When Is a Trucking Company Liable for a Crash Involving Its Driver?
Traffic accidents involving large trucks and tractor-trailers are major highway hazards that often result in critical injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,903 people were killed and an estimated 111,000 people injured in crashes involving large trucks in 2014. Most of the deaths and injuries in those crashes were passenger vehicle occupants—and 73 percent were occupants of other vehicles.
Federal statistics indicate more than 4,311 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal accidents in 2015, up 8 percent from 2014. From 2014 to 2015, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses increased by 5 percent. While the number of crashes involving large trucks or buses causing injuries declined 33 percent from 2006 to 2009, it increased by 62 percent from 2009 to 2015.
Tractor-trailers have posed interesting liability questions over the years. Many truckers are hired by a shipping company and may ship under its permits and even company logo, colors, and branding—yet relatively few drivers are actual employees of the shipping company. Truckers often own their rigs and pay for their own fuel, repairs, and licensing fees. They contract with shipping companies to haul loads, but they choose their own routes and set their own schedules. They remain independent contractors.
The trailers, on the other hand, generally are owned by another entity. The cargo is owned by yet another entity. In all likelihood, all of these entities have different insurance companies.
In years past, then, the shipping company would argue that the driver was an independent contractor, and thus the company was not liable for his accident. This would force accident victims to file claims against the driver—usually through the driver’s insurance company—and attempt to get compensation that way. The disadvantage of suing an individual, even one with insurance, and a large shipping company, is obvious.
The Independent Contractor Exception for Motor Carrier Liability No Longer Applies
A change in federal regulations put an end to this, taking the liability off individual drivers and placing it on the shipping companies that contract with them. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations now do away with the distinction between “independent contractors” and “employees” with respect to shipping companies. All drivers for a company, including independent contractors, are now legislatively deemed “statutory employees” of motor carriers—which now bear the ultimate liability for any accident in which their drives are at fault.
If You Were Injured in an Accident Involving a Truck in the Richmond area, Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers of Emroch & Kilduff
If you suffered an injury in an accident with a truck in the Richmond area, consult a personal injury attorney to determine your rights under the particular circumstances of your situation. Virginia law might entitle you to compensation.
The lawyers of Emroch & Kilduff specialize in personal injury law. They can protect your rights and obtain just compensation in these situations. Reach us at (804) 358-1568 or through our online contact form.