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Do Owner-Operators Face More Liability for Crashes Than Employed Drivers?

May 31, 2021

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At any given time, there are more than 1 million big trucks on the road in the U.S. And although there are many types of big trucks, there are only two types of drivers—those who own their trucks, known as owner-operators, and those who drive for companies.

Both types of drivers fulfill the same needs in the marketplace—they pick up trailers and other cargo with their trucks and they drive it to other destinations, which may be across town or across the country. However, owner-operators negotiate rates with and are paid directly by the companies they do business with, while employed drivers get paid by the companies that employ them.

In addition to their contracts and pay being different, the liability that each type of driver carries for crashes is also different. In this blog, we explore those differences, including how owner-operators can be held liable for more damages after crashes.

What Liability Do Employed Drivers Face?

Drivers who work for trucking companies can be held liable if they speed, drive drunk or distracted, fail to stop at stop signs, or violate any Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guideline.

Because of that liability, drivers must be insured in the event they cause a crash that injures or kills others. Although trucking companies shoulder most of the liability for crashes, truck drivers typically must have valid primary liability truck insurance to legally drive in Ohio and other states.

This insurance functions similarly to liability auto insurance for drivers in passenger vehicles, and it’s used to pay for others’ medical bills, lost wages, and property damages if drivers cause crashes. When accidents are caused by anything other than the drivers’ negligence, trucking companies themselves are usually held liable, and the various insurance policies they carry kick in to cover damages.

What Type of Liability Do Owner-Operators Face?

Although owner-operators get behind the wheel of their big rigs just like employed drivers, they also function as small business owners or “micro” trucking companies. That means that while an owner-operator may only be responsible for themselves and their truck, their liability is much greater than drivers who are employed by trucking companies.

  • They’re liable for their driving—Owner-operators face all the same liability for their driving as employed drivers. They must obey all traffic laws and FMCSA guidelines any time their trucks are in motion.
  • They’re liable for their trucks—The FMCSA also governs trucks themselves. That means that owner-operators must ensure their trucks are both safe to drive and properly loaded. Unlike employed drivers, owner-operators face full liability if they crash because their trucks were poorly maintained or overloaded.
  • They’re liable for their cargo—The risks that motorists face when driving near big trucks aren’t limited to the trucks themselves. They also face risks from the cargo that truck drivers haul, especially if it isn’t properly secured, contained, or tied down. People have been seriously injured or even killed by loose or dangerous cargo, and it’s up to owner-operators to keep it secure.
  • They’re liable for crashes “off the clock”—Some owner-operators drive their unattached trucks even when they aren’t performing jobs for businesses. But if they cause crashes while they aren’t working, they’re still liable for any damages that their victims incur.

Although many drivers choose to become owner-operators because of the career freedom it grants, doing so opens them up to significant liability in the event of a crash, as they suddenly bear all of the responsibility and vulnerability as big trucking companies but with none of the assets, cash flow, or legal protection.

We Investigate ALL Truck Accidents Thoroughly to Get Victims Maximum Compensation

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, we know that all truck accidents can cause victims to suffer severe injuries. But we also know that the amount of money that victims may be eligible to receive can depend on many factors, such as how many parties can be held liable for their crashes, what type of insurance those parties have, and how much the injuries are expected to impact the victims.

If you or someone you love was injured in a crash with a big rig, our Ohio truck accident lawyers want to help you get full payment for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We’ll work hard to determine which parties are liable for your injuries, and we’ll hold them accountable, whether it’s an owner-operator, an employed driver, or even a multi-billion-dollar corporation.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

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