Articles Posted in Employer Liability

Maryland truck accidents can be incredibly destructive, hurting vehicles, property, and of course, people. Because trucks are much larger than most other vehicles on the road, an accident involving one may be particularly dangerous. As in other accidents, Maryland state law allows those injured in Maryland truck accidents to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent driver to recover. However, it is important to note how these truck accidents may differ from other accidents, including car and motorcycle accidents. Unlike cars and motorcycles, most individuals do not drive trucks as their primary form of personal transportation. Instead, most truck drivers are driving for work, and are employed by a third party. Thus, a legal doctrine called vicarious liability, which may allow injured accident victims to sue a truck driver’s employer as well as the driver themselves, is especially relevant in these cases.

To illustrate the point, let’s use a real-life truck accident that occurred just last week. According to a local news report, one truck was passing by another parked truck when the passenger side mirror struck the second truck. Immediately afterward, a pedestrian—a 58-year-old man—was then struck by the moving truck as well. While the accident is still under investigation, let’s suppose for a moment that the driver of the first truck was negligent in some way—perhaps they were distracted while driving, leading to the incident. The injured man may want to file a personal injury lawsuit against him. These suits can cover hospital bills, past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Now let’s suppose that the injured victim—the plaintiff—incurred $100,000 in total costs as a result of this accident. It may be that the truck driver—the defendant—does not have sufficient funds to cover these costs. So, the plaintiff in this case may want to file suit against the defendant’s employer, for whom the defendant was driving the truck. Depending on the case and the nature of the employment, the plaintiff may be able to recover from the employer as well, even though they were not actually present at the time of the crash. This is known as the doctrine of vicarious liability—holding the employer vicariously liable for something negligent their employee did while on the job.

Anytime someone is injured in a Maryland truck accident, they have the option to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. These lawsuits can hold whoever caused the accident responsible for the resulting harm, and successful plaintiffs may receive monetary compensation to cover their pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and more. However, in some cases plaintiffs can bring their case against multiple defendants—a driver who caused the accident, and the driver’s employer.

Often, Maryland truck accidents involve truck drivers who are “on the job” and driving the truck for their employer—whether they are carrying mail, produce, or industrial materials. When one of these drivers makes a negligent mistake and causes an accident, the driver as well as their employer could be liable for any injuries caused by the accident. Maryland state law allows employers to be held liable for their employee’s actions when the employee was acting within the scope of their employment when they caused the accident. Importantly, to win in these lawsuits you do not need to prove that the employer was negligent—only their employee. The elements of negligence in a Maryland truck accident are the same as in all other Maryland personal injury accidents; the plaintiff must prove: (1) that the driver owed a duty of care to the plaintiff; (2) that they breached that duty; (3) that their breach was the proximate and actual cause of the damage; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered real damages as a result.

For example, take a recent tragic truck accident that killed a 61-year-old woman. According to a local news report covering the incident, the woman was riding her bicycle one afternoon when an Amazon truck, driven by a 44-year-old man, turned out of the parking lot and struck her. The bicyclist died at the scene, and the investigation of the incident is ongoing. While it’s unclear who was at fault and caused the accident, the victim’s family may be able to bring a case against both the driver and Amazon if the driver was at all careless or at fault. If the driver was driving the truck in furtherance of Amazon’s business—by delivering or picking up packages, for example—then they were acting within their scope of employment. As such, proving that the driver himself was negligent may very well be sufficient to hold Amazon liable as well.

Anytime a driver enters a Maryland highway, they usually share the road with one or more trucks. While most drives do not end in an accident, Maryland truck accidents do happen, and can cause serious injuries or even death to those involved. When someone is injured in one of these accidents, Maryland law allows a motorist to sue the negligent driver to recover for medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Additionally, the state’s law allows injured victims to also bring suit against the negligent driver’s employer, if the driver was acting in the scope of his employment when the accident occured. For example, if a delivery driver runs a red light and gets into an accident while on his way to deliver a package, someone injured as a result may be able to sue both the driver and the company the driver works for.

