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Who Is Liable for Unauthorized Passenger Injuries?

Posted on November 14, 2019
Who Is Liable for Unauthorized Passenger Injuries?

Truck drivers who travel with family members, hitchhikers, or other unauthorized passengers often do so in violation of Department of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, but when an accident occurs, the trucking company may be liable for injuries. 

A Bad Way to Beat the Boredom

Many truck drivers bring spouses, friends, children, or hitchhikers along to beat the boredom of the road. However, the vast majority of these individuals “ride-along” without the appropriate authorization. When an accident occurs that causes injury, the employer is often liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. In essence, the trucking company is liable for the actions of the employees and the injuries that result while they are performing their job duties. 

When unauthorized passengers are injured, they can pursue the truck company for negligent actions that caused, or contributed to cause, the accident. Examples include a routing error that sends the truck down a dangerous road, a mechanical failure caused by poor or neglected maintenance, or allowing a driver to drive in excess of hours of service regulations. 

Exceptions to Unauthorized Passenger Regulations

Not every passenger in a large truck requires written authorization to ride. FMCSA stipulates that there are valid exceptions to the regulation. These include individuals assigned to operate the vehicle by the carrier, individuals receiving transport following an accident or during another emergency, or individuals responsible for the care of livestock in transport. These individuals are not considered unauthorized and the truck company assumes liability for any injuries they suffer in a motor vehicle accident.

Authorized Passengers

Many truck drivers ask their passengers to sign waivers releasing them or the trucking company from liability if an accident occurs. However, these waivers are not ironclad. In fact, it is not possible for a passenger to waive legal protection from intentional acts that cause personal injuries. The courts have repeatedly ruled that such waivers are invalid and unenforceable.  

For instance, if the truck driver was speeding, driving while intoxicated, or otherwise operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner, the truck driver and the employer would still bear legal liability. In many cases, they would share a portion of the liability based on the percentage their actions contributed to causing the large truck crash.