An experienced truck accident injury lawyer, like a truck accident lawyer in Cleveland, OH, will know that truck driver negligence can result in terrible multi-vehicle wrecks that cause catastrophic injuries including traumatic brain injury, fractures, dislocations, paralysis, paraplegia, quadriplegia, other disabling injuries, and wrongful death. Tractor trailers, big box trucks, and other commercial trucks are extremely heavy and sit high off the ground, providing specific dynamics that increase the risk of serious personal injury when there is a trucking accident.
Who Is at Fault?
When a commercial truck crashes into a car, the trucking company may defend the claim by arguing that the truck driver was not its employee, but was instead acting as an independent contractor. Laws vary by state, but generally, the legal determination of whether a truck driver was acting as an employee in the course and scope of his or her employment, as opposed to acting as an independent contractor, depends on whether the trucking company controlled the “means and methods” by which the truck driver operated his or her semi-truck or other commercial truck.
In some cases, the inquiry is simple. If the truck driver filled out the company’s application, went through its applicant screening process, was provided with an employee handbook, was assigned a supervisor employed by the trucking company, was paid by a company check, and received a W-2, the traditional definition of “employee” is clearly met. In such a case, the trucking company will be held vicariously liable for the trucker’s negligence including speeding, traffic violations, regulatory violations, and other negligent acts that cause a motor vehicle crash.
Using a Truck Driver as a Contractor
Increasingly, however, major trucking companies will contract with smaller trucking companies to fill their needs. In these cases, the larger trucking company will argue that no employer-employee relationship existed with the subcontractor’s employee. However, if the large trucking company controlled the truck driver’s route, operations and other employment-related activities, your state’s law may allow you to hold the major trucking company liable along with the smaller trucking company that directly employed the negligent truck driver. This issue becomes important if the truck driver or his direct employer carry insufficient insurance limits to cover all the compensatory damages caused by serious personal injuries or wrongful death. In that case, your personal injury lawyer will need to investigate whether the larger trucking outfit bears vicarious liability for the truck driver’s negligence. Once this connection is established, attorneys can discover whether the larger trucking company has additional or greater liability insurance limits that apply to the personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
“Vicarious liability” means that an employer is held liable for the negligent acts of its employee, including trucking negligence. Vicarious liability can be established through proof of a traditional employer/employee relationship under the doctrine of respondeat superior. In addition, an independent contractor can be deemed to be the agent of the trucking company under certain circumstances using principles of actual agency, apparent agency, and agency by estoppel. In the latter circumstance, the key inquiry is whether the large trucking company had the right to control the actions of the independent contractor semi-truck driver.
Conducting an Investigation
A detailed factual investigation is necessary to reveal the circumstances of the relationship that might establish a right of control, including whether the trucking company established the route, supplied the truck or trailer, monitored the truck driver’s progress via an app or satellite, whether the trucking activity was part of the company’s regular business, the terms of the agreement between the truck driver and the trucking company, whether payment is by the hour or job, and whether the trucking company has a right to terminate the trucker’s employment. Your personal injury lawyer will want to obtain and review the following documents:
- The bill of lading
- A purchase order invoice
- Trucking company apps
- Any lease agreement
- Any other written agreement between the parties
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
In some states, the inquiry ends with a determination of whether the trucking company was exercising its motor carrier operating authority under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) at the time of the wreck. It is important to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer or wrongful death lawyer who specializes in trucking accidents early after a catastrophic trucking accident in order to explore these issues and preserve evidence vital to proof of a connection between the negligent truck driver and his or her employer.
Thanks to Mishkind Kulwicki Law for their insight into forming a lawsuit because of truck driver negligence.