While many truck accidents are due to driver error, this does not mean that the driver is the only party liable. In some circumstances, it can actually be the trucking company who is at fault. There is a legal doctrine with a funny sounding name called “respondeat superior.” This means “let the superior make answer” in Latin. What this means is that an employer can be held liable for negligent acts committed by employees, provided the acts were unintentional and committed within the scope of employment.
In truck accident cases, how can the employer of the truck driver be held liable? The first thing to prove is that the driver is an employee of the company. Often, trucking companies will jump through hoops to have their employees labeled as independent contractors. This is a tactic to limit liability, among other things. To determine if there is an employer-employee relationship, we look at the details of the driver’s job. If the employer has the right to control the detailed manner and how the work is performed, then usually, the driver is an employee, not an independent contractor.
The Scope of Employment
We then look into whether the negligence occurred during the scope of employment. This means that the employee was acting in official capacity when an accident occurred. An example of this would be if a trucker got into an accident while hauling a delivery. If the employee is on the clock on his way to the delivery, then the accident occurred during the scope of employment. However, if the employee clocks out and is on his way home and gets in an accident, then the accident is not covered under scope of employment.
Next Monday, we’ll take a break from this series to focus on workers’ comp. We will continue next Wednesday on the subject of truck manufacturer liability.