Vicarious Liability Torts in Commercial Truck Accidents

commercial trucks on highway

If a negligent driver causes a commercial truck accident, the trucking company can be burdened with vicarious liability torts.

The company can be held liable for the driver’s negligence under the legal tenet known as respondeat superior, a Latin phrase that translates as “let the superior make the response.”

This concept transfers the truck driver’s liability to the trucking company, as the company is responsible for hiring and training employees, as well as keeping the equipment well-maintained.

But applying a vicarious liability tort to a truck accident case depends on a few factors:

  • Whether the driver was an employee of the company, or a self-employed contractor.
  • Whether the driver was intentionally negligent (i.e. hit a car on purpose), or it was truly an accident.
  • Whether the accident occurred within the “course and scope” of the driver’s job duties.

This article will explain the circumstances under which a trucking company might be liable for a semi truck accident, and why it matters to you.

Employment Status of the Driver

Personal injury victims seeking compensation from a commercial truck company will first need make sure that the driver was officially on the company’s payroll. If the driver was an independent contractor, the company is not vicariously liable for his negligence in the majority of truck accident cases.

The driver alone will likely be responsible for any accidents caused if:

  1. He or she actually owns and insures their own vehicle, and
  2. If the trucking company does not withhold income tax from the driver’s payment.

Intentional vs. Unintentional Negligence

Most people don’t intend to cause others harm through negligent behavior, but it can happen. For example, if a truck driver purposely cuts off another driver out of sheer rage, a collision resulting from the action would be from intentional negligence. Commercial truck companies cannot be held liable for this sort of driver behavior.

On the other hand, if a truck driver cuts off another vehicle because he didn’t know to signal before changing lanes, that could be considered at least partially the fault of the company; they’re responsible for making sure their employees are thoroughly trained and qualified to be on the road.

Course and Scope of the job

The final consideration in determining vicarious liability of a commercial trucking company is whether or not the driver was acting within the scope of his or her job duties. For example, if the employee  was engaged in negligent driving that caused an accident while en route to a scheduled delivery, the trucking company may incur some liability.

However, if the driver used the company’s tractor trailer to help his friend move into a new house, without the knowledge or explicit permission of a manager, the company isn’t responsible.

Why Does Vicarious Liability Matter to Me?

When you consider that loaded commercial trucks can weigh 40 tons, while the average car weighs about two tons, you get a sense of the extent of damage that can be done to the victim of a big rig accident.

“Ninety-seven percent of vehicle occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes involving a passenger vehicle and a large truck in 2017 were occupants of the passenger vehicles.” –

If you’ve been the victim of negligent truck driving, it’s likely that your injuries are serious and medical expenses are high. If the accident was fatal, you may even have a wrongful death case. Make sure to engage a truck accident attorney with extensive experience in commercial truck accident cases to to help you get the maximum possible compensation for the damages you’ve suffered, physically and emotionally.

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