Four legal terms that can cost you a lawsuit for trucking industry

Potential Lawsuits for Carriers' drivers

You’ve probably have heard the term negligent entrustment. Trucking companies are often accused of this during lawsuits as the result of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) accidents in which the carriers’ drivers are at fault.

It’s important to understand this and other legal terms in the event of a lawsuit against your motor carrier.

  1. Negligent entrustment: Occurs when one party negligently provides another party a dangerous instrument, such a car, CMV, or weapon, and the “entrusted” party causes injury to a third party. In the case of negligent entrustment, the lender has actual knowledge or should have known the party was not qualified to use the “instrument,” and the incident was a result of the entrusted party’s negligence.
  2. Respondent superior: The entrusted party who is using your equipment (or your USDOT number) does not have to be an employee. It may be a contractor such as an owner-operator or an employee from a staffing service. Basically, a motor carrier is responsible for the behavior of an employee during his or her employment (or contract) with you. This is called respondent superior.
  3. Negligent hiring: Occurs when an employer does not thoroughly screen an applicant or ignores red flags, and this employee causes harm to someone as the result of a poor background investigation or lack of due care in finding out a party’s credentials and abilities.
  4. Proximate cause: An attorney will use the “but-for” or proximate cause litmus test to determine if there was a direct link between the driver’s incompetence/negligence and the actual accident, and whether it was foreseeable.

As a lawyer applies these legal principles, he or she will review a motor carrier’s policies and procedures and ask:

  • Do the standards meet all applicable safety regulations at time of hire and throughout the driver’s career at the company?
  • Are the policies enforced consistently? If it is found that motor carrier officials ignored or made exceptions to the policies, it will not look favorable to jurors.

A complainant’s attorney will ask to see the driver’s records, such as driver qualification file, DOT testing information, hours-of-service compliance, roadside inspection history, training, and so forth.

If the plaintiff can easily find a blemish in the driver’s past or a lack of training or licensing, the motor carrier should have been aware of it through its internal processes. And this claim will undoubtedly be made in a court of law.

A lost case can result in more than just a monetary settlement. It may affect the carrier’s reputation. The ability to attract customers and quality employees may be impacted for years to come.


Key to remember: Allowing a party to operate a CMV without regard to the driver’s qualification or ability, sets a motor carrier up for a potential lawsuit if the driver causes harm to someone.

About the author
Kathy Close - Transportation Editor

Kathy provides regulatory support for a variety of products; her areas of expertise include transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, driver qualification, and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) enforcement model.

Expert Help Icon

Have a compliance question for Kathy? The J. J. Keller Expert Help tool provides you direct access to Kathy and other trusted experts to help answer your toughest compliance questions.