Am I Liable When Someone’s Negligent Actions Cause Injuries While Operating My Truck?
Accidents happen when you least expect them. Consider that before you let someone drive your truck. You are usually liable for whatever happens while your truck is on the road. Large truck accidents don’t frequently happen, but when they do, they cause significant damage—and the owner bears responsibility. Before you relinquish control to someone else, understand the legal consequences.
When a large truck crashes into a private passenger vehicle, the impact often destroys the smaller vehicle and fatally or catastrophically injures the occupants. Truck accident victims sustain traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, and severe burns. If the injured victims survive, they often suffer from lifelong physical and emotional disabilities. They learn to adjust to a lifetime of expensive medical treatments, permanent disabilities, and a permanently diminished earning capacity. As the vehicle owner, you may well face vicarious liability for these and other damages.
Vicarious liability means that a person or entity is responsible for another person’s actions. It’s similar to strict liability in that an injured person doesn’t have to prove that the vicariously liable person did anything wrong. Liability exists because of the relationship between the owner and the driver. For instance:
- An employer is typically vicariously liable for an employee’s work-related activities.
- Under Florida law, parents are vicariously liable for their minor child’s actions while driving.
- Vehicle owners are vicariously liable when other people drive their vehicles with permission.
- A vehicle owner is often vicariously liable whenever a person has implied permission to use his car. An owner implies permission, for instance, when he gives someone his keys without citing time, date, or driving restrictions.
If the vehicle is under a long-term lease agreement requiring that the lessee meet certain financial responsibility requirements, the owner/lessor isn’t considered an owner and is therefore not responsible for the driver’s actions.
Vehicles Are Considered Dangerous
Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine is the key to understanding a truck owner’s vicarious liability. It’s a Florida common law standard based on a 1920 Florida Supreme Court case, So. Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson.
The court examined a vehicle’s potential for death and injury. They reviewed industrial, train, and trolley fatality data as well as rising highway death rates. The court determined that vehicles were “eminently dangerous to the persons using the public highways.” The ruling made vehicle owners vicariously liable for the damages their vehicles cause.
Today’s large commercial trucks are bigger and far more dangerous than the vehicles considered in the original 1920 Florida Supreme Court ruling. Modern semi-trucks cause extensive damage because they weigh 10,000 to 26,000 pounds and more. The most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that in fatal accidents involving large trucks, 72 percent of the fatalities were occupants of the other vehicle. Because of the inherent danger to others, truck owners cannot shift their legal ownership responsibilities to another entity or person, not even the driver.
People and businesses are also legally responsible for damages and injuries where negligent entrustment is a factor. This occurs when a vehicle owner/employer is aware that a driver/employee has a bad driving history but lets that person drive anyway. If the driver causes damages or injuries, vicarious liability applies to the the owner/employer because of the employee/employer relationship. Negligent entrustment is different because it’s based on the owner’s own negligent acts.
Negligent Hiring or Supervision
An employee/owner who fails to perform an adequate pre-employment investigation is liable if the employee/driver’s actions cause injury. When an employer is liable due to negligent hiring or supervision, whether or not a driver’s negligent actions are within the scope of employment isn’t necessarily an issue. In fact, when a driver doesn’t perform as expected or required, it demonstrates and confirms an employer’s negligent hiring.
To prove an employer negligently hired or supervised a truck driver, plaintiffs must show a chain of events.
- A motor carrier had a duty to investigate a driver’s record but failed to determine if the driver was qualified, properly licensed, and fit to drive.
- Had the motor carrier conducted a proper investigation, it would have found relevant issues or violations and would have rejected the driver’s application.
- If the motor carrier hired a driver whom it knew or should have known had a problematic background, it is liable for negligent hiring and supervision if the driver causes an accident.
Defenses to Liability
Because vicarious liability isn’t based on fault, owners/employers have few defenses. The exposure exists simply because an owner gave a driver permission to use a vehicle. The owner may eliminate liability if it proves the driver took the vehicle without permission or stole it outright. It might also avoid or reduce damages if the owner successfully defends the driver against negligence allegations using traditional liability defenses, such as:
- No negligence: The defendants try to prove that the driver wasn’t negligent.
- Comparative fault: Under Florida’s pure comparative fault statute, if the defendant can prove an injured plaintiff was negligent, the court reduces the recovery based on percentage of negligence. An injured plaintiff who was 99 percent negligent can still recover something.
- Damage defense: A defendant claims the plaintiff didn’t sustain injuries in the accident or that the injuries aren’t as serious as claimed.
- Vehicle defect: If a brake, wheel, or other defect causes an accident, the owner can cite the defect as the accident cause and file a third-party complaint against the manufacturer.
Contact Our Truck Accident Attorneys at the Dolman Law Group
If you’re recovering from serious injuries or a Florida truck accident killed your loved one, we want to help you. At Dolman Law Group, we aim to use our experience and resources to help our clients recover the compensation they deserve. Our attorneys understand the complicated legal and factual issues that can arise after a semi-truck accident. While our clients recover from their injuries, we do our utmost to help them achieve the best possible outcomes. Call the Dolman Law Group at (727) 451-6900 or complete our online contact form and we’ll schedule your free consultation.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765