Motor Carrier Negligence & Truck Accidents
After a truck accident, many people think that the only person they should name in their personal injury lawsuits is the negligent truck driver who caused the collision since he or she was at fault. However, even when the truck driver’s error caused an accident, people can still name the driver’s employer as a defendant in a truck accident claim. Trucking carriers are vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their drivers when they are acting within the scope and course of their jobs. In some situations, a trucking carrier may also be directly liable when the company’s negligence contributed to the accident.
Vicarious liability of trucking companies
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or FMCSA regulates all trucking companies operating in the U.S. The FMCSA issues and enforces directives and regulations that trucking carriers must follow. When a truck driver violates one of these regulations and causes an accident, the trucking carrier can be held liable to pay for the expenses related to any injuries and might also be forced to pay steep penalties to the FMCSA for violating the law.
Trucking carriers are deemed to be vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employee drivers when the drivers are acting within the scope and course of their jobs under a legal principle called respondeat superior. This principle, which translates as “let the master answer for the servant,” reflects the idea that employers are responsible for the harm caused by their employees to others while they are working since the employer derives benefits from their employees’ work.
In the context of truck collisions, most involve some form of driver error and are largely preventable. When a truck driver is negligent while working for his or her employer and causes an accident, this means that the truck driver and his or her employer may be liable to pay damages.
Direct liability of trucking carriers
Many trucking carriers argue that their drivers are independent contractors and not employees. This is because an independent contractor is not considered to be an employee of the trucking carrier, potentially allowing the company to avoid vicarious liability when the driver has an accident. However, trucking companies that operate in interstate commerce cannot avoid vicarious liability when their drivers cause collisions while operating across state lines. Trucking carriers that use independent contractors and operate solely within the confines of a state may still be directly liable when their own negligence contributes to an accident, however.
Trucking carriers are responsible for hiring drivers who are competent and safe. This includes the following duties:
- Complete background checks before hiring drivers. Trucking carriers are required to conduct pre-employment background checks on prospective drivers to see their driving histories and whether they have a history of traffic violations, other infractions, or criminal convictions.
- Make sure that the drivers have the proper qualifications. Trucking companies must check to ensure that the drivers they hire have the appropriate licenses and endorsements. They must check the status of their commercial drivers’ license and the endorsements required to carry the particular cargo the company handles. Drivers cannot be hired if their licenses are canceled or suspended. The companies must also ensure that the drivers have completed all of the training required to drive a commercial truck.
- Conduct annual drug and alcohol screenings on drivers and anytime after a driver has been involved in an accident. Trucking carriers are required under FMCSA regulations to conduct pre-employment, Department of Transportation drug screens before hiring a driver. After a driver has been hired, they must conduct regular screenings of their employees at least annually and any time after a driver is involved in an accident.
- Make sure the cargo is properly loaded. Many accidents happen when the cargo shifts inside of a trailer or falls off while a truck is traveling. Trucking carriers are responsible for making sure that the cargo is properly loaded and secured. Third party distributors may also be liable when the cargo shifts or falls off of a truck and causes an accident when they loaded and unloaded the cargo.
- Ensure their drivers comply with the hours of service regulations. Truck drivers must comply with the hours of service regulations established by the FMCSA. Some drivers and companies try to evade these requirements and drive more than the allowed hours. Companies must install electronic logging devices in each truck and monitor their drivers to ensure that they do not violate these rules.
If a trucking company negligently fails to check the background of a driver and hires someone who is incompetent and subsequently causes an accident, the company can be directly liable to the victim for negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of the driver.
Trucking carriers can also be liable when their vehicles are inadequately maintained and repaired. They must inspect and maintain their fleets and promptly fix any issues that could impact the safety of the truck and others traveling on the roads. When a company fails to inspect and repair failing parts, it can be liable to pay damages to anyone who is injured in an accident caused by the failed part.
Get help from an attorney at Raynes & Lawn
If you suffered injuries in a truck accident, you should contact the attorneys at Raynes & Lawn. In addition to the truck driver and his or her employer, other parties might also be liable to pay damages to you. Call us today to schedule a free consultation at 1-800-535-1797.
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