October 11, 2016
Trucking Accidents and the Independent Contractor Defense
When you are in a crash with a tractor trailer and have injuries, you will probably be faced with a huge company with lawyers on the scene of the accident before the engines are cold. They have begun their defense of the case and the process of hiding information using the attorney work product privilege. To make matters worse, it will be difficult to figure out who to go after in litigation if they will not pay the claim. It is not always as easy as naming a company and the driver. There are often hidden organizations. To make matters worse, trucking companies and their drivers are trying to avoid liability from their employees by classifying, or misclassifying as the case may be, the drivers as independent contractors.
What is the Independent Contractor Defense?
At different times, trucking companies have tried to avoid liability for trucking accidents caused by its drivers by classifying them as independent contractors or owner-operators.
In a normal case, the employer is responsible for the negligent actions of an employee pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior. This is an archaic Latin phrase that, literally translated, means “let the master answer.” It is a legal doctrine that stands for the principle that as long as the employee is acting within the course and scope of his duty as an employee, the employer is legally liable for the actions of the employee.
When this defense is raised, the trucking company claims that their driver is an independent contractor. This means that he is not their employee and therefore they are not liable for the driver’s actions or negligence.
Why Do Trucking Companies Do This?
Money, money and money. Trucking companies are often exposed to quite a bit of risk. Their drivers are on the road for long hours and there are incentives to drive even longer hours and to take risks to help the trucking companies make more money. Sometimes they trade the safety of the public and their drivers for risk that individual drivers will be involved in car wrecks where individuals are injured or killed.
In light of the recent $228 million settlement with FedEx where it had to pay damages arising from a lawsuit where FedEx deliberately misclassified thousands of workers as independent contractors instead of employees, it is easy to see why these companies would want to try to limit their liability even though it is often their decisions that lead to the personal injury claims.
Federal Law and Legal Liability of Trucking Companies
The federal government has worked to limit this type of defense by establishing the liability of permitted trucking companies for all aspects of their trucking operation. This now includes drivers that are classified as independent contractors.
There have also been important federal case law regarding this type of classification of employees. In a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision, Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics Corp., 2014 DJDAR 7607, the court held that where the trucking company controlled the details of the driver’s work, they were for all intents and purposes employees. It did not matter what they were called in the contract or paperwork.
Special Handling Required for Commercial Truck Accidents
There are many reasons why accidents with commercial trucks are different from your ordinary car wreck case. There are many regulatory requirement that need to be followed by commercial trucking companies and their drivers. There are both federal and state laws that govern them and require certification, inspection and license requirements. Furthermore, there are insurance requirements that must be met.
After a crash, the Department of Transportation performs an inspection of the wreck and investigation of the accident. There may be data recorders, log information and GPS data that can be obtained after a crash. This information can be critical to your case and will be lost if someone does not take action on your behalf to preserve this evidence and build your liability case.
In a world where truck drivers are trained to deny liability no matter what, you need a lawyer who knows how to handle commercial trucking accidents and who knows how to take steps to ensure that your rights are protected.
How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help?
Personal injury law is complicated no matter what the case. However, when there is a commercial trucking vehicle involved, things get sticky. This is made worse by the fact that accidents with commercial trucking vehicles are more likely to have catastrophic personal injuries or rise to the level of wrongful death.
The attorneys at Whitener Law Firm have handled and continue to handle serious trucking accident cases. We know how to protect your rights, make sure that the commercial trucking company does not destroy evidence, and hire the right experts for your particular case.
If you are involved in a crash with a commercial truck, contact us to make sure that everything that can be done to protect your rights is being done.
Let Whitener Law Firm fight for you! Contact Whitener Law Firm ONLINE or at (505) 883-RUSS for a FREE CONSULTATION. Remember there is NO ATTORNEY FEE unless you settle or win your case.
After a Crash, Don’t Accept Quick Cash… call Whitener Law Firm, P.A.