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Trucker liability: owner or company

In an accident involving an Ohio commercial truck, even when it was clearly the truck driver's fault, it may be more difficult than expected to determine liability. The capacity in which the driver was operating the truck will determine whether he, as an individual, or the company he was driving for is liable. For example, questions, like the following, must be answered: "Is he an owner-operator?"; "Is he an employee of the company?"; and "Is he driving for the company as an independent contractor?"

There is a Latin term used by the courts as a primary method of determining liability. It is "respondeat superior," and it translates to "let the superior make answer." Under this method, an employer is liable for any damages or wrongful acts by its employees and shall be held as if it committed the act itself. Basically, it is considered the cost of doing business. Wrongful actions are inevitably going to occur at some point by an employee during the course of business, and a company has greater financial means of righting those wrongs than an individual party would.

The key word mentioned under the liability method of respondeat superior is "employee." Some truck drivers operate big rigs as independent contractors of a company. They own their own truck, provide their own gas, insurance, repairs and are compensated by the company per trip with no taxes taken out of that compensation. If this is the case, the truck driver would be individually liable for any damages caused by an accident in which he was at fault.

The only other time a truck driver would be individually liable for an accident, whether operating as an employee or independent contractor, would be if intentional acts such as kidnapping or assault were committed. A company will likely not be held liable for those actions.

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