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Compensation for California Truck Crashes


Consider the Complications of Commercial Trucking Accident Claims


Large trucks, 18-Wheelers, and semis are a leading cause of many traffic related deaths in the United States. California in particular has witnessed some of the worst trucking accidents in the country and Los Angeles is the second most traffic jam prone city in North America.

A tractor-trailer or eighteen-wheeler can weigh 20 to 30 times more than a passenger vehicle. Due to their size and weight, commercial trucks are dangerous and essentially guaranteed to crush smaller vehicles in an accident. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2017 of the approximately 450,000 police-reported crashes involving large trucks, 23% resulted in injury and 1% resulted in death.

Truck accidents are different from car accidents. Because truck accident cases are complicated and will involve commercial trucking companies and insurance policies, it is crucial for a truck accident victim to take the right steps after a truck accident to ensure they receive fair and full compensation for their losses.

If you have suffered injuries or property loss after being involved in a truck accident, you may be entitled to compensatory damages for:

1. Determining Liability After a Trucking Accident


Determining liability after a trucking accident can become a logistical nightmare. Not only are truck accidents catastrophic from an injury perspective, they are also very complex from a legal standpoint because multiple parties can all be held liable. It’s also important to understand that there are also zones where trucks are allowed and not allowed to drive in, which may affect liability.

Truck accidents can be caused by many circumstances. And there are even no fault trucking accidents, as well. However, California is a fault state, meaning that someone must be held liable for causing an accident. Depending on the specific circumstances, the truck driver, the trucking company, and even the truck manufacturer can all be held liable for the accident.Multi-vehicle semi-truck accidents, in particular, are very difficult to assess for these very reasons.  

It is important to note that an injured driver can also share some degree of responsibility for causing a truck accident. However, an injured driver who is found partly responsible for causing a trucking accident may still be able to recover some damages.

California is a comparative negligence state, which means that an at fault driver may be entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit for damages, even if they were partially at fault for causing a trucking accident.

1.1 Negligence or Strict Liability?


While numerous parties can potentially be held liable for a truck accident victims’ injuries and losses, proving liability will typically involve one (and possibly both) of two legal theories: negligence and strict liability. 

While numerous parties can potentially be held liable for a truck accident victims’ injuries and losses, proving liability will typically involve one (and possibly both) of two legal theories: negligence and strict liability.

Let’s examine negligence as it relates to a trucking accident: According to California negligence law, any truck driver found guilty of negligence can be held liable for causing injuries and damages to another motorist. A driver who was injured by a negligent truck driver is entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, the aggrieved party must prove that the truck driver was negligent in causing the accident.

There are three elements for demonstrating negligence in a California trucking accident:

  • the truck driver owed the accident victim a duty of care,
  • the truck driver breached their duty of care through negligence, and
  • the truck driver’s breach was the significant factor in causing the victim's losses.

A duty of care is a basic legal requirement for every truck driver to watch out for other drivers and use reasonable caution while behind the wheel.  

For example, a duty of care for a truck driver would require that driver to:

  • Control the movement and speed of their truck
  • Use reasonable care while operating their truck
  • Watch for pedestrians, other vehicles, and obstacles

Let’s consider an example:

Say that Alicia was driving north on I-5, 50 miles north of Los Angeles. This portion of highway sees a constant flow of very heavy commercial trucking traffic. Alicia recognizes the danger and keeps her eyes on the road, does not text, and maintains a safe speed.

Directly behind her is Robert, an experienced commercial truck driver. Robert is so confident in his driving abilities that he takes a risk and exceeds the legal limit for hours he should be driving on the road. He is exhausted and continues to drive while drowsy, which is a reckless act.

A sudden gust of wind kicks up a dust storm. The dust is so thick that it creates issues with visibility. Given how tired Robert is, he is slow to react. He slams on the brakes but can’t avoid hitting Alicia.

