Determining Fault in a Semi-Truck Accident
Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are civil legal actions that enable victims to seek financial compensation for their damages, including their pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages. While every accident case is unique, those involving commercial trucks and tractor-trailers can make for added complexities in the fight for needed compensation – whether that involves more serious injuries and extensive damages, or difficulties in determining fault and liability.
At Power Rogers & Smith, L.L.P., our Chicago lawyers have recovered over $4 billion for injured victims and families across Illinois, and have secured record results in complex and high-profile trucking cases.
If you or a loved one have recently been hurt by any type of semi-truck or commercial vehicle, we encourage you to reach out to our team for the personalized guidance you need. The many added challenges in truck accident cases, as well as complexities involving fault and liability, demand the attention of experienced and proven advocates.
Fault & Liability: The Basics
Civil injury claims require victims to establish a few essential elements. Aside from demonstrating the existence of a “legal duty” owed by the defendant to the plaintiff and showing actual damages resulted from negligent or wrongful acts which breach that duty, claimants also need to prove who’s “more likely than not” (the burden of proof in civil cases) at-fault for the wreck and financially liable for damages.
That may seem simple enough in theory, but proving fault and liability is an undertaking that often requires extensive resources, insight, and meticulous investigation. It’s also a process which may look different depending on the facts of a case, such as:
- Who victims were in relation to the commercial truck (i.e. a driver of another vehicle, pedestrian, bicyclist, or occupant in an Uber / Lyft, etc.);
- Whether other vehicles were involved (pile-ups and multi-vehicle wrecks);
- Severity of injuries / damages suffered by victims, or losses suffered by families;
Victims’ Fault: Comparative & Contributory Negligence
In addition to these types of factors, it’s also important to consider whether a victim’s negligence (if applicable) played any role in causing or contributing to the crash. Depending on the state you live in, a victim’s own percentage of fault can impact final determinations over fault and liability.
In Illinois, fortunately, victims of personal injury are not subject to harsh rules of “pure contributory negligence,” which essentially bar a victim from recovering damages if they contributed to an accident in any way. Instead, injury claims in Illinois operate on a modified doctrine of “comparative negligence,” which means:
- Victims found less than 50% at fault for their accident can still recover from the majority at-fault party (though their damages are reduced in proportion to their percentage of fault). A victim with $100,000 in damages found 20% at fault, for example, could still potentially recover $80,000 in damages from a defendant; and
- Victims found more than 50% at fault are barred from recovering compensation from the
Potentially Liable Parties
Truck accident victims who aren’t barred from recovering compensation under rules of comparative negligence must still determine who they can hold at fault for the accident. That’s different in every case, depending on what occurred and who failed to uphold their legal obligations for exercising reasonable care.
In many trucking cases, investigations often focus on common accident causes associated with:
- Truckers – Truck drivers can cause wrecks for all types of reasons, from drunk and distracted driving to fatigue, lane swerving, and other infractions or careless acts. Unless drivers are independent contractors covered by their own insurance, which isn’t the norm, trucking companies are typically responsible for wrecks caused by their truckers, and they’re ultimately responsible for the conduct of employees.
- Trucking companies – In addition to vicarious liability for driver negligence, commercial trucking operators can be held at fault for negligent acts of their own. Common factors may include negligent hiring or retention of drivers, failures to maintain vehicles, circumventing commercial license or driver medical exam requirements, non-compliance with Hours-of-Service rules, and other regulatory violations.
Regardless of whether accidents only involve a victim and one commercial truck or multiple vehicles, there can be many other potentially liable parties to look at, including:
- Other negligent motorists
- Third parties (contractors, distributors, vehicle maintenance crews, etc.)
- Automakers / auto part manufacturers
- Public entities (poor roads, city vehicles, etc.)
- Taxis / rideshare services with insurance policies covering passengers
Evaluating where fault and liability exist, especially in cases involving multiple parties, can be immensely difficult and fact-specific. As such, it’s important that victims work with experienced attorneys as they conduct the meticulous investigations these claims require. A few things our attorneys look at in trucking cases include:
- Police reports and photo evidence
- Expert analysis / testimony
- Witness statements
- Any available video footage
- Driver / trucking company documents
Learn How Proven Chicago Lawyers Can Fight For You
Our legal team at Power Rogers & Smith, L.L.P. has secured Illinois’ largest personal injury award for a single family in a trucking accident case. That record-setting result was a victory not only for our clients, but for everyone who shared the road with these dangerous commercial vehicles – as it precipitated a federal investigation in a bribery scandal involving CDLs, re-testing of 2,000+ truckers, and over 75 criminal convictions (including that of former IL Gov. George Ryan.
These types of results are indicative of proven accident attorneys who leave no stone unturned when investigation fault, liability, and the best possible strategies for clients. If you have questions about a potential claim of your own, call (312) 313-0202 or contact us online.