You’ve been hurt in a truck accident in West Palm Beach. Naturally, you try to file an insurance claim against the trucking company. But they allege that the truck driver at fault was technically an independent contractor (IC), not a full-fledged employee of their company.
Why does this matter? What are you supposed to do next?
You Need Someone On Your Side
Commercial carrier businesses are required to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance per vehicle. Large trucking companies may exceed these minimum policy limits, sometimes carrying multiple millions of dollars worth of coverage at a time.
Because truck accidents tend to cause catastrophic injuries, an injury victim may need the entire policy limit. After all, they’ll need to pay for past and future medical costs, their lost wages, their pain and suffering, and other losses. But if the company alleges that the driver who hit you wasn’t covered, you’ll have to fight.
However, you don’t need to fight alone. If you’ve recently been hurt in a truck accident, work with a West Palm Beach truck accident lawyer. We’ll help determine the employment status of the driver who hit you. Next, we’ll help argue against the misclassification of an employee to increase your chances of obtaining a settlement for all of your accident losses.
If the driver was legitimately an IC, we can pursue legal options that include filing on their own liability insurance policy.
Call (561) 566-5021 or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.
The Difference Between an Employee and an Independent Contractor
An employee is an official member of the employer’s organization. Based on the legal concept of “respondeat superior,” the employer must be held responsible for the result of their employee’s negligence. This includes situations where a truck driver in West Palm Beach causes an accident due to unsafe driving maneuvers, drowsy driving, or similarly reckless behavior.
Corporate liability policies cover situations where negligent actions by the company cause an injury. This includes the actions of their employees.
Some traits common to all employees include:
- Employer sets their hours, controls the way their duties are performed
- Employer dictates the amount paid to the employee, with some negotiation allowed
- Employee is paid on a regular schedule according to salary agreement or hourly pay rate
- Employer requires a uniform or a certain code of dress
- Employer withholds taxes from the employee’s paycheck, and they contribute to the employee’s tax burden (payroll tax)
- Employee files a W4 upon hiring and receives a W2 at the end of each tax year
- Employer pays for unemployment insurance in case employee is laid off
- Employer pays for workers’ compensation insurance in case employee is injured
- Employee may receive benefits, like health insurance
An independent contractor is technically self-employed. Even though they may work primarily under one person or one organization, they operate independently. They are free to choose the work they accept, they set the price of their labor, and they can walk away from the relationship at any time as long as the terms of the contract are fulfilled.
Unlike employees, ICs are not covered by the contract awarder’s liability policy under most circumstances. The IC is encouraged to acquire their liability policy to cover the costs of things like bodily injury liability, errors and omissions, and other losses. The IC may be required to obtain a minimum level of liability insurance to legally perform certain duties, as is the case with IC truck drivers.
Some traits common to all ICs include:
- Set their own hours, free to choose the method of work as long as contract terms are fulfilled
- Sets their pay rate, although the contract awarder can negotiate or put forth an offer
- Usually paid by-the-job
- Not required to wear a uniform or abide by certain standards of conduct (within reason)
- IC pays self-employment taxes, including what an employer would usually contribute
- Files a W9 at the beginning of contract relationship, receives 1099 form at the end of each tax year
- Ineligible for the contract awarder’s unemployment insurance, workers’ comp, or liability insurance (in most circumstances)
- IC may receive bonuses or certain perks for the business relationship, but cannot receive specific employment benefits
ICs in the Trucking Industry: About Owner-Operators
Independent contracting is incredibly common in the U.S. trucking industry. While 36% of trucking activity is conducted with company-owned fleets, a sizable number of jobs are performed by people who own their own semi truck rig.
These individuals refer to themselves as owner-operators. There are an estimated 300,000 to 450,000 owner-operators actively carrying loads at any given time. These individuals accept contracts on a per-load basis. Once the route is complete, they cease being within the scope of a business relationship, at least until they pick up a new load for the same company.
Owner-operators are wholly responsible for their vehicle and their trucking operation, which is considered its own small business. They must maintain their vehicle according to federal and state standards. They pay for their own gas, which they can then expense to the contract awarder. Like the contract awarder, they must also carry a minimum amount of liability insurance according to federal law.
However, because the IC is responsible for all of their own costs, they may operate on a leaner budget. That means they can decide to pay for the bare minimum of liability coverage and nothing more.
Misclassification of Employees Common in the Trucking Industry
A company doesn’t have to pay for part of an ICs taxes, they don’t need to provide benefits, and they don’t have to cover the IC under their insurance policies. Therefore, certain organizations favor working with ICs over hiring employees.
This practice has seen plenty of abuse over the past few decades. Various state and federal regulators have fought to hold organizations accountable when they misclassify employees. In Florida, intentional misclassification is a felony.
In casual terms, businesses that misclassify truck driver employees want to have their cake and eat it too. This is especially problematic in situations involving liability, such as a catastrophic truck accident in West Palm Beach.
Luckily, prior case outcomes show the blueprint for how to prove an employee was misclassified.
Your truck accident attorney in West Palm Beach may look for the following factors to prove that an IC was, in fact, an employee:
- The carrier does not allow the driver to appoint a substitute driver, AKA a subcontractor
- The carrier evaluates driver performance
- The carrier is inflexible with payment arrangements and determines the payment method used
- The carrier requires certain scheduling or workload practices
- The carrier makes the driver wear a uniform or use a truck (cab) with company logos or symbols
- The carrier controls all the equipment used, including paying for its gas, handling maintenance, performing repairs, and regularly inspecting the truck’s condition
- The carrier demands that the driver not work for other organizations
- The carrier requires the driver to attend mandatory training or obtain specific permits, licenses or insurance not normally required by law
Strategies Available When the Employee Status of the Driver Is Unclear
There are multiple legal strategies your West Palm Beach truck accident lawyer can use to increase the chances of a successful injury claim and maximize the compensation you get for your losses.
Under Florida law, multiple parties can share liability for the same accident (F.S. § 768.81). For example, even if an owner-operator is at fault for violating hours of service requirements, leading to drowsy driving, the carrier that appointed them may have a pattern of pressuring drivers to drive longer than necessary.
Other at-fault parties may include additional drivers involved in the accident, the manufacturer of a truck part that failed to prevent the accident, the repair company maintaining the vehicle, and many more.
Establishing Contract Awarder Liability
Sometimes, even if a truck driver is legally not an employee, the carrier that awarded the contract may still technically be at-fault for the accident. For example, the load shifted because of unsafe loading practices and a West Palm Beach truck accident attorney can prove that the risk was foreseeable. In that case, the company that provided the loaded trailer may be at fault, not the driver.
Filing Under the ICs Liability Insurance
Worst-case scenario, the owner-operator is still required to carry at least $750,000 in total liability coverage per accident. Depending on the type of load they’re carrying, they may have over $4,000,000 per accident, minimum.
These coverage amounts may sound like a lot, but they can be quickly exhausted in a catastrophic accident. If multiple individuals are seriously hurt or killed the policy still only covers so much per accident. This is why your attorney will seek to establish liability for the carrier involved when at all possible.
Start Your West Palm Beach Truck Accident Case With the Help of an Experienced Lawyer Near You
Steinger, Greene & Feiner have a history of winning cases involving catastrophic truck accident injuries. We promise to fight to seek all compensable damages for your case. With every case, we diligently research all factors involved, including carrier practices, relevant state and federal regulations, past cases similar to yours, and any hard data available.
Discuss your case with an experienced truck accident lawyer in West Palm Beach during a free, no-obligation case review. Call (561) 566-5021 or contact us online to schedule your free appointment now.