Do You Know Your Carrier’s Safety Scores? If Not, You Could be Liable

With nearly 2,000,000 tractor trailers on the road in the U.S. hauling roughly 71% of total freight tonnage in the country, according to the American Trucking Association, poor maintenance of trucks and their equipment cannot be overlooked.(a)  Faulty brakes, windshield wipers, tires, and distracted drivers can all lead to serious accidents.

Now imagine one of these unqualified individuals handling your freight and the risks that can occur.  These include theft and contamination concerns associated with the mishandling of your food and pharmaceutical products, hazmat spills that can lead to hefty fines and environmental hazards, and crashes that result in damages, injuries, or even deaths.  If only you could have done something to prevent this from happening.  Well maybe you could have. 

Consider this; you’re one of those companies who take pride in saving money by auctioning off lanes in order to find the cheapest rate.  So you utilize a 3rd party, who then contracts a carrier to move your freight.  You, however, did not know that this 3pl, like many others, does not always vet out drivers beforehand, checking their CSA scores.  Therefore, your 3pl has now contracted a carrier who, if they had checked, would have found had several alert statuses against them.  This carrier, who is now carrying your freight, gets into an accident and a picture of your product spilled across the road is displayed on the evening news, ruining your brand equity and the reputation you spent years building.  Viola.  You can now be liable.

According to vicarious liability, “Where a shipper acts as principal, and a carrier or broker acts as agent of the shipper, liability for the conduct of the carrier or broker may be imputed to the shipper,” since the shipper had “the right to control the conduct” of the carrier or broker.(b)

Up until 2004, the carrier, and only the carrier, was held responsible for “any and all property damage or bodily injury it caused” while freight was in its possession.(b)  In 2004, however, this changed in a court case known as Schramm v. Foster.

This case is representative of many instances today.  A shipper hired a 3pl to transport their freight.  The carrier that was hired to do so by the 3pl had gotten into an accident, seriously injuring two people.  Instead of strictly the carrier being held accountable for the accident, the 3pl was found liable as well since, according to the ruling, the 3pl was responsible for vetting out a driver via the FMCSA’s Safestat database.

This case was the beginning of many changes in regards to who is found liable in an accident. And if you think that you, the shipper, are safe because your carrier has liability insurance, you’re wrong.  Known as vicarious liability, the shipper, who acted as a principal in hiring the carrier, becomes liable for that carrier (or broker)’s conduct which they had a “right to control.” (b)

As informs, “a carrier’s liability insurance will exclude indemnity for independent claims against the shipper,” for example, negligent hiring, so you, the shipper, can be sued as well for your carrier’s actions.

In further detail, shippers are now liable in cases where “the plaintiff can show (1) the carrier caused injury to the plaintiff’s property or person through negligence, recklessness or intentional misconduct and (2) the shipper did not exercise reasonable care or perform proper due diligence when it screened, vetted, and selected the carrier to move the shipper’s freight.”(b) 

The saying stands…you get what you pay for but did you really save a few dollars in the end or did it cost you thousands from liability along with a priceless reputation? 

Let’s take things a step further.  In a car accident, the only ones found liable are the driver, the potential employer and/or owner of the vehicle; however, in a tractor trailer incident, those who can be found liable include the driver, carrier, owner of the truck, owner of the trailer, shipper, broker/freight forwarder, consignee, loaders, even maintenance and repair companies.(c) 

If your business involves transporting hazardous materials, then you have additional responsibilities that others do not.  Not only are you responsible for transporting, using, disposing and storing the materials in a safe and compliant manner, you're also required to pay the applicable costs associated with these actions.  This liability covers those costs associated with the cleanup and containment that are necessary in the event of a spill or release of a hazardous substance.  You are also responsible for the costs of any damages that could result from such a spill.  The Environmental Protection Agency is the federal entity in the United States that oversees these issues.  In addition to the costs noted above, it's also possible that your company will be penalized for the release of the hazardous materials.  In some cases, the cost of these penalties could be as much as $25,000 per day.  

It is your responsibility to put your freight onboard a qualified and safe carrier.  When entrusting a 3rd party to find the cheapest rate, you are taking the chance of shipping with some unknown carrier who may be on alert status in one or more of the CSA’s BASIC categories.  This not only puts your freight at risk, but poses a danger to everyone else on the road. 

CSA (Comprehensive Safety Analysis) 2010’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) scores a carrier and driver’s safety performance in seven BASIC categories, putting those over the threshold in any category on an “alert” status, holding the driver and carrier accountable.  Categories are as follows:


*Unsafe Driving

*Hours-of-Service Compliance

*Driver Fitness

*Controlled Substances and Alcohol

*Vehicle Maintenance

*Hazardous Materials Compliance 

*Crash Indicator  (Not public)

With stricter regulations, one would assume that the quality of drivers is increasing, but not according to industry experts, who believe it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a quality driver anymore and shippers need to take the first step in helping to promote safety and avoid that liability suit by vetting out carriers on the FMCSA’S SMS site before entrusting them with your freight.

Road Scholar Transport’s CSA Scores (click image to enlarge)

Road Scholar Transport’s CSA Scores (click image to enlarge)

Road Scholar Transport maintains positive CSA scores, hiring only the most qualified drivers, running well-maintained equipment that is pre- and post-trip inspected and equipped with anti-rollover and anti-crash technology.  In fact, we have NEVER been cited for a piece of faulty equipment involved in an accident.

So the next time you entrust a third party to select your freight carrier or bid out your freight, choosing the trucker who provides the lowest rate, remember that you could be the next company wound up in a vicarious liability suit.  So head on over to today and put your freight onboard a safe asset-based carrier.