When people are injured in accidents involving 18 wheelers or tractor-trailers, they are likely to sustain serious injury due to the size of the vehicles involved. The victims might take comfort in thinking that, at the very least, a large commercial trucking company would carry enough insurance to adequately compensate them for injuries sustained, as well as pain and suffering. Unfortunately, large trucking companies are aware of the great liabilities they may face, and take elaborate (and sometimes ethically questionable) steps to protect themselves from financial responsibility related to their fleet of commercial vehicles.
Trucking companies know that if a vehicle they own, or a driver they employ, is responsible for a serious accident, they will be expected to pay damages to the victim or victims. To protect themselves from that possibility, large trucking companies have been known to set up shell organizations, known as Commercial Motor Vehicle leasing companies (CMVs) to protect their own company from any liability. A CMV is typically established as a small body, owning only a few trucks, and employing just the drivers of those vehicles.
Because a CMV is small, it can carry low-liability insurance. The CMV then leases its fleet of vehicles to a larger Interstate Trucking Company (ITC), and provides the ITC with drivers who are considered employees of the CMV. These men and women are only independent contractors for the ITC. All of these complex legal machinations serve one purpose: to protect the giant trucking company from coughing up any of its profits in the event one of their commercial vehicles causes an accident.
If an accident does occur, the ITC will claim that, as a mere renter, it bears no liability for the accident and cannot be sued. Often, lease agreements are designed to substantiate such claims by limiting ITC responsibility for everything from vehicle maintenance to mandatory driver education. If a suit is filed against the ITC, they can provide a defense stating they have no responsibility for vehicles they merely leased, or for contractors providing them one-time services.
The law, however, disagrees, and a well-versed attorney will be able to refute such claims. According to the Code of Federal Regulations:
"Employee means any operator of a commercial motor vehicle, including . . . leased drivers and independent, owner-operator contractors (while in the course of operating a commercial motor vehicle) who are either directly employed by or under lease to an employer. Employer means any person (including the United States, a State, District of Columbia or a political subdivision of a State) who owns or leases a commercial motor vehicle or assigns employees to operate such a vehicle."
Clearly, according to federal law, there is no legitimacy to claims made by ITCs that state they have no responsibility for leased equipment or contractor-drivers. If an attorney is aware of this section of the CFR, as is the team of truck accident attorneys at Arnold & Itkin, such claims can be quickly set aside. Attorney Jason Itkin recalls a client who was severely injured in a collision with a large truck. Initially, the larger truck operating company denied liability, claiming they were only lessee's and could not be held accountable. Thanks to his familiarity with trucking company practices and federal liability laws, Itkin was able to hold the large ITC accountable, securing a $1.2 million settlement on his client's behalf.
Since large trucking companies take tremendous and complex precautions to insulate themselves against liability, many attorneys might be fooled by such tactics as the establishment of a CMV to protect ITC assets. Only an experienced truck accident firm understands the workings of commercial vehicle operators and has the resources to trace shell companies and find the truly responsible parties. At Arnold & Itkin, a truck accident attorney from our firm has a history of success advocating on behalf of clients injured in truck accidents. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, contact a truck accident lawyer from our offices today. We will be happy to provide you with a free consultation to see if we may be of assistance in your case.