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Are Truck Drivers Responsible for Damages?

— November 16, 2021

Every personal injury claim arising from a car accident presents specific challenges. When an accident involves a larger commercial truck, these challenges increase exponentially.

Truck drivers could be held liable for the damages and injuries they cause. When a truck driver fails to meet their legal responsibilities, it could lead to a personal injury claim based on negligence. An injured victim is entitled to seek compensatory damages.

Commercial motor vehicle operators engaged in commerce have a broad range of responsibilities, whether they have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or not. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations list the minimum requirements and responsibilities for CDL drivers. In addition to these minimum requirements, commercial truck drivers are also governed by accepted industry standards and practices.

While a trucking company might be held accountable, many truck drivers are independent contractors who are expected to understand and comply with all regulations. The driver is at the helm and has an enormous responsibility to ensure their vehicle is properly maintained and safely operated.

Is the Truck Driver an Independent Contractor or an Employee?

Most truck drivers operate as independent contractors, contracting with other companies to haul cargo. The relationship between a truck driver and a trucking company will typically not exempt a driver from responsibility. However, it could impact whether the trucking company could also be held legally liable. Generally, if a truck driver is an independent contract, an injured victim’s only recourse is filing a claim against the driver and their insurance carrier.

Conversely, a trucking company could be held responsible for its employee’s conduct if they were engaged in their job duties at the time of the accident. For instance, a trucking company could be held liable if an accident occurs while a driver is delivering or transporting goods for the company.

Circumstances When a Truck Driver is Liable For an Accident

There is a simple economic benefit in holding a trucking company – trucking companies carry more insurance than drivers. However, there are times when a driver, even when employed by a trucking company, will be held personally responsible for any injuries or damages.

Red semi driving down the road; image by Matthew T. Rader, via
Red semi driving down the road; image by Matthew T. Rader, via

If a truck driver was going to or from work or otherwise engaged in personal business at the time of an accident, they could be held liable for any damages. However, there are times when an operator’s conduct while at work could shift responsibility. For instance, a driver could be held liable for any injuries if they stopped at a bar or were using controlled substances at the time of an accident. Furthermore, driving or failing to comply with federal and company policy regarding work hours could result in a driver bearing sole responsibility for any damages.

Other intentional behavior could open a truck driver to personal liability. Breaking the law, such as speeding, ignoring traffic lights, or driving aggressively, are valid grounds to hold a driver personally responsible.

Truck Driver’s Responsibilities

Every motorist has a legal obligation to safely operate their vehicle. It does not matter someone is driving a car, riding a motorcycle, or is operating a large commercial vehicle. Additionally, whether a truck driver is an independent contractor or an employee, they have specific responsibilities.

  • Novice drivers are responsible for receiving proper training, qualifications, or certifications.
  • Truck drivers must inform their employers of past convictions for violations and licenses suspensions.
  • It is part of the driver’s responsibility to ensure that their cargo is properly stored and secured.
  • Drivers must comply with regulations regarding hours of work and required breaks.
  • Interstate truck drivers who travel more than 100 miles must maintain a log.

The above is not an exhaustive list. You should speak with an experienced truck accident attorney to determine if a driver’s conduct is grounds for an injury claim.

Truck Drivers vs. Trucking Companies

When an accident occurs, the most obvious party to sue is the driver who caused the crash. However, if you are involved in an accident with a commercial truck driver, the rig operator might not be the most desirable party to sue – despite their culpability. Truck accidents often result in devastating injuries, with expensive medical costs and long rehabilitation periods. A truck driver’s personal insurance might not be sufficient to compensate you for all your damages.

In many situations, even though the driver could be held liable, it is more beneficial to sue the trucking company. Trucking companies typically carry substantially more insurance and have the financial capabilities to pay the significant damages associated with a personal injury lawsuit arising from a truck accident.

Truck Drivers, Work-Related Injuries, and Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Independent contractors are not only liable for the injury and damages they cause, they could also be responsible for any injuries they sustain in an accident. Typically, employers provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees to cover the cost of medical expenses and lost income because of a work-related accident. However, if you are an independent contractor, you will find it challenging, if not impossible, to access these benefits.

Employers will often misclassify the drivers in their employ as independent contractors to avoid liability, benefits, and limit workers’ compensation claims. In many cases, this misclassification has more to do with a misunderstanding of the law rather than a deliberate act. In other situations, the misclassification is purposefully done to avoid costly benefits or insurance claims.

Nonetheless, employment and workers’ compensation laws vary state-to-state. You should always consult with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney to ensure you receive the benefits you are entitled to.

Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney

Every personal injury claim arising from a car accident presents specific challenges. When an accident involves a larger commercial truck, these challenges increase exponentially. From evaluating your damages to determining who to sue and building a case against them, an accident victim needs an experienced truck accident attorney.

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