Negligent Hiring and Supervision in the Trucking Industry

Negligent hiring and supervision in the trucking industry

What is negligent hiring and will it affect my truck accident case?

When a person suffers physical or financial harm as a result of a truck driver’s actions, their first thought is usually to file a lawsuit against the truck driver. However, it’s important to also look at whether the trucking company can be held liable under the doctrine of negligent hiring.
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Trucking companies may be held legally responsible for the harm caused by their truck drivers under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

However, there is another doctrine called “negligent hiring” that may also be used to hold trucking companies liable for the actions of their employees. What’s more, unlike the doctrine of respondeat superior, the doctrine of negligent hiring also applies when an employee intentionally harms someone.

Let’s take a closer look at negligent hiring as it relates to truck accidents.

What is negligent hiring?

Under the doctrine of negligent hiring, an employer can be held liable for the harm their employee inflicts on a third party if the employer knew or should have known that the employee posed a risk of inflicting the harm.

The doctrine of negligent hiring is most often used in cases where an employer hires an employee with a criminal record.

 

Let’s look at an example:

John Doe Trucking Company hired a truck driver to deliver exercise bikes and set them up in the homes of customers. The trucking company did not contact the driver’s previous employer or run a background check. The driver they hired had a sexual assault conviction on his record and was fired from his previous delivery job for stalking a woman he met while delivering exercise equipment.

A month after he was hired, the driver sexually assaulted a customer.

John Doe Trucking Company is most likely liable for the customer’s damages under the doctrine of negligent hiring because the trucking company should have known that the employee posed a risk of inflicting harm by conducting a simple background check. 

What is negligent retention?

A similar legal doctrine called “negligent retention” can be asserted when an employer retains an employee after learning that the employee poses a risk of inflicting harm.

Let’s look at an example:

John Doe Trucking Company hired a truck driver with a clean record and good job references to deliver exercise bikes and set them up in the homes of customers. Soon after hiring him, the trucking company began getting calls from customers complaining that the driver made inappropriate sexual comments.

John Doe Trucking Company did not take any action.

A short time later, the driver sexually assaulted a customer.

John Doe Trucking Company is most likely liable for the customer’s damages under the doctrine of negligent retention because the company failed to fire the driver or take some other action after learning that the driver posed a risk of inflicting harm.

Why file a negligent hiring or retention lawsuit?

Plaintiffs often file negligent hiring claims to get around the fact that an employer can’t be held liable for the intentional acts of their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

What’s more, plaintiffs often file negligent hiring claims (in addition to negligence claims under the doctrine of respondeat superior) because it improves their chances of recovering punitive damages.

Consider the following example:

Leroy’s Trucking Company interviewed a truck driver for a job transporting hazardous materials. The truck driver had numerous traffic violations and was fired from his last trucking job for causing an accident after running a red light. The trucking company didn’t bother pulling the driver’s Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) and hired him on the spot.

During his 1st week on the job, the driver ran a red light and crashed into a vehicle driven by Jane.

Jane suffered serious injuries and sued the trucking company for negligence under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Jane also sued the trucking company for negligent hiring.

In the above hypothetical, Jane will probably not be able to recover punitive damages based on her negligence claim because the truck driver’s actions (running a red light) weren’t egregious enough to justify a punitive damages award.

However, Jane probably will recover punitive damages based on her negligent hiring claim because the truck company’s failure to do any sort of background check probably was egregious enough to justify a punitive damages award.

How do you prove negligent hiring?

The specific elements a plaintiff needs to prove to establish a negligent hiring claim vary by state. But generally speaking, the plaintiff must prove that:

  • The employer knew or should have known that the employee’s conduct would subject third parties to an unreasonable risk of harm, and
  • The plaintiff’s injuries resulted from the general typeof harm that was foreseeable.
Real Life Example:In Guidry v. National Freight, a long-haul truck driver applied for employment with a trucking company. The driver stated in his employment application that he had no criminal record. In fact, the driver had a long history of sexual misconduct.

The trucking company never confirmed the statement, never conducted an independent investigation, and never contacted the driver’s previous employer. The driver was hired.

While driving through the city of Austin, the truck driver stopped and parked his truck at a building to stretch his legs. The driver left the truck in the parking lot and wandered through an adjacent neighborhood. He eventually reached a condominium complex parking lot where he raped a woman.

The woman filed a lawsuit against the trucking company based on the negligent hiring of the truck driver.

The court ruled in favor of the trucking company. In doing so, the court explained that the harm was not foreseeable because the employee should never have come into contact with the plaintiff in the exercise of his duties as a truck driver. The court explained that this situation was different from a situation in which an employer hires an employee to go to a customer’s home to sell or deliver its product.

There are numerous pieces of evidence that can be used to support a negligent hiring claim. A plaintiff’s attorney in a negligent hiring case will often:

  • Request copies of convictions for all prior felonies, misdemeanors, or other crimes from the courts in the county where the truck driver resides
  • Request copies of all incident reports, arrest records, charges, and other investigative documents  from the truck driver’s local police department
  • Request prior safety violations under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSA) from the appropriate compliance division
  • Request the truck driver’s Motor Vehicle Record (MVR)
  • Request the truck driver’s qualifications and personnel file from all prior employers listed on the driver’s applications
  • Depose an employee of the trucking company to learn what type of background check they did or did not do

Do trucking companies have a legal obligation to conduct background checks?

Under the FMCSR, trucking companies are required by law to inspect a driver’s history. More specifically, trucking companies must:

  • Request personal information from previous regulated employers for the preceding 3 years
  • Obtain a motor vehicle record of the new applicant from every state they held a permit for the previous 3 years
  • Review the drug testing history of the driver over the last 3 years
  • Continue to inspect the driver’s motor vehicle record every year

If a truck company fails to adequately inspect a driver’s history, they may face federal penalties. In addition, the evidence can be used to support a negligent hiring claim.

Do I need a lawyer for my negligent hiring case?

Any time you suffer physical injuries in a truck accident, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney to ensure you get the past and future damages you deserve.

In a negligent hiring case, an attorney can issue subpoenas to collect documents related to the truck driver’s background and the trucking company’s internal hiring policies. The lawyer can also depose the trucking company and the truck driver to find out exactly what information was provided during the interview process.

Need legal advice? Consider using our free online directory to locate an attorney in your area.

Once you’ve found an attorney, take a look at the following resources to prepare for your initial consultation:

Your First Meeting with an Attorney
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Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
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