If you get hit by a commercial truck, your claim and lawsuit will proceed like a standard car accident claim, with some differences. One important difference is that, unlike a car accident claim, you and your lawyer have to spend some time deciding exactly who you will sue.
In a regular car accident case, you usually sue only the driver who hit you, although in some states the customary practice is also to sue the owner of the car, even if he/she wasn’t even in the car. But in a case involving a collision with a commercial truck, there are a number of people and entities that you might be able to sue.
Just like a car accident case, you would sue the truck’s driver. You would also customarily sue the trucker’s employer, if the trucker was a direct employee of a company and not an independent contractor. Employers are always liable for the negligent actions of their employees if they were acting in the course of their employment. (Learn more about employer liability for traffic accidents.)
But you want to determine the identities of all of the players involved with the truck. Often, commercial trucking involves a complicated situation where person A owns the truck, hires person B to drive the truck, and leases the truck to person or company C to deliver goods for company D. So, depending on the circumstances and the contracts among all of the people and companies involved, you may also end up suing the truck’s owner, lessor, and even the company whose goods were being shipped in the truck.
You also want to consider how the accident happened. If, for example, it appears that the accident was caused by a mechanical problem with the truck, then you certainly want to sue the truck’s owner and probably the truck’s mechanic as well.
In some commercial truck accident cases where the trucker was employed by a trucking company, your lawyer may choose to sue only the trucking company, and not the driver. Why wouldn’t your lawyer sue the truck driver? After all, it was the truck driver who was negligent and caused the accident. Why wouldn’t your lawyer want to make sure that the jury holds the trucker responsible?
The answer to these questions is that, in a lawsuit, you are looking for compensation for your injuries, and not necessarily justice. Yes, it is important to have closure and have a jury find the negligent party responsible for your injuries, but it is more important that your lawyer structure your lawsuit so as to get you the best chance of getting maximum compensation for your injuries.
The truck driver is a human being just like yourself. The trucker most likely did not crash into you on purpose; it was an accident. It was negligence, but it was still an accident. Human nature says that a driver will most likely be more sympathetic to the jury than a faceless trucking corporation. Suing the trucking corporation (particularly if it is a large corporation) and not the driver will generally give you a better chance at getting more compensation for your injuries.
If the trucker was indeed an independent contractor, that means that he/she did not have a formal employer; independent contractors work for themselves. If the trucker was an independent contractor, then you certainly would sue the trucker. But your lawyer would want to determine if there is some potentially responsible corporation (like the truck’s owner or lessor) to sue as well.
While the company that hires an independent contractor is not usually responsible for the contractor’s negligence (that is why he/she is called “independent”), the company could be responsible depending on the language of the contract and the reasons for the accident. Your lawyer will have to read the contract carefully to figure out if the trucking company can be held liable.
Usually, companies put language into the contract that says that they are not responsible for the driver’s negligence, but they might also insert language that says that they have some right to control some of the driver’s actions. If they do, a jury might find that they in fact are responsible for the driver’s negligence.
In a standard car accident case, you always want to try to prove that the other driver violated traffic laws and regulations. You certainly want to do that in a commercial truck accident case, and you have the added benefit of having hundreds of federal and state trucking regulations to work from.
Federal trucking regulations govern almost every aspect of the way a trucker or trucking company drives and operates a commercial truck. If the police report or your lawyer’s investigation shows that the trucker or the trucking company violated any of these regulations, then that is very strong (and in some states irrefutable) evidence of the trucker’s negligence.