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Who Can Be Liable in a Truck Accident in California?

Published April 8, 2024 by Harker Injury Law

Trucks on the road.

When a passenger vehicle is involved in an accident with a large truck, it is usually the occupants of the smaller vehicle who are severely injured. A recent annual report from the National Safety Council (NSC) showed that in large truck accidents, 71 percent of injuries occurred among occupants of other vehicles.

If you were injured in a California truck accident, you have the right to seek compensation from anyone who caused you harm. In truck collision cases, multiple parties may be liable for injuries and damages.

A truck accident lawyer can investigate your accident and help you identify all liable parties. At times, a business or entity that is not directly linked to your accident may be fully or partially liable for your losses. This article will discuss some of the most common parties liable in California truck accidents.

The California Truck Driver

Truck driver negligence is a common cause of truck accidents. Negligent truck driver behavior may include:

  • Driving while distracted: Texting, reading, playing games, checking social media, eating, and programming the GPS are some forms of distracted driving that can result in a truck accident.
  • Driving under the influence: In California, it is illegal for a person to operate a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .04 or higher
  • Failing to comply with trucking regulations: Commercial truck drivers are required to comply with federal and state regulations regarding inspections, maintenance, securing cargo, hours of operation, and more
  • Driving while drowsy: Truck drivers often are behind the wheel for long hours and have irregular sleep patterns due to the schedules they work, making drowsiness a common risk
  • Failing to comply with traffic laws: Speeding, tailgating, unsafe lane changes, weaving in and out of traffic, failing to stop or yield, and other reckless driving behaviors commonly result in truck accidents

The California Trucking Company

While some truck drivers are owner-operated, a large percentage of drivers are employed by a trucking company. When a truck accident occurs, the trucking company could be held liable for damages.

The following are examples of how a trucking company’s actions could lead to an accident:

  • Failure to follow inspections: Trucking companies are required to perform regular scheduled maintenance and inspections. This is done to ensure their fleet is in good condition. If the trucking company fails to inspect its trucks or fix issues that are found during an inspection, the company could be held liable for truck accidents that occur due to malfunctioning parts.
  • Poor hiring practices: Background checks should be done on all potential drivers before hiring. Employers must ensure the drivers are competent, qualified, and licensed. Trucking companies should not hire drivers with a history of DUIs or reckless driving accidents. If a truck driver who should not have been hired causes your crash, the trucking company could be responsible for damages.
  • Inadequate driver training: The employees hired by a trucking company should be licensed, professional, and qualified drivers. The company should also provide its drivers with regular training to ensure the safety of themselves and everyone else on the road. Poor training can lead to a driver being unable to handle emergencies on the road, such as a tire blowout, resulting in a preventable truck accident.
  • Unreasonable scheduling: Some trucking companies push their drivers to make deliveries as quickly as possible. Truckers may be pressured to drive long hours without sleep, violate traffic laws by speeding, or engage in other reckless driving behaviors. If a trucking accident is a result of a company’s unrealistic expectations of its employees, it could be held liable.

The Cargo Loaders

In many situations, the driver does not load the cargo. That is the job of the cargo loaders. Cargo loaders need to follow proper procedures and ensure the cargo is loaded safely and securely to prevent accidents.

Cargo that is not loaded properly can shift during transit, causing the truck to become unbalanced and unstable. A loss of balance in the trailer can lead to the driver losing control and causing a rollover accident or jackknife accident.

An overloaded semi-trailer can put excessive strain on a truck’s suspension and tires. When this happens, the risk of tire blowouts, brake failure, and other hazards increases. Additionally, if cargo is not stacked properly, the truck could be at risk of tipping over.

Another loading issue occurs when cargo is not properly secured and becomes dislodged during transit. Cargo loaders should use tie-downs, straps, and tarps as needed to prevent cargo from shifting or falling off the trailer.

The Truck Manufacturer

In some situations, truck accident liability may extend back to the manufacturer of a defective truck part. Thus, California law allows individuals to file personal injury claims against negligent truck manufacturers.

Common truck parts with dangerous flaws include:

  • Hydraulics
  • Tires
  • Brakes
  • Underride guardrails
  • Lights
  • Windshield wipers
  • Fuel tanks

Even a minor manufacturing defect can cause a major truck accident. For example, a mechanism failing in a windshield wiper motor can result in a driver losing visibility and crashing into another vehicle.

