Who’s at fault for an accident determines from whom you’ll seek damages. It seems simple enough that if the driver is at fault that it stops with either them or their employer. However, there are actually a variety of parties that may be at fault, all of which will try to pass liability to someone else. Use this guide to discover how Colorado law assigns fault and who may have liability for the damages you’re owed.

Understanding Colorado’s Comparative Fault Law

Colorado Code § 13-21-111 (2021) lays out how courts assess damages based on the degree of fault. This basic idea is that in negligence cases, such as semi-truck accidents, parties may share liability. You can seek damages only if you’re 49% responsible or less.

If your case goes to trial, the jury will determine how much fault you have. If they determine any fault, the court will reduce the damages awarded by the degree of fault. For instance, if they find you’re 30% at fault and had awarded $100,000 in damages, you’re entitled to receive $70,000.

When the Trucker Is At Fault

If you’re found to have 49% responsibility or less, the driver may not be the only party with legal liability for your damages. The following are some of the responsible parties you may encounter, who will all try to shift liability to other parties.

Company Responsibility

A company employing drivers is responsible for the conduct of its drivers. The company holds the required vehicle and liability insurance policies. Further, the legal theory of “respondeat superior,” which is Latin and means “let the superior make answer.” Basically, this theory holds the employer responsible for employees’ wrongful actions if they’re committed within the scope of their employment.

Further, it may be a different person at the company who loads the truck rather than the driver. If it’s not properly balanced, it can cause instability in the trailer, increasing the risk of an accident. In this case, it’s not the fault of the driver, but is still the responsibility of the company.

Employee Drivers

The question about employee versus employer liability comes down to a discussion of the scope of employment. If the driver is within the scope of their employment, then the company is generally liable for the accident.

However, if the company can demonstrate the driver wasn’t acting within the scope of their employment, then the liability may rest with the driver alone. This would be the case if the employee was conducting personal business while having their company rig. In this case, either the driver or their insurance company is responsible to cover the damages.

Independent Drivers

Many drivers work as independent contractors, in which case the company they’re delivering for is not responsible for their actions. Rather, independent contractors commonly own the semi-truck tractor they drive and carry their own liability insurance. Contractors may exhibit more negligent behavior than corporately employed drivers, including driving while distracted, driving aggressively, or driving while fatigued.

Maintenance Crew

Every semi-truck requires maintenance to keep it safe to haul massive cargo loads. That said, some companies rely on third-party truck maintenance shops. If faulty installation of a part or falling to maintain something according to the right specification caused the accident, the maintenance contractor may have some responsibility as well.

Faulty Parts

In addition to negligent part installation, there are parts that may already be faulty when they’re installed, and the company or driver may not know it until there’s an accident. In this case, the part’s manufacturer would have some liability for the accident. However, the manufacturer’s insurance company or attorney will likely attempt to deflect the liability for improper installation or maintenance.

Other Drivers

The unfortunate reality is that not all semi-truck accidents are the fault of the truck. Rather, there are instances when another driver initiates a chain reaction that leads to the accident.

For instance, if a vehicle cuts off the truck, the driver may make evasive moves to avoid them. However, that action may cause the truck to lose control, even if momentarily. During that time, the truck or the trailer it is hauling may hit your car. The car that cut the truck off holds at least part of the responsibility for the accident, and the truck driver’s insurance company will argue this while litigating damages for the accident.

Government Contractors and Agencies

The local or state government or its contractors may also hold some responsibility for the accident. For instance, if a road crew fails to flag a work zone appropriately, it may lead to an accident. In this case, the contractor would hold responsibility for the accident. Further, if the roadway is hazardous with broken pavement or soft shoulder, it could also contribute to an accident and is the responsibility of a local, county, or state agency. The Colorado Statutes of Limitations only gives you 180 days to file your claim against a government agency for damages.

Navigating the Legal Maze

It’s challenging to navigate the legal maze following an accident with a semi-truck. Inevitably, the various parties that may hold responsibility will point to each other, trying to deflect blame and fault. This blame ping-pong will cost precious time to work through your claim. You need an experienced attorney who understands how to get results by investigating the full context of the accident and then holding the appropriate parties responsible.

You don’t have to try to navigate the maze of legal options and work on your own. Call to schedule your free semi-truck accident consultation with one of the expert attorneys at Matlin Injury law today.