Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal held that a trucking company was not vicariously liable for a truck driver’s negligence because the driver was an independent contractor, not an employee.
The trucker was involved in a truck accident that injured the plaintiffs. At the time of the accident, the driver was working as an independent contractor of the trucking company, and the trucking company owned neither the truck or the trailer. The plaintiffs filed suit against several entities, although the driver and the trucking company who employed him as an independent contractor were the only parties to the appeal.
The plaintiffs moved for a directed verdict on the theory that the defendant was vicariously liable for the trucker’s actions pursuant to section 316.302(1)(b) of the Florida Statutes. This law makes the owners and drivers of commercial vehicles engaged in intrastate commerce subject to many of the same federal laws as those taking part in interstate commerce. The federal laws, in some cases, hold employers liable for the actions of independent contractors. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict.
The Fifth District reversed and remanded, with instructions to enter a directed verdict for the trucking company. It reasoned that section 316.302 did not apply to that particular defendant because it was neither the owner or the driver of the truck. Furthermore, the defendant did not own or lease the truck, nor did it assign the truck driver to that particular truck, as required by the statute for liability.
Generally, under Florida law, an employer can be held responsible for its employees’ negligent behavior. The employer is said to be vicariously liable for the actions of its employees. However, employers are cannot be held liable for the negligence of independent contractors, barring a few exceptions.
Thus, a person injured in a truck accident by a negligent truck driver can hold the truck driver’s employer accountable, unless the trucker is an independent contractor. There may be federal or state law that allow for the injured person to hold the truck’s owner accountable, but the truck’s owner and the entity that employed the contractor-driver may differ.
Truck accident cases are sometimes complex to litigate, as this case demonstrates. There are often multiple entities involved, all of which may have different interests in the truck, the trailer, the cargo, and the employment of the driver. An experienced attorney can determine who may hold liability under Florida law.
The Southwest Florida injury attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano have significant experience trying truck accident cases for residents of Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. If you were injured by a negligent truck driver or trucking company, we can help you seek compensation from the entities that are responsible. To schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers, call (800) 283-7442.
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