After an accident with a commercial truck, you might assume you can hold the trucking company accountable for injuries and damages you have suffered. On the surface, this makes sense – companies are generally responsible for the actions of their employees. However, the question of who is liable in a trucking accident isn’t always as simple as it may seem.
Factors that Determine Liability After a Truck Crash
If a tractor-trailer or other big-rig truck hits your vehicle, determining liability can become very complicated. When you seek compensation for damages, medical bills, lost wages, and other losses, the situation is rarely as simple as filling a claim with the driver’s insurance.
For example, multiple parties may be liable for different reasons. The driver may be accountable for driving distracted. The company may be responsible for not maintaining their vehicles properly or for not exercising proper care when hiring and training employees. A parts manufacturer may be liable for creating a defective product – the list goes on. In some states, victims need to prove they are not liable in any way for a collision.
As you can see, figuring out who is at fault in a trucking crash can be a difficult task if you are not familiar with trucking accident cases and the nuanced law surrounding them – especially if you are injured and trying to focus on your health and medical treatment.
The “Independent Contractor” Defense Debunked
Before 1956, truck companies often tried to shield themselves against liability by leasing trucks and drivers so they could classify those drivers as independent contractors. In 1956, though, Congress amended the law to prevent trucking companies from hiding behind this deceptive tactic; since then, the law has stated that any trucking company leasing a truck must have “exclusive possession, control, and use of the [trucking] equipment for the duration of the lease . . . and assume complete responsibility for the operation of the equipment” (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 C.F.R. § 376.12(c) (1)).
Even though the “independent contractor” defense against trucking company liability has been invalid for decades, defense attorneys still try to raise it in court from time to time, and it’s essential to have an experienced trucking accident lawyer on your side who understands the statutes and can quickly dismantle this argument.
Was the Truck Driver Acting Within the Scope of Employment?
Some courts will only find a trucking company liable for a crash if the truck driver was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of the wreck. These courts look to state agency laws to decide whether this is the case. Though these laws can vary from state to state, common factors that determine the court’s answer to this question include:
- The intent of the employee;
- The nature, time, and place of the employee’s conduct;
- The type of work the employee was hired to do;
- Incidental acts the employer should reasonably expect the employee to do; and
- The amount of freedom allowed to the employee in performing his or her duties.
If the truck driver is not acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of the accident, the court may find that they are not liable for any damages, and liability would then rest with the driver instead.
If the court in your case decides to examine the question of the scope of employment and whether the truck driver was acting as an employee at the time of your accident, an experienced truck wreck lawyer will anticipate this issue and plan for when it arises in court.
Of course, determining liability is just one part of the complex process involved in filing a personal injury claim after you have been injured in a truck wreck. Because of the devastating and complicated nature of crashes involving commercial trucks, it’s essential to seek legal advice from a professional trucking attorney like the ones on the Hamilton Wingo, LLP team if you have been hurt in a crash involving a large truck.
Dedicated Truck Crash Attorneys Hamilton Wingo, LLP
The Dallas truck accident attorneys know most truck collisions are no “accident.” If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a large truck or bus crash, we are here to help.
With years of experience and a focus on truck and bus crash cases, Hamilton Wingo, LLP has the skill set, expertise, resources, and track record needed to tackle the complex challenges of your unique truck accident case.
How much will this cost? We handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means you won’t pay for fees or case expenses unless we achieve a financial recovery in your case. We also offer free, no-risk consultations to discuss the details of your unique situation. Please contact us at (214) 234-7900 today.