Are Florida Trucking Companies Liable For Accidents?

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Florida trucking companies may be liable for accidents caused by their drivers! After a trucking accident in which a victim sustains bodily injury, the first thing that must be done is a consultation with a trucking accident lawyer. A Personal Injury lawyer with years of trucking accident experience is able to determine if injuries are severe enough to recover damages. This process can seem confusing in a time of pain and suffering. That’s why it’s important the lawyer has previous trucking accident experience. While some lawyers claim they can handle a case as large as a trucking accident, they’ve never seen one to verdict.

Furthermore, when it comes to a Personal Injury case, clients frequently hear terms they’re unfamiliar with in relation to their claim. The best thing to do when unsure what something means in regard to the specifics of a case, is ask! An experienced lawyer won’t have a problem explaining legal terms in a way a client can better understand. One of these unfamiliar terms for example, is the “legalese” that comes up when lawyers pursue a trucking accident case: Respondeat Superior.

This writeup will cover all of the following points found in a Florida trucking accident case:

  • What is Respondeat Superior?
  • How do accident lawyers apply “Respondeat Superior” in trucking accident cases?
  • How can the “scope of employment” help determine compensation?
  • What points of Florida trucking accident law differ from other states?
  • Why is employee liability and independent contractors’ liability different?
  • When is emphasis placed on the trucking carrier?
  • What’s considered intent in trucking accident cases?

What is Respondeat Superior?

We’ll first explain the term to assist our readers in getting a full understanding of what this article intends to explore. The translation of Respondeat Superior is the English translation of the Latin phrase ‘make the master answer’. This legal principle in both English and Latin can be defined as follows:

“[…]A legal doctrine, most commonly used in tort, that holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency.”

That’s to say, “Respondeat Superior” is being able to determine under the law, whether the carrier that employed the trucking operator is responsible for the truck accident caused by that driver. A Personal Injury case must determine whether this was the case before the claim can proceed to the next step in the legal process.

How do accident lawyers apply “Respondeat Superior” in trucking accident cases?

Personal Injury lawyers using Respondeat Superior in a Florida trucking accident case apply this legal principle, their burden of proof will rest upon the carrier’s liability for a negligent act committed by any of its employees. In this case, it’s a trucking operator violating any number of FMCSA or FMCSR regulations. Outside of experience in trucking accidents, this legal principle can be confusing. While many lawyers will claim to be able to handle this type of case, they have never seen one to verdict.

The principle simply means the following: an employee (the trucking operator) must act reasonable and responsibly to prevent being liable for an accident. Should a truck driver choose to act in a reckless or negligent manner (violating FMCSA or FMCSR regulations, disobeying the DOT’s Hours of Service regulations, etc.) they’re subjecting their employer to liability for the accident and injuries.

How can the “scope of employment” help determine compensation?

The “scope of employment” is defined as:

“[…]Actions of an employee which further the business of the employer and are not personal business, which becomes the test as to whether an employer is liable for damages due to such actions under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior.”

Beyond providing the definition of the term, let’s now look at how it’s applied in Personal Injury practice. In order to successfully obtain compensation for the pain and suffering of a client, the lawyer must determine what constitutes an act (what lead up to and caused the accident, specifically) being committed within the “scope of employment”.

This happens during Discovery, and can be a lengthy process if the lawyer is unfamiliar with trucking accidents and has never successfully litigated one. Beware of lawyers who advertise their ability to handle a trucking related case, but have no visible results of seeing any of those cases to verdict.

What points of Florida trucking accident differ from other states?

While the Department of Transportation (DOT) is a federally regulated office, there are state laws that govern trucking companies and their drivers in every state; this is because truck drivers main duty is to transport goods across state lines. So, what differs from state to state in regard to truck accident law?

  • Employee intent (did the employee act in a reasonable manner? Did they violate federal law?)
  • Hours of Service and properly maintained logbooks
  • Time and place of negligent conduct
  • Job the employee was hired to perform
  • Incidents which the employer can reasonably expect of the employee
  • How much freedom is enacted upon the employee when performing his or her assigned job

An example truck accident scenario:

If a truck driver rear ends another driver while out on an assigned task, such as a delivery or pickup, the employer is liable for the ensuing pain and suffering of the rear-ended driver because the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment.

This is just one example, and there are many things that can factor into a case in which liability is being presented as the cause of the accident. During consultation and beyond, a Board Certified Personal Injury lawyer will look at the details of the case and determine who needs to be pursued, specifically, in order to recover damages on behalf of the client.

Why is employee liability and independent contractors’ liability different? 

The first thing a lawyer must determine on behalf of a client is whether a truck driver is an employee of a company. This determination falls under federal regulations such as FMCSA. If the truck driver is  an independent contractor, the laws are different. The Department of Transportation still governs independent contractors, however the regulations are not the same. The difference lies in who determines how the work the employee performs is carried out. Hours of Service violations happen when an employer alters logbooks or suggests a truck driver skips mandatory breaks. These actions are illegal, and thus further damages may be awarded during trial.

It’s important to note that a Florida trucking company is not usually the one liable for acts of an independent contractor. The independent contractor is given more autonomy than a truck driver working for a specific carrier.

When is emphasis placed on the trucking company?

In most states, the question is whether a carrier has any right to control the way their employee performs their work. For example, if the employer has control over the end result, but not how the work required to achieve the end result is carried out, this establishes an independent contractor relationship between the trucking company and the driver hauling their cargo.

If, however, a driver is employed by a carrier that requires FMCSA standards (and therefore Hours of Service and corresponding logbooks) be upheld while performing the work (specific steps to securing cargo, maintaining the logbooks for proper documentation that breaks and sleep schedules are maintained) this would make the driver an employee.

What’s considered intent in Florida trucking liability cases?

There is an exception to the general practice that a carrier upholds liability for accidents caused by drivers whom they employ under FMCSA regulations. Under normal circumstances, an employer will not be liable for “intentional tort” (kidnapping, assault, and other violent acts that were the choice of the driver) of an employee.

How does this factor in? The principle of “Respondeat Superior” will not be considered as being met when the acts of an employee are not related to the company at which they are employed.

On the flip side, let’s look at one more example:

If a truck driver making a delivery sustains serious injury as a result of an act of Negligent Security, then the truck driver may be able to recover to compensation. That is, if they’re performing their job in a reasonable manner. A delivery to a previously scheduled, employer sanctioned location would be considered reasonable in this instance.

However, this is just an example. As we stress on The Law Resource blog, it’s important that those who sustain any type of injury in an accident seek a lawyer with Board Certification to advise them on the specifics of their case.

Contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation. There’s no obligation. Take the first step and call today: (877)529-0080

About Shaked Law Firm

Shaked Law Firm is the most experienced Personal Injury law firm in Florida. Board Certified civil trial lawyers backed by equally seasoned professionals mean our clients receive the maximum amount of compensation.