Can Employers Be Liable in Trucking Accidents?

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The commercial trucking industry is not always safe for its drivers or others on the road. Understanding the intricacies of a truck accident case is crucial, especially when it comes to establishing liability for negligence, including violations of traffic laws and employer responsibility. Every year, trucking accidents take thousands of lives. More than 2,500 traffic crashes in 2016 involved heavy trucks in Nebraska, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Truck accidents caused 46 deaths and 771 injuries. Liability for a trucking accident could come down to the truck driver, trucking company, the product manufacturer or another party.

Employer Liability for Truck Driver Misconduct

After an accident with a commercial truck, the discovery that the driver is an independent contractor could make a victim assume no corporation is liable for damages. This is not usually the case. Federal laws do not allow trucking companies to escape responsibility for their trucks and drivers, regardless of employment status. A trucking company’s liability for damages, however, is not always clear.

  • The Trucking Company Was Negligent: The company could be responsible if it cut corners to try to save time or money, resulting in a collision. Examples include rushing driver training, ignoring fleet maintenance, and violating hours of service regulations.
  • An Employee Was Negligent: An employer will be vicariously responsible for the actions of its employees. Truck driver fatigue, drunkenness, and drowsy driving could point to employer liability. If the driver was on the clock at the time of the collision, the company could be liable.
  • The Trucking Company Engaged in Negligent Hiring Practices: Even if the driver was an independent contractor, trucking companies are required to hire qualified, licensed, and properly-trained drivers to avoid liability for accidents caused by negligent hiring processes. In most cases, classifying drivers as contractors will not bar an employer from vicarious liability.

Proving an employer’s liability for the actions of a negligent or reckless driver may be difficult in Nebraska. Victims may benefit from truck accident attorneys in Omaha helping them investigate their accidents. The lawyer will need evidence to hold the company, rather than the independent truck driver or the plaintiff’s insurance company, liable. The lawyer will need proof that the company or one of its employees contributed to the crash.

What Is Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious liability is a legal principle that holds employers responsible for the actions of their employees, provided those actions occur within the scope of their employment. This doctrine is particularly relevant in the context of trucking accidents, where the negligence of a truck driver can lead to significant harm and damage. Understanding how vicarious liability works is essential for determining who can be held accountable in the aftermath of a trucking accident. It’s crucial to determine liability to establish who is at fault and responsible for the damages.

In the context of trucking accidents, determining liability is a complex process that involves establishing the fault of the truck driver, trucking company, shipper, or cargo-loading company. This is essential in the context of an employer-employee relationship, where the process of determining liability can significantly impact the outcome of a truck accident case.

Definition of Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability, also known as “respondeat superior,” translates to “let the superior answer.” This principle means that an employer can be held liable for the wrongful acts committed by an employee while performing their job duties. The rationale behind vicarious liability is that employers have control over their employees’ activities and are in a better position to bear the financial burden of accidents and injuries caused by their employees.

Employer-Employee Relationship

For vicarious liability to apply, there must be a clear employer-employee relationship:

  • Employment Status: The truck driver must be an employee of the trucking company, rather than an independent contractor. However, federal regulations often hold trucking companies liable for the actions of their drivers, regardless of their classification.
  • Scope of Employment: The employee’s actions must occur within the scope of their employment. This includes tasks the employee is hired to perform, actions taken within the authorized time and space limits, and activities intended to benefit the employer.

Scope of Employment

Determining whether an action falls within the scope of employment involves examining several factors:

  • Job Duties: The action must be related to the duties the employee was hired to perform. For example, delivering goods as part of a trucking job.
  • Time and Location: The action must occur during the time and at the location where the employee is authorized to work. This includes driving routes assigned by the employer.
  • Employer Benefit: The action must be intended, at least in part, to benefit the employer. Even if the employee deviates slightly from their route for a personal errand, the employer may still be liable if the primary purpose is work-related.

Examples of Vicarious Liability in Trucking

Vicarious liability can apply in various trucking accident scenarios:

  • Fatigue and Hours of Service Violations: If a truck driver causes an accident due to fatigue from exceeding hours of service limits, often a result of the truck driver’s negligence, the employer can be held liable for not enforcing compliance with federal regulations.
  • Inadequate Training: If a poorly trained driver causes an accident, the employer may be liable for failing to provide adequate training.
  • Maintenance Neglect: If a truck accident occurs due to poor vehicle maintenance, the employer can be held accountable for neglecting regular inspections and repairs.

Exceptions to Vicarious Liability

While vicarious liability is a broad principle, there are exceptions where an employer may not be held responsible:

  • Independent Contractors: Generally, employers are not liable for the actions of independent contractors. However, in the trucking industry, companies may still be liable due to federal regulations.
  • Frolic and Detour: If an employee significantly deviates from their work duties for personal reasons (frolic), the employer may not be liable. Minor deviations (detour) may still result in employer liability.

Understanding vicarious liability is crucial for determining responsibility in trucking accidents. If you or a loved one has been involved in a trucking accident, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney who can help navigate the complexities of vicarious liability and ensure that the responsible parties are held accountable. Contact Knowles Law Firm for a consultation and let our team help you seek the compensation you deserve.

Who Is Responsible for Improper Loading?

