What Is Broker/Shipper Liability?

Trucking accidents in Southeast Washington often cause catastrophic injuries and deaths. Cars are simply no match for the size and weight of trucks. Large trucks such as 18-wheelers, freight trucks, and box trucks can completely crush some cars. Many victims spend weeks in the hospital before they can even begin their rehabilitation treatment. Most truck accident victims live with a lifetime of pain.

And there are a lot of truck accidents in Washington. We ran a quick search through the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Per their data, in 2022 alone there have been 503 accidents involving heavy trucks, leading to 18 fatalities and more than 70 injuries.

Often, many different companies are involved in a truck’s cargo shipment. Determining responsibility begins with reviewing the contracts and arrangements that were made, starting with the announcement by the shipping company that needs to ship its goods for a truck and a driver. Each trucking company involved in the shipment has different responsibilities and different functions, though the lines and duties may be unclear.

What are the obligations of a broker?

A broker is the company that connects the shipper with the company that owns the truck and with the driver of the truck. Some drivers own and operate their own trucks. Some drivers are employees of the trucking company that owns the truck. Many drivers are independent contractors who work on different jobs for many different trucking companies. The broker needs to be able to connect the correct trucking company and driver with the shipping company. The connection includes concerns about the type of truck that is needed, the logistics of the delivery, and many other factors.

The broker needs to vet the trucking company and understand the needs of the shipper. Brokers are generally liable for any accidents that the trucking company causes during the shipment – especially if the broker has a duty to monitor the delivery. Shippers generally rely on the broker’s expertise in selecting the correct trucking company. Shippers also rely on brokers to have the necessary insurance, ensure the trucking company has the correct permits, prepare the invoices, address fuel and access issues, and many other delivery matters.

Brokers may be liable for accidents and injuries if they:

  • Fail to run proper safety and background checks of the trucking company.
  • Fail to ensure the correct trucks and logistics are used.
  • Fail to monitor the delivery.

Brokers will often argue that once they arrange for the delivery, the responsibility for the delivery shifts to the trucking company that makes the delivery.

What are the obligations of the shipper?

The shipper normally is liable for any accidents during the delivery if the driver is negligent. Either the broker or the shipper must vet the driver’s safety record, depending on the wording of the contracts and agreements involved. Shippers should also have insurance in the event the driver causes an accident.

Shippers may also be liable for a truck accident in Southeast Washington if they participate in the loading of the cargo. Cargo that is not secured properly or is overloaded can easily cause the driver to lose control of the truck. Spilled cargo can create nightmare conditions for any drivers who are near the spill. Generally, if the truck is sealed at the time the driver arrives at the shipper, the shipper is presumed to have loaded the cargo into the truck.

Shippers need to comply with the regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that govern the loading and transport of cargo. Shippers and brokers may both be liable if the trucking company or driver violates the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, such as the hours of service rules. Hours of service rules govern how long a driver can drive before taking a rest.

There are many reasons shippers may be liable for a truck accident, including:

  • Truck driver negligence. Drivers who speed, drive while distracted, drive while intoxicated, operate their truck while tired, or are otherwise careless are likely to cause an accident. The shippers are generally liable for the driver’s negligence.
  • Inspection failures. The trucks need to be inspected before each trip. Drivers and trucking companies must keep logs. Trucks should not be driven if they need repairs. If the lights, hydraulic systems, brakes, or other trucks have defects, they need to be repaired.
  • The driver’s qualifications. In addition to checking the driver’s CDL, shippers need to review the driver’s past driving record including any records of substance abuse.
  • Insurance coverage. The shipper should check that the truck owner and driver have commercial liability insurance, cargo insurance, and other relevant coverage.

How can a Kennewick truck accident lawyer help?

At Telaré Law, our lawyers have a combined 40 years of experience advocating for drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and the families of anyone killed in a truck accident. We work with investigators, the police, and traffic reconstruction experts (when necessary) to determine how the accident happened. We conduct extensive discovery that includes questioning everyone with knowledge of the accident, examining all the shipment contracts, and reviewing the working relationships between all companies and all individuals.

We are skilled at determining who was involved in the shipment, the responsibilities of each defendant, and how each defendant breached their duty to protect you.

At Telaré Law, our lawyers are respected by former clients, insurance companies, and defense lawyers for our ability to prepare, negotiate, and argue your case. We work with industry professionals who can simplify the complex legal issues. Our lawyers work with your doctors to fully evaluate the type of injuries you have, the medical care you need, your medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, and other damages.

To talk with a seasoned truck accident lawyer, call us at 509.800.0935 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We meet clients in Kennewick and Richland, and serve the Tri-Cities and all of Southeast Washington.

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