Truck Broker Liability
Nashville Truck Broker Attorney
Keith Williams Law Group Has The Experience, Skill and Dedication You Need
The Truck Broker industry has become a huge part of the larger transportation/trucking industry in this country. From small one-man brokerage operations, to huge billion dollar international companies, truck brokers (also referred to as “freight brokers” or “third party logistics” companies) have taken on a large and important role in the transportation of goods across America. Because of the important role they play in this process, they also represent an important link in the chain of responsibility that is intended to keep our interstates and roadways safe—in other words, truck brokers also have a duty to operate in a safe, responsible, and reasonable manner so as not to endanger others who share the roads and interstates by hiring unsafe truck carriers to deliver freight.
The truck broker industry, however, has attempted to push all responsibility onto the feet of others and avoid any liability when they hire unsafe carriers. In fact, major players in the truck broker industry specifically tell truck brokers that they should not consider key safety information from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) because it might subject them to liability if a carrier is involved in a truck accident. Instead, these broker big-wigs recommend relying simply on whether a carrier has “authority” to haul freight from the federal government.
Starting in 2004 with the Schramm decision from the Federal District Court of Maryland, several Federal Courts had allowed negligent hiring actions against brokers who hired carriers with poor safety scores under the FMCSA’s SAFER system. The SAFER system was replaced in late 2010, when the FMCSA rolled out its new Safety Measurement System (“SMS”) under the CSA 2010 program, which established a new system to provide safety scores for truck carriers on our highways. Under this system, information collected from roadside inspections, stops, accidents, etc. is utilized to calculate and assign a safety score in a number of different specific safety categories (referred to as “BASIC” categories), including Unsafe Driving, Hours of Service Compliance, Driver Fitness, Controlled Substance/Alcohol, Vehicle Maintenance, and Crash Indicator. The system assigns a score for the carrier in each category on a curve from 0 to 100, with 100 being the worst carrier and 0 being the best. Scores that reach a certain threshold number are placed on alert status, and trigger further scrutiny by the FMCSA. These scores are updated monthly and are easily available online.
The power brokers in the truck broker industry have fought this safety measurement system and the BASIC scores from the beginning. They have taken the FMCSA to court over it, and have gotten other industry insiders to put together “studies” that they claim indicate the BASIC scores are not reliable safety indicators. At the same time, they ignore independent studies that have shown that the BASIC scores are reliable. Instead, the truck broker industry continues to insist that rather than use this most up-to-date safety information when hiring a carrier, all they have to do is make sure a carrier has authority to operate on the roadways—in other words, that it is up to the federal government alone to determine whether a carrier is safe and to take away their authority to operate if they are not. The reality, however, is that the federal government’s authority decision (following a compliance review) becomes outdated in terms of safety almost as soon as it is issued. The government is only able to reevaluate a very small percentage of carriers each year, leaving the vast majority of carriers operating an an extremely outdated assessment. The BASIC scores, on the other hand, offer the most up-to-date glimpse of a carrier’s current safety fitness, updated on a monthly basis.
As a result, in a typical truck broker liability case, a truck broker is contacted by a shipper-client with a freight load to be shipped. The truck-broker agrees to charge the shipper a set price for the shipment, and the broker then sets out to find a trucking company that will haul the load for less than the price it is being paid by the shipper. The truck-broker is looking for the carrier who will haul the load for the lowest amount, thereby increasing the broker’s profit. The truck broker might check to see if the carrier it hires has current “authority” to operate on the highways, but it does not look at the BASIC scores to see what the carrier’s current safety statistics indicate about the carrier. As a result, a carrier with poor BASIC safety scores is negligently put on the roadways by a truck broker who would have known of the carrier’s safety issues if it had simply checked the most up to date available safety information. When a wreck then occurs while that load is being hauled by the unsafe carrier, the truck-broker can be liable for the negligent hiring (as well as negligent entrustment or retention) of the unsafe carrier.
When faced with a broker liability lawsuit, truck brokers usually raise a litany of purported defenses to try and get the case dismissed, both at the pleading stage and on summary judgment. Among the purported defenses typically attempted by brokers is that state causes of action for negligent hiring are preempted by Federal Law, and that truck brokers have no duty to check the BASIC scores when hiring a carrier. These issues can be complicated and could result in dismissal of your case if not properly understood and argued to the court. In essence, broker negligent-hiring liability is about safety on the roadways, and whether the broker acted reasonably in hiring the carrier it did. Checking the BASIC scores is one part of the reasonable steps a broker must take when hiring a carrier. As such, broker liability actions under state negligent hiring laws are not preempted by Federal Law, and the broker’s failure to check or rely upon the BASIC safety scores is a factual matter for submission to a jury in determining negligence.
Truck Broker Cases Are Complex
Successfully bringing a truck broker negligent hiring action has a number of important ramifications. First, it allows a Plaintiff to obtain recovery from all parties whose negligence resulted in the injuries suffered, not simply the carrier itself. With the limited minimum insurance amounts carried by most trucking carriers, recovery from a negligent broker can be an important part of a Plaintiff’s case, particularly when it involves catastrophic injuries. In addition, holding brokers responsible when they negligently hire unsafe carriers benefits everyone by helping make our roadways and interstates safer.
Handling a trucking broker negligent hiring case is complex, but it essentially boils down to whether the freight broker performed a minimum check of the safety statistics and evaluations of the carrier prior to placing the load with the carrier. Raising defenses is where the broker’s attorneys will attempt to make the case complex, ambiguous and confusing. Being armed with a road map on how to keep the case simple, while negating the defense attorney’s tactics, is the plaintiff lawyer’s role. Keith Williams Law Group has successfully navigated this road and are available to utilize our roadmap throughout the United States to work with other Plaintiff’s attorneys on broker liability cases in many capacities, including referral of entire cases or working as co-counsel with local attorneys. Early involvement and discovery is key to determine whether a broker was involved in arranging the transportation, whether they checked the carrier’s safety record, and what that safety record demonstrates.
Truck Broker Liability Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Safety Measurement System Used by the FMCSA?
[accordion title=”My client was injured in a trucking accident, how can I mazimize damages?”]Keith Williams is a Board Certified Trial Specialist with specific experience in trucking accidents and freight brokers. There are nuances to a trucking case that aren’t apparent to even the most seasoned of injury attorneys. If you have a trucking injury case, whether against the carrier or including the freight broker involved, let us help you and your client maximize your damages against all involved in the accident. Keith has spoken at several national conferences and is currently involved in a nationwide webinar series for CLE for attorneys that specifically focuses on trucking accident and injury cases involving freight brokers.
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