Lawsuits for Trucking Accidents in California

After an accident with a semi truck or tractor-trailer in California, the injury victims may be left with serious injuries and financial damages. If the truck driver or trucking company was negligent in causing the accident, the victims can seek damages by filing a lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit against the individuals who caused the accident can help the victims recover

  • lost wages,
  • doctor's bills, and
  • pain and suffering.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about lawsuits involving trucking accident injuries:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. Can I file a lawsuit after a trucking accident in California?

Anyone injured in an accident involving a large truck may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for damages caused by the crash. If the truck driver or trucking company was negligent in causing the accident, the injury victim can file a lawsuit to recover:

Even if the injured driver is partly responsible for causing the accident, he or she may still be able to recover some portion of their damages. Under California's “comparative fault” law, an at-fault driver can still file a lawsuit for damages even if he or she is partially to blame for the accident.

Injury victims should contact a California truck accident attorney before talking to the trucking company's insurance company or before accepting any settlement offer. Without a lawyer on your side, the insurance company may continue to delay or deny your claim and may try to settle the claim for as little money as possible.

2. What damages are available in a trucking accident lawsuit?

Compensatory damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for losses in an injury accident. Compensatory damages in a trucking accident lawsuit include both “economic” damages and “non-economic” damages.

Economic damages include those where a dollar value can be assessed. These provide for the financial costs the plaintiff has spent or will have to pay for in the future. Economic damages in a trucking accident may include:

  • Medical bills,
  • ER treatment,
  • Prescription drugs,
  • Medical supplies,
  • Vehicle repairs,
  • Lost wages,
  • Lost earning capacity,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Loss of consortium for a spouse or partner,
  • Future medical treatment, and
  • Court costs.

Non-economic damages may be more difficult to attach a dollar value. These include losses that the plaintiff has suffered physically and emotionally. Non-economic damages in a trucking accident may include:

  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional distress,
  • Physical disability or disfigurement, and
  • Loss of enjoyment in life.

If the truck accident took the life of a loved one, the surviving family members may be able to recover damages under California wrongful death laws.

In some cases, the plaintiff may be able to claim “punitive” damages, or “exemplary” damages.1 When the defendant has acted with malice, or caused an injury through intentional harm or extreme recklessness, punitive damages can be awarded to punish the defendant for his or her reprehensible conduct.

3. Who is at fault in a trucking accident?

Fault in motor vehicle accidents is based on negligence. A negligent truck driver is liable to other drivers, passengers, or pedestrians for any damages caused by the accident. Driver negligence can be shown through violating a traffic law or failing to drive with due care. However, in a trucking accident, the trucking company's negligence could also be a cause of the accident.

Under California negligence law, a negligent driver is liable for any injuries and damages caused to another. In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff has to show the defendant was negligent in causing the accident. The elements for negligence in California include:

  1. The truck driver owed the victim(s) a duty of care;
  2. The truck driver breached the duty of care; and
  3. The driver's breach was a substantial factor in causing the victim's injuries.2

The duty of care requires a driver to use reasonable caution and watch out for others when operating a vehicle on the road. This also applies to truck drivers. The duty of care for driving in California requires the driver to:

  • Use reasonable care when operating the vehicle;
  • Look out for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles; and
  • Control the speed and movement of the vehicle.3

3.1. Truck Driver Fault

Many tractor trailer accidents are caused by truck driver's violating traffic laws or driving without using reasonable care. Examples of truck driver negligence may include:

  • Distracted driving;
  • Driving under the influence of drugs;
  • Speeding;4
  • Improper lane changes;
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way;5
  • Not obeying traffic signals; or
  • Texting while driving.6

When a truck driver is violating California vehicle codes and causes an accident, it may be evidence that the truck driver was negligent. If the traffic violation was a substantial factor in causing the accident, the truck driver may be liable to the plaintiff for any injury or damages.

Truck drivers may also be under a lot of pressure to make delivery deadlines, which can contribute to negligent driving. Both California and federal law limit the amount of driving hours drivers can be on the road. Specifically, Vehicle Code 21702 VC makes it a misdemeanor in California for truck drivers to spend too many hours on the road in a 24hour period. However, some drivers may report false service hours in order to spend more time on the road.

