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Can a trucking company owner be liable for driver's deeds?

A Pennsylvania trucking company owner remains a defendant in a lawsuit against his company after a 2015 accident.

In October, a judge ruled that Arsenberger Trucking, owner Robert Arsenberger and a driver for the company, Roman Best, remain as defendants in a case against them filed by Arthur and Joanne McMahon.

The McMahons say they were injured in a 2015 accident when their car, being driven by Joanne McMahon, was rear-ended by a truck driven by Best.

Claim specifically against the owner

The suit not only targets the company and the truck driver, but seeks punitive damages against the owner of the company as well.

In his October ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson said that if Arsenberger Trucking of Mill Run, Pennsylvania, can't meet the company's debts, especially if it is found negligent in this lawsuit, then the company's owner and his personal assets are liable for the debts.

Baylson said that if a jury finds Arsenberger personally liable, then "piercing the corporate veil" may become relevant.

The 'corporate veil'

The "corporate veil" is the theory that if there is strict separation between owners and the corporation itself, then the owners' personal assets can be protected from creditors.

There are typically three instances when a judge will allow a ruling to pierce the corporate veil:

  • If a business is indistinguishable from its owners - think a one-person shop
  • If a business doesn't follow professional standards - think a company in which the owner uses company accounts and property for personal use
  • If a business is formed for fraudulent means.

Baylson did not specify which of these he believe was appropriate in the Arsenberger case. He did note that Arsenberger is the president, owner and chief operating officer of the firm, and he did not dismiss the McMahons' claim that the trucking firm was aware of the driver's "propensity to drive in a reckless manner."

For these reasons, the judge denied Arsenberger's motion to dismiss the counts dealing with negligence and punitive damages.

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