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Determining Truck Accident Negligence

A red semi-truck and a red two-door car in the aftermath of a head-on collision.

Truck accidents are some of the most serious crashes on the roads, bringing about devastation and inflicting significant physical, emotional, and financial turmoil to everyone affected. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 5,788 people died in accidents involving large trucks in 2021 alone. While these statistics may be disheartening, they are even more tragic in light of the fact that most truck accidents are preventable. Many of them are the result of truck accident negligence on the part of the driver, the trucking company, or another liable party. While negligence often plays a pivotal role in accidents involving large trucks, determining who is negligent may require careful investigation. The team of Missouri personal injury attorneys at Steelman Gaunt Crowley may be able to assist accident victims as they navigate the intricacies of the truck industry to help identify negligent parties and build a strong case in support of a claim for compensation. If you or someone you love has suffered injuries or died in a collision involving a truck, call (573) 341-8336 to schedule a case evaluation. 

What Is Negligence?

The American Bar Association defines the term “negligence” as an instance in which the actions of a potentially liable individual or entity deviate from the actions of an ordinary reasonable person in a similar situation. Proving truck accident negligence in order to receive compensation can be complex because the plaintiff (the person seeking monetary damages) or their attorney, if they choose to hire one, must establish four elements: 

  • Duty of care. The defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care if they have a responsibility to follow certain laws or policies to avoid causing harm (in the example of a truck accident, a truck driver would owe all other drivers a duty of care to follow the rules of the road as well as the regulations for truck drivers). 
  • Breach of duty. If the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in a similar situation, it could be an indication that they breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff. 
  • Causation. There must be a link between the breach of care and the event that caused harm to the plaintiff. 
  • Damages. Finally, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that they incurred damages because of the defendant’s breach. Such damages may include past and future medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and others. 

Since no two truck accident cases are exactly the same, the practices and strategies used to determine negligence will vary from one case to another. Individuals who have been involved in a truck accident may want to discuss the specifics of their case with a knowledgeable attorney who may be able to explain how the elements of negligence relate to their particular case. 

Different Types of Negligence

Under the law, an individual or entity can be held negligent in a number of ways: 

  • Gross negligence. A defendant in a personal injury case can be held liable for gross negligence if it is demonstrated that they showed a complete disregard for the safety of others, which went beyond simple neglect. An example of gross negligence in a truck accident case might be a driver operating the truck while impaired by alcohol or drugs. 
  • Contributory negligence. This is an older standard for apportioning fault in personal injury cases that has been replaced by the “comparative negligence” standard in most states. Currently, only four states follow the contributory negligence rule, which bars plaintiffs from obtaining damages if their own negligence contributed to their injuries, even to the slightest degree. 
  • Comparative negligence. This legal doctrine is used to apportion fault for an accident in personal injury cases and decrease the amount of compensation owed to the plaintiff if their own negligence was a contributing factor. States adopt either a modified or pure comparative negligence standard. The former allows plaintiffs to recover damages if they were less than 50% or 51% (varies by state) at fault, while the latter does not prevent recovery of compensation even if the injured party was 99% at fault. 

Per the Missouri Department of Insurance, the state of Missouri follows the doctrine of pure comparative negligence. Thus, for example, if a truck driver is deemed 40% negligent and the injured party is found 60% responsible for the accident, the latter could still recover 40% of the damages. 

Examples of Truck Accident Negligence

Truck accidents often involve several liable parties from which the victim could pursue compensation. Many collisions involving large trucks are the result of negligent conduct on the part of the truck driver. Common examples of truck driver negligence may include: 

  • Failing to perform proper inspections of the truck and its cargo before and during the trip
  • Failing to properly secure cargo
  • Driving too fast for the conditions
  • Making illegal lane changes
  • Driving while fatigued
  • Failing to keep a safe following distance
  • Failing to yield the right of way
  • Running red lights
  • Driving while distracted
  • Driving while impaired

Even if the truck driver was negligent, he or she may not be the only liable party. In many cases, the trucker’s employer – the trucking company – can also be held responsible under the vicarious liability doctrine, even if the company was not negligent. Under certain circumstances, the trucking company may be directly responsible if its own negligence is attributable to the accident (e.g., the company did not perform proper background checks when hiring drivers or failed to adhere to strict regulations regarding the maintenance of its vehicles). The Steelman Gaunt Crowley team understands the nuances of proving truck accident negligence and has a history of success in assisting clients throughout the state of Missouri get fair compensation. 

What Evidence Is Used To Determine Truck Accident Negligence?

The success of any truck accident case rests on the strength of the evidence presented by the victim (or surviving family members of the victim in wrongful death cases) or their attorney, if they opt to hire one. The burden of proof in such cases is known as “a preponderance of the evidence,” which means the allegations of truck accident negligence have more than a 50% chance of being true. The more evidence the plaintiff or their attorney can present, the more likely it is that their allegations will have credibility and weight. Some of the pieces of evidence that may be used to determine negligence in truck accident cases include:

  • Photos from the scene of the crash
  • Video surveillance footage
  • Dashboard camera footage
  • A copy of the police report
  • Witness statements
  • The truck’s black box data
  • The truck driver’s electronic logging device and inspection records
  • The truck’s maintenance records
  • The trucking company’s employment records
  • Alcohol and drug screening results

Gathering and preserving evidence following a truck accident can be a delicate matter due to the risk that the evidence could be intentionally destroyed or might go missing if too much time passes. For this reason, you may want to consider hiring an attorney who would take immediate action to file a spoliation letter to all involved parties, including the trucking company, to secure access to all available pieces of evidence. A spoliation letter is a letter that informs potential defendants that they need to preserve the types of evidence listed in the letter without alteration. 

Have You or a Loved One Been Injured Due to Truck Accident Negligence?

The Missouri truck accident attorneys at Steelman Gaunt Crowley understand the devastating impact truck accidents can have on victims and their families. With more than 90 years of combined legal experience, these knowledgeable attorneys are committed to assisting clients in determining truck accident negligence and fighting for full and fair compensation. Call (573) 341-8336 to schedule a case review and get personalized legal guidance.