Is a trucking company liable if one of their drivers causes a car accident?

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Question:

Is a trucking company liable if one of their drivers causes a car accident?

Answer:

It’s possible that a trucking or shipping company could be on the legal hook for your damages in this situation. But before you can know for sure whether you have the option to sue a trucking company after an accident, you need to get a full understanding of the legal relationship between the company and the driver.  

The only way the company can be legally responsible for the driver’s negligent operation of the truck (assuming that is what caused your accident) is if the driver was actually an employee of the company.

It may seem like this kind of relationship is a foregone conclusion, but you might be surprised to learn that many truck drivers are independent contractors who are not technically employed by any one company; they simply contract themselves out on a job-by-job basis. In fact, there is a growing trend in the trucking industry away from “employer-employee” and toward “company-independent contractor” when it comes to the legal relationship of driver and shipper.

If the driver is in fact an independent contractor, after a trucking accident your only legal recourse is to make a claim against the driver -- usually through his or her liability insurance carrier -- and get compensation for your injuries, vehicle damage, and other losses stemming from the accident.

But if the driver is in fact an employee of the trucking or shipping company, then under a legal theory known as “vicarious liability,” the company can be held liable for the accident as long as the driver was acting within the course and scope of his or her employment at the time of the accident. That’s not usually a tough element to establish if the driver was operating a company vehicle when the crash occurred.   

by: David Goguen, J.D.

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