In December, a truck driver plowed into a group of bicycle riders on a stretch of a highway in Nevada, killing five and injuring four more. Investigations found that the 45-year-old male perpetrator was driving under the influence of methamphetamine during the incident. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The incident was isolated. Most truck drivers want to deliver their payload to their destination and get their pay. However, unplanned and unwanted events still happen on the road.
Accidents Involving Truck Drivers
The industry is deadly. In 2018 alone, the trucking industry reported 28 deaths per 100,000 workers, making it one of the most lethal among major industries. Moreover, since 2009, the deaths among truck occupants have been on the rise across the United States. To put things into perspective, in 2019, the U.S. saw overall highway fatalities decline, from 36,835 in 2018 to 36,096, representing a 2 percent decrease.
It is not just fatal for truck drivers. In recent years, about 80 percent of road accident fatalities involving heavy trucks are the people who are not in the truck. Trucks are more fatal not for the driver but for those in a smaller vehicle.
Many factors cause accidents involving truck drivers. They travel across long distances and for several hours without stopping. Of course, they get tired. Many of them also have deadlines to chase. Moreover, a lot of truck drivers are older. Those who are in the 65 and above age range are overrepresented in the industry. While age does not automatically guarantee that they will be involved in an accident at some point, the longer they spend on the road without rest, the higher their risk of unfavorable incidents while driving.
In case of an accident, usually, the liability falls in the hands of the employer. Even if the driver caused it, the principle of “respondeat superior,” which translates to “the master must answer,” places the blame on the employer because the employee is assumed to be working within the scope of their job description.
However, there are cases when the truck driver will be held responsible for the accident. Call a truck driver attorney for advice if you are unsure of the situation.
Acting with the Intention to Cause Damage
The case above about a truck driver who plowed through bicyclists was a deliberate act that had the intention to harm. As a result, the driver was sentenced to time in prison.
Although it does not often happen, if there is proof that the truck driver acted on purpose to cause damage, they will be held liable. For example, in a fit of rage, the truck driver rammed into the back of another vehicle or forced them off the road, causing the vehicle to crash or be overturned.
If the driver becomes violent because of road rage, they will have to answer for their actions. Drivers need to learn how to better cope with their emotions to avoid becoming victims of or hurting anyone because of road rage.
More importantly, they should not use drugs or alcohol when driving.
Using the Vehicle Outside of Work Hours
If an accident happens when the truck driver is not on duty, even if they are using a company-owned vehicle, the employer will not be involved. Instead, it is the truck driver who will be liable for damages.
They are acting outside their scope of work. Therefore, the employer did not order nor authorized the activity. It is the driver who is at fault and will pay for it.
If the Truck Driver is an Independent Contractor
If a driver owns the truck, pays for the gas, and is responsible for maintenance and repairs, they are considered an independent contractor. And, as an independent contractor, you will be liable for your own actions.
Even when the independent contractor is working on a job they were contracted to do by a company, in case of an accident, no employer will be held liable. It will become the sole responsibility of the independent contractor.
So, independent contractors should be more careful when on the road because, if anything happens, no one will bail them out, even if it occurred while working on an assignment.
Driving a truck comes with several dangers. It can lead to injuries and even deaths. However, the lives of truck drivers are not the only ones at risk. The decisions they make while on the road can harm other drivers and passengers around them. When an accident happens, their employers will not always be liable for the damage.