- The Truck Parts Manufacturer
- The Truck Equipment Manufacturer
- The Truck Repair Shop that Installed the Parts or Equipment
Truck drivers may also have grounds for filing a lawsuit for defective truck parts or equipment for their personal injuries.
What if truck drivers caused the accidents intentionally?
Let’s assume the truck driver is having a stressful day. He is running behind schedule because he spent hours driving through stop-and-go traffic through a construction zone. Traffic has now cleared up some, and he has resumed normal driving speeds.
He encounters slower moving traffic, so checks his blind spots, signals he is changing lanes, and moves into the left-hand lane to pass. As he is doing this, another vehicle is flying up the left-hand lane at high speeds. The driver of the car has to slam on his brakes because the truck driver cut him off.
After safely passing, the truck driver signals and moves back into the left-hand lane. As the driver passes the truck, he flips off the truck driver. A short time later, traffic stops and the truck driver finds himself now behind the driver who flipped him off.
He decides to rear-end the car on purpose. As the driver gets out to look at the damage, the truck driver also gets out of his truck. He walks up to the driver, who is yelling, screaming, and cursing at him for rear-ending him, and he punches him in the face repeatedly.
Certain actions, like assaults, exempt the employer from liability. Furthermore, if it can be established that the truck driver intentionally caused the accident prior to the assault, then they, not their employer, could be liable for any damages.
Who reports the accident?
Under Texas laws, any person involved in a car accident or truck accident, where injuries, fatalities, or extensive vehicle damages occur, is required to immediately report the accident. Even in cases where vehicle damage is minor, but there are personal injuries, no matter how minor, the accident has to be reported.
After reporting the accident, both parties are required to remain at the scene. If one person leaves, they could be charged with a hit-and-run offense. While waiting for the police to arrive if you are not severely injured:
- Take pictures of all damage.
- Get the names and contact details for any witnesses.
- Write down the license plate and any details off the commercial truck like the employer’s name.
When the police arrive, make sure to get the name and contact details for the driver and his or her insurance information.
Is your deductible waived if you are in an accident?
The waiving of your insurance deductible would depend on certain circumstances, what types of coverage you had, and whether you are considered at fault or partially at fault for the accident. For instance, if the other driver had no insurance, your insurance company may waive or refund your deductible after your vehicle has been repaired.
In situations where you sustained personal injuries and are suing the driver and/or his or her employer, it may be possible to include any deductibles you paid as part of the damages you are seeking. Your car accident lawyer can inform you if you can do this.
What if you caused the accident—not the commercial truck driver?
If you are found to be mostly or fully at fault for causing the accident, then you cannot sue the truck driver nor his or her employer. Rather, truck drivers could potentially seek damages against you for any personal injuries through their own auto accident lawyers.
What are the repercussions for commercial truck drivers if they are liable?
Commercial truck drivers are held to very high standards and regulations. While truck drivers have been found to be responsible for causing some truck accidents, the risks of losing their employment often make truck drivers safer drivers compared to other motorists.
If they are found to be liable for causing an accident, not only do they risk losing their commercial driver licenses, but also their jobs. They could find themselves unemployed and unable to drive a commercial truck.
The circumstances surrounding truck accidents can and do vary. The processes to determine who is at fault and responsible for damages is complex. If you have or someone you care about has been involved in a car accident involving a commercial vehicle, it is important to consult with one of our auto accident lawyers at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. by calling 713-893-0971 for a free consultation today!