Commercial trucking accidents raise complex questions of liability that do not always have easy answers. As a result, a car accident attorney may have to raise the possibility of multiple concurrent lawsuits against all potentially liable parties.
Since New Jersey is a major trucking corridor and several high-profile traffic accidents have occurred here — including one that resulted in the near-death of actor Tracy Morgan — knowing who may be at fault when hit by a semi truck in New Jersey can be a critical piece of information.
To help you understand how a New Jersey trucking accident lawyer may approach the issue, consider the following information.
Trucking Employees vs. Contractors
One of the first questions to answer when considering liability is whether the truck driver was an explicit or de facto employee of the company for which they were working. If the truck driver can be proven to be an employee of a bigger company, then the company itself will most often face liability rather than their employee.
A significant portion of truck drivers in America operate as independent contractors, though. While they may have routes scheduled by a freight company and be carrying cargo by a retailer, they may not be held to employee-level standards by any of these companies. This status means that they assume complete liability for their actions, including any accidents they cause.
When assessing whether or not a truck driver was operating as an employee, an explicit statement that the driver was operating as a contractor is not always enough to pass off liability. A truck accident attorney and other legal parties can also examine:
- How much control the contract giver exercised over the working time-frame and the nature of the work being carried out rather than the eventual result
- Whether the driver owns assets used for work, like their truck cab
- Whether the driver furnishes things like their own gas and liability insurance
- Whether the contract awarding company withholds taxes from the driver’s paycheck
- Whether the contract awarding company establishes standards like codes of conduct or making the driver wear a uniform
The interpretation of New Jersey state laws and various pieces of evidence will affect the outcome of whether the trucker is deemed an employee or an IC.
Weighing “Scope of Employment” When Hit by a Semi Truck in New Jersey
Even if the truck driver was an employee, the employer may allege that the actions performed by the truck driver were not within the scope of employment. In other words: was the driver performing work on behalf of their employer, or were they doing things for themselves?
For instance, if the trucker was on an interstate hauling goods on a direct route from point A to B, then any accidents they cause are clearly occurring within the scope of employment. On the other hand, a truck driver that has dropped off his shipment and has no other routes scheduled can get into an accident and not be within the scope of employment.
Gray areas arise within these two extremes all the time. For instance, if the truck driver was well-rested and had eaten recently, but they chose to stop off at a favorite local restaurant for an order of tater tots, were they still working, or were they taking a leisurely break of their own accord?
Interpreting situations like these makes having a New Jersey truck accident lawyer all the more important. If you have been injured in an accident with a semi, then do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Peter N. Davis. You will receive a free consultation and could potentially start your claim today.