Atlanta truck accident lawyer Charles Scholle discusses which parties might be responsible for damages in a tractor trailer collision
Big trucks are everywhere.
You may know them as big rigs, tractor trailers, semis or 18-wheelers, but whatever you call them you cannot go on many Georgia roads without seeing a large truck rolling down the road. These trucks play a significant role in our economy and our everyday lives. If you’ve eaten at a restaurant, purchased something at your local store or ordered online from Amazon, chances are that the food or product you bought was at one time traveling on a big truck.
While these massive commercial vehicles and their drivers play an important role in today’s world, it’s important to understand that big trucks are a major topic of discussion and concern for law enforcement, lawmakers, attorneys and anyone involved with highway and road safety.
Considering the large number of commercial trucks and truck drivers on the road at any given time, truck accidents make up a statistically small percentage of overall motor vehicle accidents in Georgia. The reason why truck accidents are a major concern is not because they are frequent, but because of the reality that truck accidents can cause enormous amounts of damage when they do occur.
In addition to the massive amount of damage caused, truck accident cases are also more complicated because they involve complex issues pertaining to insurance, state laws, federal regulations, damages and importantly, liability. In this article, we will address which parties can be found liable for damages in a truck accident.
There are several parties that may have culpability in a truck accident. It’s important to know who they are and what they may be liable for. Always call an experienced Georgia truck accident lawyer to investigate your injury claim.
Truck driver liability
Georgia is an at-fault state for motor vehicle accidents. This means that a driver who violates a law or regulation, or a driver who was negligent in operating their vehicle, can be held responsible (or “liable”) for the damages that were caused when they broke the law or were negligent. Such damages may include damages for property damage, bodily injuries, medical bills, lost wages and more.
Some common examples of truck driver violations of the rules of the road or negligence may include:
- Driving while intoxicated
- Reckless driving
- Drowsy driving, or driving too many hours without rest
At-fault analysis applies to all Georgia motor vehicle accidents, including truck crashes. Just as the driver of an SUV, sedan or pickup truck can be found culpable for an accident, the driver of an 18-wheeler or tractor trailer can be found at fault for violations of laws or regulations (legally referred to as “negligence”).
That said, it’s important to note that just because a tractor trailer was involved in a Georgia motor vehicle accident doesn’t always mean the truck driver was at-fault. Determining fault is a crucial first step in every auto accident case in Georgia.
Non-commercial driver’s liability
Drivers of non-commercial (passenger) vehicles cause serious accidents every day, so don’t assume that the truck driver is always to blame. Georgia accidents involving big trucks frequently involve more than 2 vehicles.
For instance, you may be reading this article because you were involved in a multiple vehicle accident involving a tractor-trailer, your own car and another vehicle. The facts of every accident are different and it is possible for multiple parties to share responsibility for a motor vehicle accident in Georgia. In this hypothetical, a review of your accident report could help us conclude that the tractor trailer was at fault, or that the other car was at fault. Or perhaps both of the other vehicles were to blame. It’s also possible for your own vehicle to share some of the liability in a truck accident.
Georgia is a modified comparative fault state, meaning that under Georgia law, an injured party could successfully file a claim or lawsuit as long as a judge or jury finds that the person bringing the claim or lawsuit (the plaintiff) was not more than 49 percent at fault in regards to causing the car accident or collision.
Very rarely are multi-vehicle car or truck accidents “cut and dry.” Do not assume that insurance companies for the 18-wheeler driver or the other non-commercial vehicle(s) are going to see liability the way that you do. This is why it’s important for you to discuss liability with an experienced Georgia truck lawyer.
Trucking company’s liability
Now we know that it is possible for multiple parties to be found responsible for motor vehicle accidents (including truck accidents) in Georgia.
But what about the trucking company that employs the negligent driver or owns the tractor trailer that was involved in the accident?
In Georgia, a trucking company can absolutely be found partially or completely liable in a big truck accident. In certain situations, the trucking company’s liability can be extended to the accident because of the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior.” Under this doctrine, Georgia trucking company’s can be liable for damages caused by their employees if the negligence was done within the scope of the employer’s business.
