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Attorney Murry J. Parrish

Attorney Pepper DeVaughn

Semi Truck Accidents: Is the Driver Always at Fault?

In many car accident cases, it can be difficult to determine which party was at fault. In commercial truck accidents, it’s especially hard to determine who is legally liable, even if it’s obvious that at least one truck-related party was at fault. That’s because multiple parties are responsible for trucks, including drivers, companies, owners, loaders, maintenance crews, and more.

Let’s take a closer look at the legal process that happens after you’ve been hit by a semi-truck in Oklahoma.

Company Liability

Because of the theory of “respondeat superior,” truck companies are typically held liable for traffic accidents that one of their drivers caused. This is a Latin phrase meaning “let the superior make answer.”

This principle stipulates that an employer is responsible for its employees and the wrongful acts they may commit while in the scope of employment. It applies when the acts were unintentional, and therefore accidents. The employer in such cases is held liable as if it were the one to commit the wrongful act and not its employee.

The wrongful acts that occur as part of doing business and the losses they incur are therefore chalked up to part of the cost of doing business. Companies are also thought to have more funds available and be therefore more able to protect themselves via insurance than their employees.

Independent Contractor Cases

If you’ve been hit by a semi-truck in Oklahoma and the truck driver is an independent contractor, the policy of respondeat superior does not apply. Companies are not typically held liable for the actions of independent contractors.

Independent contractors may, for example, drive trucks they own and have their own liability insurance coverage, and receive no benefits from the trucking company (or companies) they complete routes for. In addition, contractors may act in reckless or negligent ways, including:

  • Driving while distracted
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Driving aggressively
  • Driving while fatigued or sleep-deprived

All of these actions can significantly increase the risk of serious and even fatal crashes.

And because contractors aren’t considered employees of the trucking or retail companies they drive for, their negligence reflects on them and them alone when they cause accidents, which means they can be held solely liable for any damages they cause.

Scope of Employment

For a truck company to be held liable for the wrongful acts of one of its drivers, the driver must have been involved in the accident while “within the scope of employment.” Many different factors come into play when determining if the act was within the scope of employment or not. Some factors include employee intent; type of work they were hired to do; the amount of freedom they were allowed in performing duties; nature, place and time of the conduct; and the incidental acts reasonably expected of the employee by the employer.

If you’re hit by a truck while the driver is making a delivery, that would be “within the scope of employment” and the employer would be liable. But, if the driver leaves his route early to do something else and hits you while not working, the company could argue against its liability, as the truck was not within the scope of employment at the time of the accident.

Who Else Can Be at Fault?

Although trucking companies and employers can often be held liable for their own employees’ negligence, not all truck accidents are caused by truck-related parties. For example, some truck accidents are caused by other drivers who may or may not be involved in the crashes themselves.

Consider a scenario where a driver cuts off or swerves in front of a semi-truck, then speeds away. This dangerous maneuver may force the truck driver to slam on his brakes and make a sharp turn to avoid a collision. In doing so, he may lose control of his truck and collide with property or other vehicles. In that case, the other driver may be considered liable for the crash because of their reckless behavior.

We Know Truck Accident Regulations and Liability in Oklahoma

Unlike passenger vehicle accidents, truck accidents are judged through both state and federal laws. That means that truck drivers and their employers must obey laws such as speed limits, coming to a complete stop at stop signs, yielding when required, not driving while distracted or impaired, and more.

However, they also must obey federal laws related to things like weight requirements, maximum hour requirements, rest requirements, and more. Because of the complexity of truck accident claims and the sheer number of potential legal violations, it’s important to have an experienced Oklahoma truck accident lawyer who knows what evidence to collect and how to analyze it to find signs of negligence.

If you’ve been hit by a semi-truck in Oklahoma, you need a good legal team on your side. Give us a call at Parrish DeVaughn Law Firm today. We have decades of experience building successful claims for innocent victims like you, and we know what it takes to win.

This post was originally published in February 2017. It has been updated and revised.

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