However, there are strict limits and rules on when an employer can be held liable and when they cannot. Generally, the rule does not apply to independent contractors, as highlighted in a recent federal appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was driving a tractor-trailer to make a delivery in another state when the driver got into an accident, seriously injuring a mother and daughter inside another vehicle. The two victims filed suit, alleging that the driver had been negligent and that the two companies who he worked for were also liable, since he was acting in the scope of his employment when the accident occurred.

The companies filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that they could not be held liable because the driver was an independent contractor, not an actual agent of the company. The trial court granted the motion, leading to a subsequent appeal. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the driver was an employee and agent, but the court disagreed. Looking at the text of the contract between the driver and the companies, the court found that the companies did not have sufficient control over the driver to be held liable for his actions. As a result of the court’s decision, the plaintiffs could not seek compensation from the companies, and their suit could proceed only against the truck driver.

In the unfortunate event of a Maryland truck accident, if an employee was behind the wheel, in some circumstances the employer may be able held liable as well. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be liable for the wrongful acts of its employees, as long as the acts were committed while acting within the scope of employment. The doctrine attributes the acts to the employer even without any wrongdoing on the part of the employer. Instead, the employer is held liable based only on the employer-employee relationship. Under Maryland law, an employer may be sued without suing the employee. The doctrine is meant to hold employers accountable for the actions of an employee because the employee is acting in the employer’s interest and also because the employer often can bear the financial loss better than an employee.

One recent case before a state appellate court illustrated the limits of respondeat superior. In that case, a car crash left a woman dead and her daughter injured. The crash occurred after the tire of another car separated from the car, crossed the median and hit the mother’s car. The husband of the woman (and father of the daughter) filed lawsuits against the driver, his employer, and other parties. According to the court’s opinion, as the employee was driving, another vehicle suddenly came into his travel lane and to avoid a collision, and he quickly changed lanes, causing his tire to come off. The plaintiff claimed that the driver failed to maintain the truck in a safe operating condition and that the employer was vicariously liable. The driver recently did work on his car and had removed the wheels. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment to be dismissed, but the trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, the employer argued that the driver was not driving negligently at the time of the collision. The driver of the vehicle worked as a construction technician. That day, he drove to a warehouse for work, and then drove with a co-worker to a job site. They left the job site and were driving to a guitar store before they had to be at the next job site. He and his co-worker both said that they did not notice anything wrong with the car.

Under Maryland law, the employer of an independent contractor generally is not liable for damages caused by the actions of the independent contractor. However, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. For example, employers may be held liable in instances in which the employer was negligent in selecting, instructing, or supervising the contractor, the work was inherently dangerous, or the employer had a non-delegable duty.

The non-delegable duty exception means that an employer is not absolved of certain responsibilities even if the employer hires an independent contractor. In these situations, an employer is still free to delegate those responsibilities—but the law views such duties as being so important that the employer is still on the hook for improperly carrying out these duties or for failing to carry them out. There are a number of duties that courts have found are non-delegable duties. For example, duties imposed by statute, such as following building code provisions, are often non-delegable duties for building owners.

An appeals court in one state recently decided a truck accident case in which the court found that the employer did not have a non-delegable duty despite alleged violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. In that case, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a company after a tire from one of its trailers detached and crashed into a vehicle in which the plaintiff was a passenger. She claimed that a mechanic failed to properly repair the trailer in the month before the crash, and that the defendant had a non-delegable duty to inspect, repair, maintain, and operate the trailer in a safe condition. She argued that the defendant knew or should have known that the repairs were not properly done.

One question that frequently comes up when discussing how a Maryland truck accident victim can recover for their injuries is whether the at-fault truck driver’s employer can also be held responsible. As is often the case with legal determinations, the answer depends on the circumstances surrounding the accident and the relationship between the parties.

Employers can be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior. As a general matter, to establish an employer’s liability a plaintiff must show that the employee’s allegedly negligent actions were within the scope of their employment.

