Personal Injury Cases: Moving on to Better Things

Trucking Accidents: Who's Liable?

It can sometimes be difficult to determine who is the responsible party in a trucking accident. That's because there can be quite a few different entities involved in a trucking operation. Not only could the driver or the driver's employer be held liable for accident damages, but several additional parties could be held liable as well.

Respondeat superior

In the simplest of cases, the legal principle of "respondeat superior" will indicate that the truck driver's employer should be held responsible. Respondeat superior is a Latin phrase meaning "Let the superior answer".

Under this principle, a company can be held liable for unintentional accidents caused by an employee as long as that employee's action are determined to be within the "scope of employment".  

The principle of respondeat superior was established under the assumption that legal liability for accidents occurring as a result of a company's normal operations is a business expense. The principle has also been adopted because it is assumed that a company as a whole has "deeper pockets" than individual employees. 

The scope of employment

Sometimes, a company may get out of the responsibility of covering accident damages if it is determined that an accident occurred while a driver was engaged in activities outside the scope of employment. For example, if a driver gets in an accident while making a detour for a personal errand, the company should not be liable. 

Employee or independent contractor?

While respondeat superior may place liability on the company if the accident was caused by an employee, many truck drivers work as independent contractors. 

Truck drivers who work as independent contractors will typically have their own liability insurance that should cover damages resulting from an accident. Independent contractors exercise more independence in handling job tasks. They may be paid "per route" rather than with a salary, and taxes are not withheld from their earnings. 

Other entities who may be liable

While the truck driver or employer will usually be liable in trucking accidents, there are a few others who could be held responsible for accident damages:

  • The owner of the truck or trailer- The owner of a truck or piece of equipment could be responsible if a piece of equipment was improperly serviced or maintained. 
  • The truck's manufacturer- If an accident results from a defect in a piece of trucking equipment, the equipment manufacturer could be held liable.
  • The entity who loaded the truck- A truck accident can result from improper loading. In this case, the shipper or loader who placed cargo in the truck could be liable. 

For help in such situations, consider consulting a truck accident lawyer.