Being involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer rig is a harrowing and often deadly experience for many, and it is always a watershed moment in the life of any victim. No typical passenger vehicle is a physical match for a tractor-trailer or semi-truck, and the potential for serious injury and physical property damage is extensive.
Big-rig accidents contribute significantly to the traffic fatality numbers across the entire nation, and not just in the state of North Carolina. Accident injury claims and wrongful death actions can be high-value legal cases that often require both the truck driver and the shipping company or main contractor to be held liable and prosecuted under the North Carolina legal system. When certain factors can be uncovered, such as requiring employee drivers or contracted owner-operators to operate in violation of established rules and regulations of both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, litigation can be swift and decisive in favor of the injured car driver. However, these cases are generally not always that simple. For example, vicarious liability can exist for shipping contractors when they have failed to secure loads at a point of origin and the shifted cargo results in an accident. Determining who is at fault – the shipping company, the truck/semi operator, the car driver, etc, can be a complicated matter and will almost always require the services of an experienced truck accident lawyer.
These are definitely complicated cases, and it always takes an aggressive and experienced truck accident lawyer for an equitable settlement, especially when the crash is an accident with out-of-state trucker implications.
Truck Driver Liability
The primary party who can be pursued following a truck accident is the truck driver, assuming they are an independent owner-operator contracted with the shipping company. Many times this employment arrangement is intended to insulate the shipping company from accident liability, but the nature of the employment relationship can still result in vicarious employer liability. The biggest advantage of an accident with out-of-state truck drivers is that there will be an additional policy to use in making a victim financially whole after the fact. Serious and often catastrophic injuries stem from many truck accidents, and it is often necessary for multiple insurance policies to be in place for whole damage recovery.
Shipping Company Liability
Drivers who are operating company rolling stock as a general employment requirement typically do not have personal insurance to cover accidents, so the shipping company becomes the primary respondent. Shipping companies also often carry general liability insurance that can be applied above and beyond the standard truck insurance policies required by the state.
Truck accidents almost always result in significant damage, and North Carolina requires trucking companies to carry much more liability protection to cover those extensive damages. General freight carriers are required to maintain a $750,000 minimum liability policy, and many major companies will exceed this amount. Placarded tankers and oil trucks have even more stringent requirements, which go up to $5,000,000 minimum for hazardous containers. In addition, there could easily be situations where shipping companies have violated driving regulations with respect to truck operations and may be held liable for punitive damages when accident claims contain egregious material facts about company behavior or the driver was intoxicated at the time of the mishap.
Highly Contested Cases and Vicarious Liability
Truck accidents can be very complicated and highly-contested legal claims because shipping companies are notorious for strongly defending claims as are their truck insurance providers. No detail is too small for a shipping carrier if they think they can prove fault on any level in a North Carolina trucking accident. Bad faith examples are numerous when attempting to negotiate a truck accident injury without experienced legal representation, and cases often end up in a trial because the defending companies and driver are hoping to influence a jury even when the driver is totally at fault according to the official accident report. This is why it is essential to have an aggressive truck accident lawyer when pursuing damages, especially in cases where gross negligence could apply. Additional legal actions could also apply with potential product liability claims against automotive parts manufacturers or when proving liability against shipping contractors when they have loaded transported cargo improperly.