To meet the demands of holiday shoppers throughout the country, online retailers are now relying on independent drivers to tackle their deliveries. With strict timetables to follow and ambitious goals to make, it doesn't take much for a potentially overstressed or exhausted driver to make a dangerous mistake that results in a serious accident.
If you're injured in an accident involving an independently contracted driver, the process of seeking fair compensation for your injuries and damages can be an uphill battle. The following provides an in-depth explanation of how a driver's status as an independent contractor can affect your injury claim.
Why Companies Use Independent Contractors
For major online retailers, maintaining a ready fleet of trucks and drivers can be a logistical nightmare of epic proportions. Even relying on seasoned parcel delivery services can take away from a retailer's bottom line. As a result, online retailers are turning to third-party delivery services or directly hiring independent drivers to handle last-mile deliveries.
Drivers hired as independent contractors work under a different set of rules—drivers can set their own hours and take on as much work as they see fit. Unlike employees, however, independent contractors can't take advantage of a company's job benefits or health insurance coverage. Independent drivers are also required to supply their own vehicles, in most cases, and to pay for their own vehicle liability insurance.
For online retailers, hiring independent drivers offers yet another way to reduce costs that would otherwise eat into their bottom line. For anyone involved in an accident with an independent driver, it could represent a stumbling block when it comes to getting compensation for medical expenses and other damages.
How It Affects Your Ability to Recover Damages
Under the legal doctrine respondeat superior, employers are held liable for the actions of their employees committed during their employment. Since independent contractors aren't subject to the traditional employer-employee relationship, employers cannot be directly held responsible for any damages or injuries caused by independent contractors.
Despite keeping drivers under pressure to make timely deliveries, whether it's through tight deadlines or strict performance metrics, most retailers and delivery services don't consider themselves liable for whatever actions drivers take to meet their goals. According to legal doctrine, a delivery driver's status as an independent contractor gives these companies an out when it comes to accepting legal liability for a driver's reckless or negligent actions.
The above issues can make going after the retailer or delivery service exceptionally difficult, which leaves going after the driver a more sensible route. The problem is that recovery from most independent drivers may be limited due to the driver's minimal insurance coverage—if the driver is carrying insurance at all. The vast majority of personal insurance policies forbid using personal vehicles for commercial purposes, leading to canceled policies in the aftermath of an accident and greater difficulty in recovering damages.
How Companies Can Be Held Liable
There are a few narrow cases where a company may still be considered liable for the driver's actions, regardless of their status as an independent contractor:
- The accident falls under the "peculiar risk doctrine." According to this doctrine, companies can be held liable for injuries and damages caused by independent contractors performing inherently dangerous work in a negligent manner.
- The employer supplies a vehicle that's poorly maintained. Poor maintenance of an employer-supplied vehicle can easily become a factor in an accident. Since most independent contractors supply their own vehicles, this particular circumstance is uncommon.
- The driver is misclassified as an independent contractor. Some companies misclassify employees as independent contractors not only to reduce liability, but also to reduce their business expenses and tax obligations.
Contact a semi-truck accident lawyer to learn more.