How Is Fault Determined in a Truck Accident in California?

A maroon semi truck driving on a highway road with its trailer in the early evening.

When we talk about truck accidents and other motor vehicle accidents, we often frame “fault” as a matter that’s settled by a police report or some other conclusion.

Technically speaking, a finding of fault can only be assigned by a judge or jury after all evidence is presented from both sides during a trial or a series of hearings. However, many cases will be resolved through a settlement, which serves as an implicit acceptance of fault — despite a lack of admission of fault in most settlement agreements.

Ultimately, the success of a case most often comes down to whether or not the party accused of fault is worried that they would lose in court.

The stronger the case against them, the more likely they are to settle for the amount requested by the injury victim. The weaker the case, the more likely they are to fight the claim, negotiating down to a lower amount or refusing to accept any liability whatsoever.

Because fault hinges so heavily on perceptions and not just material facts, it can be highly beneficial to work with an experienced California truck accident lawyer during your case. Your attorney will help you investigate the wreck, obtain all available evidence, and pursue the highest amount of damages possible for your injuries.

Learn more about how to prove fault and how to make the most of your available legal options during a free, no-obligation case review. Schedule your free appointment with a California trucking accident attorney today when you call 559-878-4958 or contact us online.

How Do Police Know Who Is at Fault in a Semi Truck Wreck?

A lot of times, the police traffic accident report is considered the “final word” in who is at fault for a truck crash. In truth, the police report is just one component of the overall case, and it is only based on preliminary findings gathered by the responding officer.

If the fault is to be determined concretely, the police (or another party) must use a subject matter expert to investigate the crash and make their own finding. This need for expert supervision and input is why findings in most police reports aren’t admissible as conclusive evidence of fault in a trial.

Even still, what the police officer observes at the scene is a form of critically important documentation for the crash — and the case as a whole.

General Information Police Will Capture on Their Report

A police report of a traffic accident occurring in California will have space for the following general information:

  • Time, date, and location of the crash
  • Names and contact information of all drivers involved
  • Make, model, VIN, and license plate number of all vehicles involved
  • Insurance information for each vehicle
  • Weather and light conditions at the time of the accident
  • Corrective lens wear use by drivers involved
  • The direction of travel of all vehicles

How Police Describe the Accident and Causes

The information listed above is considered objective and difficult to dispute. In addition, the police officers will capture as much information as they can about the wreck, what happened leading up to it, how it started, and who was the likely cause.

Note that this preliminary finding of cause does not constitute a firm finding of fault.

When trying to determine what happened during a wreck, police will use:

  • Evidence at the scene, including tire marks from breaking or running off the road
  • Eyewitness statements
  • The appearance and behavior of the drivers at the time of the report
  • Whether a citation has been issued based on a suspicion of following too closely, speeding, DUI, or otherwise violating traffic laws
  • The “first harmful event” that kicked off the accident
  • The “most harmful event” for each major injury or incidence of damage
  • Any other available evidence, such as video replayed at the scene, patterns of damage to the vehicle or injuries to the occupants, etc

Police will then issue citations for any moving violations they suspect were committed — although these citations are not a finding of guilt. Instead, the matter of guilt for a violation is only settled after a ruling, conviction, or the payment of the fine without pleading “nolo contendere.”

It is important to review the police report as soon as possible for errors or inaccuracies. You and your attorney can then make a (polite) request to the officer who completed the report to amend or supplement the report with the correct information.

What Is the Legal Basis of Fault in a Truck Accident Case?

In most cases, the question of fault comes down to the question of “who was negligent?”

Negligence, in the legal sense, refers to an act or omission that one party was obligated to perform in order to keep others safe but failed to, leading to the wreck and subsequent injuries.

