After a truck accident occurs, victims or their loved ones may have this question: Is the trucking company liable for the actions of its drivers? The trucking company that has employed the driver involved in a truck accident in Illinois can be held liable for the driver’s actions under the respondeat superior doctrine. You can also hold the company directly liable if it was itself negligent.

Truck accidents can lead to significant damages for victims and their families. Trucking companies have a much higher amount of mandatory insurance coverage than drivers. It’s essential to learn when liability for an accident could extend to a trucking company.

Call the Ankin Law truck accident attorneys at 312-600-0000 for a free case evaluation in Chicago.

Truck Accident Liability

Knowing what to do after a truck accident in Illinois can help you establish fault and liability. Liability refers to the legal obligation to compensate an accident victim for the victim’s injuries. The liable party ought to compensate you for the truck accident injuries you or a loved one sustained.

Fault refers to the party that caused the accident. In a truck accident case, the at-fault party may not be the only one to bear liability for your injuries. Determining liability in truck accident cases is often more challenging than in other types of accidents. Truck accidents usually involve multiple liable parties.

What Factors Determine Liability?

Factors that determine truck accident liability include:

  • What caused the crash
  • The driver’s employment status
  • Laws and regulations broken at the time of the accident
  • The trucking company’s policies

Depending on these factors, the parties that could be held liable in a truck accident case include the truck driver, trucking company, truck or truck part manufacturers, cargo loaders, maintenance providers, and other third parties.

Establishing liability typically requires a truck accident lawyer to conduct a thorough investigation and analysis. This may include obtaining and scrutinizing police reports, photos and video footage of the crash, witness statements, the truck’s Event Data Recorder (EDR) data, inspection and maintenance records, driver’s logs, drug and alcohol tests, and trucking company violation reports. These enable the lawyer to determine who was at fault for the accident and the individuals or businesses that could be held liable.

Trucking Company’s Liability for Its Driver’s Actions in Illinois

When a truck accident occurs, it’s understandable to consider the truck driver liable for the crash. Nevertheless, Illinois laws allow a trucking company to be held liable for a driver’s actions under certain conditions. As a result, you could also file a truck accident claim against the company for which the at-fault driver works.

Respondeat Superior

The answer to the question, “Is the trucking company liable for the actions of its drivers?” is almost always yes in Illinois trucking accident cases due to the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. Respondeat superior is Latin for let the master or superior answer. Under this legal doctrine, an employer is liable for its employees’ actions, provided the actions occurred in the scope of the employees’ employment.

With regard to trucking companies, this legal doctrine makes a trucking company liable for the negligent actions of its drivers performed within the scope of their employment. A trucking company can be held liable for an accident and the injuries sustained if a truck driver’s negligent actions lead to the accident while the driver was carrying out his or her job duties. Examples of circumstances where a truck driver’s negligence could render a trucking company legally responsible for the driver’s actions include accidents caused by speeding, distracted driving, driver falling asleep at the wheel, and aggressive driving.

In 2022, there were 11,922 accidents involving tractor-trailers in Illinois. Trucking companies can be held liable in most trucking accident cases caused by their drivers in Chicago and the rest of Illinois, since these crashes tend to occur while the trucks are being driven for commercial operations. However, that doesn’t stop companies from trying to assert defenses to respondeat superior claims. As a result, it’s usually advisable to have an experienced Chicago truck accident lawyer assist you in these types of cases.

Trucking Company Negligence

When a truck driver causes an accident, a truck accident attorney’s investigations could also uncover negligence on the part of the trucking company. The company’s negligence could directly or indirectly cause an accident. A trucking company can be held legally responsible for an accident if its own negligence contributed to the crash.

Examples of negligent actions that can make a trucking company liable include:

  • Negligent hiring practices, such as hiring a dangerous driver with a history of traffic violations
  • Negligent retention of unsafe drivers
  • Negligent training or supervision of drivers
  • Failure to make needed repairs or maintenance of its fleet
  • Violating truck driving safety regulations

What Regulations Do Trucking Companies Have to Follow?

The trucking industry is heavily regulated at both the federal and state levels. There are a number of federal and state regulations that trucking companies have to follow. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has put in place comprehensive federal regulations that govern the behavior of interstate trucking companies and truck drivers. FMCSA regulations apply to all trucking companies and drivers regardless of where they’re licensed, driving from, or destination.

Crash victims can use violations of regulations committed by trucking companies as evidence of negligence and to establish liability in truck accident cases. Regulations that trucking companies must follow and are usually invoked in truck accident cases include the following:

Hours of Service (HOS)

HOS rules address the question, “How many hours can a truck driver drive?” They’re enforced by the FMCSA. These rules limit how long truck drivers can drive and be on duty without taking breaks to minimize fatigue-related incidents.

HOS regulations require property-carrying truck drivers to take a break of at least 30 minutes after driving for 8 cumulative hours. Their off-duty period should be a minimum of 10 uninterrupted hours. Also, they shouldn’t drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after resuming work following the off-duty period. Truck drivers are prohibited from driving for more than 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. The consecutive seven or eight-day period restarts after a driver takes at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.

Drivers who exceed the permitted hours of service risk driving commercial trucks while fatigued. Trucking companies must regulate how long their drivers work and monitor their hours of service. If a trucking company encourages or forces drivers to violate HOS regulations, it could be liable for an accident resulting from fatigued driving.

Commercial Driver’s License Program

Truck drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and the endorsements necessary to operate the particular type of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) they drive. They must also be certified to be medically and physically capable of operating a commercial vehicle.

If a trucking company hires a driver who doesn’t hold a CDL or the necessary endorsements or is medically and physically unfit to operate a commercial truck, the company can be held liable for a crash caused by that driver.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

The FMCSA requires trucking companies to conduct drug and alcohol testing of drivers in several circumstances, including during the hiring process, after an accident, and randomly throughout a driver’s employment to lower the risk of impaired driving. A company could be liable for a truck accident if it failed in its duty to conduct these tests as required or allowed a driver who had failed a drug test to continue driving, and the driver went on to get involved in an alcohol or drug-impaired driving accident.

Adequate Maintenance

Trucking companies are legally responsible for routine vehicle maintenance of their trucks. Federal law requires them to inspect, maintain, and repair their fleet of vehicles regularly to ensure they’re in safe working condition. Companies could be liable for violating industry regulations if an accident occurs due to the failure to inspect and maintain a truck and its equipment.

Cargo Securement

There are regulations for the proper securing of cargo on trucks to prevent accidents from unbalanced or dropped cargo. Trucking companies must ensure that cargo is safely distributed across the truck’s axles and use appropriate tie-downs and securement for the type of cargo. A company and its loading crew can be held liable if it uses improper ties and straps and an accident occurs due to shifting or falling cargo.

FMCSA and the Illinois Vehicle Code also address weight limits. A company can be held liable if a truck’s weight exceeds the state or federal limits.

The Chicago truck accident attorneys at Ankin Law can help you establish trucking company liability and recover fair compensation for your damages. We’ll investigate your accident thoroughly to determine all the liable parties and build a solid case against them. We handle cases on a contingency basis, so you won’t pay unless we win you compensation. Contact us so we can get started today.