One of the fundamental principles of common law is that anyone who has been injured in an accident has the right to receive compensation for their injuries. The only difficulty in applying this principle lies in determining who should bear the responsibility, or “liability,” for paying that compensation. Except in rare cases where the responsible party is self-insured, the burden for the payment of damages will usually fall to an insurance carrier.
In order to shift the burden of liability in a truck accident away from the driver and onto the freight carrier, and thus onto the carrier’s insurance company, a plaintiff must be able to show that the carrier was somehow negligent and that the carrier’s negligence was directly related to the truck accident. The arguments for establishing a carrier’s liability that may be available to a plaintiff include:
Although there is some degree of overlap in the above arguments, they are sufficiently different that they can be considered as separate.
An employer is, with certain relatively uncommon situations, responsible for the actions of its employees and agents. Depending on a carrier’s business and operations history, it should be relatively easy to determine a driver’s status as a “company driver” versus independent contractor.
Even if a driver’s employment status is hard to determine, how the driver files his or her federal and state taxes usually has the final say in the matter.
In some cases it may be difficult to determine whether a driver is an independent contractor who has leased himself to a carrier or is an employee of the carrier. Since an accurate identification of a driver’s status is vital in determining carrier liability, these questions should be left to a truck accident lawyer with experience in commercial trucking operations.
An employer or a leaser has a duty to verify that a driver is qualified to safely operate his or her vehicle. If a driver is found to be unqualified or has demonstrated a pattern of unsafe driving habits, such as being issued numerous traffic citations or has a record of hours of service violations or over axle weight tickets, the carrier must either correct any problems or terminate the driver’s employment.
Many carriers have discontinued having their own vehicle maintenance and inspection shops in favor of having contractors provide these services. Regardless of the relationship between the carrier and its fleet maintenance operations, the carrier has the responsibility of insuring that these services meet or exceed industry standards. If it can be shown that inspection and maintenance services allowed some problem to go undetected, the carrier and the facility where the problem should have been detected and/or corrected may be liable for damages.
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