What Victims of Accidents Involving Bennett International Group Need to Know
If you've been involved in an accident involving a semi-truck, you might assume that a company like Bennett International, with revenues in the millions of dollars, would just view paying for the medical bills and other expenses connected with your injuries as part of the cost of doing business. While not unreasonable, this is a potentially dangerous misconception.
The fact is, large trucking companies have plenty of strategies available to avoid being held accountable for crashes caused by their drivers, even where their fault seems obvious. In the case of a company like Bennett International, whose drivers are mostly contractors, one likely defense is that Bennett isn't liable for the careless actions of its non-employee workers. Dallas truck accident attorney Michael Grossman explains.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What is Bennett International Group?
- How many accidents involving death or injury have the company's drivers been involved in?
- How does the company's extensive use of independent contractor drivers affect claims against them?
What is Bennett International Group?
Founded in 1974 as George Bennett Motor Express, the McDonough, Georgia--based Bennett International Group, the 62nd largest trucking company in the U.S., specializes in the transport of oversized freight, including metal products, wind turbines, and equipment for the oil and gas sector. Of the company's approximately 1,400 semi-trucks, all but 79 are driven by independent contractors, either owner-operated or lease-to-own.
The company accrued revenues of about $500 million in 2017, with its vehicles traveling a bit over 150 million miles in the same year. How safe are Bennett International Group trucks on the road? Federal government data indicates that the drivers of those semi-trucks have been involved in around 150 accidents over the last two years, of which 41 resulted in injuries and 4 led to fatalities.
To put these numbers into context, it's important to note that this data does not speak to whether a commercial driver was at fault in any given crash. Certainly, some percentage of the total number of incidents aren't the fault of a driver for Bennett, but given the sheer number, some almost certainly are.
One thing that stands out about Bennett International's fleet is the extent to which their drivers aren't employees, but independent contractors. In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with this; obviously companies are free to rely on whichever form of labor suits their needs. However, what many people may not realize is that whether a driver is an employee or independent contractor can have an impact on who is held to account if their carelessness kills or injures someone.
How Bennett International Group's Reliance on Independent Contractors Can Affect Your Case
When independent contractors kill or injure someone, it can make an already complex legal situation even more byzantine for injured parties. This is because, for legal purposes, an independent contractor is considered a completely separate business from the company that hires them.
For instance, when you hire someone to cut your lawn, you're hiring an independent contractor. If they cut off their foot while mowing the grass, you're not liable for the injuries in the same way you would be if you owned a lawn care company and had hired them as an employee to mow other people's grass. The first step in any litigation is identifying which business caused your injuries. When a company hires a bunch of independent contractors, even this seemingly simple step becomes much harder.
For the most part, everyone who has a job is either an employee of someone else or an independent contractor. The law treats these two groups quite differently. Employees are told where, when, and how to do their jobs. As a matter of law, an employer is liable if an employee's carelessness causes injury or death.
The other type of worker is an independent contractor. Workers properly classified as contractors, such as house painters, electricians, and gardeners, have a host of clients that they work for under contract (hence the name.) Independent contractors determine for themselves where, when, and how they do their jobs. They supervise themselves, pay their own costs and taxes, and are responsible when their carelessness injures or kill someone, not the person who hires them for a job.
Each of these options, when properly used, has its advantages and disadvantages for someone who needs work done. If you're an employer, and running your business effectively requires that you be able to control the time, place, and manner under which your workers perform their duties, then you need employees. However, if you don't mind surrendering that control to save money on benefits, equipment, and taxes, then independent contractors might be the better choice.
The problem is that many companies attempt to have the best of both worlds: the savings of independent contractors, with the control of employees. When companies attempt to blur that line, they often end up crossing it. That means that even if Human Resources at Joe's Trucking Company claims that a driver is an independent contractor, if Joe tells his contractors what trucks to drive, what routes to take, or when they should be working, legally speaking, Joe has employees, not contractors. While Joe's Trucking Company would have no liability for their contractors, they're on the hook when their employees kill or injure people.
The legal system increasingly recognizes the extent of employee/independent contractor misclassification in the trucking industry. Over the last 10 years, a truck drivers working as independent contractors have filed a slew of lawsuits arguing that they're actually employees. Many of these cases have elements in common. The trucking company forces drivers to attend specific training, helps them lease certain trucks, and requires the trucker to work at specific hours. In most of the cases decided so far, trucking companies lost. Courts ordered them to pay compensation to the "independent contractors" who were legally employees.
Why does all of this matter to the victims of a semi-truck crash? If a driver for a company like Bennett International is involved in a collision, they will likely argue that, because the driver responsible was operating as an independent contractor, that driver bears sole responsibility for any damages they cause. If it was a Bennett International policy or instruction that led to the crash, it raises the possibility that the liable party can escape justice.
If the driver who caused the wreck was genuinely operating as a contractor and was only affiliated with Bennett International, this strategy may be successful. However, if a judge determines that the company actually exercised enough control over how the driver conducted their work that they should be considered an employee, they also become responsible for compensating victims for damages caused by their driver's negligence.
Proving that a driver should be considered an employee requires the victim to obtain and present evidence demonstrating the actual nature of the driver and company's working relationship.
For example, if emails or messages from an internal chat system show that the company was instructing the driver on what route to take to get to the expected destination, or a receipt for repairs on the truck is billed to the company rather than the driver, it suggests that their relationship is probably that of employer and employee, with all the sharing of liability that would imply.
As a result, no company is going to hand over evidence that they misclassified an employee as an independent contractor and that evidence, which victims need to prove this allegation, is the company's property. Being injured in a crash caused by a Bennett vehicle doesn't entitle victims to access their property, absent a court order called a subpoena. Courts only issue these orders after receiving properly formatted requests detailing what evidence is needed, why it is needed, and under what authority the court can grant the request. Just as the average person wouldn't know how to fill a cavity, most people outside the legal profession lack the expertise to properly draft such a document.
How The Experienced Truck Accident Attorneys at Grossman Law Offices Protect Your Interests
It's important to remember that determining whether the driver who killed your loved is an employee or independent contractor is just one of literally hundreds of highly technical considerations that go into an commercial truck accident litigation. Contrary to what people believe, an 18-wheeler crash isn't just a really big car wreck. Litigating these cases has all of the complexity of a major medical procedure, and like a surgery, requires years of training and experience to do correctly.
To avoid being left at a disadvantage as you attempt to hold Bennett International accountable, it's important to have legal help in your corner that knows exactly how to level the playing field on your behalf. That's where Grossman Law Offices comes in. We've been successfully litigating commercial truck accident claims for almost thirty years, and we've seen just about everything that can arise in the course of these complicated cases, from initial investigation to litigation to trial.
If you've been injured or lost a loved one in an accident involving a Bennett International semi-truck, call us today at 855-326-0000 to find our how our attorneys can help. We're available to answer your questions anytime, day or night.
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