If an investigation shows that a defective truck part contributed to a truck accident, then the manufacturer can be held responsible for damages.

The Truck Mechanic

Truck mechanics are entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining and repairing trucks. They ensure the trucks function well and meet proper safety standards. When truck mechanics fail to provide proper repairs and maintenance, and the issue causes a crash, they can be held responsible for a collision.

The following factors may contribute to a truck mechanic being liable for an accident:

  • The mechanic did not perform the repair as promised
  • The mechanic used faulty parts when making the repair
  • The mechanic performed the repair incorrectly
  • The mechanic failed to follow industry standards and guidelines
  • The mechanic failed to identify potential issues during routine maintenance or repair

As an example, a mechanic was hired to change the brakes on a truck. The mechanic charged the trucking company for the repairs but didn’t actually do any work on the brakes. The truck driver later caused a rear-end accident because the brakes failed on the vehicle.

A Government Entity

The following are some scenarios where a government agency may be responsible for a California truck accident:

  • Hazardous road conditions: Poorly maintained roads with uneven pavement, potholes, inadequate signage, and other conditions can contribute to accidents involving trucks. If the government agency knew or should have known about the hazardous road condition and failed to repair it, the agency could be liable for damages.
  • Construction zones: Government agencies are responsible for maintaining safe road conditions within construction zones. If your truck accident was caused by a lack of proper signage, inadequate barriers, or another unsafe condition, the California Department of Transportation or another government entity could be liable.
  • Deficient traffic controls: Traffic control devices such as traffic lights, stop signs, and signals play a vital role in regulating the flow of traffic and preventing motor vehicle accidents. When a truck crash occurs due to malfunctioning or poorly placed traffic control devices, the government agency responsible for the maintenance of these devices could be held responsible.
  • Government employees: When a driver causes an accident while on the job, the employer is usually liable. The same is true if the driver is a state or federal employee. You have the right to pursue a personal injury claim against the government agency that employs the at-fault party.

California Liability Law: Negligence vs. Strict Liability

When a trucking accident results in injuries and damages, more than one party may share a level of liability. To establish liability, your lawyer will use one (or both) of two legal theories: negligence or strict liability.


In California, to prove negligence, the accident victim must prove that the at-fault party owed him or her a duty of care.

The following four elements are needed to prove negligence in a truck accident case:

  • Duty of care: You must show that the defendant (typically the truck driver or trucking company) owed you a duty of care to operate his or her vehicle safely
  • Breach of duty: Next, you must show that the defendant breached through negligence; a breach of duty could include violating hours-of-service regulations, driving while intoxicated, or failing to obey traffic laws
  • Causation: You must then show that the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused or contributed to your accident and injuries
  • Damages: Lastly, you will need to provide proof that you suffered damages as a result of the truck accident

Strict liability

Under California law, if a defective product causes a truck accident, the manufacturer, distributor, or designer can be held strictly liable. Causation, rather than negligence, is a factor when determining liability in strict liability cases.

Examples of faulty products included in strict liability claims include:

  • Cargo straps
  • Brakes
  • Tires
  • Engine components
  • Transmission parts

Compensation Available to California Truck Accident Victims

Truck accidents can have devastating consequences. Accident victims may be left with severe injuries and financial hardships. For victims and their families, navigating the claims process can be overwhelming.

When recovering compensation for your injuries, an experienced truck accident lawyer can help you through every step of the legal process.

Damages available to truck accident victims may include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering

In some tragic situations, a truck accident may cause a loss of life. If your loved one was killed in a truck accident, you may be able to recover damages for wrongful death. These could include compensation for funeral costs, burial expenses, medical bills, and other losses.

Our California Truck Accident Lawyers Can Help Determine Liability

Were you or someone you love harmed in a California truck accident? If so, the compassionate truck accident attorneys at Harker Injury Law can help you identify all liable parties. We can also assist you in filing a claim or lawsuit against anyone who caused or contributed to your accident.

The personal injury lawyers at our law firm have many years of experience in handling a variety of truck accident cases. We have the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to thoroughly investigate the cause of your auto accident and bring solid claims against all liable parties.

At Harker Injury Law, we care about the individuals we represent and treat each of them like family. What’s more, we offer free consultations to all truck accident victims. Complete the contact form to schedule your case evaluation.

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