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Can a Co-Driver be Liable in a Truck Accident?

Truck driving is an extremely skilled profession that requires drivers to stay focused on the road for long stretches of times. Sometimes, drivers are assigned to make their truck deliveries with a co-driver, to assist on the road and alternate as the truck drivers who are only allowed to legally drive for a certain number of hours at a time. While this can be an optimal solution for truck drivers, in the case that a co-driver is in the truck when an accident happens, the co-driver can be seriously injured and/or be held liable for the accident themself. Below, our expert team of truck accident injury attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers break down the implications of having a co-driver present in a truck driver accident.

Ways Co-Driver’s Can Cause Accidents

Even when a co-driver is not the one behind the wheel when an accident takes place, they might still contribute to the causing of an accident. Here are some ways that a co-driver could be found partly liable for causing an accident: 

  • Distracting the driver. Distracting the driver in any way that causes them to take their attention off the road is dangerous. This includes arguing with the driver, showing them media on a device, horseplaying, or playing loud music, can all contribute to the cause of an accident. A co-driver can be found partly liable for causing an accident by distracting the driver.
  • Driving when not experienced. Inexperienced truck driving can cause an accident as well. Co-truckers should only be those who are licensed with a proper commercial vehicle license and hired by the trucking company. A trucker cannot choose a random, unlicensed, untrained, and unauthorized driver to be their co-driver, doing so can have serious consequences. If an accident occurs, not only will the driver’s personal insurance be involved. If a trucking company puts an untrained and limited experienced driver out on the road, they can be faced with liability as well for negligent hiring practices. 
  • Ignoring dangerous conditions. If a co-trucker notices that the other driver is not under the conditions to drive the vehicle and does not have them stop driving or does not take over the driving themself, they can be found liable for allowing a driver to get behind the wheel under dangerous conditions and cause an accident. Examples of dangerous conditions include though are not limited to the following: being fatigued, under the influence, physically or mentally unwell, etc. 
  • Violating regulations. A co-driver violating regulations and allowing the other driver to violate regulations is another way that they can be found liable for causing an accident. Some examples of regulation violations include, though are not limited to, the following: driving or encouraging the other driver to drive for a longer amount of hours than they are legally allowed to, not taking breaks, and failing to fill out or falsifying/altering log books. 

California is a fault state, meaning that somebody must be found liable for causing an accident. California is also a comparative negligence state, meaning that more than one person can be held liable for the causing of an accident and they will be determined based on the level of negligence they contribute that caused the accident.

Why Co-Drivers Should Take Turns in Sleeper Berths 

All commercial truck drivers should know the rule: they cannot drive for more than 14 hours in a 24 hour period as a driver must take a 10 hour minimum break, and drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after they have been off duty for 10 consecutive hours.

While having a companion to talk to while out on the road is great and can keep a truck driver from getting bored out of their mind as they drive endless miles on the road, a co-driver can also provide distractions, like the ones above mentioned, that can lead to an accident. After a co-driver finishes their driving shift, rather than staying up front and awake to engage with the other driver if there is a sleeper berth on their truck, they should go there and get some shut eye. 

When a co-driver is not behind the wheel, they can catch some shut eye by resting on the sleeping berth located on a truck, if one is provided. Usually, being asleep in the berth reduces the possibility of being found partly liable for causing an accident. Not only this, but the sleeper berth is provided to help drivers renew so they are fresh back out on the road. 

Sleep deprivation can be cause for serious accidents and they cause the following symptoms: 

  • Loss of focus 
  • High stress levels and irritable driving 
  • Fatigue
  • Poor decision making 

While providing a sleeping berth is a method of safety to help truck drivers renew so that they can focus out on the road, if a driver crashes while their co-driver is sleeping in the berth, this can cause serious injury to them and they are at much higher risk. 

Two reasons why sleeping births can be so dangerous include the following: 

  • The location of the sleeping berth in the cab of the truck. 
  • The failure to use the proper restraints while in the sleeping berth.

Negligence Or Strict Liability?

While numerous parties can potentially be held liable for a trucking accident, 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 driver found guilty of negligence can be held liable for causing injuries and damages to another. A driver who was injured by a negligent truck driver is entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit, and vice versa. However, the aggrieved party must prove that negligence caused the accident. 

There are three (3) elements for demonstrating negligence in a California commercial trucking accident. Let’s pretend that a truck driver caused a pile up. In that scenario, the following will be assessed:

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

A duty of care is a basic legal requirement for drivers 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:

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

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 multi-vehicle trucking 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:

  1. Faulty accelerator pedals 
  2. Faulty engine/transmission parts
  3. Faulty tires
  4. Faulty brakes
  5. Faulty cargo ties or straps

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.

In essence, anyone who contributes some degree of negligence towards causing a multi vehicle truck related accident will be held liable according to how much their negligence affected the accident. 

For example, a scenario may exist where faulty truck brakes caused a pile up. In that case, any trucks or vehicles affected will be able to recover damages from the product manufacturer. Or let’s say that a truck driver was under the influence. In that case, the truck driver would be held liable.

Need a Truck Accident Injury Attorney? West Coast Trial Lawyers Can Help

Get the compensation that you deserve! Our experienced team of truck accident injury attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers can help you cover medical bills as they come in and ensure that you receive compensation for all of your losses by negotiating with the insurance companies and/or filing a lawsuit if needed. Call us today at 888 341 9802 or email [email protected] to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring, and compassionate expert personal injury legal team.


If you have been injured in an accident, you can count on the legal team at West Coast Trial Lawyers to fight for your rights every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney.
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