Trucking Company Liability

Following a traffic accident with a commercial truck, it may be obvious the truck driver was at-fault. What is less clear is who is legally liable to pay damages.

Injury claims are only worth as much as a plaintiff may actually recover from negligent parties, which must have resources with which to compensate plaintiff. Many times, the damage caused by Fort Lauderdale truck accidents is too extensive to be covered solely by the truck driver and/or his personal insurance policy.

This is why at The Ansara Law Firm, we look at all potential avenues for liability. That includes analyzing the roles played by:

  • Employer
  • Lessor of Truck or Trailer
  • Carrier
  • Truck Manufacturer
  • Truck Driver
  • Shipper or Loader of Truck Cargo

Many in the trucking industry pull out all the stops to avoid liability for truck accidents. They attempt to do this by creating distance between themselves and the driver who was negligent.

Through carefully-worded carrier and independent contract agreements, one company obtains the required permits to operate the truck. However, that company doesn’t actually own the tractor, trailer or the equipment used to haul the goods. Instead, that company will lease or rent the trailers, tractors and equipment from the “owner/operator.”

What’s more, the carrier doesn’t actually employ the truck driver. Instead, the truck driver is classified as an “independent contractor.” This allows the company to avoid an assertion of “respondeat superior” which is the legal theory upon which an employer can be held liable for the negligent acts of an employee who is acting within the scope and course of employment.

But this is all very confusing if you’re simply looking at the placard on the door of the tractor, which will have the name of the trucking carrier. That placard makes it seem as if the truck is owned by the carrier, who employs the driver.

Federal laws have been written to address this to some extent. Names displayed on the vehicle or placard may be enough to assert liability.

Additionally, each entity may – or should – have its own separate insurance policy, and this may end up involving numerous insurers as well. There can be all kinds of disputes about whether the accident was covered or whether defense should be paid for or whether the incident falls under one of a long list of exemptions.

Sometimes, liability will depend on complex leasing and employment contracts, which must be meticulously reviewed by an experienced injury attorney.

Truck Driver Liability vs. Company Liability

A truck driver may be personally liable if he or she was an independent contractor or was acting outside the scope and course of employment at the time of a crash.

The company can be liable for traffic accidents caused by that driver in one of a few ways. The first is, as previously mentioned, through the assertion of respondeat superior. This is Latin for “let the superior make answer.”

Per this principle, employer is responsible for damages resulting from wrongful acts committed by employees or agents. This assumes, however, the actions were unintentional and committed within the scope and course of employment. The general idea is that certain wrongful conduct is likely to occur in the course of employer’s business, and that burden should be placed on the company – not the worker.

But first, injured parties must prove the driver is an employee of the company rather than an independent contractor. Rather than hinging on the driver’s title, this involves a careful analysis of the extent of company control over driver’s activities. For example, if a driver pays for his own gas, uses his own truck, owns his own insurance, receives no employee benefits and is paid on a “per-route” basis, he’s likely to be considered an independent contractor. However, if the driver is more of a regular worker, is paid benefits and regular salary and is covered under company’s insurance, he’s likely to be an employee – even if the company disagrees.

Acts occurring within the course and scope of employment are those that involve the work employee was hired to do and take into consideration the intent of employee and the nature, time and place of employee’s conduct.

Other theories of liability on which carriers may be held accountable (depending on the circumstances) include:

  • Negligent hiring, entrustment or retention
  • Negligent maintenance, inspection or repair
  • Violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations

South Florida truck accidents happen all too often. If you are a victim, call us today to learn more about how we can help.

Contact the South Florida truck injury lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (888) ANSARA-8.