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Trucking companies try and shift blame for accidents onto their victims by claiming they were intoxicated at the time of the crash.

In this article, we’ll discuss the defense strategy trucking companies use in which they argue that the other party’s intoxication was the true cause of a crash, not the truck driver’s negligence. When an accident occurs between a passenger car and an 18-wheeler, and the occupants of the passenger car are either hurt or killed, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit against the trucking company. Naturally, in order for this lawsuit to be successful, the plaintiff must show that the truck driver and or trucking company were responsible for the accident.

But what if the trucking company can shift some of that blame back onto the passenger car? Naturally, this hurts the plaintiff’s claim. With so much money on the line, trucking companies are notorious for over-reaching in their attempts to shift the blame back onto their victims. When an allegation can be made the driver of the passenger car was intoxicated, this gives the trucking company ample opportunity to shift blame and save themselves a considerable amount of money. And, sometimes, trucking companies will make these allegations when there is no evidence of intoxication, or when the only “intoxication” present in the victim are normal prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Make no mistake about it, it’s a diversionary tactic in most cases.


Questions answered on this page:

  • Why would a trucking company want to blame someone else for their accident?
  • What if the victim was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but didn’t cause the accident?
  • If the trucking company does try to blame you for the accident, what steps need to be taken to counteract it?

How the Strategy Works

Let’s assume that we’re in the pre-litigation stage of an 18-wheeler accident case. The plaintiff claims that a commercial truck driver caused the accident, and the defendant has not accepted liability. At some point during discussions, the defendant makes the accusation that the plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of the accident. How would this affect liability? Would full liability remain on the defendant, would the entire liability shift to the plaintiff, or would we have a comparative fault situation where there was a division of culpability? The answer to these questions rests solely on the particular facts of the case, so let’s take a look at some possible factual scenarios.

First a full investigation will have to be conducted in order to have the clearest picture of what actually occurred in the accident. This will allow the plaintiff’s attorneys to have a complete understanding of what they’re working with. The vehicles should be inspected and witness statements should be taken, as well as any statements from the defendant and the plaintiff. The surface area of the scene will need to be examined for contaminants and debris and any corroborating determinate evidence will need to be collected and reviewed.

Now, once this is done, let’s assume one scenario where the evidence reveals the passenger car driver had in fact been drinking and was intoxicated. The crux of the issue now is going to be whether or not the intoxication was, in fact, the proximate cause of the accident. This fact is important because in order for the burden to shift to the plaintiff, the defendant will have to show that the act of being intoxicated contributed directly to the accident. While that may seem counterintuitive at first, if you think it through, you’ll see that it is not to allow a negligent truck driver to escape liability just because the person they hurt was doing something bad. To be clear, if the misconduct of the injured person was a contributing factor in the accident, then, yes, by all means that should be considered by a jury. But if the misconduct is immaterial, then it should not be blown out of proportion by the trucking company.

Perhaps the truck accident investigation is either not clear in revealing who was at complete fault in the accident or shows that there was shared fault among both parties. Then the issue becomes one of comparative fault where liability will be split between those involved. However in Texas, if one party is shown to be 51% or more at fault then the other party is considered to have no liability. The rub is that the case is not settled pre-trial, the results of the investigation and discovery process will produce a set of possible factual factors that will be presented to a jury. The jury is the ultimate fact-finder in a civil trial it will be their duty to decide the true facts of the case. Based on what they conclude, they can shift the entire liability to the defendant or to the plaintiff or proportion the liability among the two claimants.

Here’s an example of how a defendant may offset their liability by claiming that a plaintiff’s intoxication was a causal factor in the accident.

  • Imagine Becky is driving her Honda Accord back from a doctor’s appointment, when an 18-wheeler traveling in the opposite direction crosses into her lane, striking her head on, killing her. Later, it is revealed Becky had just filled a prescription and had consumed the medication prior to the accident. Even though the truck driver is clearly at fault for crossing into Becky’s lane and striking her head on, the mere mention of Becky’s alleged intoxication will give the defense attorneys who represent the trucking company a perfect opportunity to argue that they are not entirely at fault.
  • How would this affect the case that Becky’s family is bringing against the trucking company? Assume that Becky’s case is worth $5,000,000. If the defendants can successfully argue to a jury that Becky’s intoxicated state resulted in her ability to take evasive action and avoid the collision, the jury may very well put a significant portion of fault on Becky as well as the truck driver. In other words, the jury would find that they were both at fault. If the division of liability comes out to being 60% on the truck driver and 40% on Becky, then the defendants would be liable for $3,000,000 instead of the full $5,000,000. As you can see, the defendants have a very strong motivation to point the finger back at the plaintiff, and an accusation of contributory negligence — which is to say that Becky’s “negligence” contributed to the accident — is an effective way of accomplishing this task.

The issue of shifting liability is very common in commercial trucking and 18-wheeler accidents. In order to navigate this tricky issue, you will need the help of attorneys that have veteran experience in dealing with commercial trucking accidents. We have 25 years of experience, we have dealt with shifting liability and we have helped hundreds of clients. If you would like to learn more about how contributory negligence can affect your case, call now: (855) 326-0000.


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