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Liability of Trucking Companies

In addition to claims against the drivers of large trucks and 18-wheelers, injured parties often have claims against other responsible parties that caused or contributed to the accident. Our Birmingham truck accident lawyers have extensive experience investigating and pursuing claims arising out of truck accidents that happen in Birmingham and elsewhere in Alabama.

If the driver of the truck is an agent or employee of the trucking company that owns or leases the truck involved in a wreck, the trucking company is usually vicariously liable for the negligence of its driver in causing an accident. Under the law in Alabama, an employer or principal is liable for the negligence of its employee or agent if the negligence occurs while the employee or agent is acting within the line and scope of his or her employment or agency. The driver and trucking company are jointly and severally liable to the injured party for the driver’s negligence. Accordingly, the injured party in Birmingham or other parts of Alabama has a cause of action against either or both the truck driver and trucking company.

Often, in trucking litigation, however, the trucking company will contend that the driver is an independent contractor and not an employee or agent of the trucking company so that it is not liable for the injured party’s injuries and damages. A central issue in the case then becomes whether the driver is truly an independent contractor or an employee or agent of the trucking company. The facts and circumstances surrounding the relationship matter in making the determination of whether a truck driver is an employee or independent contractor. It is important for the attorney representing the injured party to conduct an extensive and exhaustive fact investigation and propound detailed discovery requests to both the driver and trucking company so that the true nature of the relationship is fully disclosed. Merely referring to the driver as an independent contractor is insufficient. A determination must be made from the history of the relationship that existed when the accident happened. Moreover, in some instances, trucking companies will engage in creative tactics to present the false impression that a driver is an independent contractor when in fact the driver is an employee or agent. For example, in some instances, trucking companies will “lease” their own trucks to “independent drivers” who transport goods exclusively for the trucking company. Upon further scrutiny, however, these arrangements often prove to be nothing more than an effort by the trucking company to impermissibly shield itself from liability in the event of a trucking accident caused by the driver. Trucks and 18 wheelers traveling through Birmingham and other parts of Alabama often have drivers that are both employees and independent contractors.

Once it is determined that the driver is an employee or agent of the trucking company, in addition to vicarious liability, the trucking company may also be liable for negligent entrustment of its truck to an incompetent driver and/or liable for negligent hiring or retention of an incompetent or careless driver. The driver’s prior employment history, commercial driver training and experience and/or driving record become important issues in the case. Simply put, the question is often “What did the trucking company know about its driver and when did the trucking company know it?”

Another independent claim against the trucking company involves the extent to which the company promoted or encouraged its drivers to disregard state and federal safety regulations in the handling and operation of its trucks. For example, does the trucking company promote or encourage its drivers to maintain two sets of log books? One set contains trip information that is in compliance with federal regulations while a second set contains violations and is used for determining the driver’s rate of pay.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a trucking accident, please contact the Birmingham truck accident lawyers at Cross & Smith. Our attorneys have over twenty (20) years of experience handling truck and 18 wheeler accidents in Birmingham and all across Alabama. Please feel free to contact us at (877) 791-0618 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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