Civil Liability in Truck Accidents


On June 7, 2014, comedian Tracy Morgan was involved in a fatal, six-car collision involving a Wal-Mart tractor trailer. The truck struck a limousine van carrying Morgan and other famous occupants. The limousine rolled over, landing on its roof and leading to the involvement of an additional four cars in the crash. There was one death as a result and numerous injuries. The truck driver was criminally charged with vehicular homicide and multiple counts of assault by automobile. Allegedly, the truck driver had gone without sleep for over 24 hours.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) provided a preliminary report on the fatal accident. The NTSB report said the 2011 Peterbilt truck owned and operated by Wal-Mart was speeding at 65 mph for the 60 seconds before the crash. The truck driver allegedly ignored a sign a mile earlier warning that lanes were closed ahead for construction and another sign a half-mile later reducing the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph. Federal investigators based their preliminary findings largely on the small computer onboard the truck that records speed, engine performance, brakes and other information.

Criminal charges may be brought in car accident cases that result in death or injury, especially if the accident was caused by the driver’s gross negligence or decision to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. At the same time, civil lawsuits can be brought where a jury will decide who is at fault, what percentage of liability each driver holds, and how much money should be paid to the victim by the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Most commonly, negligence is the cause of auto accidents. A plaintiff will have to prove the driver, or the driver’s company, failed to act reasonably, and that the party behaved in a thoughtless or careless manner.

Most Common Causes of Truck Accidents

Driver error is one of the leading causes of truck accidents today. Driver error may be caused by fatigue, lack of road attention and lack of sleep. Also, obeying posted speed limits is another huge problem. Fortunately, with advanced technology, built-in GPS data allows investigators to determine the speed of trucks at the time of the accident and how long the driver has been on the road.

Failure to obey state and federal regulations pertaining to maintenance and upkeep of trucks is another common cause of truck accidents. Truck companies are required to adhere to various regulations, including regular inspections.

Improper loading is another common cause of truck accidents. In order to make more money, truck companies will often take their chances by overloading trucks. Being overloaded can cause trucks to malfunction due to imbalance.

Employer Liability

Employers of truck drivers can be liable, as well. Pennsylvania follows the general rule that an employer is liable for the torts of an employee if the employee commits a tort within the scope of employment. The jury is tasked with determining the precise nature of the relationship and whether the employee was within the scope of employment. Whether the employee was in the “course and scope” of his employment is a fact-intensive inquiry. Many times testimony and evidence about what the employee was doing at the time of the accident, where he was going, and where he had been will be presented in court. In the case of the of the accident involving Tracy Morgan, if  it is found that driver was operating within his designated route, liability can be imposed on Wal-Mart as well.

Need Legal Advice?

If you or a loved one has been injured in truck accident, contact the experienced attorneys at Solnick & Associates, LLC for legal advice. Call us today at 215-481-9979 or send us a message online.

Photo Credit: Walmart Corporate via Compfight cc