Almost 12% of truck accidents are attributed to driver non-performance issues, including falling asleep at the wheel. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), property-carrying drivers have a maximum driving limit of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Additionally, drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.7 When drivers violate these limits, they can put themselves and others on the road at an increased risk of harm.

3.2. Trucking Company Fault

The trucking company may also be negligent in causing a truck accident. Trucking companies may intentionally or recklessly violate transportation regulations or safety requirements to increase their profit margins. When these violations contribute to the cause of a trucking accident, the company may be liable for any injuries or damages caused. Examples of trucking company negligence include:

California state and federal regulations limit truck size, weight, and route designations for semi trucks.8 However, some trucking companies may intentionally exceed those limits and falsify documents to hide the violations. These types of intentional and reckless actions could also expose the trucking company to punitive damages in the event of an accident.

3.3. Other Causes of Truck Accidents

There may be any number of causes of truck accidents. Truck accidents could be caused by the negligent driving of other vehicles on the road. In many motor vehicle accidents, there are multiple parties who are partially negligent in causing the accident. The injured victim may have a negligence claim against multiple defendants in a personal injury accident.

Other causes of truck accidents may include:

  • Semi truck defects;
  • Defective truck or tractor trailer parts;
  • Unsafe highway conditions; or
  • Improper road signage.

4. Can I file a lawsuit if the semi-truck accident was my fault?

An accident victim may still be eligible to receive damages after a truck accident, even if the injured party shared some level of fault. Under California's “comparative fault” law, the injured driver may receive damages based on each party's level of fault.

Example: Ethan is driving east on the 10 on his way to Coachella. Francis is driving a semi truck next to Ethan after just getting on his shift. Ethan is in a hurry to get to his destination and pulls in front of Francis without signaling before hitting the brakes because of traffic ahead.

Francis is tuning his radio and took his eyes off the road for a second. When he looks up, he sees brake lights ahead and tries to stop. But Francis hits Ethan, causing vehicle damage and some neck injuries.

Ethan files a lawsuit against Francis for his medical bills and vehicle damage. The jury finds that Ethan is 25% responsible for the accident for failing to drive with reasonable care and Francis is 75% responsible for distracted driving.

Ethan's damages are $10,000. Based on comparative fault, Ethan may be able to recover $7,500 from Francis based on Francis' level of fault in causing the accident.

However, an injured driver may be considered partly negligent even if he or she did not cause the accident. In California, it may be an affirmative defense to the driver who caused the accident if the other driver was not wearing a seat belt.9

Even if the driver thinks they may be partly or wholly responsible for causing the accident, it is important not to admit fault at the scene of the accident. The drivers do not have all the information available. A driver may admit fault before finding out that the other party was driving under the influence or driving on a suspended license. Do not admit fault at the scene of an accident or you may not be able to recover the damages you are owed after an accident.

5. Trucking Accident Injuries

According to the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2015, more than 4,300 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal accidents, an 8% increase over the year before. Another 87,000 large trucks were involved in injury crashes.10

In a trucking accident, the occupants of a passenger vehicle generally suffer much more serious damage than the truck driver. Tractor trailers can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Even without towing a trailer, trucks can weigh 20,000 pounds or more. Trucks are also much higher off the ground, leaving truck drivers above the level where other drivers suffer injuries.

Injuries in a trucking accident collision can depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The weight of the truck and trailer,
  • The speed of the vehicles involved,
  • Area of the accident (rural vs. urban),
  • Safety features of the car, and
  • Vehicle type.

The most serious trucking accidents often involve major vehicle damage where the passenger is trapped inside. This may require emergency crews to respond to free the injured occupants. The longer the delay in getting out and getting medical attention, the more serious the injuries can be. Trapped injury victims may have a higher risk of bleeding to death or suffering serious burns.

