When they sang of life on the road in their 1970’s hit, “Truckin’,” the Grateful Dead made it sound like a pretty good deal. The reality is that compared to other jobs and professions, workers in the trucking industry suffer a disproportionate number of injuries and job-related deaths. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration puts the numbers at 17 fatalities and seven non-fatal but serious injuries per every 100,000 workers — but these include those in warehousing and utilities, not just drivers. It’s a dangerous profession, and if you’re hurt, it can be legally complicated as well.
Truck Drivers are Vulnerable to a Host of Injuries
As anyone who’s ever worked in trucking knows, the job isn’t limited to sitting behind the wheel of a semi, guiding it down the highway. When you arrive at your destination, you’ve got to unload. Before you leave, you may have to load up again. This can involve heavy lifting that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders of the back and shoulders, as well as ligament sprains and strains. Injuries from falls in the course of climbing up and down from the rig can result in broken bones. Repetitive stress injuries are common, such as from repeatedly pulling the fifth wheel pin.
You may be exposed to hazardous materials, depending on what you’re hauling, and sitting behind the wheel for extended periods of time can have physical repercussions. Even the relentless vibration of the truck engine can affect your health. And, of course, there are potential vehicular accidents. Truckers have an increased risk of traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, more so than drivers of other vehicles, because of the height and weight of the truck.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
Knowing what to do in the event that you’re hurt can go a long way toward making the best of a bad situation. The first potential complication you’re up against is that whether you file a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury claim, injuries require proof. A lot of those injuries that truckers experience are difficult to document. Some problems, such as neck or shoulder pain from repeated lifting or lowering landing gear, may not show up on an MRI or X-ray, so you’ll need professional help. A truck injury attorney can set you up with a physician who is experienced with these types of injuries.
Independent Contractor or Employee?
Another complication involves the nature of your employment. Frankly, trucking companies want to call you an independent contractor, even if you’re actually an employee. If you’re an independent contractor, the company has limited — if any — liability in a tort action filed against you for wrongdoing or negligence. So are you an independent contractor? The answer is probably yes if you own your truck and have the right to decide where you’re going to park it when you’re not on the road. You’re most likely an independent contractor if you drive for more than one company and can elect what jobs you take and when you take them. Who decides your routes — you or the company?
If it’s you, you’re probably an independent contractor, and this bars you from making a workers’ compensation claim for your injuries. But you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit if you can prove that you were hurt due to someone else’s negligence. If you stepped out of your truck cab and into a pothole, breaking your ankle, a case can be made that the property owner was negligent — he had a responsibility to repair the pothole or direct you to park somewhere else. If you’re an employee, not an independent contractor, you can’t take this type of legal action against your employer, but a workers’ compensation claim doesn’t require proof that your employer was negligent. Trucking is a unique job and your rights are complicated.
If you’ve been injured, call the experienced truck injury attorneys at Laird Hammons Laird. We can make sense of your situation. We can figure out if the trucking company can get away with saying that you’re an independent contractor, and if so, we can assess the liability of third parties. You don’t have to go through this on your own. Call us today at (405) 703-4567.