Third-Party Liabilities in Truck Accident Cases

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Authored by Craig Aronow, Esq.

Trucking Accidents: Third Parties That May Be Held Liable

In the most recent FMCSA report available, more than 5,000 trucking accidents in a single year resulted in fatalities. The number of trucking accidents that resulted in non-fatal injuries was greater than 100,000, and more than 400,000 caused property damage. Determining who is can be held financially accountable for those damages is often complex due to how many third parties can be responsible for them.

First-Party vs. Third-Party Insurance Claims

Before enumerating the potential third parties that may be liable in a truck accident case, it is important to define what is meant by third party in this context. When you are involved in an accident, you are the first party from your perspective. Any claim made through your own insurance company is a first-party claim. Any other person or organization that may bear responsibility for the accident is a third party. Claims made through their insurance companies are third-party insurance claims. When you may need to make such a claim, it is generally advisable to hire an experienced trucking accident lawyer to help you navigate what can be a complex and nuanced process.

Trucking Company

In a large percentage of truck accident cases, the trucking company that employs the truck driver bears most if not all of the responsibility for damages. Many trucking companies seek to distance themselves from such liabilities by hiring independent contractors as opposed to employees. However, independent contractors are often deemed employees for the purposes of such claims, and New Jersey has introduced laws that make it more difficult for companies to misclassify their workers. Even if a truck driver is appropriately classified as a contractor, it is still possible to hold the company accountable, and this is true even if the operator was negligent or incompetent in some other manner.

Vehicle Operator

While it is the carrier that usually bears responsibility, the truck driver may be liable as well, such as if he or she was negligent or made an error. Perhaps the most prominent example of drivers being liable is when operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, drivers can also be held accountable if they were distracted or even driving while tired. Fatigue contributes to about 40% of all accidents involving commercial trucks, and due to electronic logging requirements, it is often possible to prove if operators were fatigued or that the records had been manipulated in some manner.


Some trucks are operated by a pair of drivers, which allows a single vehicle to be in use for longer periods. In many cases, the co-driver is in the sleeper berth and thus not liable. Nevertheless, there are scenarios where a co-driver can be liable, such as being complicit in falsifying logs. Co-drivers can also be responsible if they distract their drivers or ignore potentially dangerous situations.

Shipping Company

In many cases, the shipping company and trucking company are actually separate entities. The shipping company has legal responsibilities that persist even when the trucking company has taken responsibility for the load. There are often cases where a trucking company accepts sealed cargo and operates under the presumption that the shipping company had negotiated in good faith. If the shipping company did not disclose the true nature of the cargo and it led to an accident, they could be liable.

Loading Company

While the shipping company and loading company are often one in the same, this is not always the case, and if the distinction exists, it is important due to legal responsibilities that come with loading a truck. The driver and, in many cases, the carrier are responsible for ensuring that a truck is properly loaded. Nevertheless, the loader can be held liable in scenarios where there are defects that are not noticeable to the driver. An example would be a sealed container that was packed unevenly.

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Maintenance Company

Trucking companies often have their own fleet management division that oversee maintenance and repair and would thus be liable should an accident be caused by a lack of maintenance or an inadequate repair. But this responsibility extends to other third parties as well. Some truck companies outsource these responsibilities to fleet maintenance companies, and a small trucking company may use a local repair shop. Those entities and even individual mechanics can at times be held liable.

Vehicle or Parts Manufacturer

Although not prevalent, there have been cases where the vehicle manufacturer is liable due to a defect in its product. Manufacturers often announce recalls when such issues are identified, and that can make the situation even more complex from a legal standpoint. Via a recall, they have shifted some of the responsibility onto the trucking company and perhaps other entities, and it then becomes necessary to determine how much of the liability falls to the various parties.

Other Vendors

Trucking operations are often large and complex. It would be impossible to identify all of the vendors that could potentially be liable. Consider that some truck companies are highly specialized in a particular industry, and the vendors can vary greatly between industries. Trucking companies that haul hazardous materials, for instance, often deal with vendors that have numerous legal responsibilities when it comes to preparing the materials and ensuring that they are shipped in an appropriate manner.

Cargo Owner

There have even been cases where the cargo owner has been held responsible, and this has been true when the owner was an organization but also when it was an individual. This is because a cargo owner has certain responsibilities when it comes to ensuring that cargo is shipped appropriately. There have, for instance, been cases where the cargo owner was deemed partly responsible because it chose a trucking company that did not have the experience or resources for that particular cargo.

Another Driver

Not all trucking accidents involve just one commercial truck and one passenger vehicle. There can often be multiple vehicles involved, and just because a commercial truck hit your vehicle that does not necessarily mean that that driver or company is wholly or even partially at fault. Another driver or even multiple other drivers could bear responsibility as well.

Government Entities or Contractors

Government entities, such as state, city and county agencies, can be held liable in certain cases. These entities have a responsibility to ensure that roads are well maintained and that appropriate signage is in place and well-functioning when it comes to stoplights and the like. Government agencies often use private contractors, and those contractors can be held liable as well. Examples include poor road design and operating a work area creates hazards for drivers.

Get the Local Representation You Need

Trucking is integral to the American way of life, but accidents do happen. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, you should have an experienced trucking accident lawyer at your side to help protect your rights. At Rebenack, Aronow and Mascolo in New Jersey, we have handled a wide range of truck accident cases. Call us today at (732) 394-1549 or contact us online in order to schedule a free initial consultation at either our New Brunswick or Somerville office.

Contact Our Office

To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us online or call our offices, in New Brunswick at (732) 247-3600, in Somerville at (908) 448-2560, or in Freehold at (732) 828-2234.

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