When it comes to truck accidents, there is a web of players who may be responsible for a victim’s injuries, including:
- The truck’s driver
- The owner of the truck or trailer
- The person or company that leased the truck or trailer from the owner
- The manufacturer of the vehicle, tires, or other parts that may have contributed to the cause or severity of the accident, and
- The shipper or loader of the truck’s cargo (in cases involving improper loading).
The trucking, hauling, and leasing companies often argue among themselves over whose insurance will compensate the victim. For example, the truck company might claim that the accident was caused by defective brakes. In turn, the brake company might then point the finger at the leasing company, claiming that it failed to maintain the brakes in good working order.
Can Trucking Companies Avoid Liability for Truck Accidents?
In the past, trucking companies often tried to avoid liability for trucking accidents by creating distance between themselves and the driver, the vehicle, and the equipment. Here’s how they did this says California Personal Injury Lawyer Steven Peck:
The trucking company obtains the necessary permits to operate the truck. However, the company often does not own the tractor, trailer, or equipment used to haul the goods. Instead, it leases (rents) the equipment, tractors, and trailers from the “owner/operator.” The trucking company also does not directly employee the drivers. Instead, it hires them as independent contractors from the owner/operator.
The trucking company gives the owner/operator a “placard,” which includes the name of the trucking company and its permit numbers. The placard is then affixed to the door of the tractor — which makes it seem like the truck is owned by the named trucking company and the driver is an employee of the named trucking company.
If the truck is in an accident, and the trucking company is sued, it would argue that:
- The driver was not the trucking company’s employee, so the trucking company is not liable for driver error, or
- The trucking company does not own the equipment, so it is not responsible for the operation, maintenance, repair, and inspections of the equipment.
Luckily, federal laws and regulations have put an end to these arguments. Under current federal law, any company owning a trucking permit is responsible for all accidents involving a truck that has its placard or name displayed on the vehicle. It doesn’t matter what the lease says with the owner/operator or whether the driver is an employee or independent contractor.
About the Author
Attorney Steven Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.