After a Truck Accident, Do I Sue the Trucking Company or the Driver?
Truck Accidents Often Lead to Serious Injuries
In 2015, 1,063 people suffered injuries in crashes that involved tractor-trailers and other large trucks in Canadian, Cleveland, and Pottawatomie Counties. Due to the massive size of these vehicles, big-rig trucks often cause very serious or even fatal injuries when they cause a wreck.
Since truck accidents are also very complex from a legal standpoint, it’s not always easy for injured Oklahomans to figure out who may be responsible for their injuries. In this article, we’ll try to clear up some of the mystery surrounding the personal injury claims and lawsuits that follow from truck accidents.
Oklahoma Truck Accident Claims: The Basics
Before you file a truck accident lawsuit, you should organize your evidence and carefully evaluate your claim. In particular, assess the strength of your negligence claim, identify the responsible parties, and compute your potential damages.
It’s always in your best interest to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your case. A balanced assessment of your claim will help you counter the insurance company’s arguments and evaluate any settlement offer they make. The best way to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your trucking accident case is to talk with an experienced Oklahoma trucking accident lawyer during a free consultation. They can listen to your story and use their knowledge and experience to provide you with honest legal advice about your situation.
One important reason to talk to a lawyer is that trucking company negligence often plays a role in truck accident cases. Even if the accident seems like a simple matter of negligent behavior by the driver, the trucking company’s actions may have played a role in causing the crash. For example, the company may have taken part in the following activities:
- Improperly training the driver
- Pressuring the driver to drive for excessively long hours in violation of regulations
- Skipping important maintenance, repairs, or inspections
Since a trucking accident case can involve more than just the truck driver, figuring out liability and proving negligence is a complicated process. You and your lawyer need to carefully organize and examine evidence such as:
- Accident reports
- Witness statements
- Medical records
- Truck data (such as driver logs, telematics, and black box recording data)
- Employment records
- Testimony from expert witnesses
- And more
Importantly, you must also submit a timely claim with the correct insurance companies, and if you need to file a lawsuit, you’ll also have to do that within a strict time frame as well. In Oklahoma, most personal injury lawsuits have a two-year statute of limitations. If you don’t file your lawsuit within this window, you will lose your right to compensation. Since you might have multiple claims against different defendants, you should always act quickly after a truck accident.
After a Crash, Is the Truck Driver or the Trucking Company Responsible?
Under Oklahoma law, employers such as trucking companies are typically liable for their employees’ negligence while the employee is working. However, not all truck drivers are employees. Some are independent contractors.
To decide whether a truck driver is an employee or an independent contractor, Oklahoma courts weigh a series of factors, including whether the driver:
- Can refuse assignments
- Sets his or her work hours
- Uses company equipment or wears a company uniform
- Works for other customers
Unfortunately, many negligent truck companies and their insurers try to argue that their drivers are independent contractors so they can avoid paying fair compensation to injured victims. In many cases, however, it doesn’t matter whether a truck is driven by an employee or independent contractor. Under federal law, trucking companies are liable for a driver’s actions when they lease a truck or placard to that driver.
If an insurance company denies your injury claim by arguing that the truck driver was an independent contractor, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately. A lawyer can help you understand your case and legal rights, which will include identifying the correct defendants for your claim.
When Is a Driver Within Their Scope of Employment?
A trucking company may not be liable for a truck driver’s actions when the driver is acting outside the scope of their employment, even if the driver is operating the company’s truck. This can happen when a driver causes a crash while they are off the clock or engaged in a personal activity.
Typically, Oklahoma courts review several factors when they determine the scope of a truck driver’s employment. These factors include:
- If the accident occurred during the driver’s normal working hours
- If the task benefitted the employer
- The amount of freedom given to the driver
- The duration and extent of the personal activity
- The driver’s intent
However, insurance companies for trucking carriers sometimes use scope of employment arguments to improperly deny a truck accident claim. If you are involved in a truck crash and the insurance company tries to argue that the driver wasn’t acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the crash, you should contact an experienced truck accident lawyer immediately to get an assessment of your case.
Identifying Other Legal Claims After an Oklahoma Truck Accident
In addition to claims against the trucking company or the truck driver, you might have additional liability claims after a truck accident. These claims might include:
- A dram shop liability claim: This is a lawsuit against a bar or restaurant if they overserved alcohol to a truck driver.
- Claims against other drivers: Sometimes, multiple drivers’ negligence caused your accident. You might have additional claims against these drivers.
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) claims: While most semi trucks have significant commercial liability policies, some less scrupulous companies and owner/operators are uninsured or underinsured. If you have a UM/UIM policy, you might have an additional claim against your personal insurance if the driver or trucking company’s policies cannot fully cover your losses.
- Personal injury protection (PIP) claims: If you have PIP coverage, you may be able to make a claim against your own insurance policy for your injuries in a trucking crash.
Truck accidents result in some of the most complex personal injury cases, especially when they involve multiple parties and insurance policies. If you’ve been hurt in a crash involving a tractor-trailer, semi truck, or other large commercial vehicle, your first step after receiving medical treatment should be to talk with an experienced Oklahoma truck accident lawyer right away.
Contact Atkins & Markoff for Help if You’ve Been Injured in a Truck Accident in Oklahoma
After a serious truck accident, you or a loved one might feel overwhelmed by serious injuries, lost wages, and unpaid medical bills. At Atkins & Markoff, we tirelessly advocate for the rights of Oklahoma truck accident victims, and we’re ready to listen to your story and fight to get you justice and compensation if we’re able to take your case.
If you have been seriously injured or even lost a loved one in a commercial trucking accident, contact Atkins & Markoff today by calling 405-607-8757 or filling out our quick and simple online contact form. We’ll get back to you promptly. Your initial consultation is free, and we handle all personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis, so you won’t pay attorney’s fees unless we get you a settlement or win your case in court.
Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. (2016). 2015 crash facts: Persons – large trucks. Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Highway Safety Office. Retrieved from https://ohso.ok.gov/Websites/ohso/images/MiscFactSheets/FS2015_LargeTrucks.pdf.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.