Truck accidents can cause serious property damage and severe injuries for everyone involved. In addition to filing an insurance claim or lawsuit against a negligent truck driver, you may also be able to pursue legal action against the driver’s employer trucking company. In some cases, however, the trucking company may allege that it is not responsible for the damages sustained because the truck driver was an independent contractor – not an employee.
Under the law, there is a fine line between employees and independent contractors. In contrast to employees, independent contractors usually work when they want, set their own hours, and in some cases, may even set their own pay rates. However, trucking companies may still be held responsible for the negligent actions (or inactions) of independent contractor truck drivers. For example, trucking companies can be liable under federal law when they lease a truck or a placard to the truck driver. Truck accident claims can be extremely varied and complex. Therefore, it is not recommended that you leave the outcome of your case to chance. The knowledgeable Clearwater truck accident lawyers at Dolman Law Group may be able to take legal action against a trucking company on your behalf and pursue the monetary compensation that you need and deserve.
Vicarious Liability on the Part of the Trucking Company
Under Florida’s no-fault statute, in a motor vehicle accident case, you must first exhaust your $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage before filing a claim or lawsuit against the responsible party. Alternatively, you can sue the at-fault party if you sustained a permanent injury in your accident. If the negligent truck driver is an employee of the trucking company, you may be able to file an insurance claim or lawsuit directly against the trucking company in addition to the negligent truck driver. Trucking companies may be responsible for the injuries and damages you sustained in your accident.
For the trucking company to be vicariously liable for the truck driver’s negligence, the truck driver must be operating the truck while on the job and while in the scope of employment with the trucking company. On the other hand, an employer trucking company cannot be liable for a truck driver’s negligent actions if the driver was acting outside the scope of his employment at the time the accident occurred. This is true even if, at the time of the accident, the driver was operating a truck which was owned by the trucking company. For example, if the driver was off the clock at the time of the accident or was running a personal errand, it is far less likely that the trucking company will share in the liability.
To determine whether a truck driver was within the scope of his or her employment at the time of an accident, courts often look to the following:
* Whether the accident occurred during a driver’s regularly scheduled working hours
* Whether the driver’s activities benefitted the trucking company
* The length of time it took the driver to engage in any personal activity while driving
* The specific intent of the driver
Other Bases for Trucking Company Liability In addition to vicarious liability, there are other circumstances where a trucking company can be deemed responsible for a negligent driver’s actions. Specifically, trucking companies may be liable for:
* Not providing the truck driver with the necessary skills and training
* Failing to make sure that the truck driver complies with all CDL renewal requirements
* Requiring the driver to operate the truck for hours on end without breaks (usually when there is a financial incentive for the trucking company and the driver to drive long hours)
* Allowing – or even encouraging – the driver to violate trucking regulations or the Federal Motor Carrier Regulations
* Failing to have the proper maintenance, repairs, or inspections performed on the tractor or trailer that the driver operates
When a Trucking Company is not Liable for a Truck Accident
Its not a very common situation, but when there is proof that a truck driver caused an accident on purpose then a trucking company may no longer be liable for their actions. There is still a chance that a trucking company may be found liable for the truck driver’s actions in the case they did not screen them correctly or showed some other form of negligence in hiring or keeping the driver as an employee like if the driver had a history of intentional accidents.
Generally, the line is drawn between driver and trucking company liability if the driver caused harm intentionally since the case would become one of intentional tort like an assault and battery case. The trucker’s actions would be seen as not having to do with the company but with their personal motivations instead.