When compared to a vehicle accident between two cars, a truck accident has the potential to be far more severe. Cars typically weigh in the vicinity of 3,000 pounds. Trucks, on the other hand, weigh closer to 30,000 pounds, even when they have empty trailers. When full, tractor trailers can weigh more like 80,000 pounds. When something this size gets involved in a wreck on the highway, it brings so much force that the other vehicles in the crash are likely to get significantly damaged, putting their occupants at great risk for a personal injury.
If you or someone you love gets involved in a truck accident that was not your fault, one of the questions that you are bound to wonder is who will pay for your losses. After all, if it was not your fault that the accident happened, expecting you to pay out of your own pocket for the costs of your recovery seems unfair – you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the trucker was responsible for the crash. Luckily, in Maryland, truck accidents can lead to employer liability, which can make a huge difference for your recovery.
Employer Liability and “Respondeat Superior”
Maryland's personal injury law has adopted a crucially important legal doctrine – respondeat superior. This doctrine, which is Latin for “let the master answer,” holds employers liable for the negligence of their employees whenever their employees are acting within the scope of their job. This takes the legal responsibility for a truck accident and puts it on the trucking company in addition to the truck driver, even though the trucking company was technically far away from the scene of the crash, safe in its headquarters.
There are a few reasons why Maryland, and nearly all other states in the U.S., uses this doctrine. First, respondeat superior recognizes that every business that has employees is bound to get a benefit from employing others to work for it. This would create a windfall if the business were not also liable for the accidents that these employees cause while benefitting the business. Instead, respondeat superior treats the cost of these accidents as a cost of doing business. Second, every accident that results in an innocent person being hurt carries a significant risk that the party who caused the accident will not have the means to pay for their recovery. Respondeat superior helps this by pulling the employer into the situation if the accident was caused by one of its employees while they were on the clock. This can go a long way towards ensuring that the victim will get the compensation that they need to make a full recovery.
Scope of Employment
A key piece to the respondeat superior puzzle is whether the employee – in this case, the truck driver – was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the accident occurred. In a trucking accident, it is almost always the case that the trucker was within the scope of their employment. Whenever truckers are behind the wheel, there is a very high chance that they are moving cargo from one place to another for their employer's financial benefit. However, if the truck driver was traveling in between jobs or was taking a detour from the assigned path in order to take care of some personal business, they might be considered to be outside the scope of their employment. If this is the case, then respondeat superior would not apply, and you would have to rely on getting compensation from the driver, alone.
Employees and Independent Contractors
Another important issue, especially when it comes to truck accidents, is whether the negligent party who caused the accident was actually an employee. This is because, while employers can be held liable for the injuries caused by their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior, they are not responsible for injuries caused by any independent contractors they hire.
The difference between an employee and an independent contractor is how much control the employer has over how they do work. Employees are responsible for following the instructions of their employers, both when it comes to what they are to do, and how they are to do it. Independent contractors, on the other hand, can only be instructed to produce results – employers cannot dictate how a contractor is supposed to do their job.
In the trucking world, this has real life applications. While many truck drivers work with a trucking company – driving a rig owned by the company, getting reimbursed for business expenses like gas and maintenance, and doing vehicle inspections according to company policy – others are independent truckers who own their own equipment and take assignments on a freelance basis.
If you get into a truck accident with one of these independent truckers, it is far more difficult to make the doctrine of respondeat superior work for you.
The Importance of Employer Liability
Employer liability can make a huge difference after a truck accident. If the employer is not liable for your injuries, you could be stuck trying to get compensated from a truck driver who does not have the financial means to pay much at all. This is why it is so important to use the legal doctrine of respondeat superior – making sure that the employer is held liable for the conduct of their workers gives you a huge source of compensation that can make the difference between a full and a minimal recovery.
Maryland Truck Accident Lawyers Gilman & Bedigian
The legal maneuvering that it can take to make sure the employer is made liable for the conduct of its employees is often complex and nuanced. The personal injury attorneys at the law offices of Gilman & Bedigian are up to it.
Call our law office at (800) 529-6162 or contact us online if you or someone you love has been hurt in a trucking accident and want to explore your legal options. We can fight for your interests both in and out of court.