Common injuries in a tractor-trailer accident can include:

  • Head trauma
  • Brain injury
  • Neck and back injury
  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Internal injuries
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Injuries from a secondary crash

6. How do I file a lawsuit after a trucking accident?

Injury victims generally have two (2) years to file a claim for damages in civil court after a trucking accident.11 However, depending on the situation, the statute of limitations could be longer or shorter. For example, personal injury claims against the state of California may only have a statute of limitations of six (6) months.12 This is why it is important to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible to make sure there is still time to file a lawsuit.

Injury victims should contact an experienced truck accident injury attorney immediately after an accident. An experienced lawyer understands the rules and regulations in the trucking industry and how to uncover any potential truck driver or trucking company violations. Accident lawyers have also dealt with the insurance companies and know how they try and get out of paying for an injury victim's damage claims.

When filing a lawsuit for a trucking injury, the victim may not know who is responsible for causing the accident. In most cases, the lawsuit will name any and every potential defendant who may have had a role in causing the accident. Depending on the accident, the defendants could include the:

  • Truck driver;
  • Trucking company;
  • Truck manufacturer;
  • Insurance company;
  • Vehicle parts manufacturer;
  • Other drivers;
  • City or county government; or
  • Anyone else who may have been involved.

Even if the driver was responsible for causing the accident, the trucking company may still be liable for the negligence of their own employee. Under California's “Respondeat Superior” laws, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees.13

Example: Gavin is driving on the 91 Freeway through Corona when he is suddenly hit from behind by a semi-truck. Gavin is seriously injured and taken to the hospital where he spends the next 3 months recovering from his injuries. Gavin has suffered $1 million dollars in losses related to medical bills, lost wages, and lost earning potential. Gavin's family contacts a lawyer to help them file a lawsuit.

Gavin's lawyer investigates the accident and believes the truck driver was responsible for causing the accident. Gavin's lawyer names the truck driver and the trucking company as defendants in the lawsuit. The jury finds the truck driver negligently caused the accident.

The truck driver does not have any money to pay for Gavin's damages. However, under California law, the trucking company is liable for the truck driver's negligence. Gavin is able to recover $1 million in damages from the trucking company and the trucking company's insurance provider.

7. What can I do if my child or spouse was killed in a tractor-trailer accident?

If a child, spouse, or other family member is killed in a tractor trailer accident, the surviving family members may be able to file a lawsuit under California's wrongful death laws. The deceased is not alive to file a personal injury claim but wrongful death lawsuits allow the family to file a claim to seek damages for their loss.

Some family members may not want to file a lawsuit while they are dealing with the grief of losing a loved one. However, a wrongful death lawsuit may be the only way for the family to hold the trucking company responsible for their negligence.

Damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit include costs associated with the loss of a loved one and the losses suffered by the surviving family members, including:

  • Burial expenses,
  • Funeral costs,
  • Lost of financial support that the deceased would have provided to the family if he or she survived, and
  • Compensation to the family for the loss of support, protection, guidance, and support.

In California, the individuals who can file a wrongful death claim in California include:

  • Spouse,
  • Domestic partner,
  • Children,
  • Grandchildren (if the children are deceased), or
  • Anyone else entitled to the property of the deceased under California's intestate succession laws.
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Call us for help...

For questions about semi-truck accident lawsuits or if you want to discuss your case with one of our skilled California car accident attorneys, please contact us at Shouse Law Group. If your accident was in Nevada, please visit our page on trucking accident lawsuits in Nevada.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Legal References:

  1. California Civil Code § 3294 (“(a) In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”)
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  3. CACI 700. Basic Standard of Care. (“A person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence.“)
  4. California Vehicle Code 22350 (“No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.”)
  5. CACI 701. Definition of Right-of-Way.
  6. California Vehicle Code 23123.5(a) (“A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.”)
  7. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Regulations.
  8. 23 CFR Appendix C to Part 658.
  9. CACI 712. Affirmative Defense-Failure to Wear a Seat Belt.
  10. FMCSA Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2015
  11. California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1 (“Within two years: An action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”)
  12. California Government Code Section 911.2
  13. Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee's torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
  14. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
  15. California Insurance Code 11580.1b

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