As we’ve reported before, trucking companies can be held accountable for tractor-trailer accidents, sometimes even automatically. However, victims of 18-wheeler wrecks can also be shocked to find that the trucking company is using a legal technicality to avoid responsibility for what happened.
The “Independent Contractor” Defense After Truck Accidents
A trucking company’s driver isn’t always its employee. Sometimes, truckers are classified as “independent contractors.” What this means is that, even though they do the trucking company’s work, the company’s not legally responsible for them. That also means that the company owes no compensation to accident victims if the independent contractor is involved in a wreck.
Keep in mind that this is a highly technical defense used in accident cases. If the trucking company in your case is using the independent contractor defense, you owe it to yourself and your family to contest it—and to hire a knowledgeable attorney to help you do so. To help you get started, let’s talk about some of the basics of the independent contractor defense.
It’s All About Control
To decide if the trucker is an employee or independent contractor, courts examine whether the company had the right to control the way the trucker did his or her job. Employees do what they’re told, but independent contractors have the freedom to choose how they do their job.
Judges explore four basic factors of the trucker’s work, emphasizing how the company and the trucker actually acted, and then decide the driver’s classification based on the whole picture. Here are the four factors that are considered:
- The trucking company’s right to control the trucker. The most important evidence may be a written contract. Even then, actions speak louder than words. For example, a trucker is more likely an employee if the company selected routes and gave the trucker no right to refuse assignments—regardless of what the written contract says.
- Furnishing of equipment. Independent contractors usually furnish their own equipment. The courts will look at who owned the semi involved in the accident, as well as who paid taxes, fees, maintenance, and insurance on both the truck and the trucker.
- Method of payment. Tax forms are indicative of a trucker’s employment status. Employees get W2s, while independent contractors get 1099s. Tax returns can also show if the trucker paid self-employment taxes, making it more likely that he or she is an independent contractor.
- Right to fire. This is often the hardest element, since independent contractor relationships can be ended. If an agreement lays out requirements for ending the working relationship, it’s more likely an independent contractor situation.
You Can’t Win Without Help
Winning cases involving the independent contractor defense often requires gathering a ton of evidence, analyzing it closely, and presenting it clearly. You might not get that evidence without a lawsuit and properly worded discovery requests.
Facing down the trucking company’s insurance company—a company that profits from denying your claim—can make you feel like your back is against the wall. Don’t risk that. This highly technical defense can cost you desperately needed financial support to replace lost wages and repay medical bills, and you need a sharp trucking attorney to combat it.
If you have questions about your tractor-trailer accident, feel free to email us or start a live chat right where you are for answers from an experienced attorney. You can also download our free report about car accident cases, which includes a special chapter focusing on 18-wheeler wrecks. You can set up a free, no obligation meeting in person or by phone. We can even come to you if you’re too hurt to come visit us.