In this example, Alicia has no fault. Objectively speaking, it is not Robert’s fault that a dust storm impeded his visibility of the road. However, Robert shouldn’t have been driving on the road past the legal limit of hours he is allowed as a trucker. Therefore, Robert was negligent for driving drowsy and his very presence on the highway was a source of danger not only for Alicia, but for everyone else. Despite the visibility issues, Robert would almost certainly be liable for Alicia’s injuries and losses.

Let’s consider the second theory of liability in many truck accident cases, which is known as strict liability.

According to California strict liability law, designers, manufacturers, and even any companies involved in a product’s chain of distribution can all be held liable if one of their defective products contributes towards causing a truck accident. In strict liability cases, negligence will not factor when determining liability, because any of these companies can be found liable whether or not they made any mistakes that contributed to the trucking accident.

Strict liability claims can be based on:

  • Faulty tires
  • Faulty brakes
  • Faulty cargo ties or straps
  • Faulty accelerator pedals
  • Faulty engine/transmission parts

Let’s consider an example:

Imagine that Fred is on his way to work at a manufacturing plant. He exits the 710 freeway on Slauson. At this hour of the morning, there is heavy truck traffic both exiting and entering the freeway in this particular intersection.

Directly behind Fred is Joe, a brand new truck driver. Objectively speaking, Joe is a bit nervous behind the wheel. However, he has been well trained and does know what he is doing. Fred and Joe are both waiting at a red light, eyes on the road.

As the light turns green, both men accelerate. Suddenly, the right tire on Joe’s cab explodes for no reason. The explosion causes Joe to lose control of his truck, which ends up side swiping Fred. Fred is not injured, but his vehicle is badly damaged.

In this example, neither Fred nor Joe are responsible for the accident or damage caused to Fred’s vehicle. After a thorough accident investigation, it was determined that the tire which exploded was defective.  

Fred would therefore be entitled to file a products liability claim against the tire manufacturer and distributor for damage caused to his car.

In summary, if a defective part causes -- or contributes to causing -- a trucking accident, an injured victim may have a number of possible sources to seek compensation from.

1.2 At-Fault Truck Driver


All trucks are subject to state and federal laws and regulations to minimize accident risks. However, some truck drivers and commercial trucking companies will ignore safety laws in order to meet their deadlines and maximize profits.

Due to the immense pressure a truck driver is under to meet their deadlines, the potential for mistakes and negligent driving can exponentially increase. For example, according to Vehicle Code 21702 VC, it is a misdemeanor for a truck driver in the state of California to spend more than twelve consecutive hours on the road in a 24-hour period. It goes without saying that a truck driver who violates these hour limits is at an increased risk of causing harm to others.

A truck driver who is found in violation of California’s safety regulations and causes an accident, may be liable to an injured driver for their losses. The majority of all truck accidents are caused by a truck driver who was not using reasonable care while driving or who was in violation of safety regulations. 

Truck driver negligence may include:

  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Texting and driving
  • Unsafe lane changes
  • Not following traffic signals
  • Not yielding the right-of-way
  • Not abiding by safety regulations
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

1.3 At-Fault Trucking Company


The actual commercial trucking company can also be found negligent for causing a trucking accident. Trucking companies may intentionally or recklessly violate transportation regulations or safety requirements to increase their profit margins. When these violations contribute to causing a trucking accident, that company may be held liable for any injuries or damages caused.

Examples of trucking company negligence include:

  • Overloaded trailers
  • Allowing overweight vehicles 
  • Not properly maintaining trucks
  • Poor driver hiring and training practices
  • Allowing trucks to carry unbalanced cargo
  • Encouraging drivers to forego sleep and hour restrictions
  • Allowing or encouraging drivers to drive in violation of safety laws
  • Negligent retention of underqualified or underperforming employees

There are California and federal regulations that exist to limit truck size, weight, and route designations for trucks. Unfortunately, many commercial trucking companies will intentionally violate these safety regulations. They may also falsify their documentation process in order to hide evidence of their deliberate negligence. This is reckless and can also subject a trucking company to punitive damages for negligence. There are also instances when a truck driver flees the scene of an accident, which have their own unique set of circumstances. 

