Way back in 1998, the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the Empire State, struck down the longstanding common carrier rule. This legal doctrine held taxi drivers, truck drivers, Uber drivers, and other commercial operators to a higher duty of care.
This landmark decision triggered considerable hand-wringing among many New York personal injury attorneys. But this opinion did not radically change the law. It’s still possible to hold commercial drivers responsible for the crashes they cause. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also still possible to hold employers vicariously liable for damages.
First Party Liability in Commercial Vehicle Collisions
Negligence, which could be a lack of care or a violation of a statute, causes most of the commercial vehicle collisions in New York. Some common kinds of negligence include:
- Distraction: How many Lyft, Uber, and other ridesharing drivers have one eye on the road and one eye on their GPS navigation devices. Additionally, how many of these operators only have one hand on the wheel because their phone is in their other hand? Driving like this on busy New York streets is a recipe for disaster.
- Fatigue: Drowsiness is a problem among long-haul truck drivers and tour bus operators. Most truck drivers get paid by the load instead of the mile, so they cut corners and stay on the road as long as possible. Many tour bus drivers are behind the wheel early in the morning or late at night, and most people are naturally drowsy at these times.
- Speeding: Excessive velocity increases the risk of a collision and increases the force in a collision. A few extra ticks on the speedometer is all it takes to transform an avoidable crash or a minor fender-bender into a serious injury or fatal collision, especially if the victim is a pedestrian.
To help establish liability, victim/plaintiffs often use the tortfeasor’s driving record. Until very recently, it was very difficult to obtain truck operator driving records. Most of these drivers have licenses in several different states.
But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration now keeps a database on these drivers. This database includes information on crash history, substance abuse, HOS (hours of service) compliance, and other issues.
Significantly, this information usually comes from law enforcement sources. If a truck driver gets a speeding ticket and takes defensive driving, the ticket may not appear on a traditional driving record. But it will pop up in the FMCSA database.
Many commercial car wrecks, especially large vehicle collisions, cause wrongful death and other catastrophic injuries. New York has one of the lowest insurance minimum requirements in the country. So, individual tortfeasors may not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation in these cases.
Fortunately, New York also has very broad employer liability rules. Respondeat superior (let the master answer) is probably the most common one. It applies if the tortfeasor was:
- An employee
- Who was working in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash?
Empire State courts define both these elements in broad, victim-friendly terms. For example, an “employee” is any person who the employer controls. That could be a regular employee, independent contractor, owner-operator, or even an unpaid volunteer.
In the unlikely event that respondeat superior is unavailable, another doctrine, like negligent hiring or negligent entrustment, may apply.
Contact an Aggressive Attorney
Commercial drivers and their employers may still be liable for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in New York, contact Michael J. Redenburg Esq. P.C. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.