Collisions Caused by Independent Contractor Truckers

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By Matthew Bonanno, Esq.

When You’re Hit by an Independent Contractor Truck Driver

In the recent rise of the gig economy, “independent contractor” is a work status that has grown increasingly common across countless industries. This has grown to include trucking companies, with an estimated 85% of the people who work for trucking companies that serve New York and New Jersey ports falling under this classification. And it has only led to further complications for victims of crashes filing personal injury claims against these companies when the driver is operating under this classification.

An unfortunately common trend among trucking companies is shirking responsibility when one of their drivers is in an accident by pushing blame onto the driver in question. And it is much easier for the truck carrier to do so when the trucker is an independent contractor, not a traditional employee of the company, and thus not subject to the same insurance policy requirements. This leads to complications not only for the truck drivers but for the other victims in these collisions as well.

Who Is Liable, the Driver or the Carrier?

For collisions of a high enough severity involving truckers who are employees of a trucking company, it may be the company’s responsibility to pay for damages. This requirement is specified in respondeat superior, a legal principle that is derived from the Latin phrase, “let the master answer for the servant.”

The reasoning behind this principle is that, because of the fact that they ultimately benefit from the work of their employees, employers are at an advantage in the situation and get to reap the benefits of having people work for them. This law is an attempt to level the playing field to make the employer also accountable for compensation.

The drivers themselves may not have the means to be able to pay for the damages that result from their negligence behind the wheel and the resultant harm and losses done to others on the road. And even though drivers are required to have their own insurance, it may happen that they had forgotten to renew their policy, allowing it to lapse during the time when the accident occurred. Also, the greater access to resources that the company has at its disposal makes it a more reasonable and feasible source for the compensation to come from.

For instances in which a crash was the truck driver’s fault, it is an option for the victim to file a claim for damages if they were injured. And under the law, the trucking carrier is liable for accidents caused by the negligence of a driver under their employ through something known as vicarious liability.

What Is Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that is also known as imputed liability which comes into play when the independent contractor’s negligence was the cause of the collision, resulting in fatalities or serious injuries. This law imposes liability over an individual when responsibility is attached to someone for damages or harm caused by someone else, which comes into play when a negligence lawsuit is brought.

Although the person or company wasn’t directly responsible for the harm that was done, because of their higher level of superiority in the business’s chain of command, they are held liable. A plaintiff has a much better chance of being fairly compensated for economic and other losses that result from an independent contractor’s negligent truck driving when it is possible for the trucking accident lawyer to hold the company accountable through vicarious liability.

Determining liability promptly is a crucial part of making sure that every liable party is identified by the victims. This has a significant bearing on the number of damages that the victims will be able to recover, bringing the total closer to fair compensation for their injuries.

Minimum Liability Coverage

Truck accidents are often the most severe kinds of collisions that happen on the road. This is mainly due to the vehicles’ size, weight, and speed at which they travel, particularly when loaded with heavy freight. It is consequently a requirement that a trucking company has a high policy limit on the liability insurance they carry.

A truck’s weight is part of what determines its associated minimum liability coverage. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, for trucks that are in excess of 10,001 pounds, their minimum liability coverage may range from $750,000 all the way up to $5,000,000. The type of freight being hauled also plays into this minimum requirement.

In an attempt to work around labor laws and keep their hands clean by preventing themselves from being liable, it is common for these carriers to have independent contractors drive for them rather than employees. It gives the company stronger grounds for the argument that they don’t owe the victims any payment in compensation for the harm and damage.

It’s not always a guaranteed win for the trucking carrier, but it certainly gives the company a greater chance of avoiding liability. However, pieces of key evidence strategically presented in court to counter this defense, it is still possible to hold the company accountable and ensure the victims get their just compensation. Holding the trucking company accountable for damages when the driver is an independent contractor is mainly a matter of proving that it was the company’s negligence that led to the accident.

Trucking Carrier Negligence

Negligent supervision of a driver may also be grounds for liability. Trucking companies are required to keep track of the number of hours that each driver has worked continuously. Fatigued driving has been shown to be a major cause of accidents, so it’s no minor responsibility that the carriers have to make sure the driver stops once they’ve reached their maximum allowed hours of service.

Adequate training also must be provided to ensure that all drivers are prepared for the job and its potential dangers. You can’t always predict what’s going to happen on the road when driving a truck, and complete training is meant to prepare drivers for as many potential risks as possible.

The maintenance of these vehicles is a responsibility that falls on the company as well. Keeping up with repairs, tune-ups, and regular inspections are all routine parts of housekeeping for trucking carriers. A poorly maintained vehicle greatly increases the likelihood and severity of an accident, compounding the already lethal nature of big rigs at high speeds.

A tire blowout on a busy freeway is catastrophic, making it difficult or impossible for even the most skilled truck driver to maintain control of the vehicle. Once they’ve worn out, it’s only a matter of time, and failing to regularly inspect vehicles often leads to the company waiting until it is too late. Finding evidence of this type of negligence will greatly strengthen your case.

Contact RAM Law now at (732) 394-1549 to find out how we can help you after suffering damages from an independent truck driver. Visit our New Brunswick or Somerville offices for a case review from a trucking accident lawyer who will help you make the best move for you and your loved ones.

Contact Our Office

To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us online or call our offices, in New Brunswick at (732) 247-3600, in Somerville at (908) 448-2560, or in Freehold at (732) 828-2234.

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