How Is Liability Determined In An Atlanta Truck Accident Case?
Deciding who is at fault for an accident involving two or more privately-owned vehicles can be difficult enough. Yet, it’s almost always more straightforward than a collision involving a commercial vehicle.
Accidents are trickier when they involve a commercial truck hauling goods. Beyond knowing who is at fault for the accident, there are other factors to consider when deciding what caused the wreck and who is financially responsible. And in Georgia, any party involved in an accident could be liable for part of that accident.
That’s where an experienced Atlanta truck accident attorney can be a valuable ally. At the Law Offices of Andrew E. Goldner, we have the experience and knowledge to wade through questions of liability and seek an optimal resolution for your case. We are familiar with trucking regulations, relevant rulings, and the defense tactics big companies use to shirk liability.
Call us at 404-869-1580 or contact us online to schedule a risk-free consultation and get started on your case today.
Common Truck Accident Causes
The average big rig weighs in at around 80,000 pounds and when things go wrong, it can be pretty severe. Along with causes of average automobile accidents – poor road conditions, driver inattention, etc. – truckers also have to deal with:
- Overwork or exhaustion
- Stimulant, alcohol, or drug use
- Lack of training
- Overloaded or improperly loaded freight
- Poor maintenance
Sleep to Drive Ratios
Truckers are limited to 11-hour days on the road, 60 hours total in a week, and must rest 10 hours between shifts. Because of the importance of freight hauling in the United States, many drivers are under tight deadlines and may push themselves beyond what’s physically healthy.
Overuse of stimulants is also a problem, even a substance as benign as coffee. Overuse of stimulants can blunt a driver’s reflexes just as easily as alcohol or drugs and fool a trucker into thinking he or she more alert than they are.
A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) usually requires several weeks of in-class study as well as practice on the road, but sometimes untrained drivers slip through the cracks.
The trucks themselves spend a lot of time on the move, which results in a lot of wear and tear. This naturally means a lot of time spent on maintenance, from making sure the tires are in good shape to keeping the air breaks in working order. Skimping on maintenance can result in a trucker not being able to control their rig even when they are properly trained, sober, and well-rested.
Improper Loading or Unsafe Load
Finally, an improperly loaded trailer can be difficult to control due to freight moving or shifting during delivery. If cargo is not secured properly, the shifting weight can cause issues for a tractor trailer traveling at high speeds.
All of these issues can be the fault of the operator, but they may also be the result of a carrier company that fails to exercise its expected level of care. If their drivers are found to have been unqualified, under-trained, or largely unsupervised when it comes to rules like hours of service, then it’s possible that the trucking company is at fault for the collision. This applies even when the driver is an independent contractor.
Who Is At Fault and Who Is Responsible?
In most instances, it’s the trucking company who is at-fault, especially if the driver was an employee. One of the only exceptions is if the driver was truly an independent contractor – which if often up for debate.
Having the courts determine that a driver was a fully independent contractor after an accident is a pretty rare occurrence these days. Companies used to hide behind “independent contractors” to protect themselves from liability, but in 1956 Congress passed a law that amended the regulations, more narrowly defining what is and isn’t officially an “independent contractor.”
Most of these legal decisions focus on the concept of “respondeat superior,” Latin for “let the superior answer.” This means the company can be liable for acts committed by a driver under contract by them provided the acts were unintentional and “within the scope of employment.”
So, the big question is often whether or not the driver was wholly at-fault and whether they should legally be considered an employee as of the time of the accident.
Determining Employee Status
To decide whether a trucking company is liable for the actions of a truck driver in a trucking accident, most courts look at whether or not the truck driver was acting “within the scope of their employment.” This concept means the courts look at the various regulations that impact trucking and employee status. These regulations can vary from state to state, but generally, courts look at six different factors.
- The intention of the driver
- Nature, time, and place of the accident
- The type of work the driver was hired to do
- Reasonable incidental acts expected of the driver by the employer
- The driver’s amount of freedom in executing their duties
- How much time personal activity consumes
So, if a truck rear-ends someone while making a delivery, the company or owner is almost always liable. However, if the driver has dropped off their load and hits another car on the way home, the driver and not the company may be liable.
Based on these rules, if a company wants to allege that an employee is an independent contractor, the burden of proof is often on them. They must demonstrate that the employee had flexibility in their contract or that they weren’t operating within the scope of employment. The injury victim can counter these defenses by presenting evidence of factors like whether the employee was required to wear a uniform, whether the carrier performed due diligence before awarding the contract, and if the contractor was acting as a direct representative of the carrier in a transaction.
Other Third Parties Who May Be Liable
There are often several different entities that might be financially responsible for the accident other than the truck driver or the company that owns the truck.
Examples of possible liable parties include a company that performed lax maintenance on the truck or a parts manufacturer whose brakes were defective. Some trucking companies lease out loading the trucks to other companies, and an improperly loaded trailer might have caused the wreck. Some companies don’t own the trucks they use to ship freight and lease or rent trucks from a separate company. Some cases hinge more on proving the victim of the accident wasn’t at fault.
In a Trucking Accident? Call Us Today!
The laws and regulations governing trucking accidents in Georgia are designed to help protect the companies owning the truck. When insurance companies are brought into the picture, they make money by paying out as little as they can get away with.
When you need a trustworthy Atlanta truck accident lawyer, give the Law Offices of Andrew E. Goldner a call at 404-869-1580. We know the ins and outs of trucking laws, and we’re familiar with the most recent court decisions involving liability and employee status.
We’ve been serving Georgia citizens for 18 years and have built an outstanding reputation in commercial vehicle, tractor-trailer, and big rig cases. We only take cases we are confident we can win, and we only see our fee when you see your compensation. Call today for a no-risk consultation to get started.