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After a Trucking Accident, the Trucking Company May Be Liable, and Here’s Why!

After a Trucking Accident, the Trucking Company May Be Liable, and Here’s Why!

After a trucking accident in which a victim sustains seriously bodily injury, the first thing that must be done once they’re stabilized, medically, is to consult with an experienced truck accident lawyer. A Personal Injury lawyer with years of trucking accident experience will be able to determine if injuries sustained by a victim entitle them to recover damages. This process can seem confusing in a time of pain and suffering, and it’s important that the chosen lawyer has seen hundreds of previous trucking accidents to verdict successfully. While some lawyers claim they can handle a case as large as that of a truck accident, they’ve never actually done so.

Furthermore, when it comes to a Personal Injury case, clients frequently hear terms they’re unfamiliar with in relation to their claim. The best thing to do when unsure what something means in regard to the specifics of a case, is ask! An experienced lawyer won’t have a problem explaining legal terms in a way a client can better understand. One of these unfamiliar terms for example, is the “legalese” that comes up when lawyers pursue a trucking accident case: Respondeat Superior.

This writeup will cover all of the following points found in a trucking accident case:

  • What is Respondeat Superior?
  • How do accident lawyers apply “Respondeat Superior” in trucking accident cases?
  • How can the “scope of employment” help determine compensation?
  • What points of truck accident law different by state?
  • Why is employee liability and independent contractors’ liability different?
  • When is emphasis placed on the trucking carrier?
  • What’s considered intent in trucking accident cases?

What is Respondeat Superior?

We’ll first explain the term to assist our readers in getting a full understanding of what this article intends to explore. The translation of Respondeat Superior is the English translation of the Latin phrase ‘make the master answer’. This legal principle in both English and Latin can be defined as follows:

“[…]A legal doctrine, most commonly used in tort, that holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency.”

That’s to say, “Respondeat Superior” is being able to determine under the law, whether the carrier that employed the trucking operator is responsible for the truck accident caused by that driver. A Personal Injury case must determine whether this was the case before the claim can proceed to the next step in the legal process.

How do accident lawyers apply “Respondeat Superior” in trucking accident cases?

When Personal Injury lawyers using Respondeat Superior in a trucking accident case apply this legal principle, their burden of proof will rest upon the carrier’s liability for a negligent act committed by any of its employees (in this case, the trucking operator who may have violated any number of FMCSA or FMCSR regulations). Outside of experience in trucking related accidents, this legal principle can be confusing and while many lawyers will claim to be able to handle this type of case, they have never seen one to verdict and would founder should they have to go to trial.

To “simplify” the principle, it simply means the following: an employee (the trucking operator) must act reasonable and responsibility to prevent being held liable to his or her employer. Should a truck driver act in a reckless or negligent manner (violating FMCSA or FMCSR regulations, disobeying the DOT’s Hours of Service regulations, etc.) they’ve subjected their employer to have a lawsuit brought against them as if they, themselves (the employer, or the trucking company) committed the act that caused the truck accident.

How can the “scope of employment” help determine compensation?

The “scope of employment” is defined as:

“[…]Actions of an employee which further the business of the employer and are not personal business, which becomes the test as to whether an employer is liable for damages due to such actions under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior.”

Beyond providing the definition of the term, let’s now look at how it’s applied in Personal Injury practice. In order to successfully obtain compensation for the pain and suffering of a client, the lawyer must determine what constitutes an act (what lead up to and caused the accident, specifically) being committed within the “scope of employment”.

This happens during Discovery, and can be a lengthy process if the lawyer is unfamiliar with trucking accidents and has never successfully litigated one. Beware of lawyers who advertise their ability to handle a trucking related case, but have no visible results of seeing any of those cases to verdict.

What points of truck accident law differ by state?

While the Department of Transportation (DOT) is a federally regulated office, there are state laws that govern trucking companies and their drivers in every state; this is because truck drivers main duty is to transport goods across state lines. So, what differs from state to state in regard to truck accident law?

  • Employee intent (did the employee act in a reasonable manner? Did they violate federal law?)
  • Hours of Service and properly maintained logbooks
  • Time and place of negligent conduct
  • Job the employee was hired to perform
  • Incidents which the employer can reasonably expect of the employee
  • How much freedom is enacted upon the employee when performing his or her assigned job

An example truck accident scenario:

If a truck driver rear ends another driver while out on an assigned task, such as a delivery or pickup, the employer is liable for the ensuing pain and suffering of the rear-ended driver because the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment.

This is just one example, and there are many things that can factor into a case in which liability is being presented as the cause of the accident. During consultation and beyond, a Board Certified Personal Injury lawyer will look at the details of the case and determine who needs to be pursued, specifically, in order to recover damages on behalf of the client.

Why is employee liability and independent contractors’ liability different? 

The first thing a lawyer must determine on behalf of a client, in order to proceed with a successful Personal Injury claim is whether a truck driver is an employee of a company (this would fall under federal regulations such as FMCSA) or an independent contractor (the Department of Transportation still governs independent contractors, however the laws that apply are not the same). The difference in employment and therefore a claim, lies in who determined how the work the employee was hired to perform was to be carried out. Hours of Service violations happen when an employer alters the logbooks or suggests a truck driver skips mandatory breaks in order to make good time. These actions are illegal, and further damages may be awarded at trial should they be found to have been a violation of the law.

It’s important to note that a company is not usually the one liable for acts perpetrated by an independent contractor. The independent contractor is given more autonomy than a truck driver employed by a specific carrier.

When is emphasis placed on the trucking carrier?

In most states, emphasis is usually placed on whether the carrier has any right to control the manner in which the work their employee is hired for is performed. For example, if the employer has control over the end result, but not how the work required to achieve the end result is carried out, this establishes an independent contractor relationship between the trucking company and the driver hauling their cargo.

If, however, a driver is employed by a carrier that requires FMCSA standards (and therefore Hours of Service and corresponding logbooks) be upheld while performing the work (specific steps to securing cargo, maintaining the logbooks for proper documentation that breaks and sleep schedules are maintained) this would make the driver an employee.

What’s considered intent in trucking liability cases?

There is an exception to the general practice that a carrier upholds responsibility (liability) for accidents caused by drivers whom they employ under FMCSA regulations. Under normal circumstances (though these fall outside of Personal Injury and would potentially result in a criminal case; the specifics of which are complex and not necessary to explore within this article), an employer will not be liable for what’s known as “intentional tort” (kidnapping, assault, and other violent acts that were the choice of the driver) committed by an employee.

How does this factor in? The principle of “Respondeat Superior” will not be considered as being met when the acts of an employee are not related to the company at which they are employed.

On the flip side, here’s an interesting example: if a truck driver making a delivery sustains serious injury as a result of an act of Negligent Security, then the truck driver may be entitled to compensation if they were performing their job in a reasonable manner (a delivery to an employer-assigned location would be considered reasonable in this instance).

However, this is just an example, as we’ve stressed on The Law Resource blog before, it’s important that those who have sustained any type of injury in an accident whether it be trucking related, Negligent Security, Medical Malpractice, or a car accident, seek Board Certified legal representation to advise them on the specifics of their own case.

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