Let’s consider an example:

Say that a local Los Angeles trucking company is short on drivers. Rather than diligently training and hiring a well screened and professionally trained fleet of drivers, they instead recruit a motley group of drivers with previous substance abuse issues. 

This group of drivers promises to give up drugs, passes a drug test, and begins work. A few weeks after, one of the drivers relapses and drives while under the influence. Unfortunately, this driver’s negligence causes a serious accident which kills two people.

In this example, not only is the driver guilty of negligence, but the trucking company that hired and trained him would also be responsible to the victims for their losses.

2. How Truck Accidents are Different from Car Accidents


Truck accidents are very different from car accidents. Trucking accidents involve other factors that are not common to car accidents, such as trucking industry laws, commercial trucking insurance coverage, special accident investigations, and the increased severity of injuries and fatalities.

  • Trucking industry laws - the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) has implemented various trucking regulations intended to make roads safer for all truck drivers and every motorist on the road. All commercial truck drivers are required to follow the regulations implemented by the FMCSA. Failing to comply with these safety regulations will almost guarantee the commercial trucking companies will be held liable.
  • Insurance coverage - commercial trucking insurance is different than other insurance policies because there is much more coverage. If you were the victim of a trucking accident, our experienced truck accident attorneys can deal directly with the insurance companies to make sure you obtain maximum compensation for your losses.
  • Truck accident investigations - investigations and gathering evidence for truck accident cases is significantly more extensive than in car accident cases. It is important to retain the services of a skilled truck accident lawyer who knows the protocol for gathering evidence and who will do so in a timely manner to preserve any crucial evidence.

3. Suing After a Truck Accident


It is crucial to understand that personal injury victims, including trucking accident victims, will typically have two years to file a claim for damages. It is important for truck accident injury victims to contact a truck accident attorney as soon as possible. An experienced truck accident lawyer knows the trucking industry rules and regulations and can uncover any truck driver or trucking company violations.

It goes without saying that truck accident investigations and claims are complex. A truck accident lawsuit will list all potential defendants who had or may have had a role in causing an accident.  

Depending on the specifics of your trucking accident, the list of defendants may include:

  • the truck driver
  • the insurance provider
  • the truck manufacturer(s)
  • the city or county governments
  • any drivers who were involved
  • the commercial trucking company
  • anyone else involved in the accident
  • the defective vehicle parts manufacturer

Finally, even if a truck driver was directly responsible for causing your accident, the commercial trucking company can possibly be held liable for the negligence of their employees. According to California's Respondeat Superior laws, a trucking company can be held vicariously liable for the negligence of their truck drivers.

3.1 Can I File a Lawsuit on Behalf of a Family Member Who Was Killed?


An individual who loses his or her life after a trucking accident can no longer file a claim for damages. Therefore, the child, spouse, and sometimes even other family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim under California’s wrongful death laws.

Available damages after a wrongful death suit include:

  • Burial costs
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Compensation for the loss of support, protection, and guidance
  • Loss of financial support the decedent would have provided had they survived

Individuals who can file a wrongful death claim in California include:

  • The spouse
  • The surviving children
  • The registered domestic partner
  • If the children are deceased, the surviving grandchildren
  • Any person(s) entitled to the deceased’s assets according to California's intestate succession laws

4. Available Damages After a Trucking Accident


Compensatory damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for their losses after a personal injury case. In general, a plaintiff must prove that they were harmed or injured in order to be entitled to damages. If an individual did not sustain any injuries, there will typically be no need for any damages.

Broadly speaking, compensatory damages can be divided in either of the two following categories, economic damages and non-economic damages.

