Holding Trucking Companies Responsible For Injuries
by Bret Schnitzer
If you are involved in a trucking accident, the questions of who is responsible is often much more complicated than in a simple traffic accident. There are many players involved, from the driver to the owner of the truck, and getting information about what went wrong often requires specialized training.
Truck Accidents On The Rise
Over the past two decades, the number of truck accidents has increased by almost 20%. According to the Federal Motor carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2003 5,642 individuals died and 143,356 people were injured in crashes that involved commercial trucks. And even though commercial trucks are only responsible for 4% of motor vehicle accidents, truck accidents on the average cause greater injuries then passenger vehicles.
U.S. Department of Transportation
The federal regulations dealing with the trucking industry can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Agencies that regulate truck driving include the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Every state also has a department of transportation with its own set of trucking regulations.
When it comes to truck accidents, there is a web of players who may be responsible for a victim’s injuries, including:
1) the truck’s driver
2) the owner of the truck or trailer
3) the person or company that leased the truck or trailer from the owner
4) the manufacturer of the vehicle, design, or parts that may have contributed to the cause or severity of the accident,
5) the shipper or loader of the truck’s trailer contents
6) The trucking, hauling, and leasing companies
7) The designers of the steel hauling tarp kits that are sometimes found to be defective.
Truck Company Common Defenses
The trucking company often does not own the tractor, trailer, or equipment used to haul the goods. Instead it leases (rents) the equipment, tractors, and trailers from the “owner/operator.” The trucking company also does not directly employee the drivers. Instead, it hires them as independent contractors from the owner/operator. One such company in the Detroit area is Penske that enters into these long term leases.the driver was not the trucking company’s employee, so the trucking company is not liable for driver error, or
the trucking company does not own the equipment, so it is not responsible for the operation, maintenance, repair, and inspections of the equipment.
Under current federal law, any company owning a trucking permit is responsible for all accidents involving a truck that has its name displayed on the vehicle. It doesn’t matter what the lease says with the owner/operator or whether the driver is an employee or independent contractor. Traditionally, accident victims had to rely on police reports and witness statements to understand how and why an accident occurred. Today, there are other key ways to get information about an accident: information from government agencies and data from high tech devices.
Federal And State Inspections
Federal and state regulations require that a certified truck inspector inspect any commercial truck and trailer involved in an accident before it is removed from the scene. This report reveals the condition of all of the important mechanical parts of the truck and trailer. These reports are not part of local police report. Instead, they must be obtained from the appropriate government agency.
The Black Box
After 1992 most trucks have a black box device that records data that assists with the investigation. The trucking industry is now using devices similar to black boxes that record all sorts of information, including how fast the truck was going, patterns of speed, when the driver used his or her breaks — and even how long the driver had been on the road.
Many of these devices are also used in the automotive industry, such as on-board computers and global positioning systems (GPS). Others are specific to the trucking industry such as inclinometers, which are devices that provide information about the angles of a slope and how to round corners safely.
If the black box is not preserved and downloaded before extra miles are put on the truck, the contents will be erased. That is one reason hiring an attorney at once is so important.
Causes of Truck Accidents
Driver error prior to and during the trip is number one followed by mechanical failures, weather conditions, road design, and traffic signal failures.
The most common cause of trucking accidents is driver error. In fact, drivers of large trucks are much more likely to be the cause of the crash than other factors, such as weather, road conditions, and vehicle performance, according to a recent study released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA found that the action or inaction by drivers was the critical reason for over 90 percent of crashes.
Factors such as the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, speeding, tired, inattention, distractions, work environment, and unfamiliarity with the road all can contribute to driver error. But by far the most common causes of trucking accidents are driver exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
The next most common cause of truck accidents is equipment failure. This can include manufacturing mistakes (defective tires) or design errors (failure to provide backing warning or object detection systems). However, most mechanical causes of truck accidents are caused by a failure to properly maintain the equipment.
tire blowouts due to wear
improper securing of load
improper trailer attachment
Improper Access to Tractor/Trailer
In Michigan Trucking Companies are liable if they own the truck under the Michigan Ownership Liability Statute. This statute holds the trucking company liable for injuries stemming from trucks used with their consent and knowledge.
This legal doctrine in Michigan holds the company responsible for the negligence of their employees. This is another way to hold the trucking company responsible for the negligence of their drivers.
Call Schnitzerlaw at (313) 389-2234 for help with your Truck Accident injuries.