If you get involved in a truck accident in Philadelphia but you were not the one driving the truck, the personal injuries that you have likely suffered are devastating. When compared to car accidents involving nothing but passenger cars, truck crashes are far more severe. This is because trucks are many times heavier than cars – more than ten times as heavy, even when they are empty –have a higher profile from the ground, and are often traveling at highway speeds on the interstate, rather than slowly on the back roads of Pennsylvania. Altogether, these factors make truck crashes much more serious than car accidents.
Unfortunately, the people in truck accidents that are driving cars are often the worst off. The weight and height that are so dangerous to occupants in passenger vehicles also protects truck drivers from harm. As a result, numbers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that, in fatal crashes involving one truck and one car, 97% of the people who died were in the car.
This makes it all the more important for you to pursue compensation in a personal injury claim if you or someone you love has been hurt in a truck accident.
Truck Accidents and Employer Liability
Unfortunately, the medical expenses alone that result from a serious truck accident are typically far more than a typical truck driver can afford to pay, even if you do succeed in a personal injury lawsuit against them. As a result, taking advantage of Pennsylvania's respondeat superior law and implicating the truck driver's employer can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.
Respondeat Superior in Philadelphia
In Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania, courts use a legal doctrine called respondeat superior in personal injury cases to implicate employers for the accidents that were caused by their employees, while they were on the job.
There are a couple of ideas behind this legal doctrine. One is that, if employers can reap the benefits of employing other people to do their own work, for them, then those same employers should also be liable for accidents that happen when their employees are out working for them. Another rationale behind implicating employers in personal injury cases caused by their employees is that the true victim of the accident is the person filing the personal injury lawsuit: They should be compensated by someone, first, and then the employer and the employee can determine who should reimburse whom.
For these reasons, courts in Philadelphia will use the legal doctrine of respondeat superior to impute liability onto an employer, like a trucking company, for accidents caused by their employees, like truck drivers, if the accident happened in the scope of employment.
Unfortunately, each of these two elements can raise important issues in your case: Employment, and the scope of it.
Employment, Employees, and Independent Contractors
In order to impute liability for an accident onto an employer, there must be an employer/employee relationship, first. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as it sounds.
When one party, called the principal, gets another party, the agent, to do something, the amount of control that the principal exerts over the agent goes a long way in determining whether the agent is an employee or merely an independent contractor. In Pennsylvania, principals who furnish the tools that the agent needs to do the work, or who dictate not only what the agent is to do but also how they are to go about it, are often said to be in an employer/employee relationship that allows liability to be imputed onto the principal. On the other hand, if the principal exerts little control over how the agent does its work, and merely looks at the results, then it will be more likely that the agent is an independent contractor.
In the context of a trucking accident, if the truck driver is the employee of the trucking company, then the trucking company can be held liable for the crash. If the trucker is found to be a contractor, though, you will only be able to get compensated from them, personally, and will not be able to reach through to the trucking company.
Scope of Employment
Another wrinkle in the respondeat superior doctrine is that, if there is an employer/employee relationship, the accident needs to have happened while the employee was acting within the scope of their employment in order for liability to be imputed onto the employer.
In the context of a truck accident, this will almost always be the case because trucking companies pay their drivers to drive cargo from one place to another, and truck crashes almost always happen while this is happening. However, if a trucker is taking a detour to attend to personal matters and the accident happens before they return to their route, the crash could be found to have happened outside the scope of their employment. Additionally, if a truck crash happens while the trucker was between jobs, it might be difficult to show that respondeat superior should apply.
The Importance of Employer Liability
Using respondeat superior to show that the employer is liable for a truck driver's mistake is crucial because it allows you to implicate the trucking company into the case. With them involved, the chances of you getting fully compensated, rather than just partially compensated, is far greater because they are much more likely that the truck driver to have the assets or the insurance needed to cover your losses.
Philadelphia Truck Accident Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
If you or someone you love gets hurt in a truck accident in Philadelphia, you need to be fully compensated – only getting half of what you need would be unfair. This is why the personal injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian represent truck accident victims and try implicating the trucking companies that were responsible for the lawsuit. If you want to get the compensation you need and that you deserve, contact us online or call us at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.