When a truck accident is caused by an employee of the trucking company or company engaged in hauling, the company is liable for personal injury or wrongful death caused by the employee.  Ohio law has long held that an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of its employee.  However, an employer is typically liable for the acts of an independent contractor who is doing work for the employer under certain limited circumstances.  In the setting of a truck accident, this issue can be important.

In the trucking industry, independent contractors perform much of the driving.  If an independent contractor harms another driver by negligently operating his/her semi-tractor and causing a crash, the trucking company is liable for the injury if it controlled the manner and means of doing the work or if the company owed a non-delegable duty.  Under the non-delegable duty doctrine, an employer is held liable for the negligent actions of its independent contractor when either: (1) a duty is imposed on the employer by statute, contract, franchise, charter, or common law; or (2) a duty is imposed on the employer because performance of the work itself creates a danger to others.  Work is considered inherently dangerous when special risks are associated with the work such that a reasonable man would recognize the necessity of taking special precautions.”  One example of inherently dangerous provided by Ohio courts is where an independent contractor is required to operate around high speed traffic and electrified power lines during a road construction project.

The issue also arises when an independent contractor is a passenger in a tractor-trailer operated by another driver on his/her team.  In this setting, the trucking company’s insurance carrier may attempt to argue that both drivers were employees rather than independent contractors in order to claim a standard exclusion under the motor carrier’s insurance policy.  Ohio courts have overwhelmingly supported this interpretation of a federal trucking regulation that defines “employee” to include anyone whose work “directly affects commercial motor vehicle safety.”  Since a passenger does not affect the safe operation of the truck, there is naturally some room to argue that this interpretation does not apply to passengers.

The employment status of a trucker who causes or is injured in a truck accident may be important to determining the availability of insurance coverage or the liability of the trucking company.  As a truck crash attorney, reviewing Ohio case law that addresses this issue, it is clear that this is a fact-intensive inquiry that demands a careful investigation into all of the facts surrounding the accident and the parties involved.

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