Let’s say that you’re driving across Interstate 4 and a semi-truck transporting beverages for a major corporation seriously injures you. The beverage logo is clearly visible on the truck, and you can clearly tell that the truck driver is new to the job and could never personally compensate you for the serious injuries you sustained in the accident. But you’re sure the truck accident took place because the driver did not pay attention, not due to any mechanical fault on the part of the truck. Accordingly, do you have a case in Florida against the beverage company for your injuries, or is the truck driver the only party liable for your compensation?
Truck Accidents in the Course of Employment
It is a foundational principle of American law that employers are generally responsible for controlling the conduct and behavior of their employees while their employees are “in the course of employment.” This doctrine is known as respondeat superior. For example, if the truck belonged to the beverage company and the driver was an employee of the beverage company, then you could generally hold the beverage company liable for your injuries. If, however, the beverage company entered into a contract with a separate trucking company to transport its goods and the truck driver worked for that trucking company, then you might only hold the private trucking company liable, as opposed to the beverage company.
But what if the driver owned the truck and privately contracted to transport groceries to a local store? In this case, your attorney would have to look at the following factors to determine whether the driver was truly an independent contractor:
- The amount of control the business held over the driver and his actions
- Whether this is the driver’s main occupation
- Whether the type of work typically requires supervision
- The level of skill required
- Who owns the truck
- The length of the relationship between the parties
- How the company pays the truck driver
If the truck driver is found to be an independent contractor, then you may not go after a party who is simply using the driver to transport goods. If, however, the parties have an employee/employer relationship, then you may hold both the negligent driver and the employer liable for your injuries and lost wages.
Florida Comparative Fault and Shared Liability
If a truck accident injured you and you are seeking compensation from multiple parties, you must understand how the parties may share liability. Generally, you may hold an employer liable for your injuries to the same extent as the negligent employee, but some general exceptions apply. For example, if the truck driver violated federal trucking regulations and company policy by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then the driver’s employer may try to disclaim liability. The trucking company might, however, face liability for negligent hiring and/or training of its employee. In this case, the jury must determine who bears what level of responsibility by determining the comparative fault of the parties. Florida follows what is known as a “pure comparative fault” system. Florida law states that “contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as economic and noneconomic damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery.”
In other words, if a jury finds the truck driver 80 percent at fault for the accident, the employer was 10 percent at fault for negligent hiring, and you 10 percent at fault for speeding, you can recover 90 percent of your damages. However, Florida has abolished “joint and several” liability, an old legal principle that allowed you to choose from whom you wished to recover the full amount of damages. For example, if the jury determines that you are 10 percent at fault for your injuries, the truck driver is 80 percent at fault for behavior that fell outside the scope of employment, and the truck company is 10 percent at fault for negligent entrustment of the truck to the driver, you can only recover 10 percent of your damages from the trucking company.
Seeking Compensation For Your Florida Truck Accident
Typically, truckers and trucking companies carry commercial motor vehicle insurance with high policy limits, especially if the truck hauls hazardous materials. Your Florida personal injury and truck accident attorney will generally attempt to get compensation for you by filing a claim with the liable insurance company before taking the case before a Florida court. If you seek compensation, you are generally entitled to damages for:
- Medical bills
- Medical equipment
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Loss of spousal support
- Pain and suffering
Speak with your personal injury lawyer about the best way to seek compensation after a serious Florida truck accident.
Contact a Clearwater Truck Accident Attorney to Discuss your Case
There is a big difference between an accident with a motorcycle and one with a large truck. Generally, the truck and the negligent driver will sustain less damage than you, but will leave you to suffer the consequences of the driver’s negligence simply because you lacked the height and weight of an 18-wheeler for protection. Remember that an employer is generally liable for injuries caused by its employees while in the scope of employment, and when it comes to driving a truck, this is typically the case anytime the truck is on the road. The attorneys at the Dolman Law Group can help analyze the facts of your case and explain your options for financial recovery under Florida law. Contact them online or at (727) 451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation.