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Defendant in Trucking Accident Case Cannot Escape Liability for Negligence of Independent Contractor, Peninsula Logistics, Inc. v. Herb, 159 So. 3d 301 (5th DCA 2015)

Our truck accident attorneys find that injury claims involving truck accidents often present complex issues in litigation. Not only are the issues of negligence and liability difficult to navigate, but as the case below illustrates, even the initial matter of who may or may not be held liable can present many hurdles. Truck accidents often involve multiple entities – the truck driver, the trucking company, the company that employed the trucking company for shipping, and, sometimes, the owner of the truck itself – and all have competing interests in the tractor-trailer, the cargo, and the employment of truck drivers. Prospective plaintiffs have to parse all of these issues carefully before initiating litigation, and those seeking to file these kinds of suits should consult extensively with an experienced truck accident attorney.

In Peninsula Logistics, Inc. v. Erb, a Florida appellate court considered the issue of vicarious liability – a defendant’s liability for the actions of an independent contractor. The plaintiff, in that case, was driving a vehicle that collided with a tractor-trailer that was owned by another company and operated by an independent contractor. During the collision, the independent contractor was transporting cargo items for the defendant, and the company that owned the tractor-trailer chose the independent contractor who will drive the tractor-trailer. The plaintiff filed an action in Florida circuit court against the defendant, and the defendant moved for a directed verdict in its favor. The trial court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor and granted summary judgment holding the defendant vicariously liable for the actions of its independent contractor, and the defendant appealed.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal first turned to the language of Florida Statutes. The statutes state that drivers or owners of commercial vehicles that are engaging in intrastate commerce are subject to certain federal regulations that impose duties on employers about the safety and the operation of commercial vehicles, including the employees that it chooses to hire. The plaintiff argued that since the federal rules include independent contractors in the definition of employee, the defendant should be held vicariously liable for the independent contractor’s negligent driving of the tractor-trailer. However, the appellate court was not convinced by the plaintiff’s argument.

The court first found that because the defendant was not the owner or driver of the vehicle driven by the independent contractor as defined in Florida Statutes, it is not subject to those federal rules. Second, even if the federal rules did apply, the defendant did not own or lease the vehicle or assign the independent contractor to operate it. The defendant did not have any legal rights to operate the commercial vehicle because it was owned by another company and therefore could not assign the right to operate it to the independent contractor. The court reversed the judgment and remanded it to the trial court to enter judgment in the defendant’s favor.

If you or a family member has been injured because of someone else’s negligence, the Miami truck accident attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing personal injury clients across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.


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