Truck Owner’s Liability for 18 Wheeler Driver’s Negligence

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Is The Public Protected from Negligent Commercial Vehicle Drivers

A new case, Jose Vargas v. FMI, Inc., et al.,might assist the rights of injured drivers to seek damages from the company that hires careless tractor-trailer drivers.

A California appeals court reversed a trial court’s decision to dismiss an injured plaintiff’s claims against tractor and trailer owners and a motor carrier. The plaintiff’s claim alleges that the owners of the tractor and the trailer are liable for an accident caused by the truck driver’s negligence. The reversal does not mean the plaintiff automatically wins on his claims, but rather that his claims will be heard by the trial court.

This decision allows independent drivers and the general public to seek damages from the companies that hire negligent drivers.

Facts of Jose Vargas v. FMI, Inc., et al.

Jose Vargas and Luis Felipe Villalobos were hired as a two-man driving team to haul goods from California to New Jersey. While Mr. Vargas slept in the sleeper berth, Mr. Villalobos drove. Mr. Villalobos allegedly fell asleep four hours into the journey and lost control of the 18-wheeler. The vehicle smashed into a center divider and rolled over. Mr. Vargas suffered injuries in the crash.

Mr. Vargas sued Mr. Villalobos, FMI, Inc. (motor carrier and trailer owner), Eves Express, Inc. (tractor owner) and other defendants. A California trial court granted FMI’s and Eves’ motions for summary judgment, meaning the claims against these defendants were dismissed.

The plaintiff filed an appeal, arguing:

  • Because FMI is a federally licensed motor carrier, the
    company owes the plaintiff a non-delegable duty of care and is thus
    vicariously liable for the negligence of its driver Mr. Villalobos.
  • Under California Vehicle Code section 17150, Eves is vicariously liable for the negligence of a driver it permits to operate its vehicle.

Federal Motor Carrier Act

The portion of the ruling that may be applicable to Texas truck accident cases is based upon federal regulations governing motor carriers. The
appellate judge determined that FMI is subject to the Federal Motor
Carrier Act and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. To register as a motor carrier, the company accepts financial responsibility for and control of its drivers.

The motor carrier must show that it has “control of” and is
“responsible for operating those motor vehicles” and that it obtains
“liability and cargo insurance on them.” The list of ways a motor
carrier maintains control over its drivers includes training and
experience job requirements, skills evaluations, bans on driving while
fatigued or sick, reasonable deadlines to minimize incentives to speed
and adherence to hours of service laws, among other safe driving
measures.

The motor carrier must also carry insurance “for public liability resulting from negligence in the operation, maintenance or use of motor vehicles.”

The appellate court concluded that, by virtue of its motor
carrier status, FMI accepted responsibility for control of its drivers
and could be held financially liable for damages caused by its drivers.

Berenson Law Firm Demands Accountability from Negligent Truck Drivers and Companies

Bill Berenson Injury Law represents drivers injured in 18-wheeler accidents.
If you have sustained injuries in a tractor-trailer crash, we are here to help you recover. Call our office from the Dallas-Fort-Worth area at
817-885-8000 or toll-free at 888-801-8585.

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