Is the Truck Driver Who Hit You a Contractor or an Employee? (And How That Affects Your Case)

When you’ve been hurt in a truck accident in Miami, the employee status of the driver who hit you matters in the outcome of your case. The trucking company may try to argue that the driver was an independent contractor. In theory, this could help them avoid liability for the injuries caused in the accident.

A Shaky Defense

In actuality, this defense rarely sticks. The doctrine of “respondeat superior” means that all employers are liable for the negligent actions of employees operating within the scope of employment. This can include situations where an independent contractor is essentially acting as an employee to fulfill the duties of the trucking company. 

Many independent contractors are also misclassified. That has led regulators to crack down harshly on certain commercial carriers. In Florida, intentionally misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor is a felony.

Working with an experienced Miami truck accident lawyer can help you determine important legal aspects of your case, including who might be liable for your injuries. Your attorney will research the facts and pursue an injury claim against all potentially liable parties.

Find out how these laws and other factors may affect your case during a free, no-obligation consultation. Steinger, Greene & Feiner can provide you with an experienced truck accident lawyer in Miami to assist you. Call (800) 801-6850 or contact us online to schedule your free case review today.

The Difference Between an Employee Truck Driver and an Owner-Operator (Independent Contractor)

America depends on trucking to keep our economy going, but the average person may not know much about how the sector operates. 

The U.S. trucking industry pulls in over $700 billion in contracts each year. Around 36% of this work involves private fleets, which means a particular company owns the truck, and the truck will primarily be hauling goods for that company to use. When you see a truck hauling stuff for a company like Walmart, Sysco, PepsiCo, or Tyson Foods, that truck is almost always owned by the company you see on the side of the trailer.

Other times, the truck is owned by an individual. These individuals are known as “owner-operators.” According to the most recent math, there are between 350,000 and 400,000 independent owner-operators doing hauls in the U.S. in a given year.

Owner-operators are true independent contractors (ICs). While some major corporation hauls are handled by someone who is classified as an IC, the fact that the person does not own the truck, is not buying gas, or is not responsible for maintenance can put their true classification in question.

For example, in 2017 a truck accident involving SNL comedian Tracy Morgan made headlines. The truck driver who hit Mr. Morgan’s limo was hauling a shipment for Walmart Stores Inc. Walmart initially tried to argue that the driver was not an employee, and, therefore, they were not liable for the driving errors that led to the crash. Attorneys representing Mr. Morgan and other crash victims argued otherwise, saying that Walmart was liable because they controlled key aspects of the hauling contract.

Ultimately, the case was settled, but that still illustrates Walmart’s concerns over the courts taking the plaintiffs’ side.

Strategies for Truck Accidents Involving Independent Contractors

Owner-operators are responsible for a lot of activity on our roadways, so the chances of being hit by one are still fairly high. So what happens when you are hit by someone who is truly considered independent from the carrier?

There are a number of legal strategies and factors that can be used to help you build a strong case.

Arguing That the Employee Was Misclassified

Many carriers try to treat drivers like ICs when they are, in fact, employees.

According to prior case rulings and a legal professional who represent carriers, factors that can hint that a driver is actually an employee include:

  • “The motor carrier chooses the payment method for drivers;
  • The motor carrier controls the workload of the drivers and does not allow substitute drivers;
  • The motor carrier prohibits drivers from using leased vehicles to offer delivery services to other companies;
  • The drivers must buy or use trucks with company specifications such as company logos or symbols;
  • The motor carrier controls where and how the drivers deliver freight and which routes drivers must use;
  • The motor carrier controls the equipment the driver uses, including the maintenance, repair, and condition of the trucks, and;
  • The motor carrier evaluates the performance of drivers.”

Other factors include whether the driver buys their own gas, handles their own maintenance, or has the right to refuse certain loads. If the person is required to do something, they are likely an employee. This includes mandatory safety training and similar programs.

Filing Under the Owner-Operator’s Insurance Policy

If someone is a truly independent owner-operator, then they are required by law to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance. Truck accident victims in Miami can file under these policies if they are injured, even if the driver was not technically an employee.

Arguing That the Company Was Negligent in Contracting the Driver

In the event that your truck accident involves some form of non-driver negligence, the contract awarder can still be liable for various reasons.

Carriers hiring IC truck drivers still have a duty of care to ensure safe delivery. For instance, they are expected to look at the driver’s qualifications, verify that they have a current Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), and provide safe equipment if they own the trailer the driver is using.

Filing Claims Against Multiple Defendants

Under Florida’s pure contributory negligence model, every single person who bears responsibility for a tort (injury) is responsible for paying their according share of the damages (losses).

Because of this rule, truck accident claims can be complex and involve multiple parties. To ensure that injury victims have the highest chances of a successful outcome, a Miami truck accident lawyer will often put forth multiple claims at once.

In addition to the driver of the vehicle, they may also bring action against the contract awarder, a vehicle manufacturer, a safety system manufacturer, the maintenance company that handled the vehicle, and other possible defendants.

Fight for Reasonable Compensation with the Help of a Miami Truck Accident Lawyer

Working with a Miami truck accident lawyer helps you answer crucial questions about liability. Your attorney will vigorously research all factors of your case along with all relevant laws, rules, and prior case outcomes.

When you work with a truck accident lawyer in Miami from Steinger, Greene & Feiner, you can rest assured that you are in good hands. We fight for victims’ rights to pursue compensation, seeking the maximum amount available from all relevant insurance policies. If your case has to be taken to court, we are prepared to assert liability and ensure that your case has the best chance of success possible.

Call us at (800) 801-6850 or contact us online to schedule your free case review now.