While most personal automobile accidents are fairly straightforward in terms of determining liability, this isn't necessarily the case when you're involved in an accident with a commercial tractor-trailer. Unfortunately, these accidents are often far more severe as well, resulting in significant bodily injury or death. If you've lost a loved one in an accident like this, you may wonder who is truly at fault. Here are some things to consider about liability before you file a wrongful death suit.
When The Driver Is At Fault
Depending on the cause of the accident, the driver may be the one at fault and, therefore, the one you file the wrongful death suit against. There are a few different causes that can be directly connected back to the driver of the truck.
Failure to obey road signs: As with any other driver, if the semi-truck driver fails to obey a traffic sign or other roadside directive and causes an accident, that liability falls squarely on the driver. He or she is responsible, being the one in control of the tractor-trailer, for being attentive to road signs.
Distracted driving: Whether it's the result of cell phone communication, using the employer's onboard computer, or even eating behind the wheel, any level of distraction as a semi-truck driver is the direct responsibility of that.
Driving under the influence: Driving under the influence is illegal for any driver, but for tractor-trailer and other commercial drivers, the legal blood alcohol level is much lower than that for passenger drivers.
When The Driver's Employer Is At Fault
In some cases, the driver isn't the one to blame. If the accident was the direct result of negligence on the part of that driver's employer, the driver cannot be held responsible. Several situations can point to employer negligence.
Inadequate training: If the trucking company fails to adequately train new drivers, they may not have the skills and expertise needed to safely handle the equipment. In those cases, it is dangerous for the driver to be on the road, but the fault is on the employer for putting an unskilled driver behind the wheel.
Improper driver vetting: If it turns out that the driver of the tractor-trailer doesn't have a commercial driver's license, they have a driving record that included serious violations, or they have a criminal history that would otherwise preclude them from driving safely, that is a liability on the part of the employer. The same applies to a lack of drug testing when hiring new commercial drivers.
When The Driver And Employer Are At Fault
In some cases, the fault falls on both the driver and their employer. Recognizing these situations is important because failure to file against both can result in a denied claim.
Exceeding driving hour restrictions: Semi-truck drivers must follow strict guidelines regarding driving hours and on-duty times. They cannot legally drive for more than 60 hours in a 7-day cycle. At the end of that period, they must take 34 consecutive hours off-duty before they can resume driving. If the employer sets unrealistic delivery times and requires that drivers meet those times, this can inadvertently force the driver to exceed those driving limitations. When that happens, the liability falls on both the employer and the driver.
The more you understand about the liability regulations associated with tractor-trailer accidents, the easier it will be to know who is at fault for a death that occurs as a result of an accident. Working with a wrongful death attorney is the best place to start, but understanding these key facts can also help you to determine who might be to blame for the accident that caused your loved one's death. Contact a wrongful death law firm near you today for more information.