As a Missouri tractor-trailer accident attorney, I usually file trucking accident lawsuits against the trucking company as well as the truck driver. This may surprise people who are new to the world of litigation—but frequently, the trucking company bears some responsibility for a crash. In many circumstances, any employer can be liable for negligence by its employee if the employer itself was negligent in its choice of employees, or in trusting the employee with dangerous duties. The employer may also be liable if it took direct action that was unsafe, such as encouraging truckers to break the law limiting their hours on the road. In Shafer v. TNT Well Service, Inc., the Wyoming Supreme Court found that TNT Well Service could be held liable for the actions of its ex-employee under a negligent entrustment theory.
TNT hired Melvin Clyde in 2008 and provided him with a company-owned pickup truck for work use, permitting him to also drive it to and from home. In 2009, Clyde was on his way to a work site when he crossed the center divider of a highway and ran head-on into a big rig owned and driven by Rodney Shafer. The collision killed Clyde at the scene and injured Shafer; it also totaled Shafer’s tractor-trailer. A posthumous test found controlled substances in Clyde’s blood. Shafer and his wife, Brenda Shafer, later sued TNT, alleging vicarious liability and negligent hiring, supervision and entrustment. TNT’s defense alleged that Clyde had been fired “at least one hour before” the accident, and thus Clyde was not acting within the course and scope of his employment. The trial court granted summary judgment on all counts, noting that Clyde could only have been on a personal errand when the accident took place. The Shafers appealed.
The Wyoming Supreme Court reversed in part, finding no vicarious liability but that the negligent supervision and entrustment claims could apply. The Shafers disputed that Clyde had been fired the day of the accident, pointing to inconsistencies in the testimony of the TNT employees who testified that Clyde was fired that day, as well as contradictory testimony from Clyde’s former fiancée, Christina Anfinson. This was enough to raise a genuine issue of material fact, the court said. The Shafers could also establish a genuine issue of material fact as to TNT’s knowledge of the need to control Clyde’s access to vehicles. Though TNT’s owner testified that they did not hire people with past DUI cases, Clyde was on probation for DUI when he was hired. If proven, the court said, these were sufficient to establish that TNT had a duty of care that was breached. Thus, it said, summary judgment for TNT was inappropriate. It reversed and remanded the case.
Though this case is against the driver of a pickup, it’s a good example of the way liability can be established against a trucking company whose truck collided with a smaller vehicle. In many lawsuits that I file in my work as a St. Louis semi truck accident attorney, the key is showing that the company knew or should have known there was an unsafe situation. The law of most states, including Missouri and Illinois, gives employers a duty to avoid creating unsafe situations, including hiring someone with known substance abuse problems as well as permitting trucks with serious maintenance or safety problems to be on the road. As a southern Illinois 18-wheeler accident lawyer, I prefer to cast a wide net when possible, to give my clients the best possible chance of a large financial recovery.
If your family has suffered a serious accident with a large truck and you’d like to discuss your legal options, don’t hesitate to call Carey, Danis & Lowe.