Who Is Liable for Truck Accidents in California?

A trucking accident in California and who is liable.

Truck accidents are no joke. Because trucks tend to be larger and often carry cargo, truck accidents frequently cause harm exceeding typical car crash damages. A truck’s size also makes it more likely that a truck accident will involve multiple vehicles and drivers. Whether two or 20 drivers are involved, more than one person may be at fault. Though a truck driver usually shares some responsibility for a victim’s injuries and harm, multiple parties can bear liability in a commercial trucking accident.

Determining Liability After a Truck Accident

Some truck drivers work for a larger trucking company, while others are independent contractors. Whoever the driver of a truck that caused an accident works for, liable parties in California can include the following people. 

Truck Drivers

Truck drivers must ensure that their truck is free of maintenance issues and that they have secured all cargo correctly. Truck drivers also must abide by multiple laws and regulations. If they break traffic laws while driving, they are liable for any resulting accident. Other types of driver negligence include distracted driving, intoxicated driving, fatigued driving, making unsafe lane changes, and driving more hours than the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations allow.

Trucking Companies

Commercial truck companies are responsible for their trucks and the drivers they employ. Sometimes, trucking companies:

  • Fail to provide adequate training to drivers,
  • Fail to inspect and maintain their vehicles, or 
  • Fail to follow the rules and regulations in place to make trucking safer for everyone on the road.

If a trucking company does any of these things, they may be liable for accidents that occur while an employee is driving.

Other Truck Owners

A trucking company may not always own the trucks its drivers use. In this case, a victim can hold the truck’s owner liable for damages even if someone else was driving when the accident occurred. For instance, if the owner fails to maintain the truck, including the brakes, fluid levels, and tires, that owner may be liable if that failure contributes to an accident.

Cargo Loaders

A cargo loader might be liable if they loaded the truck and failed to inspect or secure the cargo correctly. Improperly loaded cargo can contribute to an accident if the cargo shifts during transportation, and that shift causes a weight imbalance that leads to a crash. Improperly loaded cargo can also fall off a truck and cause a crash.  

Truck and Parts Manufacturers

Sometimes accidents occur when a truck part is faulty or prematurely gives out. Examples include tire blowouts, brake failures, and steering problems. If these are not attributable to maintenance issues, the manufacturer may be liable for design or manufacturing defects that contribute to the accident. 

A Government Agency

Government agencies maintain roads. These same agencies are often responsible for promptly responding to known road hazards. If defects like potholes, loose gravel, or poorly-designed routes cause an accident, you may be able to file a claim against the agency responsible for the road’s maintenance.

You might be able to sue more than one person if the evidence demonstrates that numerous parties caused your accident. However, pinpointing liability can sometimes be sticky, and parties often blame each other. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consult with a skilled and experienced trucking accident attorney. A legal practitioner will review the evidence, assess your claim, and negotiate with insurers to ensure they offer you just compensation. 

Proving Liability: Negligence vs. Strict Liability

To prevail against an at-fault party, an accident victim must prove that the at-fault party’s activities fall under at least one of two legal theories: negligence or strict liability.


In California, to prove negligence, an injured driver must prove that the at-fault party owed them a duty of care. A truck driver’s duty of care includes, but is not limited to:

  • Adhering to the rules of the road;
  • Controlling the truck’s movement and speed;
  • Staying alert for pedestrians, other vehicles, and obstacles; and
  • Using reasonable care while operating their truck.

The damaged party must also prove that the at-fault party breached their duty of care by acting negligently and that the breach significantly caused their losses.

Strict Liability

Strict liability is a legal doctrine under which a defendant is liable even when the defendant wasn’t negligent or at fault for the accident. California law recognizes strict liability when designers, manufacturers, and companies involved in a product’s distribution chain manufacture, distribute, or sell a defective product that injures the plaintiff.

Truck Accident Settlement Damages

A truck crash victim may receive damages through an insurance company, private settlement, or court order. Damages help compensate an accident victim for losses or injuries. Courts and insurance companies divide them into economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are easier to calculate than other types of damages. They are awarded to compensate victims for out-of-pocket expenses and monetary losses like medical bills, permanent disability, and lost wages. These damages can also include projected costs for ongoing medical treatment and future lost wages if injuries limit a victim’s ability to work.

Non-economic Damages

Noneconomic damages are less tangible and harder to calculate because they don’t come with receipts or invoices. They cover what is known as subjective losses, as opposed to direct, objective out-of-pocket expenses. Emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life are all considered noneconomic losses.

Punitive Damages

Courts rarely award punitive damages because the intent of these damages is to punish the at-fault party—as opposed to compensating a victim for losses. When courts do award punitive damages, it’s usually only in cases where the at-fault party’s behavior is especially egregious. Punitive damages vary wildly depending on a claim’s specific circumstances.

Henderson Law Can Help You Recover Your Losses

Attorney Michael Henderson has over 25 years of successful experience representing truck accident victims. He has won tens of millions of dollars over the past two decades by doing everything in his power to ensure that his clients receive the money they need to rebuild their lives. Known for his honest and tireless advocacy, he is committed to fighting for every penny his clients are entitled to. When you need the experience and wise judgment of a battle-tested trial lawyer to advocate for you, lawyer Michael Henderson of Henderson Law will be there every step of the way. Call Henderson Law today to schedule your free consultation.