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Driver vs. Company Liability in Commercial Trucking Accidents

Liability for accidents involving commercial vehicles varies from that in personal vehicle accidents, so it is important to know the key differences. Here, the legal professionals at Murnane & O’Neill discuss the key factors that affect the legal outcome of a commercial trucking accident.

Due to their size, weight and potentially hazardous cargo, trucking accidents can leave victims with serious or even fatal injuries. But, after an accident has occurred, is the driver responsible, or the trucking company? How do Maryland’s contributory negligence laws factor into a verdict? Here, the experienced accident attorneys at Murnane & O’Neill discuss these questions and how liability is determined in a trucking accident.

Defining Respondeat Superior

Respondeat superior, a Latin phrase meaning, “Let the superior make answer,” is one of the primary legal arguments for holding a trucking company responsible for an accident. If the driver of a truck unintentionally caused an accident within the scope of their employment, the trucking company for which they work can be held responsible. The logic behind this legal concept is that inevitably, accidents will occur as part of a trucking company’s business. The business is held liable because accidents are a “cost of doing business.”

Negligent Hiring or Entrustment

A trucking company can also be held responsible if it can be proven that the company hired, or entrusted a vehicle to a person, who was unfit for the position. If, for example, a company knowingly hired a driver with a record of reckless or intoxicated driving, and that person causes an accident by driving recklessly or under the influence, the company would be held liable for the accident. It is a company’s responsibility to ensure their employees are fit for the duties of their job and comply with all federal and state trucking regulations.

Independent Contractors vs. Employees

A trucking company may argue that their truck driver is in fact an independent contractor, and therefore they have no liability regarding that driver’s actions on the road. However, an individual can only be classified as an independent contractor if they are not entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, Social Security employer contributions, federal and state tax withholdings and protections against illegal employment discrimination. If a company refers to a driver as an independent contractor, but they provide any of these entitlements or more, that driver may in fact be legally classified as an employee.

In cases where the employment status of the truck driver is in question, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney knowledgeable in the particularities of employment and accident law.

Driver Liability

If a driver is an independent contractor, or intentionally causes an accident, then they may be held personally liable for the accident. If, for example, a driver gets into a fight while at a rest stop, and then drives recklessly with the intention of intimidating or harming the other driver, the driver may likely be held personally responsible for the accident, unless it can be proven that the driver had a history of aggressive driving behavior that their employer willfully ignored.

The laws governing trucking accidents and liability can be complex, so it is critical that you retain a skilled attorney with extensive experience working such cases. If you or a loved one was a victim in a trucking accident, do not hesitate to contact the dedicated attorneys at Murnane & O’Neill—let us get you the compensation you deserve.