For example, let’s say John Doe is a truck driver who works for ABC Trucking as a full-time regular employee. If John rear-ends a car while making a delivery on his daily route for ABC Trucking, then both John and his employer (ABC Trucking) could be held responsible.
Additional examples of a trucking company’s potential liability could include situations where the company did not do a proper background or license check on a driver that caused an accident while working for the company.
Another common situation that we’ve seen is when a trucking company doesn’t properly maintain their vehicles and the truck itself is the main cause of the accident (poor tires, faulty brakes, etc.).
A trucking company’s liability may not initially be clear to you (or even to law enforcement that is investigating the accident). An investigation managed by an experienced Georgia truck accident lawyer can be vital to your case because such an investigation may uncover significant negligence on the part of the trucking company which might significantly impact your case.
Truck part manufacturer’s liability
Have you heard of the term “product(s) liability”?
Some people will recall reading news about catastrophically injured drivers who were hurt or killed because of things like defective airbags, seatbelts, car roofs, door latches, gas tanks and designs that lead to roll-overs and inadequate protection during crashes. These are all examples of cases where manufacturers were negligent when they placed their products on the market (stream of commerce).
The legal theory of product liability also applies to manufacturers of big trucks and to the manufacturers of parts used in the production of tractor trailers. Big trucks are massive machines comprised of thousands of parts. It takes a considerable amount of engineering and design work to safely put a big truck on the road. With so many literal moving parts, it is an unfortunate reality that mistakes are made.
Some mistakes may not be discovered until the first time a truck is involved in an accident. The mistakes could be caused by engineering error or negligent design. An experienced truck accident lawyer can get to the bottom of what happened.
In some cases, manufacturers have known about issues with their products and still allowed them to be sold and used. Experienced lawyers can hold such “bad actors” accountable by making them pay damages. In some cases, manufacturers have even been hit with punitive damages as a form of punishment to prevent them from engaging in such malicious conduct in the future.
Truck repair facility liability
Truck repair shops are often investigated after a truck accident. It is common in a serious truck accident investigation to find that the big truck involved in the collision was recently in the shop for repairs prior to the crash.
In Georgia, a truck repair shop can be held liable for damages in a truck accident if it can be proven that their repair work was negligent and that damages were suffered as a result.
In some cases, the negligent repair can be something as simple as a missed leak, botched fluid replacement or forgetting to replace an oil cap. Other times, it can be something as complicated as subpar work done on a tractor trailer’s brakes, transmission, fuel lines, electrical system or one of the many other vital truck components.
When our attorneys begin their investigation into a truck accident, we start by inquiring about the vehicle’s maintenance history. In some scenarios, a large trucking company may do all of their own repairs and maintenance “in house.” In that case, even if there is negligent repair work found, there is no additional party to attribute any negligence to. However, this is not a common scenario since many trucking companies aren’t large enough to do their own repair work. Typically, a third party repair shop will often need to be investigated.
In some cases, you may even see that there is shared liability between a trucking company and a repair shop. For example, perhaps a truck repair shop did minimal, cheap repairs as opposed to doing the necessary work because the trucking company urged the quickest and cheapest repairs for the purposes of saving money and limiting vehicle down time.
An experienced truck accident lawyer can see these negligent tactics a mile away. Anyone in a serious truck accident should contact an experienced trucking lawyer as soon as possible.
When to contact an Atlanta truck accident lawyer
In conclusion, a number of different parties are often found to have liability in big truck accidents. The driver, the non-commercial vehicle driver, the trucking company, the truck part manufacturers and the truck repair shops can all be held responsible if it can be proven that they were negligent and that their negligence resulted in damages.
Additionally, there are other unique situations that may not have been included in this discussion. Anyone who was injured in a truck accident should contact an experienced truck accident lawyer to review the facts, the accident report and, if necessary, complete a thorough investigation that will reveal who should be held responsible and liable for the resulting damages.
If you or a loved one are injured in a truck accident in Georgia, you likely face a difficult uphill legal battle to establish liability and secure damages from the at-fault party, parties or their insurance company(s). At Scholle Law, our Atlanta truck accident attorneys fully understand Georgia law when it comes to being involved in a big truck accident.