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Trucking companies responsible for negligence of “independent contractor” truck drivers as “statutory employees”

As a lawyer representing folks injured in trucking accidents, I often see trucking companies still trying to claims they are not responsible for an owner-operator truck driver they classify as an “independent contractor.”

However, that is generally just a ruse to fool the uninitiated. A section of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, at 49 C.F.R. § 390.5, defines the term”employee” as,

any individual, other than an employer, who is employed by an employer and who in the course of his or her employment directly affects commercial motor vehicle safety. Such term includes a driver of a commercial motor vehicle (including an independent contractor while in the course of operating a commercial motor vehicle), a mechanic, and a freight handler.

The Regulatory Guidance to 49 C.F.R. § 390.5, at Question 17, explains:

The term “employee,” as defined in § 390.5, specifically includes an independent contractor employed by a motor carrier. The existence of operating authority has no bearing upon the issue. The motor carrier is, therefore, responsible for compliance with the FMCSRs by its driver employees, including those who are owner-operators.

62 Fed. Reg. 16,407 (April 4, 1997). 49 C.F.R. Chapter III: Regulatory Guidance for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Interpretation to § 390.5, question 17 (1997)(emphasis added). See also 49 C.F.R. § 390.5.

The regulations “create an irrebuttable presumption of an employment relationship” – statutory employment – “between a driver of a leased vehicle furnished by a contractor-lessor and a carrier-lessee. . . . Any negligence on the part of the driver of the leased vehicle is imputed to the carrier-lessee as a matter of law. The common law doctrines of master-servant, respondeat superior and independent contractor are preempted by these regulations.” Johnson v. S.O.S. Transport, 926 F.2d 516, n.17 (6th Cir. 1991).


Ken Shigley is a trucking safety trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute in 2005, is a national board member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice, and is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America.

He has extensive experience representing parties in interstate trucking collision cases, and in the past two years has spoken at national interstate trucking litigation seminars in Chicago (trucking insurance), New Orleans (trial tactics and side underride issues), St. Louis (punitive damages), San Francisco (dealing with insolvent trucking companies), Atlanta (trucking insurance, closing argument), Nashville (use of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations), and Amelia Island (overview of trucking litigation).

A Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale). In addition to trucking litigation, he has broad experience in products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. He was president of the State Bar of Georgia in 201-12.   Ken Shigley is a candidate for election to the Georgia Court of Appeals in the statewide Nonpartisan Judicial Primary on May 22, 2018. His opponent is former Democratic Party nominee for Attorney General from Albany, Ken Hodges.

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One response to “Trucking companies responsible for negligence of “independent contractor” truck drivers as “statutory employees””

  1. Herbert says:

    Thanks for doing this, it maust take a lot of your time. Good read!!