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What Victims Should Know About Litigation Against Mercer Transportation

It's hard to be well-prepared for the aftermath of an experience like a crash involving a tractor-trailer. Even when a company driver's fault seems obvious, it can be a challenge to obtain fair compensation for all of the losses you've suffered due to their negligence.

While any collision involving a commercial vehicle is complex enough to require assistance from a lawyer with experience handling such cases, this is especially true when it involves a company like Mercer Transportation, whose driver base is comprised exclusively of contractors. Dallas semi-truck injury and wrongful death attorney Michael Grossman explains why.

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • What is Mercer Transportation?
  • How many accidents involving death or injury has the company been involved in?
  • How does Mercer's contractor-based business model affect litigation against them?

Crash statistics courtesy the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

What is Mercer Transportation?

Founded in 1977 in Louisville, KY, Mercer Transportation has grown to become the 63rd largest transport company in the U.S., with annual revenues in 2017 of just under half a billion dollars. It transports a variety of goods, including large machinery and pipeline parts, and is one of the top five contract carriers for government freight.

Mercer has a fleet of 2,300 trucks, all of them owned and operated by drivers contracted with the company, which traveled a bit over 200 million miles in 2017. Over the last two years, federal government data indicates that those drivers have been involved in 191 crashes, of which 49 resulted in injuries and 5 led to fatalities.

It's important not to assume too much based on this data, since it doesn't tell us whether a Mercer driver was responsible for any given wreck. It's highly likely, however, that at least some percentage were the result of negligence on the part of someone working for the company.

Mercer operates its business differently from most of its competitors by relying exclusively on independent contractor drivers, rather than employees. While the differences between the two may not seem significant, they could have a major effect on who is held responsible after a crash and how much you're able to recover as a result.

How Mercer Transportation's Contractor Workforce Could Affect Your Case

To understand why litigation against Mercer needs to take the employment status of their drivers into account, we have to briefly review how a driver's status affects legal responsibility after a crash. In situations where a truck driver involved in a crash is an employee, civil suits against trucking companies in connection with crashes are filed against both the negligent driver of the commercial vehicle and the company. This is because, as their employer, the trucking company is held just as responsible as their employee for their activities on the job, including injuries or deaths they cause to members of the public.

However, the phrases employer and employee are critical: when a contractor is involved in a collision or other negligent act, the company they contract for generally doesn't share responsibility for the consequences. This is because an employer's legal responsibility for a worker's actions derives from the level of control their employer has over them. Where a company's control over a driver is lacking, the law doesn't consider them responsible for the driver's actions.

To understand why this is the case, we can examine the differing ways contractor and employee truck drivers operate. An employee driver has to take whatever loads their dispatcher issues to them, and get them to the assigned destination on a certain timetable set by their employer, facing sanctions, including eventual firing, if they don't.

On the other hand, a contractor driver, like those working for Mercer, is supposed to be free to choose and refuse loads as they please, make their own decisions regarding routing and safe travel times, and otherwise decide how their work should be performed.

While it does provide contractor drivers with loads to carry and instruct them about where to take them, a company treating such workers appropriately under the law has fairly limited influence over exactly how that transportation is performed. As a consequence, liability for such a driver's negligence likely wouldn't be transferred to the company.

Proving a company negligently took on an unfit driver or failed to ensure proper compliance with regulations requires substantial evidence.

All this isn't to say that victims are limited to what they can recover from a driver's insurance simply because he was working as a contractor. In addition to potentially collecting from the liability insurance companies like Mercer are required to provide for their drivers, contractor or otherwise, it may still be possible to hold the company itself responsible for its contractor's actions, at least under certain conditions.

As we mentioned earlier, drivers working as contractors are supposed to have a certain amount of autonomy. In fact, that's largely what makes them contractors under the law. If a company claims that its drivers work as contractors, but tries to exercise a level of control over them not compatible with that status, like dictating their schedules or which loads they have to carry, a court could determine that the driver should be legally considered an employee, making their employer liable for any harms they cause while on the clock.

A company might also be liable for the acts of contractor drivers if they hire someone that due diligence would have suggested was a severe safety risk if placed behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle. It might seem bizarre that a business would take such a chance, considering how much they stand to lose if the worst should happen.

However, because there is currently a pronounced shortage of qualified truckers, and trucking companies don't make any money on freight that doesn't move, there's a strong temptation for companies to lower their standards for new drivers. If they're desperate enough, some may even be willing to take a chance on truckers with records of prior convictions for reckless or intoxicated driving, or whose commercial driver's license has been suspended.

If a contract driver that a company should have turned away, either because of past convictions or a lack of proper qualifications, causes a wreck, the company they work for could be held liable, a doctrine known as negligent selection. This area of the law is simpler than it seems. If a company needs to perform a dangerous task, which could result in someone's injury or death, they're obligated to take reasonable steps to ensure that their contractor can perform that duty without putting anyone's life in danger. Since driving an 18-wheeler improperly can endanger lives, even companies that hire outside contractors have to a duty to make sure that their contractor is fully qualified to drive a commercial truck.

Of course, as with any other cause of a tractor-trailer wreck, it's your burden as the plaintiff to prove that a company negligently took on an unfit driver or failed to ensure proper compliance with regulations before they can be ordered to pay anything. And that requires substantial evidence that's almost impossible to obtain without the help of an attorney able to draft the legal documents required to obtain them from the trucking company.

If there's one thing to take away from this discussion, it's that a wreck caused by a contractor will likely be even more complicated than one involving an employee. This added complexity makes it that much more important to have legal help that's familiar with employment law, truck accident law, and the intersections between the two.

Grossman Law Offices Is Ready for the Complications of Litigating Against Mercer

The challenges associated with trying to hold a company with a contractor-based fleet accountable are just a few of the countless legal issues victims could face as commercial vehicle accident litigation proceeds. Without experienced assistance, you could wind up receiving a paltry settlement that doesn't even begin to make up for what you've lost.

At Grossman Law Offices, we've successfully resolved hundreds of commercial truck crash cases over more than a quarter-century, including many involving contractor drivers, so we're familiar with everything required to put these claims in a strong position for success. From truck crash investigators who know what evidence is needed and how to gather it, to experienced attorneys who can put it into context before a jury, our team has the resources to help you even the odds against Mercer.

If you've been hurt or lost a loved one in an accident involving a Mercer Transportation semi-truck, please call 855-326-0000 to find out how our attorneys can help you. We're available any time you are, day or night.

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