Many trucking operations are interstate, meaning they operate across multiple states. This is why a federal agency has created specific regulations that oversee the behavior of truckers and trucking companies - no matter what state the driver is coming from, driving through, or heading to. A violation of these regulations can cause a truck accident.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, formed these stringent regulations as the minimum prerequisites for truck drivers and trucking companies throughout the United States. FMCSA violations are a serious matter and require a bit of knowledge to understand.
While there are numerous reasons why the FMCSA enforces these regulations, safety is the overarching purpose for most of the rules. This is because FMCSA infractions can result in severe personal injuries or the wrongful death of a blameless individual. If you or a family member have suffered injuries in any trucking accident due to FMCSA violations, please call a truck accident lawyer who can assess your rights to possible compensation.
If a truck driver or a trucking company disregards one of these federal regulations and causes an accident, the driver and company should be liable for all losses they cause. A truck accident attorney may use the violation to prove the liability of those parties, and truck accident cases often involve many FMCSA regulations and other complex legal issues.
Using FMCSA Regulations to Prove Liability in a Truck Accident Case
To demonstrate liability for a truck accident, you must establish negligence.
You must demonstrate:
- The truck driver or truck carrier owed you a duty to drive safely, satisfactorily maintain their fleet, employ skilled and trustworthy drivers, etc.
- The driver or company did not satisfy that duty.
- The behavior of the driver or company caused the accident.
- Your injury stemmed from the accident, and you suffered damages.
A breach of an FMCSA regulation can help establish the truck driver or trucking company breached a duty owed to you.
FMCSA Standards For Truck Drivers and Trucks
FMCSA standards cover the behavior of the truck driver as well as the condition of the truck:
- The driver must have a commercial driver’s license obtained through proper procedures.
- The driver must be 21 years old to engage in interstate commerce.
- The driver can only work a specific number of hours without taking a breather and resting. For instance, a driver cannot go over eight hours without taking a 30-minute rest and can only work for 11 hours after being off duty for 10 hours.
- Federal workers perform routine inspections of trucks. Drivers must perform checks each day. If the driver encounters an issue with the brakes, they must include the info in their report.
- A truck driver must take a drug and alcohol screen after specific accidents.
Companies also have to comply with federal trucking regulations. These can include inspecting and maintaining trucks, hiring qualified drivers, performing necessary alcohol and drug tests on drivers, taking action against drivers who violate the rules, keeping proper records, and more.
How Crashes Are Caused by FMCSA Violations
An injured individual can often connect the violation of an FMCSA standard and an accident. For instance, the driver fell asleep at the wheel because they did not obey the regulation controlling how many hours a truck driver can drive without sleeping. The overly tired driver can lose control and cause widespread injuries and losses. Sometimes, the trucking company might even encourage the driver to violate hours of service regulations, leading to a crash.
Federal officials often investigate trucking crashes to determine whether violations occurred. If so, any citations or official action against a trucking company can help victims establish liability. You want a truck accident lawyer who can gather all information about violations to help prove your claim easier.
Using Negligence Per Se to Establish Liability in a Truck Accident
You can establish negligence for a truck accident using the notion of negligence per se by demonstrating the truck driver or trucking company disregarded FMCSA regulations.
Negligence per se is “due to the violation of a law meant to protect the public,” such as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
When you can provide proof that someone violated a safety law and caused your injuries, your lawyer can establish negligence per se. This means you will not have to provide additional evidence to prove liability - you will only need to prove your damages to recover compensation.
Vicarious Liability of the Trucking Company for the Actions of Its Truckers
The notion of vicarious liability levies liability on the trucking company for the truck driver’s actions within the course of their employment. Even if the trucking company did not violate an FMCSA standard or act negligently, the company can still be liable for the violations and negligence of drivers. This is important because trucking companies have higher corporate insurance limits that can help cover all your losses.
Liability of a Trucking Company for Negligent Hiring or Retention of a Trucker
The law can assess liability for an accident on the trucking company if the company was negligent in employing the driver or keeping a driver.
FMCSA regulations for hiring and training truckers include:
- The employer must conduct road tests.
- The employer must review an applicant’s driving record for the past three years.
- The employer must complete a background check.
- The employer may instruct the truck driver to pass a drug screen and perform random drug tests.
- The employer must perform annual assessments of its drivers.
Failure of the trucking company to observe FMCSA regulations can form the foundation of a negligent hiring or negligent retention claim or suit against the trucking company.
Everyday FMCSA Violations that May Result in Accident Liability
FMCSA regulations set forth the lowest standard and requirements that a trucking company and the truck driver must always follow, in addition to any other state laws where the truck is operating.
Most of the regulations pertain to three broad areas. The first is equipment rules that govern what parts a truck must have and how companies must maintain trucks. The second is the truck driver and trucking company behavior in the actual operation of the vehicle. The third is trucking companies’ obligations involving their drivers, including post-accident tests and evaluations of truck drivers and big rigs.
These all-around types of rules involve safety considerations, whether the regulations are expressly written in terms of safety or whether the impact of the rules results in the secure operation of the commercial truck.
Several FMCSA violations may result in liability if an innocent individual suffers injuries due to the acts of a negligent truck driver or trucking company, including some of the following FMCSA violations:
- No alcohol or drug use, even four hours before a shift: While other drivers might lawfully have a BAC up to 0.08 percent, CDL drivers have a limit of 0.04 percent under the FMCSA. Further, they cannot consume alcohol within four hours of starting the next shift.
- Hours of Service: Truck drivers are allowed to work 14 hours of 24 hours and drive no more than 10 of those hours in total and no more than eight consecutive hours without taking a 30-minute break.
- Stormy weather: During dangerous weather conditions, truck drivers must use extreme caution and slow down to the point where travel can be made safely. If a truck driver cannot safely use the large commercial vehicle, they must halt until safe operation can be continued. This includes weather such as snow, frost, sleet, mist, mist, dust, smoke, or other situations that may become unsafe to drive due to reduced traction or visibility.
- Inspecting cargo: Truck drivers must check cargo secured on the trailer numerous times during delivery, including once within the first 50 miles, to examine the need to make adjustments due to turning or sliding.
- Equipment regulations: Steering columns, brakes, and wheels must be well-maintained. There are consequential rules relating to wheel care, including if there is damage to the sidewall, ply showing, tears, or other malformations.
- Disabled trucks: When a truck is disabled on the side of the highway, a truck driver must instantly put on hazard lights and, within ten minutes, place cones and caution signs to warn oncoming drivers of the disabled truck.
In an Emergency, Call 911
If you see an emergency involving a truck on the highway, call 911 right away. Depending on the circumstances, the emergency dispatcher will notify law enforcement authorities or emergency medical services. Relay to the dispatcher as much information as possible, including a description of the truck, its license plate number, its location, and your reason for concern.
Filing a Complaint With the FMCSA
If you find out that a trucking company or truck driver engaged in negligent conduct, but the case isn't an emergency, file a complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as soon as possible. At the latest, report it within 90 days from when you learned about the conduct in question.
The FMCSA is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and implements federal trucking regulations and laws, including:
- Distracted driving: Drivers cannot text and drive or use handheld mobile devices while driving.
- Intoxicated and drugged driving: The FMCSA bans truckers from using their vehicles under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Hours of service: FMCSA regulations restrict the number of hours a driver can drive a commercial vehicle without taking a rest break.
- Upkeep and inspection: Trucking companies must adequately preserve their trucks and conduct regular checks to guarantee safety.
- Record keeping: Truckers and trucking companies must keep records that track data like hours on the road and the truck’s maintenance schedule. Forging or improperly keeping these records is a severe infraction with substantial penalties.
- Speed: Drivers must follow all posted speed limits, and trucking companies may not plan runs that a trucker can’t make without speeding.
These regulations apply to all truck drivers and trucking companies engaged in interstate commerce.
The FMCSA will investigate your complaint. Depending on what FMCSA investigators uncover, the agency can take enforcement measures against the trucking company, including hefty fines and the suspension of the company’s operating license for their FMCSA violations. This can help keep unsafe trucks and drivers off the road.
In addition to federal truck safety regulations, state and local governments set their own rules and requirements. If you think a truck driver or company is breaking these rules in your state, you can contact the appropriate state regulatory agency.
FMCSA Violations Are Strong Evidence in a Truck Collision Claim
FMCSA and state regulations are one set of criteria that insurance companies and courts use when they review truck wreck claims. In some cases, this simplifies establishing negligence in a truck collision. Proof that a trucker or trucking company violated FMCSA rules establishes negligence, and you only need to demonstrate that the violation caused your injuries and prove your damages.
Nevertheless, establishing a violation of an FMCSA rule or another regulation can be difficult. Agencies don’t begin enforcement actions for every complaint, even if there is proof of a breach. Your truck accident lawyer might need to exhaustively investigate the crash and present proof of any suspected but not cited safety infringements to an insurer, judge, or jury without an enforcement action.
Seeking Payment for Damages in a Truck Accident
Once you establish a violation or another form of negligence, your lawyer needs to prove your damages.
The payment you may recover for injuries in a truck accident may include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Miscellaneous costs
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
Liability is only one piece of the puzzle, and calculating and proving damages can be more challenging than you might imagine. Always have the right legal help.
Did You Suffer Injuries in a Bronx Truck Accident due to FMCSA Violations? Contact a Trucking Lawyer
If you have suffered injuries or even lost a loved one in a devastating truck crash, a truck accident attorney can help. A lawyer focusing on commercial vehicle cases can investigate FMCSA violations and has the resources to guide you through a complex truck accident claim and fight for justice on your behalf.