Under Maryland case law, courts look beyond the question of whether the employee’s actions occurred while the employee was working for the employer, and focus instead on whether the employee’s actions were in furtherance of the employer’s business. Simplified, courts look to whether the employee’s actions were incidental to their job. However, before courts get to this question the plaintiff must first establish that an employee/employer relationship existed. A recent case illustrates how this situation may arise.

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One of the most critical decisions that must be made early on in a Maryland personal injury case is which parties to name as defendants and which claims to pursue. This is particularly important in Maryland truck accidents because truck drivers are frequently working at the time of the accident. Thus, the circumstances of a truck accident often mean that a truck driver’s employer and the owner of the truck should also be considered as potential defendants.

Under Maryland law, there are several theories of liability that may come into play in truck accident cases. A recent case discusses two commonly conflated claims, and illustrates why they are unique from one another.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was killed in a motorcycle accident when a truck driver attempted to make an improper left turn as the plaintiff approached the intersection. The truck driver was working at the time of the crash, and was later found to be under the influence of prohibited prescription medication.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an interesting issue that will occasionally come up in Maryland truck accident cases. Specifically, the case dealt with a settlement agreement that was executed between the plaintiff and several potentially liable parties, whereby the plaintiff accepted compensation in exchange for an agreement to excuse the parties from liability.

The question the court had to answer was whether the broad language of that agreement resulted in the remaining potentially liable parties being excused from liability as well. In so doing, the court took the rare step to consider extrinsic evidence that was not contained in the settlement agreement to determine the intent of the parties.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in an accident involving a sandwich delivery truck. Within two weeks of the accident, the plaintiff entered into a settlement agreement with the vehicle’s owner and the owner’s insurance company. That agreement provided that the plaintiff would receive $25,000, the policy maximum, and in exchange would “release, acquit and forever discharge the said payor(s), their agents and employees, and all other persons, firms or corporations who are or might be liable” for injuries resulting from the accident.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued a written opinion in a chain-reaction truck accident case, affirming judgment in favor of the allegedly negligent truck driver and his employer. In the case, Ready v. RWI Transportation, the court determined that the plaintiff’s injuries in a subsequent accident not involving the defendant were not a foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ negligence. As a result of the decision, the plaintiff will not be permitted to pursue compensation for their injuries.

The Facts of the Case

A truck driver employed by RWI Transportation caused an accident when he made an improper lane change on a Mississippi highway. As a result of that initial accident, the truck and another vehicle were left incapacitated and came to a rest while blocking the highway. Traffic was slowed, and a significant traffic jam formed.

About 30 minutes later, while traffic was still moving slowly, Ready approached the traffic jam and crashed into the back of another vehicle that had come to a complete stop as a result of the traffic jam. Ready filed a personal injury lawsuit against RWI Transportation and the driver of the truck involved in the initial accident. Ready claimed that the truck driver’s negligence was the cause of the subsequent accident that resulted in his injuries.

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Truck drivers, like all other motorists, have a duty to other motorists on the road to ensure that they operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner. This includes only driving when it is safe to do so as well as taking precautions to ensure that their vehicles are safe. A driver’s failure to take the necessary precautions increases the chance that a serious or fatal accident will occur and also exposes that driver to civil liability for any injuries that occur as a result of his negligence.

Liability in a trucking accident may also extend to the company that employed the negligent truck driver. In some cases, a trucking company overlooks safety violations, fails to conduct adequate background checks, or otherwise employs unqualified truck drivers or dangerous vehicles. In these situations, the trucking company may be held liable for the accident victim’s injuries in addition to the truck’s driver.

Georgia Trucking Company Ordered to Remove Trucks from Operation Based on an “Imminent Hazard to Public Safety”

Earlier this month, a Georgia-based trucking company was ordered to remove its fleet from the road after a series of serious safety violations. According to an industry news source, the most recent incident involved a truck driver who was speeding around a curve and lost control of his vehicle. The truck then crashed into a woman’s home, causing an explosion and subsequent fire. Sadly, the woman in the home was killed as a result, and four others present were seriously injured. In all, four homes sustained property damage.

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