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How Fault Is Determined in a Trucking Accident

Apr 20, 2022

Catastrophic trucking accidents can be serious or even fatal. If a truck accident injured you or a loved one, you must establish fault in your case. Regardless of whether you live in a fault or no-fault state or whether the truck driver or trucking company is liable, you must speak with an experienced trucking law firm to discuss your rights.

Tractor-trailer on highway

Fault vs. No-Fault States for Commercial Trucking Accidents

When you have an accident involving a commercial truck, your attorney will consider whether that accident occurred in a fault or no-fault state. Most states assign fault, so the person who caused the accident will be held liable for the damage. The at-fault party's insurance will pay for the other party's medical expenses and vehicle repairs. The amount of the total payout will vary from state to state.

If your accident occurs in a no-fault state, you must carry your own personal injury protection insurance to pay for your medical expenses after an accident. This is true no matter who caused the accident. 

The chart below lists the fault and no-fault states:

States No-Fault States
Alabama Fault
Alaska Fault
Arizona Fault
Arkansas Fault
California Fault
Colorado Fault
Connecticut Fault
Delaware Fault
District of Columbia Fault
Florida No-Fault
Georgia Fault
Hawaii No-Fault
Idaho Fault
Illinois Fault
Indiana Fault
Iowa Fault
Kansas No-Fault
Kentucky No-Fault
Lousiana Fault
Maine Fault
Maryland Fault
Massachusetts No-Fault
Michigan No-Fault
Minnesota No-Fault
Mississipi Fault
Missouri Fault
Montana Fault
Nebraska Fault
Nevada Fault
New Hampshire Fault
New Jersey No-Fault
New Mexico Fault
New York No-Fault
North Carolina Fault
North Dakota No-Fault
Ohio Fault
Oklahoma Fault
Oregon Fault
Pennsylvania No-Fault
Rhode Island Fault
South Carolina Fault
South Dakota Fault
Tennessee Fault
Texas Fault
Utah No-Fault
Vermont Fault
Virginia Fault
Washington Fault
West Virgina Fault
Wisconsin Fault
Wyoming Fault

Factors for Determining Liable Parties in Truck Accident Claims

After determining whether your accident occurred in a fault or no-fault state, your trucking accident attorney will consider four other factors to determine liability. These factors are:

  • Was the truck driver impaired?
  • Did the truck driver make an error?
  • Did the truck suffer from a mechanical failure?

Were Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations violated?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you may have a successful truck accident lawsuit.

Impaired Driving, Including Driver Fatigue

When most people think of impaired driving, they consider drugs and alcohol — which is correct, but driver fatigue can also cause impaired driving. Unfortunately, impaired driving isn't rare among truck drivers. 

Commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders are regularly banned from the road for drug and alcohol violations. Drivers with at least one violation are barred from operating a truck until they complete a process that includes follow-up tests. 

The top three drugs found during testing include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine

Getting an accurate estimate of how many truck drivers use illegal substances and legal substances like alcohol is difficult. Still, the overall use of substances is high and directly linked to unhealthy working conditions.

Many truck companies expect drivers to work long hours. Although there is a ban on requiring drivers to work more than 11 hours a day, this is commonly side-stepped. Cocaine and amphetamines may help the driver stay awake, but the substances can also change the driver's reaction time and visual perceptions.
In the U.S., truck driver tests often reveal alcohol use while driving.

Those who stay away from substance use while driving aren't entirely safe. They may suffer from fatigue due to the long hours demanded of them. Fatigue is a real risk for truck drivers and those who share the road with them. In 2015,  20% of trucking accidents involved truck driver fatigue. Even well-rested drivers with healthy lifestyles who properly conform to the hours-of-service requirements may find themselves fatigued while driving.

Even if you weren't aware that the truck driver who caused your accident was under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or fatigue, that might be the case.

Mechanical Errors

Mechanical errors are also common causes of trucking accidents. Mechanical errors often stem from poor truck maintenance. This could be the cause of issues like:

  • Brake malfunction
  • Engine failure
  • Tire rupture

These mechanical errors can cause catastrophic accidents on the highways.

Depending on where the mechanical error originated, the liable party may not be the truck driver but instead the truck part manufacturer, the mechanic who worked on the part last, the cargo crew, or the trucking company. An experienced truck accident attorney will research the many parties that may be liable for your trucking accident.

FMCSA Regulation Violations

The Department of Transportation (DOT) FMCSA regulations apply to any commercial motor vehicle transporting passengers or property in interstate commerce.

Common truck FMCSA violations include:

  • Driving with broken or missing lights or reflective materials
  • Driving with brakes in an inappropriate condition
  • Driving with tires in an inappropriate condition

FMCSA violations that commonly include the truck driver include:

  • Logbook violations, like not logging accurate hours — often under-reporting time spent loading or unloading, as it generally goes unpaid
  • Failing to carry an up-to-date medical card, as required
  • Failing to pass the requisite English proficiency needed for completing the logbook and other paperwork

Can the Trucking Company Be Held Liable for Medical Expenses?

Truck driving is a demanding industry, and even the best truck drivers can find themselves liable for catastrophic accidents, particularly if their trucking companies don’t offer them adequate support. Some trucking companies may even quietly encourage their drivers to break FMCSA regulations if doing so increases their productivity.

In these cases and others, it may be possible to hold the trucking company liable for medical expenses caused during a catastrophic roadway accident involving its truck driver. Holding these companies responsible for the damages caused can help reform the trucking industry. When truck companies fail to fix trucks with mechanical errors or when they push their honest truck drivers too far, victims can help make a legal example of unethical companies. 

An Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Can Help Establish Fault

If you or someone you love has been the victim of a catastrophic trucking accident, one of our highly skilled and experienced truck accident attorneys can help you establish fault. Establishing fault is the first step to winning your suit and collecting damages to compensate you for your losses during and after the trucking accident. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.


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