Commercial trucking is a vital component of America’s economy, and the drivers directing the semi-trucks and tractor-trailers you see on Covington’s roads are typically well-trained. Yet that does not mean that these massive vehicles pose no risks to the vehicles around them (indeed, according to data shared by The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were 116,000 crashes involving large trucks and buses in 2017 alone). Truck accidents can often be catastrophic, leaving victims to have to deal with enormous expenses. The question then becomes who is liable for such accidents?
The easy answer would seem to be the truck driver; they, after all, were driving the vehicle and thus responsible whatever events led to the collision. Yet about their employers? In some cases, truck drivers may be independent contractors, which makes the issue of sharing liability with their employers irrelevant. Yet when truckers are employed by a trucking company, could that company also be held responsible for an accident?
Per the Cornell Law School, the legal principle of respondeat superior allows people to hold employers liable for the actions of their employee. This opens the door for truck accident victims to pursue liability claims against the companies that employed the drivers that hit them. Yet in order to apply respondeat superior to such a case, one must show that the driver was acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred.
What does this mean? If a truck driver was completing a route when they caused an accident, then it can be said that they were acting within the scope of their employment (in which case, the trucking company would share in the liability). Yet if the driver was “off the clock” (e.g. returning home from a delivery), then their employer is not responsible for their actions.