Because commercial truck drivers are subject to limits on the number of hours they can drive in one stretch, trucking companies sometimes employ two drivers to complete a route. The secondary driver is known as a co-driver, or B-seat.
When an accident occurs, it's usually the person who is actually behind the wheel at the time of the accident who's held responsible. However, there are circumstances under which a co-driver may share in the liability for the crash. And then there are other situations where the co-driver may have cause to hold the primary driver and the employer responsible for injuries her or she suffers.
What Does a Co-Driver Do?
When a co-driver is employed by the trucking company, his primary role is to rest while the first driver is behind the wheel so that he can take over when that driver reaches his time limit or is simply too tired to continue. The co-driver may also be expected to navigate, complete company logs, or handle necessary communications. Sometimes, a second driver is actually a trainee completing mandatory driver training hours with an experienced trucker. In this case, he may be expected to document observations or practice other technical tasks.
Independent truckers often travel with a companion, such as a spouse or a friend. These people are generally passengers and not co-drivers, but could bear some responsibility for a crash, depending upon the cause.
When a Co-Driver Could Be Partially Responsible for a Crash
There are two main situations that could lead to co-driver liability. The first is when a co-driver fails to act in order to stop dangerous behavior by the lead driver, such as:
- Intoxication. If the co-driver is aware that the lead driver has been drinking or is taking prescription medications that could affect driving ability, he has a duty to stop him from driving.
- Distraction. If the lead driver is texting while driving—or is distracted in some other way—the co-driver is responsible for stopping the behavior.
- Fatigue. While the driver may not be aware that he is drifting out of his lane due to fatigue, if the co-driver sees this, he has a duty to get the driver to pull off to rest or switch drivers.
- Falsifying records. If a co-driver is aware that the hours-of-service log is being falsified, he's just as accountable as the driver who enters the false information.
In order to hold a co-driver liable following a crash caused by one of these factors, it will have to be proven that he was aware of the issue and did nothing to stop it.
The second cause of co-driver liability involves actions the co-driver takes. In some cases, the co-driver may be held solely or primarily responsible. The following scenarios are possible examples:
- The co-driver is at the wheel and makes an error that leads to a crash.
- The co-driver lied about his qualifications or credentials and isn't qualified to drive.
- The co-driver actively distracts the driver or engages in horseplay that causes the lead driver to crash.
An accident investigation should determine whose negligence led to the crash. If there's a co-driver or passenger in the truck at the time of the crash, his or her actions should be examined to determine liability.
When a Co-Driver Might Have a Claim Against the Lead Driver
If a co-driver or passenger is injured in a crash, he or she may have grounds to file a claim against the driver or trucking company, as long as he or she played no part in the cause of the wreck. Often, a co-driver or passenger is in the sleeper berth while the lead is driving. When a crash occurs while someone is in the sleeper berth, he or she could be seriously injured. If the driver was negligent, he could be liable for the passenger’s damages, as well as injuries to occupants of other vehicles involved in the crash.
Truck Accident Claims Are Complicated
If you were injured in a truck crash—whether as an occupant of a separate vehicle or a passenger in the truck—you'll need an experienced truck accident attorney to sort through the details and hold all liable parties responsible for your damages. Contact our legal team today to discuss your case.