What’s The Difference Between ‘Fault’ And ‘Liability?’

Two people were seriously injured in a truck wreck in Iberia Parish, and legal responsibility is unclear even though the fault seems clear cut.

According to state troopers, a passenger vehicle carrying three people crossed from the westbound to the eastbound side of Louisiana Highway 14 near the U.S. Highway 90 interchange. The car then hit the front wheels of a sugar cane truck before it careened into the rear wheels, causing the truck to flip over. All three people inside the car were rushed to the hospital with serious injuries; the other driver was not injured in the truck wreck.

Authorities speculate that the car driver may have been impaired, and toxicology reports are pending.

Fault v. Liability

First responders have multiple tasks at the scene of a truck wreck. In addition to securing the scene and tending to injured victims, they must also interview witnesses and review physical evidence to determine fault. Because they are multi-tasking, some of these responsibilities are hurriedly carried out. Specifically with regard to legal responsibility, first responders are not lawyers or judges. Furthermore, if there were serious injuries, first responders often only hear one side of the story. For example, in the above-described truck wreck, police almost certainly never interviewed the people in the car. So, just because first responders assign accident fault to a particular party, their determination may not be dispositive in terms of legal liability.

Liability in Truck Wrecks

Although these vehicles are very big, they are not impossible to handle. On this particular stretch of Highway 14, there is a wide grassy median that separates the westbound and eastbound sides, so it is quite possible that the truck driver saw the passenger vehicle drift across the median yet did nothing to avoid the truck wreck. If that is the case, the last clear chance doctrine may apply. According to this rule, if an otherwise non-negligent driver has a chance to avoid a crash by stopping, slowing down, changing lanes, or making other evasive maneuvers yet fails to do so, liability flips. For the last clear chance rule to kick in, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) must have the last reasonable chance to avoid the truck wreck, and that is different from the last possible chance.

Respondeat superior normally applies in these scenarios as well. Since truck drivers are employees who are acting within the course and scope of employment as they drive their trucks, the transportation or shipping company that pays the driver and/or orders the shipment is legally responsible for damages.

The at-fault driver is not necessarily the one who is liable for injuries. For a free consultation, contact Lee Hoffoss or another of the experienced Lake Charles personal injury attorneys at Hoffoss Devall today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.