Trucking Companies are Responsible for Their Drivers Even When They Pretend to be Independent Contractors

August 28, 2014

by Tanya P. Tambling

Some trucking companies try to avoid responsibility for their drivers by designating them as “independent contractors.”  The general rule is that companies are responsible for accidents caused by their employees, but not for accidents caused by independent contractors.  However, under both California and Federal law, trucking companies are responsible for their drivers even when they call them independent contractors.

For example, attorneys Hunter Pyle and Tanya Tambling recently settled a case in which our client was struck by a 33,000 pound big rig on a California highway.  The truck driver was uninsured and did not have the permits required by law.  The accident left our client permanently disabled and totaled her car.

The trucking company claimed that it was not liable for the driver because the driver was an independent contractor.  We filed a motion with the court and the judge agreed that the trucking company was liable.  We were then able to recover $500,000 from the trucking company for our client.

The specific facts of the case are as follows:  We filed suit against both the driver and the trucking company for which he was driving.  In response, the trucking company argued that it was not liable for the driver because the driver was an independent contractor.  Our firm defeated this argument on two grounds.

First, we successfully argued that California law provides that a trucking company that takes on an activity (1) which can be lawfully performed only under public authority, and (2) which involves possible danger to the public, is responsible for harm caused by the negligence of the carrier’s independent contractor.  See Serna v. Pettey Leach Trucking, Inc. (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1475, 1486.

Under California law, motor carriers who transport property for compensation must (1) obtain a carrier identification number from the DMV per Vehicle Code § 34507.5(a) and (2) hold a valid motor carrier permit issued by the DMV per Vehicle Code § 34620(a).  Furthermore, hauling trailers on the highway involves possible danger to the public.  Therefore, trucking companies are liable for the acts of their drivers even when they are independent contractors.

Second, we successfully argued that if a driver fails to have the permits required by law to operate a truck, his actions can only be legalized by inferring that he was an agent of his employer.  Klein v. Leatherman (1969) 270 Cal.App.2d 792.  In this case, the driver did not have the required permits.

Holding the trucking company liable in our case was very important because the driver did not have any insurance.  The trucking company is required to carry insurance.  Fortunately, in our case, it did, and we were able to reach a settlement.

If you have been involved in an accident involving a truck or big rig, please feel free to email us at inquire@ssrplaw.com.  Or call our office for a free consultation at 510-663-9240.  We handle these types of cases.