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Trucking and Freight Company Liability Just Went Up in Illinois

In April 2004, a 40-ton tractor trailer carrying a full load of potatoes hit three cars on an Illinois exit ramp. The Illinois truck accident killed two people and seriously injured another.

The tractor trailer, owned by carrier Toad L. Dragonfly Express, had been hired by logistics firm CH Robinson Worldwide Inc. to haul the potatoes for a customer. Though the driver was an employee of Dragonfly Express, an Illinois jury held CH Robinson liable for almost $24 million for wrongful death and other Illinois personal injury claims.

An Illinois appellate court upheld the jury verdict, which was based on the well-established legal doctrine of "vicarious liability." Simply put, an employer is responsible for an employee's actions committed during the scope of their employment. However, in this case, Dragonfly Express was an independent contractor for CH Robinson and yet the driver was treated as a CH Robinson employee acting in the scope of her employment.

Who's in Control?

The crux of the matter was the amount of control CH Robinson exerted over Dragonfly Express in the situation. CH Robinson dispatched the drivers and had strict rules about them regularly updating the company with their location.

There were also strict rules on freight verification and delivery times, with driver fines for late deliveries. In fact, CH Robinson's regulations were so excessive that the driver delivering potatoes would not have been able to comply with them, as well as federal regulations, and deliver the load on time. Because of the excessive control over Dragonfly Express, the jury held CH Robinson vicariously liable for the accident.

The Potential Impact on Those Injured in Accidents

This verdict, and the fact the Illinois appellate court upheld it, ushers in a significant change in trucking accident cases. No longer can a company such as CH Robinson hide behind contracts to escape liability. This case paves the way for those injured in trucking accidents to collect damages from the driver, the driver's immediate employer and whatever other company has contracted to use the driver and equipment. The amount of control is the key.

Establishing vicarious liability is very fact intense and can be complicated. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a trucking accident, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your situation and your options.

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