Large commercial truck accidents can often inflict more devastation for the parties involved than standard motor vehicle crashes due to the disparity in size between the vehicles involved. Moving forward can involve a difficult process even if you have already reported the accident and sought medical care for your injuries.
After all, while some of the dust may have settled, you won't leave the woods until litigation concludes.
You will want to ask a plethora of questions before committing with a Chicago truck accident lawyer to represent and litigate your Illinois truck accident case. However, one question will ultimately lie at the heart of such a case: at the end of the day, which person(s) will hold the most liability for your truck accident injuries?
Even if a negligent commercial truck driver was not exercising an appropriate level of caution along the roadways of Chicago or greater Illinois, justice is still possible. Both state and federal law affords truck accident victims many roads to determine liability and hold the liable party/parties to account.
Let us explore which factors determine liability in an Illinois truck accident case and how crucial that information is for helping plaintiffs receive the accountability, justice, and compensatory damages they deserve.
When Can You Hold Truck Companies Liable for Damages?
The United States spans a staggering 3.9 million miles in vast, sprawling roadways. That leaves plenty of room for large commercial trucks and for human error to make things go awry.
Far too often, one wrong turn or miscalculation on the road can spell disaster; nationwide, truck collisions are to blame for over 4,000 fatalities and 130,000 injuries annually. The most recent Department of Transportation statistics quantified up to 799 fatal crashes in Illinois (as of 2022), with approximately 119 fatalities involving semi-trucks.
Determining liability and the parties most at fault in an Illinois motor vehicle accident can be tricky. It can also be a profoundly high stake one, given that Illinois is a state which adheres to a modified comparative negligence system.
Under this standard, the injured party may only recover damages if they hold less than 50 percent of the fault. Modified comparative negligence laws make the need for representation capable of building a robust legal case all the more critical.
The stakes and complications associated with determining motor vehicle accident fault in Illinois will only heighten in the cases of commercial trucking accidents. In addition to discerning the individual driver's level of negligence, you will probably focus on bringing the commercial driver's company to account.
Fortunately, Illinois is also a state where employers must legally follow a standard of “vicarious liability.” While a commercial truck driver's employer cannot face direct liability for the employee's negligence, the driver's negligence may open them up to scrutiny for indirect liability.
Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court recently established new precedents that expand plaintiffs' rights to sue employers in the state for indirect, vicarious liability, and instances of direct liability.
The case, McQueen V. Green, was ruled on this past April. As the Illinois State Bar Association summarized it, the court concluded that “a plaintiff may plead and prove multiple causes of action and that, so long as there is a good-faith factual basis for a plaintiff's claim of direct negligence against an employer, the plaintiff is allowed to pursue that claim in addition to a claim of vicarious liability.”
To determine and demonstrate indirect, vicarious liability, the plaintiff and their counsel must determine that the employee acted negligently within the scope of their employment throughout their time as an employee. Proving this type of vicarious liability does not have to involve proving direct negligence on behalf of the employer, just that the employer acted negligently within the scope of their employment.
You may have an easier time proving this type of liability in a situation where a negligent delivery truck driver struck you on the job, but not in a scenario where the driver collided with you outside usual work hours, for example, commuting between an afternoon lunch break. A Windy City deep dish may make all the difference in determining whether or not the negligent truck driver's employer is in deep.
But to establish a more direct case against an Illinois trucking company for being culpable in the negligence behind a commercial truck accident, you will need to demonstrate that the company exhibited negligence in at least one or more of the following areas:
- The company was negligent in how it hired, vetted, trained, and supervised the employee, which subsequently contributed to or resulted in your truck accident injury. Failing to adequately scrutinize a negligent employee could constitute negligence on the employer's part.
- The trucking company neglected to follow the commercial truck driving safety regulations set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA. For example, their regulatory standards require that drivers are background checked for a history of substance misuse. Proof of the company failing to do so could constitute negligence for which the employer is liable.
- The trucking company forced the employee to operate their vehicle outside the standard regulatory Hours of Service (HoS) schedule. FMCSA bans commercial drivers from operating for more than 11 consecutive hours after 10 hours off-duty. But a trucking company that forces drivers to work beyond reasonable driving hours can exacerbate the risk of accidents. It not only constitutes driver negligence but trucking company negligence.
- The company failed to maintain the truck or trucking equipment. They installed a part incorrectly, failed to properly secure a load, or installed the wrong equipment. These examples could open a trucking company to further direct liability.
Safety equipment failures can push a company's liability in a truck accident case past the boundary of falling under indirect, vicarious liability, and into clearly, unambiguously constituting direct negligence on the part of the trucking company.
Faulty manufacturing parts can open the trucking company up to subsequent liability. But can the company which manufactured the faulty truck parts be liable too?
Can You Hold Vehicle Manufacturers Liable?
The employees driving commercial trucks and their employers are legally responsible for routine vehicle maintenance. Operators must conduct maintenance before, during, and after bringing their vehicle on the road.
An improperly balanced load with even the marginal imbalance in weight distribution can spell disaster, especially if the driver has to deal with inclement weather that they did not adequately anticipate. Plaintiffs must identify this proof as quickly as possible.
You will have a statute of limitations up to two years after the accident date to file a personal injury suit. Under federal law, trucking companies must keep crash data records for approximately 90 days. To ensure that you obtain relevant documents quickly and efficiently before the trucking company destroys them, connect with a trusted Illinois truck accident attorney as soon as possible.
But if any faulty or defective parts contributed to your large commercial truck accident, you may have additional grounds for a product liability suit. Bearing Illinois' two-year statute of limitations for personal injury suits in mind, as well as the 90-day federal statute before crash data records can be freely disposed of, it's critical to quickly, promptly connect with an Illinois truck accident attorney. You should educate yourself on every potential avenue for identifying liability!
What if the Truck Driver Isn't an Employee?
Beyond disposing of crash data records after the legal requirement to hold onto them or promptly working with liability insurance claims adjusters to minimize the cost on their end, trucking companies may employ additional legal tactics. Tactics to further shield themselves from liability if one of their drivers is involved in a negligent crash.
One such tactic entails not hiring drivers as employees. By hiring independent contractors, the commercial trucking company
shields itself from direct liability. Even so, federal law may still guide you toward the road to accountability against the negligent driver and commercial trucking company, regardless of whether the driver is an employee or independent contractor.
Under the rules set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, trucking companies that operate in multiple states can still be deemed vicariously liable for a commercial driver accident, regardless of the driver's employment status.
You can hold them vicariously liable if the company operates commercial motor vehicles interstate. They could be liable regardless of whether the driver is considered an independent contractor or an official employee on their company payroll. If it is demonstrable that the company improperly handled leased equipment, that may open them up to further potential liability. This liability can happen irrespective of whether they own the trucking equipment.
Even larger corporations like Amazon, which employ some of their commercial delivery truck drivers, may bear liability under FMCSA safety standards. However, larger corporations tend to have bigger insurance policies. You may need to deal more with their liability insurance providers or the individual driver's respective private insurance policy.
That said, individual truck cases can vary significantly and profoundly on a case-by-case basis, so seek the accountability, justice, and compensatory damages you deserve ASAP. Do so with help from an experienced, empathetic, and caring professional legal counsel who has spent years attaining justice in similar cases.
Call a Local Truck Accident Attorney After Your Truck Accident
If a crash with a truck injured you, look for an experienced truck accident lawyer near you to recover compensation for you. The track record of any truck accident lawyer you hire should demonstrate results that made a difference in the lives of their clients.
Reputable truck accident lawyers will always start with a free case evaluation so you can learn how they can assist you.