More specifically, negligence claims have four main parts that must be proven in order to establish clear fault:

  1. The defendant had a duty of care to obey laws and regulations while exercising ordinary, “reasonable” care in order to prevent inflicting harm on others
  2. The defendant committed a breach of duty, leading to an unsafe condition that later triggered the accident
  3. The plaintiff suffered an injury, and the defendant’s breach of duty was the most direct (proximate) cause of the injury
  4. The plaintiff’s injuries led to damages that can be quantified, such as medical bills, lost wages, vehicle repairs, and personal pain and suffering

Proving negligence can be easy, in some cases, when there is a clearly dangerous act, such as a truck driver failing to check their mirrors before changing lanes. Other times, negligence must be based on a more complicated chain of cause and effect, where the indirect actions of the driver, their employer, or others involved ultimately caused the crash.

Types of Evidence to Consider When Determining Truck Accident Fault

Many different parties can be considered at fault when considering negligence. Below, we have listed some examples of negligent parties and the types of evidence that could be used to prove their liability for injuries caused.

Evidence of Driver Error

Truck driver error is a major factor in many wrecks. In fact, it is ten times more likely that the accident was caused by truck driver error compared to any other factor.


  • Logs showing the driver speeding or driving beyond their federally limited hours of service
  • Open bottles of alcohol or drugs in the truck cabin
  • Evidence of distractions, including devices, food, etc, that could have caused the driver to take their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel
  • Eyewitness statements testifying that the driver was swerving, failed to yield, etc

When a truck driver makes a mistake, their employer is responsible for the damages they inflict.

Evidence of Company Negligence

In some cases, the trucking company that hired or contracted the driver contributed negligence in a way that led to the wreck. This could involve a single instance of negligence, triggering the wreck or a pattern of negligence that made the wreck significantly more likely to happen.


  • Failure to conduct and keep records of employee background checks, drug screening results, etc, indicating a lack of oversight
  • Instructions to drive past the point of safety, such as violating speed laws or ignoring federal hours of service rules
  • Failure to maintain vehicles and keep logs of their maintenance
  • Lax hiring standards, including a failure to verify driver qualifications, require a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or to review the driver’s safety record
  • Failure to properly instruct or train drivers
  • Use of equipment that is non-compliant with federal guidelines

One tricky aspect of the above types of evidence is that the negligent behaviors must be connected to the actual chain of events leading to the accident.

Evidence of Defective Equipment

Sometimes, it’s the truck itself — or its equipment — that’s the true cause of the wreck.


  • Equipment that indicates a major performance failure before or during the accident
  • Safety data indicating a serious threat to public health and safety
  • Failure to maintain quality controls, test equipment, or verify its safety before release
  • Testimony as to strange occurrences, such as the driver stating they mashed the brake pedal, but there is no evidence of tire marks from trailer braking.

Defective equipment could have contributed to the wreck’s likelihood of happening, or it could have made injuries worse than they would have been otherwise had the equipment functioned as expected.

Evidence of Third-Party Negligence

Many third parties could have contributed negligence — solely or in part — in order to cause the wreck or make it more likely to happen.


  • Evidence of another vehicle (not the truck or the injury victim’s) committing careless or dangerous acts
  • False maintenance logs completed by a contracted maintenance company that did not actually inspect the vehicle
  • A finding by an expert engineer, architect, or highway safety expert that the road design was likely to trigger a dangerous accident
  • Evidence of a failure to properly load the trailer or to provide a functional trailer by the provider of the trailer

Help Prove Fault With an Experienced California Truck Accident Law Firm

Whether your case results in a trial verdict or a settlement, it’s always important to bring your “A game” when presenting evidence of fault. The idea is to make fault so clear and irrefutable that the other party is pressured to settle quickly and for the amount you demand.

Don’t let the findings of a preliminary police report or the insistence of the trucking company that they weren’t at fault deter you from seeking the damages you need to recover. Reach out to an experienced attorney to investigate your accident, gather evidence, and use sound legal reasoning to prove fault and fight for full compensation.

Learn more about how cases are typically resolved, what factors impact their success, and what you can do to help yours succeed when you call 559-878-4958 or contact us online to schedule a free case review with an experienced truck accident attorney near you.