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Accidents involving commercial semis present greater danger and threat of serious injury, due to the nature of the vehicle involved. This is one of the reasons semi truck operators are required to carry higher limit insurance. If it is a commercial vehicle, liability may extend beyond the driver to include the entity that owns or sponsors the vehicle. This extension in liability means that drivers hit by a semi truck operator have numerous options when making insurance claims or filing a personal injury suit.
Whom do I Sue in a Semi Truck Accident?
Protocol in all vehicle accidents, even those involving commercial vehicles, is to first attempt to reach a settlement with the at-fault driver's insurance provider. If a reasonable settlement cannot be reached, then you may file a personal injury lawsuit.
In an accident involving a semi, you would sue the semi's driver, just as you would in a typical automobile accident. However, if the driver is a direct employee, rather than an independent contractor, you may also sue the company that employs the driver, as companies are liable for the actions of employees.
The list of responsible parties may extend beyond employee and employer, however. The hierarchy in commercial trucking is often very complicated. One entity may own the truck, another may hire the person who drives the truck, yet another may lease the truck, and still another have hired the use of the truck. In these complex scenarios, your suit may include:
- The driver
- The truck's owner
- The lessor
- The company whose good were being transported at the time of the accident
If you discover the accident occurred as the result of a mechanical issue, you may also sue the mechanic or manufacturer of the part that failed to function properly.
Employer vs. Employee Responsibility in a Semi Truck Accident
In cases where the driver who hit you was employed by a trucking company, your lawyer typically chooses to sue the employer, not the driver. The purpose of a civil lawsuit is not administering justice or meting out punishment, it is receiving compensation for damages you suffered as a result of the accident.
If the driver was found at-fault for the accident, he or she likely experienced consequences already, possibly losing their job or CDL. Your lawyer recognizes that your best chance of receiving full compensation for damages is by suing the organization employing the driver. In part, this is because corporations have the wherewithal to afford such damages, but it also comes down to human nature. Juries are more likely to sympathize with a human driver than a faceless corporation.
Under the principle of respondeat superior, companies are responsible for the unintentional, wrongful acts employees commit during the performance of their duties. In essence, it transfers employee liability to employer, as though the employer itself committed the act. The reasoning is that, in conducting business, wrongful conduct is likely to occur. Losses therefore are merely the inevitable cost of doing business.
The Independent Contractor
As the name implies, independent contractors work for themselves. In this case, you sue the driver. However, your lawyer may still find other parties to include in the suit, such as the truck's owner or lessor. Additionally, your lawyer will investigate the facts surrounding the hiring of the semi's driver, such as reviewing the contract between the driver and the company that hired him to transport its goods and services.
Determining the Scope of Employment
When suing a company for an employee's actions, you must prove said actions occurred within the scope of employment. Laws differ by state, but courts consider a variety of common factors when determining scope of employment, beginning with the intent of the employee and what he or she was hired to do. After that, courts typically consider the conduct itself as well as the time and place it occurred. They may also consider reasonable expectations the employer may have of its employees, and how much freedom the employer allows employees in the performance of their duties.
For example, if the semi's driver rear-ends you in the course of making a delivery, this is clearly a case of employer liability. If, however, the driver struck your car while conducting personal business, the court typically rules that the driver was not acting within the scope of employment.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Semi Truck Accident Lawyer
If you are the victim of an accident with a commercial truck driver, schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer to discuss your case. He or she will advise you on the merits of your case and help set reasonable expectations as regards possible damages.