Differences Between a Truck Owner-Operator and an Employee

Female driver checking her truck

If you’ve been hurt in a truck accident that was someone else’s fault, the ownership of the vehicle and employment status of the driver are crucial for determining how to recover compensation. To avoid liability, trucking companies often try to claim the driver involved in an accident was working as an independent contractor, not an employee. The truck accident attorneys at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad Law Offices provide services throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. We can help you understand the differences between an owner-operator and an employee and how the distinction may apply in your case.

Misclassification of Owner-Operators vs. Employees

An owner-operator is someone who owns or leases a commercial truck and hauls freight. However, just because someone owns the truck they are driving, it doesn’t mean they can’t be an employee of a carrier as well.

Victims of truck accidents often suffer catastrophic injuries and having access to the higher policy limits that large trucking carriers and companies hold can make a huge difference when it comes to protecting a victim’s health and financial security. Because these companies are reluctant to pay such hefty claims, they often allege that the driver who was responsible for an accident was not an employee but was acting only as an independent contractor or owner-operator.

Most accident cases are complex, but when a company disputes the employment status of a truck driver, a victim usually is in for a serious fight to recover the full amount of compensation they deserve. An experienced truck accident lawyer knows how to prove whether a carrier or driver is liable for damages and will aggressively work to recover the maximum amount of compensation their client needs and deserves.

Proving the Employment Status of a Truck Driver

Although independent contracting as an owner-operator is common in the trucking industry, it doesn’t mean that a company has zero liability when a driver causes an accident. There are ways to prove that a company should be held liable for damages after a tractor-trailer accident. Your lawyer may look at certain factors to prove that an owner-operator was in fact, an employee. These include:

  • The carrier does not allow the driver to use a subcontractor or substitute driver
  • The carrier or company conducts performance reviews of a driver
  • The business or carrier chooses the payment method for a driver
  • The carrier controls workload and scheduling practices
  • The business or carrier requires the driver to wear a uniform or use a truck with visible company logos
  • The carrier controls all maintenance, repairs, and inspections, and pays for gas
  • The carrier controls which routes drivers take and how they deliver freight
  • The carrier prohibits the driver from working for other organizations
  • The carrier requires the driver to attend company training
  • The carrier obtains special permits, licenses, or insurance that are not usually required by law as an owner-operator

It seems obvious that if a truck driver is on the payroll of the company and receives a paycheck directly they would be considered an employee, but believe it or not some carriers try to shirk liability in these cases.

What if the Driver Really is an Independent Contractor?

Although owner-operators are required by law to carry a minimum of $750,000 in liability coverage per accident, this can quickly be depleted in cases involving catastrophic injuries. If an owner-operator is truly an independent contractor, you can file a claim with their insurance company.

In some cases, even if a truck driver is not an employee, a carrier or company that awarded a contract to them may be liable for an accident. For example, if cargo shifts and causes an accident due to unsafe loading practices, the company that provided the loaded trailer may be liable for damages.

Multiple Parties Could Be Liable for Damages

Even if an owner-operator is at fault, other parties may share responsibility as well. For example, if a carrier pressures an independent contractor to drive longer than is allowed by law, they could be found liable if the driver falls asleep at the wheel and causes a motor vehicle accident. Other at-fault parties may include the manufacturer of a defective truck part, a maintenance or repair company that didn’t do its job, a company that improperly loaded cargo, and drivers in other vehicles who were partially responsible for causing an accident.

Contact a Truck Accident Attorney to Learn More

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a truck accident, the attorneys at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad can help you hold all responsible parties accountable and help you recover the compensation you deserve. Contact us online or call our Bethlehem office at 610-867-2900 to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout the Lehigh Valley and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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