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How to Determine Liability After a California Truck Accident


As per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, California is one of the top ten states for truck accidents in the U.S. Over ten years, fatal accidents involving commercial vehicles surged by 42 percent in the state.

Unlike car accidents, truck accidents involve many factors that are not prevalent in car accidents, including:

  • Trucking industry laws
  • Commercial trucking insurance coverage
  • Special accident investigation
  • The increased severity of injuries and fatalities

This blog will discuss how liability is determined in a California truck accident. In a truck accident, determining liability might be challenging since multiple parties, such as the trucking company, part manufacturer, subcontractors, drivers, and others, could be involved. So we laid out everything you need to know about liability apportionment in a semi-truck accident.

Determining Liability in a California Truck Accident


After a trucking accident, determining liability can be a complete nightmare. Truck accidents are often fatal in terms of injuries, and they are also complicated to resolve legally.

The fact that multiple parties can be held liable further complicates matters.

The trucking companies, truck drivers, and truck manufacturers may all be held liable for an accident, depending on the circumstances of your case.

The Truck Driver

The truck driver is the most common defendant in a truck accident. Some truck driver negligence that makes drivers liable for the injuries includes:

  • Distracted driving
  • Operating the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Failing to observe federal or state trucking regulations
  • Overloading the truck

The Truck Owner

There are occasions when trucking companies do not own the trucks. Instead, they just lease them or hire independent contractors who own the vehicles. Suppose the truck is involved in a crash that inflicts injuries to the victims. In that case, the owner can be held liable for the victim's injuries.

The Truck Company

Truck companies can also be held liable for the damages in truck accident cases. The "vicarious liability" theory provides that employers whose employees caused the accident while on the job can be held liable. Truck companies sometimes violate safety laws or transportation requirements to increase their profits. These violations may include but are not limited to:

  • Failing to maintain their trucks
  • Overloading trailers
  • Negligent hiring and training of their employees
  • Encouraging their drivers to violate hour and sleep restrictions
  • Allowing for overweight vehicles

The Manufacturer

Some truck accidents are caused by part defects, such as a tire blowout, brake failure, and other defective components. Per California's strict liability law, manufacturers, designers, and companies can be liable if a defective component causes a truck crash.

California's Strict Liability and Negligence Law: What You Need to Know!

For a trucking accident that results in injuries and damages, several parties may share some level of responsibility. However, establishing liability will require using one (or both) of two legal theories: negligence and strict liability.

California's negligence law provides that truck drivers found guilty of negligence can be held responsible for damages and injuries incurred to another motorist. A personal injury lawsuit can be filed by any driver who has been injured due to a truck driver's negligence. On the other hand, the victim must prove that the truck driver who hit them was negligent beyond a reasonable doubt.

The following are three elements for demonstrating negligence in a truck accident in California.

  1. The driver owed the accident victim a duty of care.
  2. The driver breached their duty of care through negligence.
  3. The driver's breach was the main factor in causing a victim's losses.

A duty of care is a fundamental legal obligation for truck drivers to look out for other drivers and employ reasonable caution while driving their vehicles.

A truck driver's duty of care would include the following:

  • Control their truck's movement and speed
  • Use reasonable care while driving their truck
  • Watch for pedestrians, other vehicles, and obstacles

Manufacturers, designers, and any companies involved in a product's distribution chain can be held liable under California's strict liability law if a defective product causes a truck accident. Regardless of whether or not they made any mistakes that contributed to the truck crash, any of the above entities can be held accountable. When determining liability in strict liability cases, negligence is not a factor.

Strict liability claims based on faulty products include:

  • Engine/transmission parts
  • Accelerator pedals
  • Brakes
  • Tires
  • Cargo ties or straps

Who Determines Liability?


Truck accidents can be proven by many different means. For example, one of the drivers might admit that they were at fault at the accident scene.

The police report may also provide personal injury attorneys with more insight into the accident's cause.

It's crucial to understand precisely how fault is determined in any California personal injury case since it's the most significant factor.

The Driver

Even though it is unlikely, one of the truck drivers involved in the accident might admit they were at fault. Being involved in an accident can be a highly stressful and frightening experience. Immediately after the accident, people involved will be pointing fingers at each other as to who was at fault. A person being blamed for the accident, being put under pressure in this situation, might admit to being at fault.

