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Truck Drivers Aren’t Always Responsible for Causing Accidents

By Renee Nordstrand on July 19, 2019

Big rigs are the heaviest vehicles on the roads around Santa Barbara. The 101 sees thousands of commercial trucks travel up the coast every day. When they crash into smaller cars, they cause serious injuries to the occupants inside. At our Southern California law firm of NordstrandBlack PC, we handle many personal injury cases that involve negligent truck drivers. But sometimes, the truck driver is only partially to blame. Here are ways that other parties can be involved in these collisions and why they can be held liable to the victims.

Not Hiring a Qualified Driver

If a trucking company hires an unqualified driver, or a driver with a dangerous background who then crashes into another vehicle, the company is liable. For example, professional truckers should never have a record of:

  • DUIs,
  • Drug offenses
  • Speeding
  • Red light violations
  • Hours of Service (rest break or sleep-related) violations

Furthermore, it would be negligent to send drivers out on the road with little to no training. And failing to regularly drug-test drivers or follow up on reports of reckless driving can be considered negligent, making the trucking company liable if those same drivers collide with and seriously injure other people.

Not Maintaining the Truck

Fleet managers and their staff are responsible, based on guidelines from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), for conducting regular inspections and maintenance on their trucks. Irregular inspections, deferred maintenance, and cheap “fixes” as repairs all make an 18-wheeler more likely to crash. Whether an old tire blows out and sends the truck veering into another lane, or worn-down brake pads fail and the truck rear-ends another car, the company may be held responsible. They must:

  • Have trained professionals inspect the trucks before sending them out on the road.
  • Promptly repair or replace any defective, broken, or worn-down components.
  • Use a qualified technician or repairman to do the maintenance.

The trucking company itself, or the repair company, would be held liable if this vital maintenance was neglected and caused a wreck.

Using Defective Parts or Missing Components

By law, commercial motor vehicles must be equipped with safety features and equipment. This includes:

  • Reflective lights/working visual indicators
  • ICC bars (rear underride guard rails)
  • Warning devices, like reflective triangles
  • Fire extinguishers

Trucks that transport hazardous or flammable materials have even more stringent guidelines. If a trucking company fails to stock necessary safety equipment, and the lack of safety equipment contributes to a crash, the company can be held liable. On the other hand, if the truck is missing components due to a manufacturer’s error, the manufacturer may also be liable.

Overloading the Trailer

Another profit-making tactic shipping companies use is packing as much cargo as they possibly can into the trailer of a semi. FMCSA limits the amount of weight these commercial vehicles can carry, and also places regulations on hazardous or flammable cargo. Overloaded trucks are harder to control and more likely to jackknife. Trucks with unsecured cargo that shifts in the hold are more likely to roll over. It is vital for the payload company to weigh the cargo carefully, and recheck tie-downs and straps before sending a truck on its journey. Any failure to do so could be disastrous and grounds for legal action against the company.

When a trucking company’s negligence is the root cause of an accident, the company is legally responsible to pay the victims. In fact, the company may be liable for punitive damages – for example, after hiring someone with a history of drug-related convictions who then crashes while under the influence, the company will have to pay additional money to the victims as punishment for its gross negligence. The same may be true if a company incentivizes or encourages drivers to violate the federal Hours of Service limitations and skip rest breaks, leading to a drowsy driving crash.

After a collision with a semi-truck, talk to a skilled Santa Barbara truck accident lawyer. NordstrandBlack PC recently settled a case for two elderly clients whose vehicle was rammed by a big rig racing through an intersection. We received $690,000 to pay for their injuries and other losses. If you are struck by a large truck, do not hesitate to call us for a free consultation at (805) 962-2022.

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