Company that brokered shipment through freight company not vicariously liable for 18 wheeler accident

by Mandy Hicks

When it comes to claims arising from an 18-wheeler accident, an injured person is often wise to “cast a large net” and name as many defendants as possible. This is because insurance coverage issues and policy limits can restrict the ultimate recovery from a particular defendant, but, if several defendants are named, it is more likely that the plaintiff will be fully compensated for his or her medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Of course, the defendants named in a tractor-trailer wreck case may have a viable defense, and they have a right to seek the dismissal of the case against them on procedural grounds. In such cases, it is up to the courts to decide who stays and who goes.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Bowman v. Benouttas, the plaintiff was a woman who was involved in a motor vehicle accident with a tractor-trailer. She sued not only the owner/operator of the big rig but also a freight business with which the owner/operator contracted to make deliveries and the broker of the goods that were being transported at the time of the accident. (At the time of the crash, the owner/operator was hauling a shipment of goods that had been “brokered” to the freight business.)

As to the broker, the plaintiff argued that it was vicariously liable for her injuries under the theories of respondeat superior, agency, joint venture, or implied partnership. The broker sought summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, holding that the plaintiff had failed to establish the requisite relationship between the owner/operator and the broker to hold it legally liable for her injuries.

Decision of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee

The court affirmed. Although a principal can be held vicariously liable for an agent’s tortious conduct, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to prove that there was an agency relationship between the broker and the owner/operator. The court pointed out that one of the primary factors in an agency relationship is the master’s ability to control the alleged agent. Here, there was no contact between the parties between which the plaintiff averred a relationship of agency.

With regard to the plaintiff’s joint venture theory of liability, the required “equal control” was not present, thus defeating her theory. Similarly, the court found that the undisputed facts showed that there was no implied partnership between the broker and the owner/operator of the truck involved in the accident.

It is important to note that, although the broker was dismissed from the case, this was not the end of the litigation. The plaintiff’s claims against the owner/operator and the freight business were not affected by the court’s decision regarding the goods owner.

A Tennessee and Kentucky Truck Accident Law Firm Here to Help

Complex litigation can arise from a “simple” accident caused by a tractor-trailer. If you or a loved one has been hurt by the negligence of a trucker or trucking outfit, you can improve your chance of a fair recovery by contacting an experienced, thorough semi-truck collision law firm to assist you with your case. To schedule a free consultation, contact the Bowling Green truck accident attorneys of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley today at (270) 781-6500. We represent those injured in truck accidents throughout both Tennessee and Kentucky.

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