The trucking industry has gotten very savvy when it comes to insulating itself from liability stemming from trucking accidents.
These companies know that because of the sheer size of these vehicles, collisions cause severe injuries and major damage. They also recognize the principle of vicarious liability holds employers responsible for the negligent actions of employees, or vehicle owners for the negligent operation of those vehicles.
So the industry has become extremely fragmented. Most truck drivers are independent contractors. The rigs are owned separately from the trailer and often the load being hauled is owned by yet another entity. Then there is usually an agency that arranges those connections.
So in the event of a Palm Beach trucking accident, it can be difficult to ascertain who exactly is responsible to cover damages. This is where an experienced attorney becomes beneficial.
In the recent appeal of Peninsula Logistics Inc. v. Erb, the Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal sided with a trucking cargo defendant who argued it should have received a directed verdict in its favor – meaning it was essentially absolved of liability.
Plaintiff still has other options for pursuit of damages, but this is a good example of how some in the trucking industry have effectively evaded responsibility.
According to court records, the truck driver was operating his tractor trailer southbound on U.S. Highway 27 when he struck a Ford Expedition driven by plaintiff. It was alleged the truck driver crossed the center line of the road when he struck plaintiff. Visibility on the road was impacted as a result of thick smoke from a controlled burn nearby. Plaintiff’s injuries were so severe, he had to have his left leg amputated.
Following trial, plaintiff was awarded $7.1 million in damages. His wife was awarded $250,000 for loss of consortium.
However, on appeal, defendant made a number of arguments as to why it believed the trial court erred. Only one warranted further exploration, the court ruled. And on this one point, the court reversed.
The issue raised was whether trial court erred in declining defense motion for directed verdict prior to trial. Defense argued that as the owner of the cargo, it had not liability for the trucker’s actions or the negligent operation of the truck.
The truck driver was an independent contractor. The semi-truck was owned by another transport company. The trailer was owned by yet another company. It was only the cargo that belonged to defendant.
Plaintiff argued the cargo owner was liable per F.S. 316.302(1)(b), which provides all owners or drivers of commercial vehicles engaged in intrastate commerce are subjected to the regulations and rules contained in parts of 49 C.F.R. Those rules impose certain legal duties to employers regarding the operation, safety and maintenance of commercial vehicles. The statute specifically states “employer” can be any person engaged in a business that owns or leases a motor vehicle or assigns employees to operate it. This can include independent contractors.
Trial court agreed with plaintiff here, declined a motion for directed verdict and the case proceeded to trial.
However, appellate court ruled this was improper because defendant was neither owner nor driver of the vehicle. Nor was it the employer of the driver, and neither did it assign the driver to his post or lease the vehicle for this purpose.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Peninsula Logistics Inc. v. Erb, March 2, 2015, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Uriell v. Regents of UC – $550K Failure to Diagnose Verdict Affirmed, March 4, 2015, Palm Beach County Injury Lawyer Blog