Understanding vicarious liability in accidents involving trucks

by Paula A. Wyatt | August 15, 2023 | Blog, Truck Accidents | 0 comments

Understanding vicarious liability in accidents involving trucks

Before damages can be claimed after a motor vehicle accident, liability needs to be established. In most cases, the liability will be deemed to lie with one of the parties who were behind the wheel when the accident occurred. However, in some cases, parties who were not even at the scene of the accident will be determined to be liable through vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability is a legal term to describe a situation in which a responsible person, such as a manager of an employee, is responsible for the actions of a negligent person. Being able to prove the elements of vicarious liability could mean that you are able to take legal action against a trucking company if you were involved in a truck accident. The following is an overview of the basics of vicarious liability.

Showing negligence is vital

Before even considering the possibility of being able to gain back damages through vicarious liability, you must consider whether you can prove that the other party engaged in negligence that shows fault. To do this, four key elements need to be proven:
  • Duty of care: The first element is establishing that the defendant (usually the truck driver, trucking company, or other potentially liable parties) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff (the injured party or their representative). In the context of a truck accident, this duty of care generally involves adhering to traffic laws, regulations, and industry standards while operating the truck.
  • Breach of duty: The second element requires demonstrating that the defendant breached their duty of care. This breach occurs when the defendant's actions, or lack thereof, deviated from what a reasonable and prudent person or truck driver would do in similar circumstances. For instance, if a truck driver failed to properly maintain their vehicle's brakes and caused an accident due to brake failure, this could be considered a breach of duty.
  • Causation: Causation involves proving a direct link between the defendant's breach of duty and the plaintiff's injuries or damages. There are two components to causation: actual cause and proximate cause. Actual cause (also known as "but-for" causation) asks whether the injuries would not have occurred "but for" the defendant's breach. Proximate cause focuses on whether the injuries were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant's actions.
  • Damages: The final element of negligence in a truck accident claim involves demonstrating that the plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result of the accident. These damages can include physical injuries, medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. It's important to establish the extent and nature of the harm suffered by the plaintiff.
To successfully pursue a negligence claim in a truck accident case, all four of these elements must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff's injuries and damages.

The elements of vicarious liability

In the context of a truck accident, vicarious liability can come into play when a truck driver, who is an employee of a trucking company, is involved in an accident while performing their job duties. If the truck driver's actions or negligence led to the accident, the injured party may have the option to hold both the driver and the trucking company legally responsible. Here's how vicarious liability works in a truck accident scenario:
  • Relationship: To establish vicarious liability, there must be an employer-employee or principal-agent relationship between the at-fault driver and the entity being held liable. In this case, the truck driver is an employee of the trucking company.
  • Scope of employment: The actions or omissions that led to the accident must have occurred within the scope of the driver's employment. This generally means that the driver was carrying out tasks related to their job when the accident occurred. This could include activities like making deliveries, transporting goods, or following the company's instructions.
  • Negligence: For vicarious liability to apply, the driver's negligence must be the primary cause of the accident. Negligence refers to the failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. For example, if the truck driver was speeding, distracted, or violated traffic rules, and these actions led to the accident, it could be considered negligence.
  • Causation:  The negligence of the employee (driver) must be a direct cause of the accident and resulting injuries. If there were other contributing factors that were not related to the driver's actions, the extent of liability could be affected.
  • Innocent party’s claim: The injured party (plaintiff) needs to establish a valid claim against both the driver and the trucking company. This could involve proving that their injuries were a result of the accident caused by the driver's negligence.
If all the above conditions are met, the injured party can pursue a legal claim against both the driver and the trucking company. The legal theory of vicarious liability allows the injured party to seek compensation from the company for the driver's actions because they were acting within the scope of their employment. Vicarious liability doesn't absolve the driver of personal liability; rather, it adds an additional layer of responsibility for the employer or principal. This principle helps ensure that companies take steps to ensure their employees follow safety protocols and exercise caution while performing their duties, which can ultimately contribute to safer roads. Identifying other liable parties may also maximize the compensation a plaintiff receives in their truck accident claim. Additionally, trucking companies usually have larger insurance policies than truck drivers which can better fund damages in an accident that causes serious and catastrophic injuries.

Examples of vicarious liability

Here are a few examples to illustrate how vicarious liability might apply in different truck accident scenarios:
  • Delivery truck accident: A delivery truck driver employed by a logistics company is making a delivery to a store. While backing up, the driver fails to notice a pedestrian behind the truck and hits them, causing injuries. Since the driver was engaged in the delivery task within the scope of their employment, the logistics company could be held vicariously liable for the accident.
  • Long-haul trucking company: A long-haul truck driver is driving a cross-country route for a trucking company. While driving through a busy intersection, the driver runs a red light and collides with another vehicle, resulting in significant damage and injuries. The trucking company might be held vicariously liable for the driver's actions, as they were acting within the scope of their employment during the delivery route.
  • Truck maintenance company: A truck maintenance company employs mechanics to service and repair their fleet of trucks. One of their mechanics negligently fails to properly secure the brakes on a truck after maintenance. The truck driver later loses control of the vehicle due to brake failure, causing a multi-vehicle accident. The maintenance company could be held vicariously liable for the mechanic's negligence, as it occurred within the scope of their employment.
  • Truck leasing and driver: A company leases a truck and a driver from a leasing agency to transport their goods. During the delivery, the driver makes an unsafe lane change and collides with another vehicle, resulting in injuries. Both the driver and the leasing agency could be held liable for the accident, with the leasing agency potentially facing vicarious liability since they provided the driver as part of the leasing agreement.
  • Independent contractor misclassification: In some cases, a trucking company might classify a driver as an independent contractor rather than an employee. However, if the company exercises a significant amount of control over the driver's activities and the driver's role is essentially indistinguishable from that of an employee, a court might determine that an employer-employee relationship exists. If the driver's negligence leads to an accident, the trucking company could still be held vicariously liable for the accident.
Vicarious liability cases involving truck accidents often require a thorough examination of the facts, the nature of the driver's employment, and the relationship between the driver and the company to determine whether the principle applies.

Types of compensation available in a truck accident

Various types of damages can be available to individuals who have been injured in a truck accident due to the negligence of another party. These damages aim to compensate the injured party for the physical, emotional, and financial losses they have suffered as a result of the accident. The types of damages available in a truck accident case in Texas include:
  • Medical expenses: Compensation for past and future medical bills, hospital stays, surgeries, medication, rehabilitation, and other healthcare-related costs.
  • Property damage: Compensation for repairs or replacement of the damaged vehicle and any personal property that was also damaged in the accident.
  • Lost wages: Compensation for wages lost due to missed work as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. This can include both past and future income if the injuries affect the ability to work in the long term.
  • Lost earning capacity: Compensation for the reduction in the injured person's ability to earn income in the future due to lasting injuries or disabilities caused by the accident.
  • Pain and suffering: Compensation for physical pain, emotional distress, and discomfort experienced as a result of the accident and injuries.
  • Mental anguish: Compensation for psychological suffering, anxiety, depression, and emotional trauma caused by the accident.
  • Loss of consortium: Compensation for the loss of companionship, support, and services of a spouse or family member due to injuries sustained in the accident.

Contact a lawyer about your truck accident claim

If you have been involved in an accident with a truck, more than one party may be to blame for your injuries. Take action today to gain the damages that you deserve. Contact the San Antonio truck accident lawyers at the Wyatt Law Firm online or at (210) 953-5849 for a free consultation and case evaluation.


"*" indicates required fields

I have read the disclaimer.**