When cargo falls off an 18-wheeler, the drivers in the vicinity may be forced to take immediate evasive action. A serious multi-vehicle collision might be unavoidable. In the aftermath, victims and their surviving loved ones may not know who is liable for the resulting medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. Personal injury claims involving truck accidents of this nature can be particularly complicated.
Your best source of guidance after such a collision is a skilled and highly experienced truck accident attorney. Since each case is unique, it is important that you speak with a lawyer to get personalized advice about your particular circumstances. Below we’ve answered some common questions about truck accident claims involving spilled or falling cargo:
1. Who Might Be Liable for Truck Accidents Caused by Falling or Spilled Cargo?
To determine liability, your attorney will have to perform a thorough investigation and find out what exactly caused the cargo to spill. Depending on the circumstances, one or more of the following parties might be liable for the resulting damages:
- The Truck Driver: If there were clear indicators that the cargo was improperly loaded—such as the vehicle shifting or tilting excessively—yet the truck driver failed to pull over, then he or she might be liable for any resulting collisions. The trucker might also be responsible if he or she failed to inspect the load before driving off, or if he or she actually loaded the vehicle. Sometimes the cargo is properly loaded yet it spills onto the road because the trucker takes a turn at an unreasonably high speed. This is another scenario when the trucker might be liable.
- The Motor Carrier: Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, employers can be held vicariously liable for the negligence of employees who are acting within the scope of their employment. That means if the trucker was an employee of a motor carrier, the motor carrier may be liable for any damages caused by the trucker’s negligence. The carrier may also be liable if it negligently loaded the cargo or failed to inspect or maintain the parts used to secure the cargo.
- The Company That Loaded the Truck: If a third party loaded the truck improperly, that party might be liable for any resulting truck accidents.
- The Municipality Responsible for Road Maintenance: If unsafe road design or maintenance forced the trucker to take evasive action, and this action led to cargo falling off the vehicle, the municipality responsible for designing or maintaining the road may be liable.
- The Company That Manufactured Defective Vehicle Components: If the cargo fell onto the roadway due to a defect in the parts used to secure it, the designer or manufacturer of that part might be liable.
2. What Should I Do After Leaving the Accident Scene?
After any auto accident, there are steps you can take that might improve your chances of recovering a fair settlement. Those steps include:
- Seek Medical Attention: Even if you feel relatively fine, you should visit a hospital or clinic right away for a medical assessment. The insurance company won’t cover your healthcare costs and related damages unless there is official documentation of your injuries. Getting a diagnosis as soon as possible can also reduce the likelihood of facing a dispute over a failure to mitigate damages. And if your symptoms are subtle or latent, a prompt evaluation might uncover a serious medical condition that you did not suspect.
- Call an Attorney: After your medical assessment, your first call should be to a truck accident lawyer. Your attorney will want to take over the logistics of your case right away because there are steps that must be taken early in the proceedings to protect your claim. For example, your lawyer can manage correspondence with the opposing party so you don’t provide any harmful statements. He or she can also compile time-sensitive evidence and help you avoid critical mistakes.
- Gather Evidence: Your attorney can compile evidence on your behalf, so you should not put off the legal consultation just because you haven’t had a chance to gather evidence. There are, however, certain documents and evidence you can bring to the initial consultation to ensure your first meeting with the lawyer is as productive as possible. Examples include photographs of the accident scene and injuries, medical documents, financial documents, the contact information of eyewitnesses, the contact and insurance information of the other drivers involved, any relevant insurance policies of your own, the contact details of your medical providers, and a written description of everything your remember about the crash.
- Follow Your Doctor’s Orders: Do not deviate from your doctor’s orders in any way. Doing so might be considered a failure to mitigate damages, which could lead to a reduction of your financial recovery.
- Disable Your Social Networking Profiles: Stay off social media and disable your profiles until your case has been resolved. This may prevent the insurance adjuster from using your posts to dispute your claim.
- Avoid Speaking to the Insurance Company: The insurance company is not on your side. The adjuster might ask leading questions and take your statements out of context to dispute your claim. Rather than take the risk, let your truck accident lawyer handle all such dialogue.
3. Can Multiple Parties Share Liability for a Single Accident?
Yes. California follows a pure comparative negligence system when imposing liability in cases that involve multiple defendants. That means each liable party will be responsible for covering the portion of damages that corresponds to their percentage of fault. California courts also recognize the doctrine of joint and several liability, so if one defendant lacks the assets or insurance coverage to pay for their share of the economic damages, you may be able to pursue the difference from the other defendants.
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