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Harris v. FedEx – Truck Crash Injury Case Intersects With Employment Law

Aug 12, 2014 - Truck Accidents by

Our Birmingham truck accident lawyers recognize that many of these cases involve claims brought against the driver’s employer, usually for negligent training, negligent supervision, and violations of various standards set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. trafficintovegas

These theories of liability ensure that trucking agencies will be held accountable when they hire drivers who aren’t qualified, don’t properly supervise them on the road, encourage overloaded vehicles, or push for drivers to work long, uninterrupted shifts to make delivery deadlines. All of these are often cited as contributing factors in tractor-trailer crashes.

Since we are dealing with the responsibilities of an employer, employment law sometimes intersects with injury law in these cases. Usually, in order for an employer to be held accountable for a trucker’s negligent actions, it must first be established that an employer-employee relationship existed. In some instances, this is a straightforward matter. However, larger firms routinely contract with various trucking agencies to provide delivery services, and this can complicate matters where the injury case is concerned.

 

The recent case of Harris, et al. v. FedEx National LTL, Inc. is a prime example. This appeal stemmed from an earlier summary judgment in favor of FedEx, the firm that the plaintiff alleged was responsible for injuries sustained when a driver hauling FedEx goods slammed into them on a highway in Missouri.

The 2/?p=1007 crash occurred when the commercial truck driver lost control of his rig on the interstate, resulting in the tractor-trailer blocking both lanes of the highway. Another driver couldn’t stop in time and collided with the truck. The impact killed the other driver and seriously injured his passenger.

At the time of the crash, the driver worked for a firm called Fresh Start, while the truck was leased from a separate company. The driver was hauling two trailers owned by FedEx.

The plaintiffs sued Fresh Start, the owner of the truck, the driver, and FedEx, alleging various theories of liability. FedEx moved for a summary judgment on the grounds it couldn’t be held liable because it did not employ the trucker. Instead, the company asserted, the trucker’s employer was an independent contractor of FedEx, which would mean FedEx wouldn’t be responsible for the employer’s actions or those of its driver.

While FedEx is recognized as a carrier by the FMCSA, there are some instances in which the firm contracts with independent carriers to ship goods. These “sub-haulers” provide the drivers, trucks, and often trailers for these jobs. FedEx calls these “power only” relationships, in which its only concern is that the goods get from Point A to Point B by a certain time, but there is no instruction given on how this should be done or who should do it.

Under many state laws, an entity employing an independent contractor isn’t liable for physical harm caused by the contractor or its servants.

The plaintiffs contended FedEx was still liable because, at the time, the driver was acting as a FedEx employee or servant.

This is where employment law became central to this case. Here, it was up to the courts to determine whether the driver was an independent contractor or an employee, regardless of how the firms identified the arrangement. To reach this determination, the courts weigh:

  • The extent of control the employer exercises over the details of the work;
  • Whether the worker is engaged in a distinct business or occupation;
  • The kind of occupation, and whether it’s done under the direction of an employer, or without supervision;
  • The skill required for the work;
  • Whether the employer provided supplies, instruments, tools, and a place of work;
  • The length of time an individual works for the alleged employer;
  • The method of payment (by time or by job); and
  • Whether each party believes they are creating an agency relationship.

Here, the court found that FedEx was not an employer because it did not exercise control over details of the driver’s work, didn’t provide a place for him to do his work, didn’t provide supplies (other than the trailers that were being transported), and paid FreshStart, a separate company, on a per-job basis.

Additional Resources:

Harris, et al. v. FedEx National LTL, July 24, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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