All car accidents are stressful. But truck accidents come with their own unique complications that increase the difficulty of getting fair compensation after an accident. One of the most confusing aspects of truck accidents is determining who is responsible in a trucking accident. In some situations, the truck driver is personally liable for the crash; in others, the truck driver’s employer is ultimately liable.
If you file a claim against the wrong party, you could lose your right to recover compensation for your injuries and other damages. To prevent that from happening, a lawyer at Coffey Trial Law in Fort Lauderdale will review the facts of your case and complete an in-depth investigation to determine who is ultimately liable.
Is the truck driver always liable, even when he causes an accident?
No. The law of respondeat superior states that employers are vicariously liable for the actions of their employees so long as those employees are acting within the scope of their employment. This means, if a truck driver is on-the-clock when the accident occurs, the trucking company will be responsible for paying for the damages.
Consider the following: a truck driver is taking a load across the country when he sideswipes another car. Even though he caused the accident, the trucking company will be on the hook for the damages because it is liable for its employees’ actions.
When is a truck driver personally liable for an accident?
Depending on the facts of your case, you may only be able to recover compensation from the individual truck driver and not from the trucking company. The most common examples where the truck driver is personally liable for truck accidents include:
Independent Contractor: If the truck driver is a true independent contractor, then that driver will be liable for the accident. Independent contractors usually own their trucks. They pay for their own gas, truck repairs, and commercial driver’s license fees. These drivers may contract with trucking companies for work, but they make their own schedules.
However, trucking companies are notorious for calling all their drivers independent contractors to shield themselves from liability. The attorneys of Coffey Trial Law will help you determine whether the driver who caused your accident is a true independent contractor or a traditional employee.
Deliberate Actions: If the truck driver takes certain deliberate actions, such as crashing into another car out of anger, he might be personally liable for the accident. However, if the trucking company knew or had reason to suspect that these deliberate actions might happen, the trucking company could still be on the hook for the damages.
Acting Outside the Scope of Employment: If employees act “outside the scope of their employment,” then the trucking company will not have to pay for the accident.
Determining when an employee acts outside the scope of their employment is a fact intensive process that often needs to be argued in court. For example, if a truck driver takes the company’s truck on a “joyride” without permission that will most likely be “outside the scope of employment” and the company would not be liable for any resulting accidents.
When is a trucking company liable for an accident?
In addition to being vicariously liable, a trucking company can also be directly liable. The most common examples of direct liability include:
Negligent Truck Maintenance: Under federal regulations, trucking companies must keep their fleet of trucks well maintained. This means conducting regular inspections, repairs, and wear-and-tear maintenance. In particular, trucking companies must maintain the braking systems, steering systems, and tires on their trucks. If an accident happens because the truck malfunctioned, the trucking company will be liable if proper maintenance would have prevented the accident.
For example, if a trucking company skips safety inspections or repairs and an accident happens because the truck’s brakes fail at an intersection, the trucking company will have to pay for the damages.
Mandatory Hour Violations: For safety reasons, truck drivers cannot spend too many hours behind the wheel during a certain period of time. Federal regulations require that they take regular breaks and, once they reach the maximum number of hours for the day, they must stop driving. If the trucking company requires its drivers to continue driving after hitting the maximum hour limit, the company will be liable for any resulting accidents that happen because of fatigue.
Negligent Hiring: If the trucking company is negligent in its hiring process, it can be liable for any accidents its hires cause. For example, if a trucking company hires a driver who does not have a commercial driver’s license or who lacks the proper safety training, the company will be liable for any accidents that driver causes because it put him behind the wheel of a truck without proper training or qualifications.
Responsibility for a truck crash is rarely ever clear cut. For help determining and proving liability, contact Coffey Trial Law. We will review your case, collect evidence, and determine whether the driver or the trucking company is ultimately at fault for your crash. Call us today at 954-541-3194 to set up your initial consultation with one of our truck accident lawyers.