Fewer gypsy truckers may be on the highways because of a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court. If your business is the hauling of materials on the highway why should you be permitted to use uninsured, unregistered, uninspected, poor driving “independent contractors” (gypsy truckers) to start with? But, if that is the way you run your business, why should you avoid legal liability for the deaths and injuries that result?
While there is generally no vicarious liability for independent contractors’ acts, a principal may be liable in New Jersey for negligent hiring if it fails to make sure a truck it engages is registered, inspected, insured and driven properly, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled last week.
The justices, in Puckrein v. ATI Transport Inc., A-117-04, held that Browning-Ferris Industries of New York Inc., a provider of waste management, recycling and sanitation services, may be held liable for the deaths of a Somerset County, N.J., couple in a collision with a waste-hauling truck it had hired.
“[A] company whose core purpose is the collection and transportation of materials on the highways has a duty to use reasonable care in the hiring of an independent trucker including a duty to make an inquiry into that trucker’s ability to travel legally on the highways,” Justice Virginia Long wrote for the court.
Paul Brandes, the lawyer for the estates of Kevin and Alecia Puckrein, says the court closed a loophole that had allowed companies to insulate themselves. “The ruling says that big companies can’t just hire gypsy truckers to carry their goods,” says Brandes, of Marlton, N.J.’s Villari, Brandes & Kline. “It’s one of the first, if not the first, ruling that codifies the common law on this issue of liability.”