Many businesses employ drivers to conduct their day-to-day operations. Our roads are clogged with delivery vans, taxicabs, and all types of business vehicles. In some cases, it will not be obvious that the responsible driver was driving a business vehicle or acting within the scope of employment when the collision occurred.
Our law firm handled one case for a woman who suffered a cervical fracture caused by a driver who ran a red light in downtown Raleigh in the early afternoon. The driver’s only apparent source of insurance was the liability policy on his privately owned pickup truck. Our involvement and investigation forced disclosure of the responsible driver’s points of origin and destination and the purpose of his journey. After learning that he was employed by a large retailer, we collected an additional $550,000.00 for the client above the $100,000.00 coverage on the at-fault driver’s auto policy. This commercial coverage was hidden, and our client nearly accepted the $100,000.00 before we were retained. In serious injury cases, always look for hidden defendants and secondary insurance coverage.
Most businesses will carry liability insurance on all business vehicles and additional commercial liability insurance coverage to protect the business’s assets. When a commercial vehicle is involved, we typically see high insurance coverage limits. Because the stakes are so high, the most skilled adjusters are employed to protect the insurance carrier. By aggressively pushing all medical evidence and damage claims, the victim can typically overcome adjuster opposition and secure generous settlement offers. Trial verdicts are typically higher in these cases because the business enterprise can be named as a party defendant. Juries seem more willing to grant larger verdicts because they feel that a large business is better able to afford to pay the full value of all losses resulting from a commercial vehicle accident.
Taxicabs are the only common exception to the expectation of high coverage limits in the commercial vehicle accident setting. While most business vehicles carry high coverage limits, most cab companies employ the driver as an independent contractor and thereby shield the company from joint liability. The cabdriver essentially owns a small, one-cab business that is not legally connected to the dispatcher or the cab company. We commonly see cabdrivers operating with the bare minimum amount of coverage required by the North Carolina Financial Responsibility Act. Unfortunately, the independent contractor relationship will typically be upheld by the court. Therefore, the victim must look to his or her own underinsured motorist coverage under all applicable policies to secure additional compensation in most taxi accident cases.
If a business vehicle is involved, the victim should also explore the accident and safety history for the commercial driver and for the business enterprise. If the company operates a fleet of poorly maintained or dangerous vehicles, the victim may be able to collect additional compensation through a claim for punitive damages against the commercial enterprise. A jury may award these additional damages if they find that the commercial driver or the business willingly and knowingly endangered the public.