What Is the McHaffie Rule in Truck Accidents?

Truck accident lawyers are well aware of the McHaffie rule, which is often used as a difficult hurdle to jump over when a truck accident claim is filed. A lot of times, trucking businesses will use this rule to give themselves immunity because it can protect them from negligence claims. However, regardless of how difficult it becomes to hold a trucking company accountable for negligent behavior and actions, you should remember that there are exceptions to every rule put in place.

In 1995, the McHaffie rule was determined by the Supreme Court of Missouri after hearing McHaffie v. Bunch. This decision typically protects trucking companies from claims stating that there is negligence involved in their supervising, hiring, retention, training, or anything similar when they admit a trucker was working within the “scope of employment” during a crash.

What happened in McHaffie v. Bunch?

In 1989, Laura McHaffie was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by Cindy Bunch. That vehicle was in a collision with a tractor-trailer being driven by a man named Donald R. Farmer. As a result of the truck accident, Laura McHaffie suffered serious physical and mental injuries, leaving her permanently disabled.

McHaffie’s legal guardian filed a lawsuit against both Bunch and Farmer, as well as Bruce Transport and Leasing (owner-lessor of the truck) and Rumble Transport (operator-lessee of the truck). In the lawsuit, McHaffie’s lawyers argued that because Farmer was working for Bruce Transport and Rumble Transport at the time of the crash, and because Farmer was acting within the “scope of employment” when the collision occurred, both companies should also be liable under the theory of vicarious liability. (Vicarious liability is a legal rule that says employers are responsible for their workers.) They also argued that Rumble Transport should be held liable for negligent hiring and retention of the truck driver.

Now, the case itself had a lot of twists and turns, but the important thing to know (for the purpose of our writing, anyway), is that the trucking company admitted that Farmer was within the scope of his employment during the crash. And as such, the trucking company argued, McHaffie shouldn’t be able to sue for negligent hiring/retention, too; after all, they’ve already admitted that they’re responsible for their employee’s actions. (As it turns out, the jury decided that the employer’s negligent hiring and supervising only accounted for a small percentage of the plaintiff’s losses.)

Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Missouri agreed with the trucking company.

To sum up: While you may be able to file a truck accident lawsuit for other negligent actions and behavior, the McHaffie rule prohibits plaintiffs from seeking additional compensation under certain types of liability, such as negligent hiring, supervising, or training. A trucking company must state that their truck driver was acting in the “scope of employment” for their company when the crash occurred. If the company claims that the trucker was following their company’s rules, policies, and regulations, the plaintiff cannot claim that the truck company’s hiring, training, or supervisor procedures were negligent, which led to the accident and their injuries.

A piece published by the Saint Louis University School of Law explains the McHaffie rule best by stating, “once a defendant motor carrier admits respondeat superior liability, the plaintiff is barred from proceeding on any additional theories of imputed liability against the employer, such as negligent entrustment, hiring, supervision, or training.” As a result, trucking companies depend heavily on this rule and are usually found not liable for the accident because a trucker should always be acting “within the scope of his or her employment, simply due to the fact that the commercial vehicle is on the road.”

What does respondeat superior liability mean?

Respondeat superior is Latin for “let the master answer.” Like vicarious liability, it’s a doctrine that says one person (like an employer) is legally responsible for another person’s (like an employee’s) actions. It’s what’s known as an affirmative defense.

This means that when a trucking company claims respondeat superior liability, any evidence that shows a truck driver’s negligent behavior which usually is a reflection of their employer’s business practices, such as hiring, training, and supervising, is thrown out the door and excluded from being used.

It doesn’t only apply to employer/employee relationships, though those are the most common.

Are there ways to get around the McHaffie rule?

Fortunately, there are ways to get around the McHaffie rule. In fact, there are exceptions to almost every rule and law that your Kansas City truck accident attorney will work hard to find and use for your benefit. Here are three of the exceptions that the court mentioned regarding the McHaffie rule:

  1. Punitive damages: A big exception is the possibility that you may be able to seek punitive damages against the trucking company. The Saint Louis University Law Journal states that “one of the potential exceptions contemplated by the court occurs when the plaintiff alleges punitive damages against the motor carrier.” The court made statements suggesting that it would one day go over the punitive exceptions, but it never did. Punitive damages are usually ordered to punish a person or company. For example, the court may order that the trucking company pay punitive damages after the trucker hit you as a form of punishment on top of compensatory damages. Punitive damages are meant to only punish the driver, and compensatory damages are meant to compensate you.
  2. Liability does not depend solely on the employee’s negligent behavior: The court also made a statement suggesting that a possible exception is “a situation where the theory of liability did not depend on the negligence of the employee.” However, the court did not provide much detail or information regarding this exception.
  3. Fault is found between the employee and employer: Lastly, the court explained that a possible exception might exist “when there is relative fault between the employer and employee.” However, the court did not further elaborate on this exception, stating that it would be explained another day.

Regardless of if a trucking company tries to use the McHaffie rule in your truck accident case, you should keep in mind that professional and skilled truck accident lawyers will have your back throughout your entire case, and you can depend on them to make sure that you reach the best outcome possible. You should never let any rule or law persuade you to give up during your case as your attorney is dedicated to finding solutions and exceptions that might possibly exist.

If you suffer injuries from a truck accident in Kansas City, MO and have questions and concerns regarding the McHaffie rule, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a truck accident lawyer from Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys at your earliest opportunity. We take these cases very seriously. When you hire one of our attorneys, you will have peace of mind knowing that we are aware of the laws and rules that may be used against your case, and we will work tirelessly to achieve the best results possible for you. Call our office or submit our contact form today to get started with the process. You are also invited to visit our main office in Kansas City, MO at any time to go over your case, or you can schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys at our offices in Lee’s Summit, Parkville and St. Joseph (MO); Olathe, Kansas City, and Overland Park (KS).