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I Was Hit by a Truck, Is the Trucking Company Liable If the Driver Was an Independent Contractor?

Trucking companies frequently raise the legal defense that they are only the owner of a truck, and that the driver is an independent contractor, and therefore the truck company is not liable. The legal distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is an important one.

An independent contractor is someone who is in charge of his own work schedule, pays his own taxes, self-employment insurance, health insurance, liability insurance and may work for a number of different companies. An independent contractor for instance may own his own rig and hook the trailer up to the rig but the trailer owner would obviously contend he is not responsible for the accident in such a situation.

In the last 10 years, there has been an increase in the claims by trucking companies that they own the truck, but the driver is an independent contractor and therefore liable for an accident. Therefore, an attorney must understand the rules that govern the designation of an independent contractor and the distinction from that of an employee.

There are several important factors to focus on. First, the federal motor carrier safety regulations control the operation of trucks and 49CRF390.5 requires that trucking companies consider independent contractors as employees when driving trucks interstate. Interstate travel means trucks are driven from one state to another.

For trucking companies that offer an intrastate transport, that is from one city to another in the same state, the federal regulations do not apply. In those instances, state law is definitive and helpful. The status of employee versus independent contractor can be determined by the factors that generally designate an operator of a truck as an employee.

  1. Does the trucking company dictate to the driver where and when he should be operating his truck?
  2. Does the driver have other clients or is he exclusively with one trucking company?
  3. Is the driver paid as an independent contractor and responsible for all of his own insurance including workers’ compensation and liability insurance?
  4. Is there a contract between the trucking company and the independent contractor and what are the terms of the contract?
  5. Is the trucking company using the independent contractor status as a shield of liability when in actuality these drivers carry out all the functions that an employee would carry out?

The establishment of an employee relationship with a trucking company is an important one because trucking companies have far more assets to compensate injured victims of truck accidents. Additionally, they are mandated to carry insurance in the state of California to do business while individual drivers may allow that coverage to lapse.

If you have been involved in a truck accident, don’t leave your case to an attorney that does not understand truck accident law. A million dollar judgment against the driver may be of no value, since he may own no assets and as compared to a million dollar judgment against the trucking company.

by James E. Ballidis

James Ballidis is the managing attorney for Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie and has been practicing personal injury law for 25 years.

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