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Who Is Ultimately Liable for A Semi-Truck Accident?

Anyone who drives a car has likely encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of semi-trucks on the road. Commercial trucking is an important part of both local commerce in Oregon and interstate commerce across the country. We can all thank truck drivers and trucking companies for transporting so many goods that we enjoy in our daily lives. Unfortunately, the trucking industry is also responsible for large numbers of motor vehicle collisions. In fact, many of us have seen the devastating wreckage of a semi-truck and passenger vehicle on the side of the road. While most agree with the concept that wrongdoers should be held accountable for their actions, people involved in semi-truck crashes are often surprised by some of the legal complexities ultimately involved in reaching that goal. Multiple complex insurance policies may apply. The trucking company may use confusing ownership and leasing arrangements. Drivers may be employees or independent contractors. In this article, we will discuss some types of possible liability.

Driver Liability

Some tractor-trailer truck crashes are caused by the intentional or negligent actions of the semi-truck driver, for which he or she can be held liable. In Oregon alone, in 2014, 1400 truck crashes occurred which resulted in disabling damage to a vehicle, injury, or death. Reviews of these crashes show that they occurred for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Speeding
  • Driver decision errors
  • Driver fatigue
  • Driving too fast for conditions
  • Physical injuries or conditions of the driver
  • Losing control while reaching for items

Broker Liability

Truck brokers are middle-men who match motor carriers with those who need to ship goods. Generally, these brokers complete “paper transactions.” In other words, the broker often never even sees the product being shipped, or the semi-truck carrying the product. Therefore, one might conclude that a broker cannot have liability for a crash. However, brokers have been held liable for failing to act reasonably in performing a background check on a motor carrier. In fact, in one Oregon case a jury awarded $5.2 million for such liability. In that case, the plaintiff alleged that the trucking company did not perform drug tests on its drivers, and that the driver who caused the accident was under the influence of drugs.

Vicarious Liability

Oregon law recognizes the concept of vicarious liability. In the employment context, the concept holds that an employer can be held liable for the acts of an employee under certain circumstances. It is sometimes referred to as master-servant liability. A key element is that an employee must be acting within the scope of his employment. Take, for example, a truck driver who is an employee of a trucking company. If the truck driver is hauling a load as directed by his employer and has an accident, the employer can be held liable for the acts of the employee. On the other hand, if a truck driver is not working, gets in a fight, and strikes another person, his employer would certainly argue that vicarious liability should not apply because the employee was not acting within the scope of his employment.

Contact a Lawyer

Oregon law supports the ideal that wrongdoers in society should be held accountable for their wrongful actions. However, sometimes it is more complicated than first meets the eye to determine exactly who is liable for wrongdoing. In this article, we addressed only a few of the types of liability to consider in a semi-truck crash. Others, such as the direct liability of an employer or the manufacturer of a tractor or trailer, can certainly come into play. Sometimes, only one person or entity may be liable. At other times, multiple people or entities may be liable. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, our experienced truck accident attorneys can answer your questions and help you sort through the complicated legal landscape. Please contact us for a free consultation.