Many people drive simply to get where they are going. You likely drive to and from work, school, the grocery store or anywhere else you need to go. As you drive, you share the road with dozens or even hundreds of commercial vehicles and drivers. These are workers who drive for a living – typically transporting goods or paid passengers.
What happens when you get into an accident caused by a commercial driver? Is the driver solely liable, or is the company also responsible? The answer is a little bit complicated because it depends on the employment relationship between the company and the driver.
Companies have vicarious liability when employees cause crashes
California and most other states recognize a legal principle which is sometimes called “respondeat superior,” and other times is called vicarious liability. Put simply, it means that employers are legally responsible when their employees, while acting in the scope of employment, negligently harm a third party. As one important example, trucking companies are generally considered liable when their commercial drivers cause an injurious or fatal accident.
Vicarious liability is clear if the worker driving for a company is classified as a regular employee. Unfortunately, this issue has been complicated in recent years by a practice some major companies use to save money and protect themselves from liability.
Questions of liability when commercial drivers are independent contractors
The principle of vicarious liability generally doesn’t apply if the worker who caused the accident is classified as an “independent contractor.” The primary reason for this exemption is that ICs are supposed to have considerable freedom over how and when they do their work, and it therefore wouldn’t be appropriate to blame a business for the actions of a worker over which they had so little control.
Unfortunately, many major companies, including Amazon, Uber, Lyft, and Door Dash, have chosen to classify their drivers as independent contractors. Many believe they do this to save money (because they don’t need to provide benefits or job protections) and to protect themselves against vicarious liability. There have been numerous high-profile lawsuits alleging intentional misclassification.
There are strict rules as to when a worker should be labeled an IC vs. a regular employee, and California has some of the clearest direction on this issue. Under these criteria, the drivers for many of the companies listed above would arguably be considered employees rather than contractors, because the companies tightly control how and when the drivers do their jobs.
The bottom line is that when someone labeled as an IC causes a car accident, chances are good that vicarious liability will be fiercely contested by the company they work for. However, depending on the facts of the case, the company can sometimes be held liable anyway.
The Right Attorney Can Make A Major Difference In Your Case
As you can see, accidents involving commercial vehicles can be complicated. That’s why you need to work with a skilled and knowledgeable attorney when seeking compensation. The attorneys at Woods Williford, P.C., have decades of combined experience in California personal injury law, and we advocate tirelessly for our clients.
To learn more about how we can help you, contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.