Most people think of “car accidents” as two cars colliding. But just as frequent, and more destructive for the car, are car versus commercial vehicle—semi, ten-ton truck, even a step-up or delivery van. And unlike a simple car accident, when you or your car are hit by a commercial vehicle, who is responsible and who has to be sued becomes more complicated.

Fancy Legal Terms for “It Isn’t My Fault”

If you are hit by a truck, you will need a lawyer, because both the driver and the company will start saying they have no legal liability. However, a lawyer will begin using phrases like “vicarious liability” and “respondeat superior”, which is a fancy way of saying that the employer is responsible for having insurance on the vehicle and the driver, and for ensuring that the driver is properly licensed and trained for the job.

That doesn’t relieve the driver of a responsibility to drive safely and legally, even if he is told by his bosses to cut corners or keep on schedule. It’s a complex web of blame-shifting that needs skilled legal oversight to navigate.

What Can I Do?

The best thing anyone involved in a commercial vehicle accident can do is find a qualified attorney to handle the case. While on the scene, try to obtain, if possible:

  • The name on the truck, and if it’s a semi, the name on the trailer.
  • The license (tag) number on the truck, and if it’s a semi, the license on the trailer. It’s very common for trailers and cargos to have multiple trucks pulling them as they cross the country, so just getting the license on the trailer may not be enough.
  • The full name of everyone in the cab, if possible. Commercial trucks usually have at least two people with them; the person driving may not be the “official” driver.

Give as much detail to your lawyer as possible. No detail is too small! And don’t wait too long to contact an attorney. In California, the statute of limitations on a personal injury claim, including car accidents, is two years. The less time that passes, the better for you.


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