Important Information for Victims of Crashes Involving OnTrac Vehicles
After any collision involving a commercial vehicle, victims typically have to pursue legal action to obtain fair compensation for the losses they've suffered, even in cases where the negligence of the trucking company seems obvious.
While this is always a complex process, it becomes even more so when a delivery truck for OnTrac is involved in the crash. This is because of the legal status of the company's drivers, which, without the help of a legal team familiar with employment law, could serve to insulate the company from liability for injuries or deaths they cause. Dallas truck accident attorney Michael Grossman explains how victims can overcome this problem to hold the company accountable.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What is OnTrac?
- How does the company's contractor-based business model affect claims against them?
- How does the law determine the actual employment status of workers?
What is OnTrac?
Founded in 1991 as California Overnight, Chandler, Arizona based OnTrac, the 57th largest commercial transportation company in the U.S. provides parcel delivery service for major retailers like Amazon and Newegg, among other clients, throughout eight western and northwestern states. The company generated revenues of almost $575 million in 2017.
There's one major difference between OnTrac and most other commercial transport companies: they don't actually own any trucks or employ any drivers, despite the trucks delivering its parcels featuring the company's logo on its side. Instead, regulators consider each individual driver to operate as an "independent contractor," essentially running their own mini transportation company. (There is some dispute around the legal validity of these workers' contractor status, as we'll see later.)
Classifying its drivers this way potentially insulates OnTrac from liability if one of them causes a wreck, since companies generally aren't responsible for the careless acts of contractors the way they would be for employees. However, given how the law evaluates working relationships, there's a strong case to be made that OnTrac's drivers should properly be considered employees, meaning their employer would share responsibility for crashes they cause.
How OnTrac's Driver-Contractor Business Model Affects Your Case
If you're having a package delivered by OnTrac, LaserShip, or any other parcel carrier, you're most likely more concerned with how quickly it arrives (and the shape it's in when it does) than you are with the employment status of the driver making the delivery, and reasonably so.
On the other hand, if you've suffered injuries or lost a family member in a crash involving an OnTrac delivery driver, their employment status may be pretty important. Depending on how a judge ends up classifying the driver, your compensation could wind up being limited to whatever you're able to obtain from whatever insurance they have on their vehicle, regardless of your actual losses.
This could be a significant issue, because using a personal vehicle for commercial purposes is often grounds for voiding personal car insurance policies. Unless an OnTrac driver has purchased insurance that covers them for commercial use of their car, this could mean that a contractor driver has no significant assets from which to recover.
To better understand why driver classification is so important, we have to back up a bit and examine how and why the law treats liability for employees and independent contractors differently. In brief, this question turns on the level of control that the company has over how the work is done. Because employees are under the supervision and control of their employer while performing their job duties, and their actions while on the clock benefit their employer, the law holds both of them responsible for any negligence committed while performing it.
For example, if a commercial driver is told he needs to deliver a shipment by a set time, using a set route, there's no way for him to do so without violating restrictions on how long he can legally drive without a break, and his falling asleep at the wheel leads to a wreck, it makes sense to hold his employer liable for putting the driver in such a dangerous position.
Compare this worker's situation to that of an Uber driver, who is free to accept or reject fares, take whichever route he thinks best for a given situation, and work whichever hours are most convenient. Given how much control such a driver has over how they perform their duties, it would only make sense that they (or their insurance provider) would also be held solely accountable for any costs stemming from their careless behavior.
The advantages and disadvantages of the different classifications also follow from the levels of control they allow. If companies properly observe the law, then retaining workers as employees has the benefit of subjecting them to the company's control, but the disadvantage of the business sharing the blame for the workers' negligence. By contrast, having work done by independent contractors protects companies from responsibility for collisions or other bad acts committed by the contractor while on the job, but with the trade off of a significant reduction in control over how the work is done.
Of course, if the standards of the law were always followed, there would be no need for the sanctions they establish. To reduce their costs, many companies, including OnTrac, attempt to have it both ways with regard to worker classification, regulating their drivers to an extent that they could legally be considered employees, while still trying to retain the financial and liability benefits of treating them as "contractors."
To be fair, OnTrac is far from the only company attempting to benefit from this hybrid arrangement, or the only one defending against class-action lawsuits from current and former drivers based on their alleged misclassification. While I can't speak to any other company's behavior, and worker classification is ultimately a question of law that has to be decided by a judge, the facts of how OnTrac treats the drivers working for it would suggest that there may be some merit to their claims.
According to testimony in one such pending suit, OnTrac drivers operate under morning to evening shifts set by their supervising company, have to deliver the packages they're assigned, cannot subcontract their work to others, and have no opportunity for profit or loss, all characteristics of work done by employees. In short, there seems to be very little to support the idea that OnTrac drivers are genuinely contractors, beyond the company asserting that as their situation for its own benefit. It remains to be seen how courts will view this question.
All this having been said, citing pending lawsuits won't be enough to prove in court that the driver who caused the collision that hurt you should be considered an employee and hold his employer liable. Instead, you'll need to present evidence demonstrating the nature of their working relationship. This requires the help of a commercial vehicle accident attorney familiar with both the kinds of evidence needed and the legal tools required to make the company surrender it.
Grossman Law Offices Has the Knowledge and Experience to Litigate Your Claim Against OnTrac
Improper classification of drivers as contractors, and its implications for holding a company accountable, is just one of the many factors that could potentially affect the success or failure of your commercial vehicle accident claim. Unless you have help from an attorney who's seen and overcome all of the obstacles these cases can present, you could easily find yourself at a disadvantage against the substantial legal resources of a company like OnTrac.
At Grossman Law Offices, we've been successfully litigating cases involving commercial vehicles, including package delivery trucks, for more than a quarter-century. That gives us a level of experience and familiarity with all the relevant aspects of the law that not every firm willing to take such cases can call on. And you won't owe us anything unless we successfully resolve your case.
If you've been hurt or lost a loved one in an accident involving an OnTrac delivery vehicle, please call 855-326-0000 to find out how our attorneys can help you. We're available any time you are, day or night.
Related Articles for Further Reading: