We have been holding trucking companies accountable for accidents of their drivers for over three decades with incredible success. Trucking companies and their insurers are always looking for ways to avoid paying fair value for injuries caused by their drivers. One of the tricks they try to use is to suggest that the truck driver was an “independent contractor” and therefore the trucking company itself is not responsible.
This article is written to cover some of the areas in which a trucking company can be held responsible for their actions or the actions of the driver.
1. WHEN THE DRIVER IS AN EMPLOYEE
When the driver is an actual employee of the trucking company, the company will be automatically responsible for the negligent conduct of the driver under the doctrine of respondeat superior and also under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
An exception would be when the employed driver is not driving on the job or to benefit the employer at the time of the crash. If the employee is in the “course and scope” of employment at the time of the collision the employer will be deemed to be legally responsible for their actions. With employee drivers who are on the job furthering their employer’s interest at the time of the crash, the trucking company will be responsible for their driver’s actions.
Owner-operators are usually those that own their own trucking business. An owner-operator also might lease onto a carrier as a method to operate their business under the umbrella of the trucking company. Currently, there are over 350,000 owner operators in the United States. The vast majority of those lease on to larger trucking companies and they operate under the trucking companies DOT number.
Currently, there is a truck driver shortage which is putting pressure on trucking companies to adequately fill open jobs. Most of the companies will use the owner-operator lease method to fill their openings. The federal safety regulations ensure that the trucking company also was known as a motor carrier remains responsible for the operation of the truck as opposed to sticking all of the responsibility on the owner-operator. The safety regulations intent in this regard is to prevent the trucking company from escaping civil liability by entering into lease agreements.
If you are in an accident and the driver was a leased driver or owner-operator, the lease agreement itself should specify the ultimate responsibility and control for the truck. The FMCSA’s mainly place the ultimate burden on the motor carrier.
3. NEGLIGENT HIRING
Trucking companies can also be responsible for their conduct in the area of negligent hiring or retention. In this situation, a trucking company that hires an unsafe driver can be held independently responsible for the trucking companies own actions. Under the safety regulations, trucking companies must ensure that the drivers under their control are safe. The companies also must make sure the drivers are qualified. Trucking companies must investigate the background and safety of the drivers that they hire before they put them on the road.
If a driver proves to be unsafe after he has been hired by the company, the company must terminate that employment or place them in a situation where he is not a professional driver for the company. These regulations are intended to protect the motoring public from unsafe drivers behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle.
4. CONDITION OF THE BIG RIG
Motor carriers can also be responsible for their negligence if the vehicle itself is in a dangerous condition that was a cause of the crash. Trucking companies have the ultimate responsibility to ensure the safety of the trucks before they are on the highway. As the attorney for an 18-wheeler accident, we see the situation repeatedly where the brakes on the big rig are in an unsafe operating condition which was a cause of the crash.
Trucking companies must routinely inspect and repair the tractor-trailers in their fleet including those of owner-operators. When a company cuts corners with the safety of the big rigs they can be held accountable for their conduct independent of that of the driver.
5. VIOLATIONS OF THE HOURS OF SERVICE
One of the biggest factors of truck accidents is that of the fatigued driver. Truck drivers particularly those who are long-haul drivers behind the wheel for long hours and often have inadequate sleep and rest breaks. For this reason, the safety regulations specify the maximum number of hours a truck driver can drive on any given day and week. Because drivers are usually paid by the mile, there is every incentive for a driver to fudge on his logbooks and drive longer than he should be driving. Recently, however, the regulations have changed to require certain motor carriers to maintain digital logs which are more difficult but not impossible to cheat.
Nevertheless, some trucking companies will be lax on their safety compliance and turn a blind eye to hours of service violations. Or worse, fail to supervise the driver.
6. OTHER VIOLATIONS OF THE FMCSR
A truck company can also be responsible for violation of the federal regulations in an area other than those outlined above. The federal regulations create an independent duty on the part of the motor carrier with an effort toward safer drivers, safer vehicles, and less unnecessary accidents.
CONSULT WITH A LAWYER FOR 18-WHEELER ACCIDENTS
Call our commercial vehicle accident lawyers for a no-obligation consultation regarding an 18-wheeler accident in Texas. We limit our cases to those involving serious injury or the loss of a loved one to provide the best possible representation to those who unfortunately have been in a truck wreck that was not their fault.