It is essential to understand that this is wrong. Right after the accident, when others are pointing fingers at you, you could believe that you were to blame even if the other driver caused it. So instead of readily admitting you were at fault, it is recommended that you:

  1. Take pictures of the damaged vehicles;
  2. Search for witnesses who can give statements;
  3. Document the weather conditions, accident location, and time on the day.

All of these could be helpful to an insurance company or judge when determining fault.

A Police Report


A police report can also be a fact to prove who was at fault for an accident. Once police officers arrive at the accident scene, they will first determine if anyone has been hurt before requesting medical assistance. After the injured has been taken care of, police officers will investigate the accident to learn more about how the accident happened and who could be blamed.

Because it contains all of the information gathered by the police officer, a police report is a vital document for future personal injury claims and lawsuits. In addition, the officer will take note of the degree of any vehicle damage and where it is located on the vehicle in question. For example, if the damage to one car is almost entirely on the back of the vehicle, it's possible that the other vehicle made contact with it in the back. The driver who ran into the back of the other vehicle is usually the one who is at fault in a rear-end collision.

When a police officer makes a report, they will often include diagrams and drawings to show how they believe the accident occurred. In addition, the officer will also talk to any witnesses and get statements to determine if the other driver was driving while intoxicated or distracted at the time of the accident.

Insurance Providers

A personal injury case starts by filing an insurance claim with the at-fault driver's insurance provider. Insurance claims can be quickly and easily filed and filled out online or over the phone. In some situations, an online algorithm will use the information you provide in your online claim to determine the amount of compensation you should receive. Based on your information and the police report, these algorithms can also determine who was at fault for the accident.

If the other driver is believed to be responsible for the accident, your insurance provider will request that the other driver's insurance company pay for the damages. Even if the other driver is found to be at fault, the insurance company may offer lower compensation than you believe you are entitled to. If this happens, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit to take the company to court and seek higher compensation.

The Arbitration


While insurance companies can determine who was at fault for an accident without the help of a third party, many insurers prefer to settle the matter by sending the claim to Arbitration Forums Inc. This private company determines how much damage is incurred and who is responsible for paying.

The arbitration process is intended to keep personal injury lawsuits in California at a minimum. Take note that most arbitrations are conducted electronically.

The Jury 

If you file a suit and go to court, a jury will establish liability if the at-fault's insurance company refuses to settle after filing a claim. While a jury can decide a personal injury lawsuit, most cases are settled before they ever get to this stage. If your case goes to a jury, several people will be tasked with reviewing all the evidence to determine who was at fault. When a case reaches this stage, the plaintiff should have a California truck accident attorney by their side who can represent their case in front of a jury.

Available Damages to Truck Accident Victims

Accidents are inevitable. Suppose you were injured in a semi-truck accident caused by a negligent truck driver. In that case, you may be able to recover your losses. Damages are monetary awards determined by a court of law to cover any losses of an injured party or injuries sustained due to the truck driver's negligence.

Economic Damages or Special Damages

Economic damages compensate a plaintiff's financial losses associated with the accident. These damages are calculated by determining the out-of-the-pocket expenses the victim has or will expect to incur for treatment and other expenses for the injuries.

Here are some examples of economic damages:

  1. Medical bills, including future expenses for medical bills
  2. Lost wages, including future loss of income
  3. Loss of earning capacity

Non-Economic Damages or General Damages

General damages are intended to cover losses that are considered subjective, but they do not necessarily cover out-of-pocket expenses. Compensation for non-economic damages may include:

  1. Pain and suffering
  2. Loss of enjoyment of life
  3. Emotional distress

Punitive Damages

Aside from economic and non-economic damages, a California court can also award punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and are only awarded when the defendant's actions are particularly harmful. However, these damages are pretty rare.

Seek Help From a Truck Accident Lawyer 


A trucking accident is a devastating and traumatic event that can happen to someone's life. When trying to do the legal work on your own, you may not achieve and successfully win your case due to the complexities of the legal process. This is where a personal injury attorney comes into play. Our experienced truck accident attorney can help you face this situation. Attorney Gene Halavanau is a multi-awarded personal injury attorney who has helped numerous victims of truck accidents. Let us help you!

You may contact us at (415) 494-8535 for a free consultation or fill out our online contact form.

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