When a commercial truck hits a vehicle, it’s natural to think the company whose name is on the truck is responsible for compensating the accident victim for the personal injuries its truck caused. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. While some companies hire drivers as employees, giving them the protection of the company’s liability insurance, other companies hire drivers as independent contractors.
If an accident victim is hit by a commercial truck operated by an independent contractor, pursuing adequate compensation for serious or fatal personal injuries may be difficult. While independent contractors are responsible for supplying the truck and carrying liability insurance on it, a driver’s insurance alone may not be enough. And because of the driver’s independent contractor status, the victim has no recourse against the company’s insurance, even though the company name and Department of Transportation number is visible on the side of the truck.
In contrast, when a big company hires a driver to operate one if its own trucks as an employee the driver is covered under the company’s liability insurance. If that truck driver hits another car and injures someone the company is usually responsible for the accident, too. A victim who suffers personal injuries in this instance has at least two potential sources of recovery: the driver’s liability insurance and the company’s liability insurance.
Companies know that hiring drivers as independent contractors allows them to avoid liability when the driver causes personal injuries. Their ability to wash their hands of the accident is an effective cost-saving measure and gives them a lot of incentive not to hire drivers as employees.
Some companies, however, call their drivers “independent contractors” but proceed to treat them like employees. When they get away with it, they get the control over the driver inherent in an employer-employee relationship and the limited liability that comes with a company-independent contractor relationship.
Now, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is making it clear that companies can’t have it both ways.
On August 27, a three-judge panel held that 2700 FedEx delivery drivers who filed lawsuits against the company were employees, not independent contractors as FedEx claimed. FedEx argued it hired the drivers as independent contractors, so the drivers – not FedEx – were responsible for purchasing and maintaining trucks and weren’t entitled to minimum wage, overtime, or benefits. By extension, when drivers were involved in accidents, FedEx wasn’t responsible for paying for the victims’ personal injuries.
Thousands of FedEx drivers in 40 states say that although FedEx called them independent contractors, it treated them like employees by making them wear specific uniforms and telling them how and when they could deliver packages.
In the Court’s decision, one judge wrote: “Labeling the drivers ‘independent contractors’ in FedEx’s operating agreement does not conclusively make them so.”
The Court’s decision serves as a warning to other companies around the country that are trying to skirt the law by labeling their drivers as independent contractors when they are really employees.
What does this mean for a victim who suffered personal injuries in an accident with a commercial truck? It means a company’s assertion that it doesn’t employ the driver who caused the accident warrants some looking into. If a victim can prove that the at-fault driver was actually an employee, the company may be liable for personal injuries suffered as a result of the accident.
Personal injury claims for compensation from a truck accident are more complex than car injury claims. Enlisting help from an experienced commercial truck accident injury attorney gives an accident victim the best chance at receiving fair compensation and removes the burden of dealing with complicated legal claims.