When a commercial truck accident occurs, if an employment relationship is established between the truck driver and a trucking or shipping company, then that company can be held liable for the driver’s negligence under a legal theory known as “respondeat superior.” Under this doctrine, a trucking company or other employer can be held liable for the wrongful acts of its drivers. Trucking companies may try to fight liability under this theory by arguing that the wrongful act did not occur while within the scope of employment. Motor carriers also try to limit their liability by hiring drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.
In some cases, the manufacturer of the truck may also be held liable if the accident was caused by some defect in the truck.
A shipper of hazardous materials carried by the truck may also be legally responsible for any injuries that were caused or made worse by the type of cargo on board. For example, if a shipper fails to advise a truck driver or trucking company of hazardous material contained in a load of freight, the shipper may be liable for injuries that result if that material catches fire or is released.
If a third party logistics company, which is a company that specializes in brokering transportation services but is not a motor carrier, is involved, it may be difficult to recover from that company. It has generally been held that the respondeat superior doctrine cannot be used against logistics companies because they generally engage in independent contractor relationships with motor carriers so they are exempt from liability. In addition, section 14704 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration often limits the liability of third party logistics companies in personal injury cases.
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