Utility Truck Accident Cases and the Law: An Overview
You may have certain stereotypes associated with automobile accidents: perhaps that they tend to involve commercial trucks or multiple vehicles. Although Grossman Law Offices has handled cases exactly like these, the fact of the matter is that there is a great deal more to automobile accidents than trucks and pileups, such as those incidents pertaining to utility trucks. These vehicles are just as capable of causing collisions on the highways and freeways of Texas as other types of vehicles are - possibly more so, considering how few restrictions are attached to them.
Questions Answered On This Page:
- What makes a vehicle a "utility" truck?
- What utility truck accident cases work?
- Who is responsible for a utility truck accident? The driver? His employer?
- What does Respondeat Superior mean?
- Who is responsible for utility trucks owned by the government?
Before we get started, let's define what kind of truck we're talking about when we say "utility truck." Unlike semi-trucks or 18-wheelers, which have a different type of frame and axle system, a utility truck is usually a larger pickup truck that's been modified to serve a commercial purpose. For example, an electrician's truck might have a big box attached to the bed of the truck with hooks for a ladder and some compartments that open up for tool storage.
Here are the most common types of utility trucks:
- Communication company trucks (Time Warner Cable, Cox, AT&T, etc...)
- Lawncare trucks
- Construction trucks used for painting lines
- Oilfield trucks
- Cable trucks
- Tool service trucks
Differences between 18-wheelers and utility trucks
The main thing that people don't understand about utility trucks is that they are considered commercial vehicles as far as the law is concerned. While they might not weigh as much as a semi-truck or an 18-wheeler, utility trucks are still being used for a business-related purpose and are likely owned by a company or an agency. As a result, the company that owns the truck will likely be responsible for any accident that their driver causes. We'll touch on this a little more in the next section.
However, while utility trucks and 18-wheeler trucks are both classified as commercial vehicles, there are still some key differences. For starters, semi-trucks are subject to much more regulation than utility trucks. Whereas large big rigs are oftentimes restricted from entering certain areas--like residential areas, underpasses with low clearance, and so on, electricians, plumbers, and other utility truck drivers have much more freedom to travel all over the city limits. This unfortunately makes it a very real possibility that these rather large utility vehicles with potentially hazardous materials could cause significant damage in accidents, accidents in areas where you normally would not see large trucks.
Added onto this is the utter lack of Department of Transportation requirements for utility trucks. That essentially means that many of the rules that apply to 18-wheeler drivers (like mandatory stops, breaks, medical clearance certificates, and additional licensing) do not apply to those driving utility vehicles. As far as you accident case goes, that can make things a bit more complicated. If a trucker causes an accident due to being on his cellphone, for example, that's an automatic ding against him, since federal law prohibits truckers from using cellphones while driving. But if a utility truck driver does the same thing, the same rules don't apply. Instead of showing a jury how this driver broke a specific federal law, you'd instead have to prove to the jury that using a cellphone was, in fact, negligent.
Who could be liable for a utility truck accident claim?
Lawsuits against utility truck drivers (or their employers) can be complex, because the liability could be placed in several locations at once. It also depends heavily on the context of a case. Listed below are the most likely opponents you may face in court:
- The utility truck driver
- The employer of the driver
- The contractor of the driver's company
- The municipality in charge of the driver
Regarding the utility truck driver himself (or herself), this person has an obvious target on their back because they were the one behind the wheel in your accident. However, if they were working for a larger company at the time, they they are likely the ones who would be accountable for their driver's actions.
Present common law doctrine in the United States assures that in most situations where a worker is operating under the scope of employment, his or her boss/employer must answer for the financial compensation tied to any wrongs committed. This rule, known as respondeat superior, essentially translates to "let the master answer." It's a legal doctrine that, by default, holds an employer vicariously responsible for the careless actions of their employees. If you think of this idea in logical terms, because the employer gets to enjoy the benefits of having an employee earn them money, so they must also be responsible when their negligence causes someone harm.
Another possible liable party is the municipality or general contractor that may have employed the utility truck driver's company. For example, a utility truck driver named Bob might work for A-1 Electrical Service, which in turn is contracted to do work for Dallas ISD.
If the operator of the utility truck was a paid public servant, like a government employee, or just simply contracted by them, then under the Texas Local Governments Code, a municipality may either sue or be sued. In simple terms, this means that everyone has a guaranteed right to sue a governmental agency. However, this doesn't guarantee that you'll win your case, just that you get your fair day in court. Taking on a government agency in civil court is a challenging task.
Read our post about accidents with government-owned vehicles
Opposition you'll face
If you're planning on filing a claim against a utility truck driver or the company he was working for, then you need to be prepared to face some pushback.
Specifically, the truck driver's employer may do one of two things:
- Claim that their driver was an independent contractor, not an employee
- Try to put distance between them and their driver, pushing blame off of them
By claiming that their driver was an independent contractor and not a regular employee, the company can claim that they don't have any duty to take responsibility for his actions. However, while there are drivers out there acting as independent contractors, the vast majority of them are improperly classified. A lot of employers choose to call their workers "independent contractors" because it allows them to save money on workers' compensation and tax payments, but in the eyes of the law, they're treated as any other real employee is. We have a process we've been using for years by which we investigate a company's relationship with their worker and determine whether or not they're an actual independent contractor, or just a regular employee. Most of the time that investigation reveals that the worker should be considered an employee, not an independent contractor.
Putting distance between themselves and their driver is another defense tactic used by companies who don't want to take responsibility for negligent behavior. Often times, companies will argue that their driver was not acting within the course and scope of their employment when the accident in question happened, making it the driver's fault, not theirs. They'll come up with all kinds of arguments, like saying their driver wasn't supposed to be behind the wheel when the crash happened, or saying that they gave him safety training whey they actually didn't. These are all just convenient ways to push blame for the accident elsewhere.
At the end of the day, it's expensive to have employees who cause accidents that injure and kill people, and these companies are out to protect their bottom line and their way of business. Unfortunately for them, we're here to make them do the right thing.
What does Grossman Law Offices bring to my case?
We are veterans of personal injury law, having been in the business for 25 years. Additionally, we never ask our clients to pay for our services out of pocket, charging them only when we are victorious. That gives us the added incentive to try our hardest for you, which may explain why we win so often - our hundreds of wins in these matters and "Multi-Million Dollar Advocates" lifetime member status are both testaments to that. More than anything else, Grossman Law Offices has its clients' best interests in mind.
If it is the case that you or a loved one suffered damages because of a utility truck accident, then get in touch with us today at our toll-free number of (855) 326-0000 for consultation. With toll-free service, as well as private advice, you have no risk in reaching out to us, and you can at last obtain the financial compensation that is due to you.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- Holding Companies Accountable for Accidents Caused by Distracted Truck Drivers
- How Can a Truck Driver's Medical History Affect Your Truck Accident Injury Case?
- What Damages Can I Recover in a Truck Accident Injury Lawsuit?