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Should You Sue the Trucking Company or the Driver in Pennsylvania?

If you get into an accident with a truck or 18-wheeler, you could be facing expensive medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering that you deserve compensation for.  In many cases, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit to get the damages you deserve, but it is important to make sure that you file your claim against the proper parties.  Between insurance companies, the driver, and the trucking company they work for, it can be confusing whom to file your lawsuit against.

If you were injured in an accident with a large truck, tractor-trailer, big rig, or any other sort of commercial vehicle, you may be wondering what to do next. Insurance may be able to help pay for injuries, but the insurance company is not responsible for the accident. In many cases, you may be able to hold the negligent truck driver and their employer, the trucking company, responsible for the injuries they caused.

After a truck accident, it is important to talk to an attorney to understand your rights and options. You may be able to seek some compensation through insurance, but it may not fully cover your needs. The Philadelphia trucking accident lawyers at the Reiff Law Firm explain whether you sue the trucking company or the driver for a trucking accident in Pennsylvania.

Do I Sue the Driver for a Trucking Accident in PA?

There are no automatic rules that hold a truck driver liable after a trucking accident, but in many cases, the truck is clearly the vehicle that caused accident. There are dozens of additional rules and regulations for truck drivers across the country. Many of these rules deal with the number of hours that truckers can drive, aiming to reduce tired driving accidents. Other rules deal with maintenance and equipment, such as weight limits for trucks, while still other rules govern the health and sobriety of commercial truck drivers. If the driver or their trucking company violated any of these rules, they may automatically be liable for truck accidents.

In Pennsylvania, your ability to sue for a car accident in the first place might depend on what insurance you have.  If you have “limited tort” insurance, it means that your injuries are usually covered by your insurance and you are not allowed to sue unless your injuries are sufficiently severe or meet cost thresholds.  If you have “full tort” insurance, you can sue for any car accident injuries.  Either way, a serious accident with a truck probably entitles you to sue – but should you sue the driver?

In many cases, the totality of the circumstances judges which vehicle is responsible for the crash. If you are judged to be partly responsible for the accident, you may still be able to recover in most states. Nearly all states in the US allow an injured victim to recover compensation from the other driver so long as they were less than 50% or 51% responsible. A select few bar these drivers from recovering, while an even smaller number will allow drivers to recover some fraction of the damages even if they were 99% liable for their own injuries.

Car accidents typically must be filed against the driver who was actually responsible for the accident.  In the case of a trucking accident, the driver who was actively behind the wheel at the time of the crash would be the primary defendant.  If there were multiple drivers trading off or the driver worked for a trucking company, you should still sue the individual driver first.

However, the driver is unlikely to have the money to pay for your damages if you were seriously injured.  Their insurance can often cover damages that truck drivers might not be able to cover themselves, but you may also be able to sue the trucking company to go after higher damages. This means that if the truck driver was responsible for the accident, you may not be limited to suing only the truck driver. If the truck driver was employed by a trucking company, you may be able to recover from the trucking company as well.

Can I Sue a Trucking Company for a Semi Truck Accident?

Semi trucks are typically owned and operated in one of two ways: either the trucking company owns the rigs and hires drivers to drive them or owner-operators who work as independent contractors for other shipping companies.  When a driver works as an independent contractor, there may be no company behind them to sue.  However, in cases where a driver works for a trucking company as an employee, you can usually sue the company for its drivers’ mistakes.

Employers are typically responsible for their employee’s mistakes.  Companies and businesses act through their employees, and businesses are usually responsible for what their employees do in the same way that people are responsible for what their hands or mouths do.  Under PA law, this is known as “vicarious liability,” or sometimes “respondeat superior.”

In a vicarious liability case, you hold one party responsible for the acts of another party because they had some oversight, supervision, or responsibility for the other party’s actions.  In the case of a trucking company, the company has control over what its driver does and how they do it, which includes the mistakes they made behind the wheel.

To hold an employer responsible for its employee’s actions, you must prove that their negligence occurred while they were working within the scope of their duties.  For a truck driver, this is usually satisfied any time that the driver is behind the wheel of the truck they were hired to drive.  If the driver goes off-route or takes the truck out on their own time, the company might try to fight liability.  Otherwise, the trucking company should be liable for its drivers’ mistakes behind the wheel.

This means that you can typically sue the trucking company alongside the driver, “joining” them both as co-defendants in the car accident lawsuit.

Suing Trucking Companies for Driver Errors

Most states allow you to reach beyond the truck driver and sue their employer alongside them. Usually, you can only sue those who are directly responsible for your injuries. In fact, in order to successfully sue for personal injury after a truck accident, you must prove four elements:

  1. The liable party owed you a duty – such as the duty to drive reasonably on the road;
  2. The liable party breached that duty – such as by speeding;
  3. The breach caused your injuries; and
  4. You suffered injuries and other damages the court can repay you for.

These four elements prove another party’s “negligence” in an accident. If the trucking company was negligent in their own right, you may be able to sue them directly. However, most states also allow you to hold them “vicariously liable” for their employee’s negligence.

In the first case, you can sue trucking companies for their own negligence. This may involve failing to properly maintain or service the truck that hit you or forcing the driver to violate federal trucking rules, drive tired, or speed to make deadlines. Trucking companies are, ultimately, the ones who put the drivers behind the wheel. If they put a dangerous driver behind on the road, they could also be held responsible for negligent hiring or negligent retention of an employee. If the truck driver has a history of drunk driving, severe accidents, or traffic violations, the trucking company may be directly responsible for hiring such a dangerous driver.

If the trucking company was not independently responsible for the accident, they can usually be held liable as the truck driver’s employer. Under a rule called “respondeat superior,” employees can often be held liable for the negligence of their employees. If a truck driver causes an accident, you may be able to sue the trucking company, as a whole, since the truck driver is a representative of that company. Most states require that the driver was working within the scope of their employment duties when the accident occurred for this rule to apply. Any time the trucker is on-duty and behind the wheel, they are likely to be considered “within the scope of their employment,” and you should be able to sue the trucking company.

Suing Trucking Companies for Equipment Problems and Regulation Violations in PA

Trucking companies may also be directly liable for problems that led to the crash.  Many trucking accidents are caused by problems with the truck itself, not the driver.  Trucking companies are legally responsible for maintaining and servicing trucks in their fleet, and they cannot put them on the road without making sure that the tires, engine, and trailer are in working order.  If the accident was caused because of dangerous or faulty equipment, the trucking company might be primarily responsible instead of the driver.  In some cases, the driver might also be a victim of these kinds of errors.

Moreover, trucking companies have been known to violate safety regulations and federal regulations.  If they do so, that may have contributed directly to the crash, and they could be responsible for this.

Suing Trucking Companies for Negligent Hiring and Retention in PA

The other way to hold a trucking company responsible is for negligent and dangerous hiring and employee retention decisions.  If the trucking company hires a driver that has a bad history of truck accidents, DUI, vehicular assault, or drug use, they should know that that driver would be at risk for causing accidents.  Similarly, if they have a driver on-staff that has committed these kinds of issues, keeping them on staff would be dangerous to others on the road as well.  While the driver might be primarily responsible for the crash, you can sue the trucking company for contributing to the accident by putting a bad driver behind the wheel.

Call Our Truck Accident Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation

If you or a family member was injured in a truck accident, call the Reiff Law Firm today.  Our Philadelphia personal injury attorneys represent victims of serious car accidents and truck accidents and fight to get them compensation for their injuries.  For a free legal consultation, call our law offices today at (215) 709-6940 before accepting any money from your insurance or the trucking company.

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