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Liability In Accidents Involving Tractor-Trailer Vehicles

An explanation of legal liability and how it applies to trucking accidents

“Liability” is a legal doctrine that is based on the concept that the person who causes an accident should be held accountable for the consequences of that accident.

When a lawsuit is filed against the company that was operating the big rig involved in an accident, the person filing the lawsuit is called the “plaintiff” and the person and/or company named in the lawsuit is the “defendant.”

Using these terms, the legal concept of liability can be explained as follows:

  • The defendant had a duty or obligation to the plaintiff
  • The defendant failed (“breached”) that duty or obligation to the plaintiff
  • The defendant’s breach of duty or obligation was the cause of the accident
  • The plaintiff was injured as a direct result of the defendant’s breach of duty or obligation
  • The defendant is therefore responsible, or liable, for the defendant’s injuries and must pay damages

We can examine each of the above statements by using as an example an accident involving an 18-wheeler and another vehicle.

  • The defendant had a duty or obligation to the plaintiff

In the case of a trucking accident, the defendant has an obligation to the public that demands the truck is operated in a safe manner and to be free of mechanical problems.

  • The defendant failed (“breached”) to meet that duty or obligation to the plaintiff

There was something that caused the 18-wheeler to cease being operated in a safe manner. Since the plaintiff has no control over the operation of the truck, the defendant has failed in its duty to the plaintiff.

  • The defendant’s breach of duty or obligation was the cause of the accident

For whatever reason, the big rig was involved in an accident. The duty to operate in a safe manner and free of mechanical problems has been breached.

  • The plaintiff was injured as a direct result of the defendant’s breach of duty or obligation

If there had been no accident, the plaintiff would not have sustained an injury.

The defendant is therefore responsible, or liable, for the defendant’s injuries…

Assigning Liability

When an accident involving an 18-wheeler happens, it is investigated by law enforcement as is every other accident but with one very important difference. Accidents involving commercial vehicles such as big rigs or buses are also investigated by a designated officer who has been trained in gathering evidence which will be used later to “reconstruct” the accident and to determine if there was a failure in one of the vehicle’s critical systems such as brakes or tires.

Despite what many people believe, the accident investigation does not determine or assign fault or liability. The investigation collects the observable facts and, if violations of traffic laws are found, issue traffic citations. Assignment of responsibility and liability related to the accident is a civil matter and is determined by a jury that has been assembled to hear the facts of a lawsuit brought against those that are believed to be responsible for the accident. If the party that was injured or suffered some loss of property (the plaintiff), they can ask that the court award them damages.

***

If you or a family member have been injured in an accident involving an 18-wheeler, it is usually necessary to retain the services of a personal injury lawyer who has extensive experience in managing lawsuits where a trucking company is named as a defendant.

Trucking companies, and their insurance carriers, are interested in only one thing: reducing the amount of money that they will have to pay out to settle a personal injury claim! To attain their goal they will try to convince you that your claim is worth far less that what you are legally entitled to receive or that you “really don’t have a case” but they will be “generous” and offer you a quick settlement.

You can be assured that the trucking company and its insurance carrier will have their lawyers working to limit their losses by any means that they can find. By retaining the services of a personal injury lawyer, you lawyer will protect your legal right to be compensation for your injuries.

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