Truck Accident Liability Can Be Complicated
Accidents involving large trucks and tractor-trailers are a major highway hazard. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,903 persons were killed and about 111,000 people injured in crashes involving large trucks in 2014. Almost three-fourths of the deaths in those crashes were passenger vehicle occupants—73 percent were occupants of vehicles other than trucks.
Those numbers are not declining. Federal statistics indicate more than 4,300 fatal accidents in 2015 involved large trucks and buses, up 8 percent from 2014. From 2014 to 2015, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses increased by 5 percent. While the number of crashes involving large trucks or buses causing injuries declined 33 percent from 2006 to 2009, from 89,000 to 60,000, this decline was reversed from 2009 to 2015, when it increased by 62 percent.
Who Is Liable When a Truck Driver Is at Fault for an Accident?
Tractor-trailers pose interesting liability questions. Many truckers are independent contractors who own their rigs. Others lease their rigs. Still, truckers who are independent contractors pay for their own fuel, repairs, and licensing fees. They contract with shipping companies to haul loads but choose the routes and schedules on which they operate. They generally carry their own insurance policies. Relatively few drivers are actual employees of a shipping company or covered by the motor carrier’s insurance.
The trailers frequently are owned by another entity, while the truckers are hired by the shipping company, also known as a motor carrier, and may ship under its permits and even company logo, colors, and branding. The cargo is owned by yet another entity. In a perfect storm, the independent-contractor trucker leases a rig, and takes a load for a motor carrier, whereupon the load, owned by another entity entirely, is carried in a trailer owned by yet another entity that has no other connections to the other parties in the transaction. In all likelihood, all of these entities have different insurance companies.
In years past, then, the shipping company would argue that the driver was an independent contractor and thus the company was not liable for his accident. This would force accident victims to file claims against the driver—usually through the driver’s insurance company—and attempt to get compensation that way. The disadvantage between suing an individual, even one with insurance, and the shipping company was obvious. Suing all of the entities involved in shipping the load carried by the truck involved in your accident, however, presents legal and logistical nightmares.
The Independent Contractor Exception for Motor Carrier Liability No Longer Applies
A change in federal regulations put an end to this, taking the liability off individual drivers and placing it upon the shipping companies that contract with them to haul their loads. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations eliminate the distinction between independent contractors and employees with respect to motor carriers. All drivers for a motor carrier company, including independent contractors, are now legislatively deemed, statutory employees. Motor carriers now bear the ultimate liability for any accident in which their drivers are at fault.
Call Hasner Law to Discuss Your Savannah Truck Accident Injury
If you were in an accident with a tractor-trailer rig and suffered a personal injury in the Savannah area, take advantage of a free case evaluation to determine if an attorney can help maximize your compensation for your injuries. The attorneys at Hasner Law can help. Contact Hasner Law at (912) 234-2334 or through their online contact form.