The Truck that Backed

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Q: My employer has a contract with the electric company, to clear trees and shrubbery.  One morning, our crew blocked off a portion of one lane of the highway with traffic cones.  I went about cutting trees and limbs in the work zone with my chainsaw.

After a while, my chainsaw came apart, and so I walked toward one of the parked trucks to retrieve tools to fix it.  Meanwhile, a foreman had directed one of my coworkers to back up a bucket truck and position it behind the chipper.

The coworker’s view out the rear window was completely obstructed by a dump box mounted on the chassis.  The truck was not equipped with a backup alarm, nor did anyone assist the coworker.  He struck me from behind.

The electric company must have had a work permit, and the permit must have given the utility a duty to comply with federal and state worker safety regulations.  Does this make the utility ‘vicariously liable’ for my employer’s negligence?

A: A tiny clause buried in a contract does not always make the difference for the victim of an accident.   In this case, a court will probably say that the utility had a right to ‘delegate’ this duty to your employer.

Utilities annually obtain highway work permits covering extensive geographical areas.  For practical reasons, they routinely hire independent contractors to carry out their construction and maintenance tasks.

The utility did not supervise or control this project.  Moreover, the law requires utilities to obtain permits, and they do not have the ability to bargain for terms and conditions.  Unless you have failed to tell me something, the utility is not a plausible defendant.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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