When an Owner-Operator Truck Driver Can Be Sued

June 18, 2021 Truck Accident Blog

Do Lawsuits Apply to Owner-Operator Truck Drivers?

While most truck drivers work as employees of trucking companies, it is not uncommon for them to operate as independent contractors in the role of an owner-operator. In 2018, there were more than 120,000 truck accidents that resulted in an injury, which was an 8% increase from 2016. The entities you file a lawsuit against in the event of an accident can differ depending on the truck driver’s exact profession and role in the industry.

What Is an Owner-Operator Truck Driver?

Before you learn what it takes to file a lawsuit against an owner-operator truck driver, you should understand the difference between these drivers and standard company drivers. When a driver works as an employee for a trucking company, all that’s required of them is to execute the jobs that are provided to them by the company in question. The trucking company will take care of all of the remaining logistics when it comes to setting up deliveries and creating contracts.

When a truck driver becomes an owner-operator, they are tasked with performing all of the duties that a trucking company would typically handle, which include forging contracts and building relationships. Drivers who work as independent contractors can also take jobs from trucking companies that are in need of additional drivers.

If you get into a truck accident with a company employee, it would likely be possible to file a lawsuit against the driver as well as the trucking company. Since an owner-operator truck driver acts as both the company and the driver, filing a lawsuit can be more complicated.

Supreme Court Legislation About Lawsuits Against Owner-Operator Truck Drivers

In 2019, the Supreme Court provided a ruling that directly affects the ability to require arbitration for owner-operator truck drivers. However, this ruling mainly involves an owner-operator truck driver filing a lawsuit against a trucking company that they did business with.

Trucking companies argued that owner-operator truck drivers who worked with them were independent contractors as opposed to employees, which meant that the owner-operator truck drivers could receive lower pay when compared to full-time employees. In the past, trucking companies would oftentimes use arbitration clauses to more effectively avoid lawsuits from owner-operator truck drivers.

The arguments made by trucking companies stated that contracts signed by owner-operators stipulated that the drivers couldn’t file a lawsuit but instead could only file an arbitration claim. The owner-operator truck drivers argued that the drivers were actually employees as opposed to independent contractors, which meant that the arbitration stipulation didn’t apply to them. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the owner-operator truck drivers, which makes it possible for these drivers to file lawsuits against trucking companies.

How This Legislation Applies to Trucking Companies

What this legislation means for trucking companies is that they will likely be required to rewrite the agreements that they make with owner-operator truck drivers since it’s not possible to avoid lawsuits entirely. There are, however, a couple of issues that have yet to be ruled on. For one, it’s possible that motor carriers could use state law to get around the federal ruling. The laws regarding arbitration differ with each state.

Trucking companies also believe that arbitration agreements could still remain in place for carriers that aren’t considered to be one-truck driving operations. Though questions were asked pertaining to this situation, the U.S. Supreme Court avoided making any ruling about this issue, which means that future litigation could occur.

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against an Owner-Operator Truck Driver

When you have been involved in a trucking accident with someone who works as an owner-operator truck driver, you may be wondering who to file the lawsuit against. If the driver is working as an employee for a trucking company, it’s possible to file a lawsuit against both the driver and the trucking company that they work for. As for owner-operator truck drivers, the entity you can file a lawsuit against depends on what type of job the driver was performing at the time of the accident.

It’s possible that the accident occurred at a time when the driver wasn’t currently performing a job. In this situation, you may only be able to file a lawsuit against the driver. On the other hand, there are times when these drivers work on jobs for trucking companies. If the driver was performing a job for a company at the time of the accident, you may be able to bring the lawsuit against the driver and the company that they were working for.

Your ability to obtain compensation depends on the severity of your injuries. It’s also important to understand that plaintiffs are required to prove that the defendant was at fault for the accident in question, which requires a comprehensive accident investigation. If proof can’t be obtained, the total compensation could be reduced substantially. For trucking accidents, compensation is usually divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Examples of economic damages include:

  • Costs associated with physical therapy
  • Past, current, and future medical bills pertaining to this accident
  • Property damage for your vehicle
  • Lost wages
  • At-home nursing care for serious injuries

As for non-economic damages, these are more difficult to calculate and can include any damages that don’t have an exact dollar amount. These damages extend to grief counseling, pain and suffering, and the potential for lost earnings.

In very rare situations, it’s possible for punitive damages to be awarded in a truck accident case. These damages can be awarded if the act that caused the accident was intentional or if the truck driver was driving recklessly at the time of the accident. The most important thing to understand when filing a lawsuit is that the process can be a lengthy one. Many of these cases are settled before the case is brought before a judge, which can expedite the proceedings and keep costs down.

Why You Should Obtain Help From a New Jersey Trucking Accident Attorney

If you believe that you deserve more compensation than you’re currently being offered by the truck driver’s insurance provider, it’s highly recommended that you retain the legal services available through a New Jersey trucking accident attorney. These types of cases typically begin with an investigation into the truck accident and how it occurred. Our attorneys can gather extensive evidence from the truck accident, review truck driver documentation, investigate the driver’s background, and gather information about local traffic laws.

Once the investigation has occurred, it’s possible that the legal proceedings will start by filing a claim with the driver’s insurance company. The insurance provider will then review the claim to determine if they should make some kind of settlement offer. While these offers can be fair and may cover all of your damages, they may also be lower than anticipated.

If negotiations with the insurance company didn’t go as planned, it may be time to file a lawsuit. As mentioned previously, the insurance provider can settle at any time before the case goes before a judge. If the judge determines that the truck driver was at fault, the court will then focus on calculating compensation to determine how much the plaintiff is owed. The total amount of compensation depends on numerous factors, the primary of which involves the extent of your injuries. When you first contact us, we can schedule a meeting to help you determine if legal representation is right for you and your case.

In the event that you were injured in a trucking accident, call us today at (732) 394-1549 to set up a consultation with our lawyers in either our New Brunswick or Freehold office.

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