Semi-trucks are integral to transportation and delivery in the United States. They’re everywhere and, unfortunately, they’re often involved with or the cause of some pretty grisly accidents. Over the past two decades, truck accidents have increased in occurrence by 20% and, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in 2002 there were 4,897 individual deaths and 130,000 people injured because of crashes involving a large truck.

In the case of an accident in which the semi is at fault, who is liable—the trucker or the company who employs him? The short answer here is that the only way the company is held responsible is under the legal theory of “vicarious liability.” Some background before we define that.

More often than not anymore, many truckers are independent contractors who are not technically employed by any one company. They work on a job-by-job basis—much like how freelance writers are not employed by any one agency and just take work as it comes. The trucking industry as a whole is also leaning more toward the utilization of these independent contractors specifically because of the legalities involved. If the driver is an independent contractor and an accident occurs, then the driver is usually held accountable through his or her liability insurance carrier. This means that injuries, damages, and other compensation are handled through the individual driver’s insurance coverage rather than the company’s.

Coming back to “vicarious liability,” the only way the company is legally responsible for a driver’s accident is if the driver is an employee of the company. Vicarious liability means that the company that hired the driver is liable for an accident as long as the driver was acting “in the scope of employment for the company” at the time of the accident. 

For independent drivers injured in an accident, there are quite a few factors that play into whether or not that driver’s “employer” is liable, including:

  • Does the trucking company establish “right to control” power over the driver’s work?
  • Can the driver set his or her own hours or decline certain jobs?
  • Does the company or the driver choose the routes?
  • Is the driver required to wear a uniform?
  • Does the driver have to attend required safety meetings or meet company standards?
  • Can the driver contract with other trucking companies?

The short answer to this question of who holds responsibility in a semi-caused accident is that there’s a huge gray area between the driver and the company. Regardless of who’s to blame, if you’ve been in an accident caused by negligent operation of a semi, contact Boughter Sinak, LLC today. We are experienced trucking accident attorneys covering areas such as South Bend, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and other places throughout the region.


Source: LHL Trial Lawyers

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