If you’ve been in an accident with a large truck, you will want to recover money to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and more. You are suing the driver, but they are just a driver, and you may not be able to get much money from them. Who else can you sue? The trucking company?
Who Can I Sue in a Commercial Carrier Accident?
You may sue several people. Start with suing the driver if their negligence or intentional actions caused the accident. You can sue the company they work for if they meet certain circumstances discussed below. If faulty parts contributed to the accident, you may sue the parts manufacturer. If people designed and built the road incorrectly, you can sue the road designers and builders.
In a big truck accident, there are many people who you can potentially sue. Talk to a lawyer with experience in commercial carrier accidents. They can find the right people who played a part in injuring you.
Can I Sue a Trucking Company If Their Driver Caused an Accident?
Yes, you can sue a trucking company for injuries caused by their driver in an accident. Companies are liable for the negligent actions of employees in most states. But there are a few things to keep in mind. Your injuries must be serious under the law and meet some specific criteria. Sometimes, you must sue a driver or another party instead of a trucking company. Let’s untangle this.
What is Negligent Entrustment?
Negligent entrustment is when an employer leaves a dangerous item—in this case a truck—in the hands of someone they knew or should have known to use the item in a risky manner. In a truck accident, it looks like this:
- The owner entrusts the truck to a driver.
- The driver is incompetent, reckless, or unlicensed.
- The owner knows or should have known #2.
- The driver was negligent.
- The driver’s negligence caused damages.
If the judge finds negligent entrustment, then you can seek recovery of damages in a civil lawsuit.
Because a commercial vehicle is such a large and dangerous thing, the law charges truck company owners to take extra care in examining qualifications when they hire new truck drivers. Truck company owners should look at:
- Licensing, training, and credentials
- Skills appropriate for the equipment and situation
- Any prior restrictions or disqualifications
- History of accidents and violations
- Being — or becoming — physically unqualified to operate the vehicle
Some states allow for punitive damages if you can prove negligent entrustment. Insurance companies do not cover punitive damages, so the business feels their outcomes directly.
What Is Company Liability for Drivers?
Company liability for drivers applies negligent entrustment in an employment context. One doctrine that announces this is “respondent superior” (“let the primary one answer”). It translates to “the employer is liable for the actions of the employee.” Vicarious liability is the name given to company liability.
When Can’t I Sue the Trucking Company?
Today, many drivers are independent contractors. They own their own trucks and take jobs independently from different customers. They may work for a trucking company to handle an overload, but to that company, they are an independent contractor, not an employee. Therefore, while you can sue the driver, you cannot sue the trucking company.
The driver also had to be on the clock at the time of the accident. If they were on their lunch break and driving to a restaurant for lunch, you cannot sue the company. There, the driver uses the vehicle for their own ends, not those of the company.
Is This the Law in Texas?
Yes, Texas’ law works just like this, except they add in a custodian to the owner who may entrust the vehicle to the “unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless” person. Ownership is unnecessary. What is important is the person who has control of the vehicle.
Texas has a cap on punitive damages. It is the greater of $200,000 — or — an amount equal to double economic damages plus an amount equal to non-economic damages up to $750,000.
Is This the Law in Louisiana?
Yes, Louisiana’s law follows the same pattern discussed above. It requires ownership, unlike Texas. Louisiana only allows for punitive damages where the driver was intoxicated.
What Damages Can I Get?
You can get damages to help get you back to your condition before the accident happened. These damages include:
- Medical bills from the accident — past, present, and future
- Pain and suffering — past, present, and future
- Lost income — past, present, and future
- Loss of mental function or a body member
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of services
- Physical impairment
- Physical disfigurement
- Mental anguish
- Damage to vehicle
Other damages may be available in your case. Talk with a lawyer about the details of your case to explore them.
What Does It Mean That the Owner Knew or Should Have Known?
To be liable under negligent entrustment, the owner must have knowledge—or be in a position where they should have had knowledge—that the driver tended to be negligent or reckless. The easiest way to prove this is if the driver’s paperwork or licensing isn’t straight. That’s the type of thing that either you look at or you should have looked at when hiring a driver. If a license has been revoked and they are still on the road, that’s the company’s fault for not looking (or for looking and ignoring it.)
This can also be a matter of character. We have all known people who are basically reckless. These are the type of people who drag race or jump off a building for fun. We also know people who are careful and on the level. So does (or should) an employer. Allowing the first type to drive an 18-wheeler is a problem.
If things line up correctly, you can sue the trucking company if a truck accident hurts you when one of their drivers was at fault. The incident has to meet some qualifications. Both Texas and Louisiana recognize negligent entrustment. In a lawsuit, this allows you to spread the costs of paying for your damages around different parties.
At Morris and Dewett, we have a lot of experience in automobile and truck accidents. We can answer your questions and steer you in the right direction.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Mayes, 236 S.W.3d 754, 758 (Tex. 2007) https://casetext.com/case/goodyear-tire-v-mayes
Legal Information Institute. Loss of consortium. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/loss_of_consortium
Louisiana CC 2320 https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=109383
Mary Sue Sauceda v. Quality Motors d/b/a Quality Automotive Appeal from 13th District Court of Navarro County (memorandum opinion) https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/tenth-court-of-appeals/2021/10-19-00422-cv.html