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Liability for Highway Trucking Accidents- Who Is To Blame?

Truck accidents on U.S. highways frequently result in life-threatening and fatal injuries. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) emphasizes that the sheer weight of most big rigs—often 10,000 pounds or more—can lead to devastating traffic collisions. When these accidents do happen, who is to blame? Depending on the facts of your case, personal injury law might allow you to file a claim against several different parties.

Focus of the Truck Safety Act

According to a recent article in the Commercial Carrier Journal, a Senate bill known as the Truck Safety Act aims to help alleviate the underlying reason for dangerous truck driving: the fact that truckers currently are only paid per mile of driving. If passed, the law would “require employers to pay truck operators for all hours worked, rather than solely per-mile pay.” The law would also require motor carriers to have double the current minimum amount of liability insurance.

The Truck Safety Act has been in the works for a long time, particularly the provision that would require employers to pay by the hour rather than by the mile. How might such a provision help to prevent a dangerous truck accident? Many safety advocates report that drowsy driving is a leading cause of truck crashes, and paying truckers by the hour could help to eradicate this problem. Currently, truck drivers must abide by federal Hours of Service regulations, which detail the maximum number of hours a driver can be behind the wheel without resting. However, because truckers tend to be paid by the mile, it is not uncommon to find that the regulations have not been properly followed.

Right now for cargo-carrying drivers, Hours of Service regulations include but are not limited to the following:

  • Maximum of 11 hours of driving after 10 consecutive hours of being off duty.
  • Required rest breaks of at least 30 minutes every 8 hours.
  • No more than 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.

If truckers are paid by the hour rather than by the mile, the thinking is that more drivers will abide by the Hours of Service regulations and fewer drowsy driving accidents will occur. At the same time, however, drowsy driving is not the only cause of truck accidents.

Liability for Trucking Accidents

Who is liable when a trucking accident occurs? Depending on the situation, numerous parties may be liable for injuries, including but not limited to:

  • Truck driver
  • Truck company
  • Cargo loader
  • Truck manufacturer

When it comes to the truck driver, an injured party will need to prove that a driver’s negligence caused the accident and resulting injuries. Remember, a truck driver owes the same duty of care to those on the road as other drivers. Examples of negligent truck driving can include drowsy driving, aggressive driving, such as running a light, speeding, or following too closely as well as all forms of distracted driving (i.e. texting and driving).

In what situations could a truck company be liable? The Truck Safety Act discusses one of the most common instances in which a truck company might be responsible for an accident. When a business requires its drivers to place profit over safety—by asking drivers to disobey Hours of Service regulations, for example—an injury victim might be able to seek compensation from the company itself, even if a trucker’s drowsy driving led to the accident. Similarly, if a cargo loader overloads a truck, also favoring profit over safety, such a decision makes the vehicle unsafe for the road. As such, the cargo loader may also be liable. Holding a truck manufacturer liable for injuries can be more complex, as it is would usually require a defect in the truck itself.

Discuss Your Case with a Truck Accident Attorney

While the Truck Safety Act, if it passes, may help to reduce the number of accidents caused by drowsy driving or negligent behavior on the part of trucking companies, thousands of truck accidents occur every year. Identifying the underlying cause of a trucking accident can be complicated, particularly when more than one party may be responsible for the collision. Therefore, if you have been injured in a truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident attorney determine your rights.

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