Due to the high potential for serious injuries or death in trucking accidents, trucking activity is strictly regulated by both Georgia state law and federal law. For example, trucking employers must comply with detailed hiring and supervision procedures to ensure their employees can safely operate large vehicles. Drivers must follow specific rules of the road, including limitations on the number of hours they can drive. Vehicles must also be kept in good repair.
If a trucking company or its employees violated trucking regulations and an accident occurs, it may be possible to hold the trucking employer liable (financially responsible) for resulting injuries.
Trucking employer liability includes both direct liability and vicarious liability. Direct liability claims arise from the action or inaction of the trucking employer. Vicarious liability claims arise from the action or inaction of the trucking company's employees. The employer may be held "vicariously" liable for its employees' negligence in most cases.
Direct Negligence Claims Against a Trucking Employer
Trucking employers must comply with a wide variety of specific state and federal regulations regarding their employees and vehicles. If they fail to do so, and that failure results in an accident, the injured person may be able to make a negligence claim directly against the trucking employer.
Potential direct negligence claims against trucking employers include:
- Negligent hiring. Trucking employers are required to take various steps to ensure that the employees they hire are competent. If the employer did not perform proper pre-employment background checks or if the employer hired someone with a history of drug, alcohol, or traffic violations, the employer might be held liable if that employee causes an accident.
- Negligent entrustment is similar to negligent hiring. These claims usually involve proving that the employer should not have entrusted the driver with a large vehicle due to the driver's inexperience or inability to operate the vehicle safely.
- Negligent retention claims can occur if the trucking employer continued to employ a driver after discovering that the driver was not competent to perform his or her duties.
- Negligent training or supervision. If the trucking employer did not properly train or supervise its employees, the employer could potentially be found liable for a resulting accident.
- Failure to properly inspect, maintain, or repair the truck. Trucking companies are required to periodically inspect their vehicles and maintain their vehicles in good condition. If a mechanical problem causes a trucking accident, the injured person may be able to demonstrate that the employer's failure to comply with these regulations caused the accident.
- Violation of trucking regulations. There are many state and federal trucking regulations covering everything from weight and cargo limits to the number of hours of driving to the type of equipment a truck must have (brakes, tires, lights, etc.). If a trucking company violates--or encourages their employees to violate--any of these regulations, the employer may be found liable for resulting injuries. For example, there are strict hours of service regulations limiting the amount of time a driver may drive. If the employer forces a driver to violate these limits, the employer could potentially be found liable for an accident that occurred because the driver was fatigued or fell asleep at the wheel.
The above are just a few examples of how a trucking employer can directly contribute to causing a truck accident. There are hundreds of regulations governing trucking activity. An experienced truck accident attorney can use their in-depth knowledge of those regulations to hold an employer responsible for failing in their duties.
It is also possible that multiple companies could contribute to causing a particular truck accident. Potentially responsible parties include the truck owner, the driver's employer, the cargo owner, a cargo loading company, or a company that repairs and maintains vehicles. The relationship between these entities can be quite complicated. There may be multiple layers of leases, contracts, and subcontracts involved in a particular trucking job.
Vicarious Liability Claims Against a Trucking Employer
Under Georgia law, employers may also be held "vicariously" liable for injuries caused by their employees, in some circumstances. This is known as the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Under this doctrine, the trucking employer may be held liable for injuries that occur due to truck driver (or other employee) activities if those acts were committed in the course of employment.
According to Georgia law:
"Every person shall be liable for torts committed by... his servant by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily." (See O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2. Note that the word "servant" in this statute covers a wide variety of employees).
Trucking companies may try to shield themselves from vicarious liability by designating their drivers or other workers as independent contractors, rather than employees. To hold an employer liable for an employee's injuries, an injured person generally must demonstrate that the employer exercised "immediate direction and control" over an employee's activities. However, federal regulations limit the ability of trucking companies to escape liability by claiming a driver is an independent contractor.
Proving that the trucking employee's negligent actions occurred within the scope of his or her employment can be another challenge. Employers generally are only responsible for employee activities that are within the scope of the employee's work. For example, if a truck driver delivered his or her cargo and then later borrowed the truck for personal reasons (without the employer's knowledge), the employer might not be found liable for an accident that occurred due to the driver's personal use of the truck.
Holding a Trucking Employer Responsible for Your Injuries
Trucking companies typically are required to carry higher insurance policies than private automobile drivers, and trucking employers (aside from owner-operators) often have significantly more assets than an individual truck driver. Truck accidents can result in incapacitating injuries that require long-term medical care. Holding a trucking employer responsible for truck accident injuries can help ensure that the injured person receives the full and fair compensation they are due for their serious injuries.
Holding a trucking employer responsible can also discourage the company from continuing to engage in dangerous practices that could injure others in the future.
Whether an accident occurs due to a trucking company's direct negligence or due to the negligence of the company's employees, we know how to hold a trucking employer responsible. If you have been seriously injured in a truck accident, contact the Hadden Law Firm.