Crocker v. Morales-Santana – Broker Liability in Truck Crash Case

In trucking accident lawsuits, there are a couple of obvious defendants: The driver and the driver’s employer (usually the carrier).
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Sometimes, the case becomes more complex when the carrier denies the worker was legally an “employee,” and was instead an “independent contractor,” in which case our attorneys look closely at the details of the professional relationship to determine whether the facts actually bear out that claim.

But in addition that, we look to see if there are any others that might be responsible. The way the trucking company is now operated, there are multiple companies involved in getting a haul transported from A to B, and it’s important to analyze what degree of control each firm had in the operation. That will be the key to determining whether that firm can be held liable.

Our Rock Hill truck accident lawyers recently became aware of a case out of North Dakota in which these very issues were weighed by the North Dakota Supreme Court. The first issue was whether the trucker was an “independent employee” as the carrier claimed (he was deemed an actual employee), and the second issue was whether the broker should be held responsible for damages to the injured man as well.

In the trucking industry, property brokers work as intermediaries, engaging the services of a trucking company for companies that need to have loads hauled. While some property brokers are very hands-off in their approach (specifically to avoid liability issues), some of the larger firms have motor carrier authority, and this could potentially expose them to liability in the event of a crash. Again, it all comes down to the level of control exerted over the trucker’s work.

In the Crocker case, plaintiff was an on-duty deputy who sustained serious injuries while aiding a stranded motorist when he was struck by a tractor-trailer. In his personal injury lawsuit, he named as defendants the truck driver, the carrier and later the broker.

Despite the carrier’s assertion that the trucker was an independent contractor (meaning the carrier would not be vicariously liable for his negligence) the court found otherwise. Mainly, this determination was based on the fact that the carrier maintained significant control over the driver’s job functions.

However, the broker was a different story. The contract between the broker and the carrier indicated the carrier would ensure competent drivers, assume liability and auto insurance coverage and indemnify the broker in the event of a crash. But the contract alone wasn’t the sole consideration. The court weighed the degree to which the broker had control over the driver’s job functions. Although the broker maintained a list of drivers, it did not require its contractors to choose from that list. It also did not communicate with or track drivers, except when customers requested updates on the status of shipments. It also did not provide instructions to the contractors or carriers, except with regard to assignments for pickup and delivery times and locations. The carrier was free to refuse hauls requested by the broker.

Therefore, the court held, the level of control the broker held did not rise to the level of “employer” necessary to establish vicarious liability for the driver’s negligent actions.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Crocker v. Morales-Santana, September 2014, North Dakota Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Driver Alleges Onboard Emergency System Failed After Car Accident, Oct. 15, 2014, Rock Hill Truck accident Lawyer Blog

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