Brad Pistotnik Law
Abogado El Toro

Can an Employer be Liable for Commercial Vehicle Accidents?

Who is liable for a commercial vehicle accident? Can an employer be held liable for the actions of their drivers, mechanics, and others who work for them? When an accident involving a commercial vehicle occurs, there may be multiple parties who share liability. Employer liability can be pursued if the actions of an employee caused or contributed to causing an accident.

In 2015, 4,311 large trucks and buses were involved in fatality accidents. This represented an 8% increase over 2014, and a 26% increase over 2009. Since 2009, the number of injury causing crashes has increased 69%. These numbers are trending upwards, and with more than 12 million commercial trucks and buses on the road, it is likely to continue climbing.

Of the fatality causing large vehicle accidents that occurred in 2015, 147, or 3.6% occurred when the driver lost control over the vehicle or suffered a disabling event. Loss of control was caused by tire blowouts which led to 1.2% of fatal accidents, brake systems which caused 1.1% of fatal accidents. In total, 6.4% of fatality accidents involved a vehicle related failure. In cases where these failures were the result of an employer's failure to replace defective parts or conduct routine maintenance, employer liability would come into play.

Truck drivers and their employers are required to adhere to hours of service rules enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These include 11 hour driving limits following 10 consecutive hours off, mandatory rest breaks of at least 30 minutes, and 60/70 hour limits on driving every 7 to 8 consecutive days. Since 2012, these rules have been rigorously enforced. In 2013, there were more than 48,000 Hours of Service violations. By 2016, that number dropped to less than 37,000. However, during that same period the number of false log violations rose. In 2016, there were 36,818 violations for filing false reports of driving records which was a 9.6% increase over 2015. Employers who force their drivers to violate these regulations by driving longer hours or falsifying reports to avoid detection can be held liable for the accidents caused by the fatigued drivers in their fleet.

Employers can be liable for commercial vehicle accidents if the driver, mechanic, or other employee was working while under their scope of employment. This negligence arises under Respondeat Superior and the doctrine of Vicarious Liability. This would include a driver who causes an accident while making a delivery or a mechanic whose negligence during an inspection or repair led to a mechanical failure. Employers must exercise due diligence in the hiring and supervision of the people they employ. Some of the best evidence that shows reckless, wanton and grossly negligent behavior comes in from finding and establishing claims to prove negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent qualification, negligent supervision and negligent retention where a company has a bad employee and keeps them on after they hurt someone. This means the employer must ensure the drivers they employ have a license that is in good standing and hasn't been suspended, and that the mechanics they hire have the proper certifications to perform the tasks required for their position. Employers are also required to exercise adequate supervision that includes training, drug testing, and routine checks of driver's logs to ensure adherence to protocols and established regulations.

Brad Pistotnik Law represents clients who are involved in commercial vehicle accidents in Hays, Wichita, Overland Park, Colby, Hays, Goodland, Liberal, Winfield, Wellington, Enid, Oklahoma City, Guymon, Ponca City, Moore, Topeka, Olathe, Hutchinson, Shawnee, Garden City, and elsewhere in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, and Missouri, Texas and Florida. We help clients recover compensation for employer liability to cover their medical expenses, lost income, and the overall impact an automobile accident has on their quality of life.

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