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Is the Company That Hires a Delivery Truck Liable for an Accident?


Vicarious liability is a legal issue that often arises in the context of personal injury lawsuits. For example, if you are in a car accident caused by the other driver’s negligence, you may have a cause of action not only against the driver, but the person or company that owned the vehicle. In other words, if the driver was operating a vehicle provided by her employer, and she was using the vehicle for work-related purposes at the time of the accident, then the employer may be vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence.

Court Holds no “Agency Relationship” Between Broker and Driver

But how far does vicarious liability extend? The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed that question in the context of a case arising from a 2012 motor vehicle accident in Coffee County, Tennessee. The plaintiff was seriously injured when her vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer on the interstate.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against a number of parties. One of these defendants was the company that hired the tractor-trailer to deliver goods on the day of the accident. This defendant did not own the tractor-trailer or hire its driver. Instead, it provides shipping services for clients, which includes hiring third-party carriers to help meet customer demand.

Before trial, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing it was not “vicariously liable” for the alleged negligence of the third-party carrier or its driver. The trial judge granted the motion, holding the defendant was merely a “broker” and had not entered into an “agency relationship” with the third-party carrier or its driver. Therefore the defendant could not vicariously liable for the accident.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s decision. As the court explained, the defendant could only be liable for the accident if there was a “principal-agency relationship” between itself and the driver. There was not. Indeed, the appeals court noted the driver “had never heard of” the defendant prior to the present litigation.

The driver owned his truck. He was under contract to deliver for a freight company. That company was contracted by the defendant to deliver a particular shipment. Both the freight company and the driver were “independent contractors” of the defendant, not its agents, according to the Court of Appeals. Similarly, the court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the defendant may have been in a “joint venture” or “implied partnership” with the driver and the freight company.

Get Help From a Knoxville Personal Injury Lawyer

Although the plaintiff was not successful in her claim against this particular defendant, this case still offers a useful lesson for anyone else who has been injured in a car accident. There may be multiple parties at fault depending on who owned or had legal responsibility for the negligent driver’s vehicle. Determining where such fault lies is often a complicated task. An experienced Tennessee car accident attorney is therefore invaluable in helping an injured plaintiff ensure that all responsible parties are held accountable. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville today if require immediate legal assistance.



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