People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that a commercial truck accident is little more than a car crash on a larger scale, but they're truthfully worlds apart. The amount of damage an 18-wheeler can cause dwarfs all but the worst car accidents, and resolving a commercial accident with a trucking company is almost inevitably a long and difficult battle. To ensure they cannot intimidate or deceive a truck accident victim into believing there is no recourse, it's best to ask and answer the question: "What are my rights after being hurt in an 18-wheeler accident?"
Answer: If you are injured in an accident with an 18-wheeler or other commercial vehicle, you have the right to seek compensation from the vehicle's driver, their employer, and any other parties who may have contributed to the accident.
In essence, the law says that the victim of a commercial truck accident can sue not just the negligent driver who hurt them, but also the company who authorized him to act on its behalf. This is thanks to a centuries-old legal principle called respondeat superior.
What Does "Respondeat Superior" Mean?
Respondeat superior ("Let the master answer" in Latin), also called vicarious liability, is a common-law concept that holds a person or entity in charge (the "principal") liable for the negligence of another person (the "agent"). The most common version of that is an employer-employee relationship, where a company must answer for any harm caused by someone acting on its behalf.
Truck accidents are actually a good example: If a truck driver is intoxicated at the wheel, falls asleep while driving, runs a red light, or otherwise acts in a way that causes accidents and injuries, that driver's employer may be on the hook for the damage he does while acting as their agent. For that to be true, however, the employee's negligence must have taken place during the scope of employment. That means the employee must be on the clock and doing "work things" when the accident happened.
Example 1: Thomas is driving a company truck through town on his way to make a delivery. As he heads to his destination he fails to notice a stop sign and fatally hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
Because Thomas was engaged in work-specific activity, acting on behalf of his employer, that company could be considered vicariously liable for the pedestrian's death.
Example 2: Thomas notices the stop sign and brakes, but the crossing pedestrian says something rude to him about being more careful. He climbs out of the truck and cold-cocks the pedestrian, who falls to the ground and gets a serious head injury.
Thomas was initially acting on the company's behalf by driving the delivery truck, but punching someone's lights out wasn't within the scope of his job duties. Whatever legal consequences he may face for his rash decision, his employer would be shielded from vicarious liability.
Who Else Might Be Liable?
In some cases liability for a truck accident might extend beyond the truck driver and their employer. If the truck malfunctioned or lost a wheel, for example, the faulty parts' manufacturers and/or those responsible for the truck's maintenance may need to answer for their negligence. Other possible defendants might include the designers or builders of hazardous or poorly-planned roads, third-party motorists if they triggered the crash by weaving through lanes or speeding, and construction crews that obstruct traffic or scatter dangerous debris on the road, just to name a few.
That's not to say that every truck accident necessarily has a multitude of defendants. It's just possible for careful investigation to show that other parties—ones not as clearly and immediately tied to the wreck—had a hand in it.
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The key takeaway here is that truck accidents are almost always complex to resolve. Even if a truck driver's negligence seems to be the clear proximate cause of the victim's injuries, the smart bet is that the company will dispute that. In fact, through all our years of helping accident victims we've encountered just one trucking company that accepted the blame without being forced to. Accident victims have the right to sue, but nowhere does it say the defendants must make it easy for them. Most companies and their insurers instead pull out all the stops to defend themselves, and while some of their strategies are above board, others are decidedly not.
That's why one of the best things any truck accident victim can do is get an experienced attorney to help them navigate the ordeal of a truck accident lawsuit. Over the last three decades, the skilled Texas lawyers at Grossman Law Offices have fought tirelessly for the rights of hundreds of commercial accident victims and their families. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a truck accident, call Grossman Law 24/7 for a free and confidential consultation.