Improperly loaded cargo could fall into the road and cause serious accidents. Lost loads may force a vehicle following the truck to slam on its brakes or swerve off the road. Lost loads may send dangerous materials through windshields, killing or seriously injuring the occupants inside. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has cargo securement rules to optimize the safety of cargo during transport. If someone was guilty of improperly loading or securing the cargo, that party could be liable for the accident.

  • Using the incorrect straps
  • Overloading or under-loading a trailer
  • Failing to properly accommodate dangerous cargo
  • Stacking boxes dangerously
  • Forgetting to use edge protection
  • Failing to use enough tie-downs

Debris falling off a truck could cause a fatal car accident in Omaha. In these accident cases, the trucking company could be responsible. The company will be accountable for its employees – including the people who incorrectly loaded the truck. Failure to adhere to the FMCSA’s securement standards is an act of negligence that could point to liability for a subsequent truck accident. If the cargo loaders operate under a separate company, that employer could be responsible. Additionally, the truck company could face potential liability for accidents caused by improperly loaded cargo, emphasizing the importance of adhering to FMCSA regulations.

Can an Employer Be Liable for Bad Weather?

Rain, fog, snow, or sleet could compromise the safe transportation of cargo in Omaha. If bad weather contributes to a trucking accident, victims should not dismiss the possibility of employer liability. A combination of bad weather and human error could have caused the accident. A dangerous truck driver, improper braking techniques, speeding, or poor truck maintenance could contribute to a crash that occurs in bad weather. If an investigation discovers a human-related cause, the trucking company or another employer could be responsible for damages. 

Additionally, even in cases where bad weather is a significant factor, the trucking company responsible may still be held accountable for the accident, emphasizing the importance of thorough investigation into all contributing factors.

Steps to Take After a Trucking Accident

Being involved in a trucking accident can be a traumatic and overwhelming experience. Knowing the steps to take immediately after the accident can help protect your rights, ensure your safety, and strengthen your potential legal case. Here’s a detailed guide on what to do if you’re involved in a trucking accident:

It’s crucial to ensure the safety of all victims involved, highlighting the importance of immediate medical attention for every truck accident victim to mitigate further harm.

1. Ensure Safety and Call for Help

Your first priority should be the safety of everyone involved:

  • Move to Safety: If possible, move your vehicle to a safe location away from traffic. Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers.
  • Call 911: Contact emergency services immediately to report the accident and request medical assistance for anyone who is injured.

2. Seek Medical Attention

Even if you don’t think you’re seriously injured, it’s crucial to seek medical attention:

  • Immediate Care: Allow paramedics to examine you at the scene. If necessary, go to the hospital for further evaluation.
  • Follow-Up: Schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor to assess any injuries that may not be immediately apparent.

3. Document the Scene

Gathering evidence at the scene is vital for any future legal claims:

  • Take Photos: Photograph the accident scene, including vehicle damage, skid marks, road conditions, and any visible injuries.
  • Collect Information: Obtain contact information, driver’s license numbers, and insurance details from all parties involved, including the truck driver. Note the trucking company’s name and the truck’s license plate number.
  • Witnesses: If there are any witnesses, get their contact information and ask for their account of the accident.

4. Report the Accident

It’s important to report the accident to the appropriate authorities:

  • Police Report: Ensure a police report is filed. Obtain a copy of the report for your records.
  • Insurance Notification: Notify your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. Provide them with the necessary details and cooperate with their investigation.

5. Preserve Evidence

Preserving evidence is crucial for building a strong case:

  • Medical Records: Keep all medical records, bills, and receipts related to your treatment.
  • Vehicle Repairs: Document any repairs needed for your vehicle and keep receipts.
  • Personal Notes: Maintain a journal detailing your injuries, pain levels, and the impact of the accident on your daily life.

6. Avoid Admitting Fault

Be cautious about what you say at the accident scene and afterward:

  • Statements: Avoid admitting fault or making statements that could be interpreted as admitting liability.
  • Social Media: Do not post about the accident on social media, as these posts could be used against you in a legal claim.

7. Consult an Attorney

Contacting an experienced truck accident lawyer can significantly impact the outcome of your case by determining liability, handling complex claims, working with experts, evaluating and calculating damages, negotiating with insurance carriers, and filing personal injury claims against at-fault parties, including the truck driver or trucking company:

  • Legal Advice: A truck accident lawyer can provide sound advice on your legal rights and options, including the concept of vicarious liability.
  • Case Evaluation: They can evaluate the details of your accident, work with experts to determine liability, and identify potential at-fault parties.
  • Negotiation and Representation: A truck accident lawyer can handle negotiations with insurance companies and represent you in court if necessary, ensuring the best possible outcome for your case.

8. Follow Legal Advice

Throughout the process, follow the guidance of your attorney:

  • Documentation: Continue to document any new developments or treatments related to the accident.
  • Communication: Keep open communication with your attorney, providing them with any new information or evidence.

Taking the right steps after a trucking accident can protect your health, strengthen your legal position, and help you secure the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one has been involved in a trucking accident, contact Knowles Law Firm for a free consultation at (402) 431-9000 or fill out a contact form. Our experienced team is dedicated to helping you navigate the legal process and achieve a favorable outcome.