South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, January 2007, #5.
Logo Liability in Tractor-Trailer Cases
South Carolina Lawyer January 2007 Logo Liability in Tractor-Trailer Cases By Angus Lawton Introduction
The "logo liability rule" is a doctrine used in tractor-trailer cases to establish liability against a motor carrier. The rule provides that, if a motor carrier has its logo on the door of a tractor, the motor carrier is responsible for the driver's actions, regardless of whether the driver is doing company business. The doctrine is based on federal regulations regarding the trucking industry.
Courts around the country have interpreted the regulations in different ways. Two South Carolina courts have addressed the issue, yet the opinions are somewhat dated. Furthermore, the regulations have changed since these cases were decided. This article will discuss the rule and the different ways it has been interpreted.
Practical considerations in tractor-trailer cases
For a plaintiff's attorney, a trucking case looks very appealing. Usually the plaintiff will have a catastrophic injury, and most attorneys believe that there is adequate insurance coverage. Some attorneys will also believe that it will be easy to establish liability.
Unfortunately, trucking cases can be very complex, and they can present legal challenges for the most experienced attorney. There are confusing and sometimes conflicting state and federal regulations regarding the trucking business. There are also significant expenses involved in these claims due to the expert witnesses required. Furthermore, the defendants and their attorneys are usually well versed in handling trucking cases, and they are willing to fight a battle of attrition.
There are challenges for a defense attorney as well. It can be difficult to seat an unbiased jury in a trucking case, as many people have negative feelings toward the trucking industry. There is also the risk of a large adverse verdict any time a plaintiff has significant injuries and a trucking company is the defendant.
Leases in the trucking industry
Most truck drivers get into the trucking business by going to a driving school to obtain a commercial driver's license. (CDL). Advertisements from trucking schools often suggest that you can "be your own boss" and become a "well-paid independent truck driver." Other touted benefits include health insurance, retirement benefits and a chance to travel. After completing a three-week CDL course, the trucker will often purchase his own tractor, then lease it to a trucking company.
The lease usually describes the driver as an independent contractor. It will also contain language required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). Some of the language in the leases can be contradictory. For example, leases often state:
* The driver may not hold himself out as representative of the motor carrier;
*The carrier shall have the exclusive possession and use of the equipment and shall assume complete...