  • Economic damages include tangible losses, such as property damage
  • Non-economic damages include intangible losses, such as emotional distress

Economic damages in a trucking accident may include:

  • Legal fees
  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills
  • ER treatment
  • Property loss
  • Vehicle repairs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Future medical treatment

Non-economic damages are essentially intended to cover losses that are thought of as subjective and will not necessarily cover out of pocket losses. Non-economic damages may include compensation for:

  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Physical disability or disfigurement

In very rare cases, a plaintiff may be able to sue for punitive damages. Punitive damages may be awarded on top of the normal compensatory damages an aggrieved individual may be entitled to and are intended to punish a wrongdoer for their negligent or malicious behavior.

5. Read More Truck Accident Resources


  • How To Safely Drive Around a Truck  It’s important to understand that trucks, due to their size, will have larger blind spots, need more space to maneuver safely, and will also need more time and space to slow down or stop. It also takes more time and finesse for a driver to pass them safely.
  • Truck Driving Safety Tips  The majority of all truck accidents are caused by a truck driver who was not using reasonable care while driving or who was in violation of safety regulations. In this article, our experienced truck accident attorneys will discuss several important recommendations for safely driving a commercial truck.
  • Commercial Trucking Insurance Interstate truck drivers are required to meet minimum coverage limits. The minimum requirement for insurance coverage will depend on the type of freight.
  • Who Can Own a Truck?  There are many types of commercial trucks on the streets of Southern California, each with their own unique legal requirements. One common factor is that owners and drivers of commercial trucks must be licensed to drive commercial vehicles.
  • Common Causes of Truck Accidents   A truck accident can be caused by a number for a number of different reasons. Some of the most common causes of truck accidents include, though are not limited to: speeding, fatigue, and distracted driving.  
  • Truck Accident Statistics
    California is one of the states with the highest rates of traffic accidents in the country. In 2017, there were a reported 450,000 accidents in the state.
  • Multi-Vehicle Semi Truck Accident Truck accidents are very dangerous due to their sheer size and power. When there are multiple other vehicles involved in the crash, the situation can become even more dangerous.
  • Truck Accident Liability Who could be found liable for causing a truck accident is dependent on the negligence each party provided that caused the accident. Regardless of the size or impact of the parties involved in the accidents, it is the party or parties that lacked their basic duty of care that can be found liable for causing the accident.  
  • Truck Accident Insurance In the state of California, all motor vehicles, including commercial trucks are required to be insured. This is to protect both drivers and other parties involved in the case of an accident.  
  • 6 Common Roads for Truck Accidents in California
    While California can be a beautiful state to drive through, it is not necessarily the safest for truck drivers. Some roads are impacted by poor road conditions, narrow lanes, and winding roads that can cause accidents.
  • Types of Trucks There are a multitude of different trucks that serve commercial purposes. Some of these trucks include semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, and dump trucks.
  • Where Trucks Can Legally Drive   Different kinds of vehicles are allowed on different sections of the road to protect the safety of truckers and other drivers. Trucks have specific lanes or sections of the road dedicated solely for them and others where they are not allowed on at all.
  • No Fault Truck Accident A no fault accident refers to those where no party seems to have directly caused the accident, some other factor such as the weather or natural cause might have caused the accident. However, California is a fault state, meaning that some party must be held liable for causing an accident.
  • Why Are Trucks So Dangerous? Trucks are massive vehicles who can cause serious accidents. They are so dangerous due to their size and power of the vehicle upon impact. The severity of a truck accident is much more than a car accident.
  • What to Do if You’re Struck by a Truck   Being stuck by a massive vehicle can result in serious injury. It is important to take several important steps in order to recover well and get the compensation that you deserve.
  • Truck Law vs Car Law   What’s the difference between truck law and car law? Since trucks are generally larger and more impactful in the case of a crash, truck laws tend to have more laws set in place for the safety of all.
  • Truck Hit and Runs Hit and run cases can make filing a claim difficult if the vehicle gets away without having its information recorded. However, since trucks are so big, they can’t get away as easily or without much notice as other vehicles.  
  • Worst Truck AccidentsWhile all truck accidents can be impactful, some are worse than others. The severity of a truck crash depends on a number of different factors including size, type of impact, and the different parties involved in the accident.
  • Truck Comparative Negligence Who’s liable in a truck accident? California is a comparative negligence state, which means that multiple parties can be found at fault for causing an accident. The level of negligence each party committed can be used to determine the level of fault for causing the accidents.
  • How Are Truck Accidents Different From Car Accidents?
    What makes a truck accident different from a car accident? The size of the vehicle, the impact of the crash, and the laws surrounding truck driving are all some factors that make the two types of crashes different.
  • Determining Compensation for a Truck Accident
    How is compensation for a truck accident determined? A number of different factors, such as truck insurance coverage and who is found at fault for the accident, contribute to the determination of compensation.
  • Blind Spot Truck Accidents
    The size of commercial vehicles causes them to have blind spots, which means that truck drivers might not be able to see you if you are positioned in one of those blind spots — this can lead to dangerous accidents.
  • 10 Ways Head-On Truck Collisions Occur
    Head on collisions can cause a lot of damage, especially if they involve commercial trucks. There are many different ways head on truck collisions can occur, including, though not limited to: improper overtaking and passing, driving on the wrong lane of traffic, and driving while fatigued.
  • Can a Co-Driver be Liable for a Truck Accident?
    Co-driving is a trucking method utilized to make truck driving safer and more effective. Drivers switch off so each can rest. However, what happens when an accident occurs? Could a co-driver also be held responsible if they weren’t behind the wheel when an accident occurred?
  • The Difficulties of Filing a Truck Accident Claim
    Filing a truck accident claim is a complicated process because it involves many different parties, from the truck driver, to the victim, to the trucking company, and more, there are many factors at play. The most difficult aspect of filing a truck accident claim is that the trucking company.

