Peninsula Logistics v. Erb – Truck Accident Liability Waived

Commercial truck accidents can result in major property damage and serious injuries to those involved. semitruck4.jpg

What often surprises many victims is the fact that because truck drivers are often independent contractors, it can be difficult to hold trucking companies – or insurers – liable for damages. In many cases, victims are dealing not only with the truck driver, but also the owner of the truck, the owner of the rig and the agency that connects truck drivers with various assignments.

The organizational structure can seem convoluted, but there is a reason for it: To reduce the potential for liability in the event of a crash. These firms know how much victims rack up in medical bills and lost wages, and they don’t want to be the ones to pay for it.

If a trucker is not technically an employee, the hope (for the company) is it cannot be held vicariously liable. The owner of the truck might still be liable, but it depends on the contract that existed between the driver, the owner and the assigning agency.

Our Broward truck accident lawyers know these cases can quickly become complex legal matters, and it’s important for victims to have a knowledgeable legal advocate in their corner.

The National Highway Traffic Administration reports Broward continues to see a high number of large truck accident fatalities. In 2010, it had the most in the state, with 21. In 2013 (the most recent year for which figures are available), there were 7. (When population was factored in, rural counties were far more likely to see truck accident deaths.)

In the recent case of Peninsula Logistics v. Erb, plaintiff sought damages from the owner of cargo being transported by an allegedly negligent truck driver.

According to court records from Florida’s 5th DCA, plaintiffs were struck by a semi-truck, driven by an independent contractor. The truck was owned by one company, but the cargo was owned by another (defendant). The trailer was owned by yet a third company.

Plaintiffs concede driver was an independent contractor, but argued cargo owner was responsible because F.S. 316.302(1)(b) requires all owners and/or drivers of commercial vehicles engaged in intrastate commerce to abide by federal rules and regulations concerning safety, maintenance and operation of commercial vehicles. Plaintiffs argued that because the cargo company hired driver as an independent contractor to ship its goods, the cargo company should be vicariously liable for the negligent operation of the truck.

Trial judge agreed, and directed a verdict in favor of plaintiff on the issue of cargo company’s vicarious liability.

Defendant company appealed, arguing that it was neither the owner of the vehicle or employer of the driver, and thus could not be held vicariously liable for driver’s alleged negligence. Company argued that because it had no legal right to operate the vehicle, it couldn’t assign the right of operation to driver and therefore couldn’t assume responsibility for its operation.

The appellate court agreed, reversed in part and remanded.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Peninsula Logistics v. Erb, March 6, 2015, Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Glaze v. Chick-Fil-A – Florida Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit Stumbles on Law Change, March 10, 2015, Broward Injury Lawyer Blog