Around Our Town...Legally Speaking
Truck Accidents Are Unique Cases
04/01/2006 - Following a rash of accidents this winter in Wyoming, many that involved commercial trucks, I thought it might be helpful to discuss these unique and complex cases in the next few articles. Because of Wyoming's wide-open spaces and the presence of two of America's largest interstates, our Wyoming citizens are more likely to be the victims of negligent commercial drivers. Although professional drivers are among the most skilled, best trained and competent drivers, a traffic accident involving a commercial truck can be much more catastrophic than an ordinary car accident. A typical fully-loaded large commercial truck can weigh 80,000 pounds or more. Any collision between a commercial truck and another vehicle is likely to result in serious, even fatal, injuries.
In any personal injury cases involving a commercial truck accident the primary question is "was the truck driver or his company negligent." A commercial truck driver or his/her employer is negligent if they failed in their duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and the plaintiff's injuries resulted from that failure. A person injured in a commercial truck accident must prove:
1) That the driver or trucking company had a duty to act with a reasonable degree of care to avoid injuring others. A driver can violate this duty to show reasonable care without violating the law. For instance, there is no criminal statute for failure to keep a proper lookout for other drivers or pedestrians but the civil law recognizes a duty to keep a reasonable look out for other vehicles and pedestrians. Because of the inherent danger of commercial vehicles the State and Federal Departments of Transportation have enacted specific laws that can broaden the duties of care expected of commercial drivers and their employers.
2) That the driver or trucking company failed to exercise such reasonable care. This element of negligence can be shown by the drivers actions, the violation of a law or the actions of the trucking company in failing to monitor and train their drivers.
3) Next the injured individual must show that the injury he is claiming was caused by the negligence of the truck driver or the trucking company. This element may seem silly in its simplicity but can actually be quite tricky. Let me give you some examples. Say the victim had a prior back injury. Is the accident the cause of the back injury or did it already exist? Say there is a multiple car pile up. A question as simple as who hit who can be critical.
4) Finally, the injured party must prove what damages they have suffered.
In order to ensure a complete legal recovery for injuries suffered in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, it is important that you and your attorney identify all potential defendants, The truck driver often is not the only person whose negligence caused the accident. Trucking companies, contractors, employers, and insurance companies may be obligated to compensate the injured person.
When a commercial truck accident occurs, the employer of the driver or the owner of the truck can be held liable for the driver's negligence. Establishing the liability of a third-party company can become problematic when a truck driver is an independent contractor of a larger company. In such a situation, the key issue becomes the amount of supervising done by the trucking company. In some cases, the manufacturer or shipper of hazardous materials carried by the truck may also be legally responsible for injuries caused by the type of cargo on board. In my next article I'll discuss some special considerations in truck accident cases and specific, federal and state laws that can impact these cases.
Tom Sedar is an attorney-at-law practicing in Casper.