What happens when a trucking carrier tries to blame their driver after a bad accident?
Being involved in a car accident can be a harrowing experience, but an accident involving a tractor trailer can result in significant property damage or injury, or both. It makes sense that you would be contacting the trucking company’s insurance in order to get the compensation you need in order to recover from such an accident.
However, when you try to file a claim with the insurance company, they tell you that they aren’t liable, as the truck driver was not an employee of the company, but rather an independent contractor. How can this happen? What does it mean for your case?
In these situations, it is critical to reach out to a truck accident lawyer in Tampa. They can help you rapidly assess your case and begin investigating the status of the truck driver. These actions will prove critical when seeking an injury claim to recover all of your accident losses.
What Is the Difference Between an Employee and an Independent Contractor?
Even though someone who is an employee and someone who was hired as an independent contractor may perform similar duties, there is a meaningful difference between the two. An employee is someone who is an official part of a company, business, or organization.
An independent contractor is just someone hired to complete a specific task. The person who awards the contract can set the scope of work and the final deliverables, but they cannot dictate how the work is ultimately performed. Independent contractors essentially operate as the owner of their own business, where their labor or professional services are available for individual contract work.
An employer is liable for their employee’s actions, and as such, can be held liable for any negligence on behalf of the employee. On the other hand, they are typically not responsible for the actions of independent contractors.
Trucking companies know that they can evade liability by claiming a driver was a contractor, and that is why they have corporate liability policies clearly delineating the responsibilities of employees. This legal precedent means that if you are involved in a truck accident in Tampa that was due to the drivers’ negligent actions, such as driving drowsy, impaired, or otherwise acting in an unsafe manner, the carrier company can be held liable.
Typically, employees work under terms and conditions set forth by their employer. That means completing jobs in certain ways, at certain times, for a certain amount of money, all determined by the employer. In exchange for that work, the employer is legally responsible for withholding taxes, paying payroll taxes, paying for unemployment insurance, and paying for workers’ compensation insurance.
An independent contractor, in contrast, is technically self-employed. While an independent contractor may work exclusively for one project or one company, they have a much higher level of freedom compared to a typical employee. An independent contractor gets to determine their pay rates, which jobs they would like to accept, and the hours they would like to work. An independent contractor is required to meet the terms agreed upon for individual jobs but is free to stop working at any time between jobs.
However, with the freedom that independent contractors have, they also don’t have as many benefits as being fully employed by a company. Independent contractors typically have to pay their own payroll taxes and must find their own insurance — they are usually not able to receive any benefits, including workers’ comp or unemployment insurance.
Additionally, independent contractors with trucking companies are typically not covered by the company’s liability insurance. Generally, independent contractors are either encouraged or required to have a minimum amount of liability insurance before jobs will be awarded to them. It is imperative for the contractors to have this insurance to cover incidents of bodily injury or other losses.
Trucking Independent Operators (Owner-Operators)
Independent contractors in the trucking business are generally referred to as owner-operators. Owner-operators are very common in the trucking industry — only about 36% of trucks on the road are part of company-owned fleets.
In the United States, there are about 350,000 – 400,000 owner-operators traveling the road at any given time. These owner-operators generally contract from companies on a load-by-load basis. That means that the owner-operators no longer necessarily have a relationship with the company they are hauling for once their cargo is delivered.
Owning and operating your own tractor-trailer is considered running your own small business, legally. These owners are responsible for maintaining their vehicles well enough to meet local and federal standards. However, since they are fully responsible for all costs associated with their truck, they may only opt to buy bare-minimum insurance, or the lowest level legally allowed for them to purchase and still continue to be licensed.
Proving That a Carrier Is Liable
While owner-operators are required to have their own commercial liability insurance policies, carriers generally have larger amounts of coverage available in the event their operations lead to an injury. If you are able to prove that an independent contractor was actually an employee or an employee-in-fact, then you have the potential to recover larger amounts of damages for your injuries.
Proving that an independent contractor was acting as an employee can be straightforward in some situations and more complicated in others. Examples of factors that can point to misclassification of employees include:
- Making the driver wear a uniform
- Requiring the driver to represent the company on their truck, trailer, or other owned equipment
- Setting strict schedules for back-to-back shipments, or requirements to take multiple shipments over a set time period
- Requiring the driver to attend training sessions
Federal laws also dictate that most carriers accept financial responsibility for the negligent actions of contracted drivers. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, and carriers frequently do everything they can to fall into the loophole. Because of this risk, it is extremely important to speak with a knowledgeable and experienced truck accident lawyer in Tampa following your collision.
Recovering Compensation After a Truck Accident
If you’ve been involved in a trucking accident, you will likely need to receive compensation to help pay for any bodily or property damage that occurred as a result of the accident.
If you were in an accident with a truck driven by an employee of a trucking company, the good news is that they are legally required to have liability insurance to help cover the costs of such accidents. Some large trucking companies even carry more than the mandated minimum, as they know how catastrophic trucking accidents can be.
Being involved in a trucking accident can have life-long consequences. You’ll likely have expensive medical expenses, both at the time of the accident as well as in the future as you work to recover. You will also need to take into account any lost wages, both presently and in the future, and any pain and suffering due to the accident. The company’s insurance should provide you with compensation for these things unless the company argues that the truck driver wasn’t their employee and therefore isn’t covered.
If this situation occurs, you’ll need to find someone to fight for you. At Darrigo & Diaz, we have over 20 years of experience fighting insurance companies in order for our clients to receive the compensation they need. We will work hard to find the true employment status of the driver of the truck that hit you. If the employee is misclassified, we will fight for you to increase your chances of receiving the compensation you need. If the truck driver was a true independent contractor, we will pursue all legal options available in order to obtain a settlement for your losses.
Contact Darrigo & Diaz anytime, day or night, either online or by phone. When you call to schedule your complimentary consultation, one of our experienced lawyers will listen to the details of your case and will provide you with personalized advice about how to best proceed.
Call us at (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation today!