Posted on: 7 April 2016
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that annually, approximately 4,000 large trucks are involved in fatal accidents. The agency's reports also show approximately 73,000 injuries and 265,000 instances of property damage are caused by large truck crashes each year. Alarming statistics like these show it's vital that you enroll in a commercial truck insurance policy before you get behind the wheel - or put someone else behind the wheel - of a semi truck. If you're confused about whether you are at risk of liability for an accident or even need trucking insurance, read on to learn three parties that can be held responsible if a commercial truck crashes.
The Commercial Truck's Driver
Sometimes companies hire truckers as independent contractors rather than employees to avoid potential liability issues. This is because a company is typically held legally responsible for the actions of its employees but not of its independent contractors. "Respondeat superior" is a Latin phrase used during legal proceedings in the United States. This phrase, when loosely translated, means the superior is responsible for the actions of parties associated with the superior that do not hold positions of authority.
If an independent contractor is involved in a commercial truck crash, or an employee crashes the company truck while running personal errands, then "respondeat superior" may not apply. Employed drivers may also be held liable for an accident if they violated conditions of employment before or during the crash, such as consuming alcoholic beverages or engaging in illegal drug use.
The Company That Hired the Driver
As referenced above, "respondeat superior" typically holds business owners responsible for the actions of their employees when a legal issue arises. However, things become complicated if you are not sure whether your workers are employees or independent contractors. Even if you specifically hired workers as independent contractors, a judge or the United States Department of Labor may decide that you misclassified employees as independent contractors.
Here are some signs an independent contractor is actually an employee, regardless of how the company or worker officially refer to employment status:
- A contract with a specific end date has not been established for the worker
- The worker is not allowed to assist other companies in the same industry while driving for your company
- The worker is expected to commit to a set schedule and works for a pay rate established solely by the company
- The worker is not allowed to hire helpers
If you have concerns that your independent contractors may be considered employees if an accident occurs, make sure you have a commercial truck insurance plan in place for all drivers.
The Leasing Company
The average tractor-trailer truck costs between $140,000 and $175,000 if it is purchased new. This is one reason why companies that hire truck drivers often lease commercial trucks rather than buying them directly from a dealer. If you are one of these companies, then you might not be responsible for purchasing a commercial truck insurance policy.
However, even though you can fight personal injury claims after a commercial crash by insisting the leasing company is responsible for any damage or injuries that occurred, you may find that the leasing company's insurance policy has gaps in coverage. Ask for a copy of the leasing company's insurance plan, and review it with an experienced truck insurance agent to determine if you should also take out your own policy.
Whether you're a full-time trucker or you hire independent contractors to operate commercial trucks for your business, you can protect yourself by enrolling in semi truck insurance before an accident occurs. There are numerous coverage levels of trucker insurance, so explore your options with a knowledgeable specialist, such as Metropolitan Insurance Service Consultants, before committing to a plan.