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When Are Truck Drivers Liable for Accidents?

By Allen Flatt Ballidis & Leslie on August 1, 2019

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When a semi-truck crashes in Orange County—alright, in the entire United States—determining liability can be complicated because many, many parties may be involved. And each of them has its own insurance company, more likely than not. And trucking insurance companies are notoriously difficult to work with. They hate giving out money, even to accident victims who desperately need it. So be warned!

Depending on the circumstances of an accident, the truck driver, the owner of the truck and/or trailer, the trucking company, the broker, the shipper, the vendor, the owner of the freight, the party that loaded the trailer, the truck or trailer’s manufacturer, the manufacturer of a part on the cab or trailer (like brakes, tires, etc.), AND the party charged with repairing the tractor-trailer may all share some of the blame. Whew!

We’ve seen trucker negligence in many different ways; from failing to inspect and secure a load to speeding to make better time, from skipping rest breaks and falling asleep at the wheel to using illegal stimulants to pass the hours.

In a case where a truck driver’s negligence is found to be the sole cause of an accident, you may be able to hold someone else besides the individual driver responsible in court. You see, the company that employs the trucker may also be liable. Here’s how.

Respondeat Superior: “Let the Superior Make Answer”

Under the legal principle known as “respondeat superior,” an employer like a trucking company can be held responsible for the wrongful actions of an employee, if those actions were unintentional and were committed within the “scope of employment.” On the other hand, if the driver’s actions that caused the collision were intentional, such as ramming another vehicle due to road rage, the company cannot be held liable. Usually. If they hired a driver with a history of anger issues who had been in a similar situation before, they would almost certainly be on the hook to pay the victims.

Likewise, if the accident occurred while the driver was not performing his job duties, and was “off the clock,” the company could also not be held liable.

Establishing whether a truck driver was acting within the scope of his employment when an accident occurred can be tricky. For instance, if the driver was en route to make a delivery when he crashed, that would fall within his scope of employment, and the company could be held liable. However, if the driver went a mile or two out of his way to get lunch on his break, and the accident occurred at that time, the company could argue that the driver was not within his scope of employment when he crashed and injured someone else.

Another factor to determine whether the employer can be held liable is whether the driver is an employee of the company, or an independent contractor. It is much harder to hold companies responsible for work performed by independent contractors.

Trucking accidents are already complicated enough. After a traumatic crash, you shouldn’t have to worry about figuring out who should pay your hospital bills, lost wages, and other expenses related to the accident. Talk to the Orange County truck accident attorneys at Allen Flatt Ballidis & Leslie. Call (949) 752-7474 to set up your free consultation today!

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Posted in: Truck Accidents


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