Many people have heard that the trucking industry often engages “independent contractors” to drive trucks for motor carriers. When a truck driver is involved in a truck crash and someone suffers an injury, there is a question as to whether the motor carrier is responsible for the actions of the truck driver, even if the driver is not direct employee but is an independent contractor. In this article, we examine the “statutory employment doctrine.”
The short answer is “yes.” Not only is the motor carrier responsible for the actions of the independent contractor at law, the motor carrier may also be held directly negligent for negligent hiring, retention and supervision of that driver (in many jurisdictions).
The purpose of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
In decades past, trucking companies and motor carriers attempted to evade liability when their drivers were involved in caused trucking accidents in interstate commerce by classifying the drivers as independent contractors. In other words, the drivers would often have their own motor carrier authority and own the truck whereby the drivers either drove under their own authority or leased the truck back to the motor carrier. Recognizing that the purpose of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations was to improve roadway safety, decrease fatalities and not to leave truck crash victims without adequate insurance when they suffered harm, there have been at least three separate regulations that combine to create the “statutory employment doctrine.”
The statutory employment doctrine creates liability of the motor carrier(s) for the acts of the drivers
Under 49 U.S.C. Section 14102(a), 49 C.F.R. 390.5 (definitions) and 49 C.F.R. Section 376.12(c), a motor carrier “shall assume complete responsibility for the operation of the equipment for the duration of the lease.” Moreover, the definition of “employee” includes independent contractors. People often get confused because 49 C.F.R. Section 376.12 addresses “lease” requirements and do not believe that this section creates responsibility and liability of the motor carrier where there is no written agreement to lease equipment between the driver and the motor carrier. However, it is crucial to understand that under 49 U.S.C. Section 14102(a), the responsibility of the motor carrier for the equipment is invoked whenever the motor carrier uses motor vehicles “not owned by it to transport property under and arrangement with another party.” So, if the motor carrier uses any vehicle that it doe not own to transport property under such an arrangement, the motor carrier is deemed to assume control over that equipment and the driver is deemed their employee as a matter of law. Therefore, the motor carrier is responsible for the acts of the driver.
When courts have addressed the above regulations in this context, we call the holdings collectively the “statutory employment doctrine.” It is crucial that lawyers understand this doctrine to successfully prosecute trucking claims in court.
If you have questions about hiring a truck accident lawyer, call the lawyers of Wright Law PLC. www.wrightlawplc.com.