Lease and Interchange
The lease of CMVs, primarily the tractors or “power units,” constitute a significant aspect of many if not most trucking-related personal injury claims. Abuses in the trucking industry in the 1950’s, such as motor carriers that leased or hired “gypsy” independent contractor drivers, who owned their own tractors but lacked operating authority, insurance, assets, or safe operation practices, led Congress to regulate the trucking industry. Part of the regulations sought to address the problems created by uninsured owner-operators, or “O/Os.” These problems typically arose when a motor carrier used an O/O that caused an accident and thereafter disclaimed responsibility under the argument that the O/O was an independent contractor.
In an effort to clean up the mess generated by this abused system, leases of equipment were regulated and responsibility was shifted to the entity whose operating authority moved the freight, regardless of whom was dispatched to carry out the task. Thus came into being the “statutory employee,” which would be treated as an independent contractor in practically any other business. In a peculiar example of poetic justice, and as a result of the lease regulations, motor carriers have been held liable in some instances for the acts of statutory employees in situations where they would not face liability for their own employee’s actions because the conduct at issue was so clearly outside the scope of employment.