There is a legal principal called “vicarious liability,” which states the actions of an employee are, for purposes of liability, the same in essence of those of an employer. This is why in truck accident cases or other cases involving commercial drivers, the defendant will be not the driver of the vehicle, but the company for which he or she works.
However, there are some circumstances in which trucking companies can avoid liability. Here’s a quick overview.
The way in which liability is handled in truck accident cases has shifted significantly. In many cases, trucking companies would have permits for operating trucks, but often did not actually own the tractors, trailers or equipment being used to haul cargo. They would instead lease out the equipment to an owner/operator. The trucking company would then hire drivers as independent contractors from the owner/operator, instead of as employees.
Each owner/operator would have a placard that included the name of the trucking company and permit numbers. This placard would attached to the tractor door.
If the truck was involved in an accident and the company was sued, the trucking company would use all of this to argue that because the driver was not technically an employee of the company, the company cannot be held liable for any errors caused by the driver. It would also state it does not technically own the equipment, so thus cannot be responsible for its maintenance, repairs, inspections or operation.
Today’s legal interpretations have changed so that any company owning a trucking permit would be responsible for accidents involving a truck with its placard or name displayed, regardless of any arrangements with the owner/operator. This means trucking companies will likely only be able to completely avoid liability in circumstances where the driver was under the influence of substances, was acting outside the scope of their employment or was acting with intent or malice.
For more information about how these cases are handled today, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Bradenton, FL at Goldman, Babboni, Fernandez & Walsh.