Liability Issues In Large Truck Collisions

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A fully-loaded large truck weighs about 80,000 pounds, so a vehicle collision involving one of these massive vehicles nearly always causes catastrophic injuries.  On the other hand, “bobtailing” trucks that are not towing trailers are much lighter but also much harder to control, because all the weight is toward the front.

Medical care and lost wages from these injuries totals around $99 billion per year.  This amount does not include the noneconomic damages that these crashes inflict, such as pain and suffering, that really cannot be valued in terms of dollars and cents.  Who is responsible for paying all these costs?

Legal Duty

Noncommercial drivers usually have a duty of reasonable care, which essentially means that they must drive defensively and obey “the rules of the road.”  But in Georgia, noncommercial drivers are common carriers, which means they are “bound to use extraordinary care and diligence” and in many cases they are “liable as insurers ‘unless the loss was occasioned by the act of God or the public enemies of the state.’”

Because of the higher duty, it is easier to establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).  Also because of the higher duty, many jurors are willing to award more damages to victims in commercial driver cases.

Moreover, truckers have more rules to follow, such as weight restrictions and duty restrictions. As a result, the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) shortcut is available in more large truck cases than in passenger car cases.  Essentially, if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated a safety law and that violation substantially caused the wreck, the tortfeasor may be liable for damages as a matter of law, and the victim/plaintiff need not establish the remaining elements of a traditional negligence case.

Third Party Liability

The respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) rule nearly always applies in large truck cases.  This rule gives victim/plaintiffs an additional source of recovery.  That’s good news, since due to the often catastrophic injuries, many individual truck drivers do not have enough insurance to cover all the damages in the case.  This doctrine has three basic elements:

  • Employee: The tortfeasor must be an employee of the company which owned the truck or paid the operator for the trip. In this context, an employee is anyone whom the company “suffer[ed] or permit[ted]” to work.  That definition probably includes a traditional employee, an independent contractor, or an owner-operator.
  • Course of Employment: This definition is very broad as well, since any worker who is doing anything that benefits the boss is usually within the course of employment. That probably includes picking up cargo, hauling a load to its destination, and returning the vehicle.
  • Foreseeability: The victim/plaintiff’s injuries must be a foreseeable result of the tortfeasor’s conduct or misconduct. In some situations, the foreseeability rule is expanded even further to include indirect consequences.

Damages in large truck collisions, or any other vehicle collision, usually include compensation for both tangible losses, such as medical bills, and intangible losses, such as pain and suffering.

Large truck crashes usually raise complicated liability issues.For a free consultation, contact an experienced car accident lawyer Atlanta GA can count on.

Butler Tobin LawThanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Tobin for their insight into trucking accidents and personal injury cases.