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Who is responsible for a truck or bus accident?

Anyone who has driven on a highway is aware of the dangers of large 18-wheel trucks, particularly during bad weather or at night.  If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident with a truck, who is responsible?

The good news is that many large truck drivers are employees of large shipping companies and/or companies who are actually producing and shipping products.  The bad news is that sometimes determining ownership and insurance can be more difficult than doing so following a car accident. 

Generally, the owner of the truck and/or the driver's employer (they may be the same, but are occasionally not) would be primarily responsible for any injuries caused by the negligence of the truck driver.

Because many large truck drivers are from out of state and cover regional and even national routes, it is often the case that the employer of the driver and/or the owner of the truck are not based in New York State.  In fact, some are not even based in the U.S., but operate out of Canada.  This will not generally bar or prohibit a lawsuit for injuries sustained because of the truck accident, because by “doing business” in the State of New York, the truck company has consented to jurisdiction by New York courts. 

It is important that an appropriate investigation be undertaken after a truck accident to determine not only who was at fault but also where the company is located and whether any additional steps will need to be taken.  Because this can be a transient industry it is important to obtain copies of any police or investigative reports, notify the owner of truck to maintain records relating to its repair or service, and notify the insurance company for the truck owner of the potential claim.

It will also be important to determine, if possible, whether the driver was employed by the same company that owned the truck, or whether the employer was leasing the truck from the actual owner.  In that situation, there may be more than one insurance policy involved in the case which could cover injuries, and responsibility could fall on the employer of the driver of the truck as well as the vehicle owner. 

Where the driver is employed by someone other than the truck owner the question becomes what actually caused the accident?  Was it a distracted or careless driver?  Was it poor brakes or tires that were not properly serviced?  Or was it a driver who was falling asleep because his employer had forced him to drive more hours than legally permitted over the course of the week leading up to the accident? 

Each of the above scenarios are real and foreseeable causes of large truck accidents, and each can lead the victim of the truck accident down a different path in determining who is at fault and how the case will be handled moving forward. 

For example, where a driver is distracted because he is reading a text message, veers into another lane and forces a car off the road, causing injuries, the driver will likely be ticketed and the case against the company would proceed in one fashion.  This is different from the case where the driver is driving carefully but when he tries to slow down his brakes do not respond appropriately because the owner of the vehicle had not taken proper care of them. 

Accidents involving large trucks on the highway can have devastating results.  Knowing where to look and ensuring a proper investigation are critical to protecting your rights after such an accident.  If you have questions about a truck accident contact us today.

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