West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help


If you have sustained injuries as a result of a truck accident, you have the right to hold the guilty party responsible. A truck accident attorney at our firm can help you recover financial compensation for the losses you have suffered, including medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering from your injury.

Call us today at (213) 927-3700 or email [email protected] to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring and compassionate legal team.

References


CACI No. 405. Comparative Fault of Plaintiff. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017 edition). Justia.  

CACI No. 400. Negligence - Essential Factual Elements. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017 edition). Justia.

CACI No. 1001. Basic Duty of Care. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017 edition). Justia

CACI No. 1200. Basic Duty of Care. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017 edition). Justia

CACI No. 701. Definition of Right-of-Way. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017 edition). Justia.

California Trucking Organization. 

Code of Civil Procedure 377.60. Part 2. Of Civil Actions. Title 3. Of the Parties to Civil Actions [376 - 389.5]. Chapter 4. Effect of Death [377.10 - 377.62]. Article 6. Wrongful Death [377.60- 377.62]. California Legislative Information.

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 49 - Transportation. Subtitle B - Other Regulations Relating to Transportation. Chapter III - Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Department of Transportation. Subchapter A - General Regulations.

Legal Information Institute. Respondeat Superior. Cornell Law School. 

Probate Code. Division 6. Wills and Intestate Succession [6100 - 6806]. Part 2. Interstate Succession [6400 - 6455]. Chapter 1. Intestate Succession Generally [6400 - 6414].

Vehicle Code 21702. Division 11. Rules of the Road [21000 - 23336]. Chapter 3. Driving, Overtaking, and Passing [21650 - 21760]. Article 2. Additional Driving Rules [21700 - 21721]. California Legislative Information.

Vehicle Code 23123.5. Division 11. Rules of the Road [21000 - 23336]. Chapter 12. Public Offenses [23100 - 23135]. Article 1. Driving Offenses [23100 - 23135].

Vehicle Code 35551. Division 15. Size, Weight, and Load [35000 - 35796]. Chapter 5. Weight [35550 - 35796]. Article 1. Axel Limits [35550 - 35558].

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