Trucking Accident Attorneys in Morristown, TN
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) can play a key role in recovering damages for those injured or killed in accidents involving commercial motor vehicles, which are also commonly called tractor trailers, 18-wheelers, semi-trucks, and big rigs.
An experienced Morristown personal injury attorney, such as those at The Terry Law Firm, can use a violation of these regulations by a trucker or his employer to show a pattern of negligent conduct or to prove negligence as a matter of law. We know how to use FMCSR violations as a basis for obtaining verdicts and settlements for clients throughout Tennessee, and are ready to start work on your case as soon as possible.
Does the FMCSR Apply to My Case?
The FMCSR applies to “commercial motor vehicles,” which generally means any motor vehicle that weighs in excess of 10,000 pounds or is used to transport hazardous materials. The vehicle must be engaged in “interstate commerce,” which means trade, traffic or transportation between two states. However, because Tennessee has adopted the FMCSR, the distinction between “interstate” and “intrastate” commerce can be fairly insignificant.
The FMCSR set minimum safety standards for both trucking companies and their “employees.” An employee can include a company’s full-time drivers as well as independent contractors, or “for-hire” drivers who work one delivery at a time for the company.
The driver’s negligence will be attributed to his employer, making the company liable for any damages the driver might have caused in an accident. This includes liability for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and, in some cases, punitive damages, which are meant to punish a company for its blatant disregard of the rules and roadway safety.
FMCSR Violations That Establish a Company’s Liability
The FMCSR imposes several duties and obligations on trucking companies. Violations of these requirements can serve as a basis for a negligence claim, and allow victims who have suffered an injury to pursue compensation for a variety of related expenses.
Violations that can establish liability may include:
- Failure to have a safety program: The Federal Highway Safety Administration regularly conducts on-site examinations to check on whether trucking companies have a program set up to ensure compliance with the FMCSR. Copies of these reports, showing a lack of a program or regular compliance, can serve as strong evidence of negligence.
- Negligent hiring of drivers: Before allowing a driver to hit the road, a trucking company must make sure the driver is “qualified” according to a set of specific criteria set out in the FMCSR. This criteria includes having a valid commercial motor vehicle driver’s license (CDL), the ability to safely operate the tractor trailer and completion of a driver’s road test that examines driving technique as well as a driver’s knowledge of how to conduct pre-trip inspections and use emergency equipment. The company must also investigate the driver’s employment history and driving record for the previous three years. If the company fails to obtain this information and allows an unqualified driver to be on the road, the company could face liability for negligent hiring.
- Failure to perform drug and alcohol testing: Under the FMCSR, trucking companies must perform drug and alcohol testing before a driver is hired, after the driver has been in an accident involving an injury or fatality or when the company suspects the driver has been using drugs or alcohol while on duty. Additionally, the FMCSR requires the company to randomly test 10 percent of their drivers for alcohol and 50 percent for drugs. A failure to do so could lead to damages if a driver’s impairment causes a wreck.
- Negligent supervision of drivers: The FMCSR requires trucking companies to annually review each trucker’s driving record, including any violations of motor vehicle traffic laws from the previous 12 months and any “disqualifying” offenses, such as a conviction of driving while intoxicated (the BAC limit for commercial vehicle drivers is .04). The company also must also keep records that show the number of actual hours the driver is on the road and ensure the driver isn’t exceeding the maximum hours allowed by the FMCSR. Violations could result in a claim of negligent supervision or retention.
- Encouraging unsafe driving: The FMCSR prohibits companies from scheduling deliveries that would encourage its drivers to speed or to exceed the maximum hours of driving time allowed under the regulations. A company’s failure to abide by these rules could support a clam of direct negligence.
Failure to inspect, maintain and repair: A company’s failure to keep a tractor trailer in proper working order and in safe condition or to maintain proper records of vehicle inspections could serve as the basis for a negligence claim. The FMCSR have detailed requirements regarding lighting, retro reflective sheeting, signals, wiring, brakes, windows, fuel systems, tires, frames, emergency equipment and cargo security gear. Furthermore, the company must keep inspection, repair and maintenance records for a period of one year for each vehicle.
FMCSR Violations That Establish a Driver’s Liability
As with trucking companies, the FMCSR impose several duties and obligations on truck drivers. Any violations of these requirements can serve as a basis for a negligence claim and what is known as a claim of “vicarious liability” on the part of the driver’s employer.
Violations of these requirements may include:
- Drowsy driving: The FMCSR strictly forbid drivers from operating a commercial vehicle when their ability to safely drive is impaired by fatigue, illness or some other condition. The rules specify how many consecutive hours a driver can be on the road (11) as well as the maximum hours the trucker can drive in a seven-day period (60) and an eight-day period (70). Additionally, the driver is required to take a 10-hour break between shifts. The drivers must keep driving records for seven-day periods, and companies must retain the drivers’ logs for six months.
- Use of amphetamines, alcohol or controlled substances: Under the FMCSR, drivers cannot use amphetamines, or “pep pills,” while behind the wheel, and they cannot consume alcohol within four hours before going on duty or be under the influence of controlled substances, including cocaine or marijuana.
- Failure to inspect tractor trailer or secure load: A driver is required by the FMCSR to make a pre-trip inspection of his rig to ensure all parts, accessories and emergency gear are in good working order. The driver is also responsible for ensuring that cargo has been properly loaded and secured. If another motorist is injured because of a defective part that could have been discovered upon a reasonable inspection or by a spilled load, the driver and his company could face liability.
- Ignoring unsafe conditions: Because it takes longer to stop and makes it harder to turn on slippery surfaces, the FMCSR specifically require truckers to use caution when driving in hazardous conditions, such as reducing their speed in snow, rain or ice.
- Failure to take warn other drivers: When a tractor trailer becomes disabled on the highway, the FMCSR requires truckers to activate hazard warning signal flashers and to place warning markers in both the front and rear of the vehicle within 10 minutes after stopping on the side of the road. If a failure to do so results in an accident, the trucker’s failure to warn other drivers could be the basis for a claim of negligence per se.
Holding Drivers & Their Companies Accountable
Our Morristown truck accident attorneys know that truckers and trucking companies sometimes ignore or violate the FMCSR, as well as other state and federal regulations, placing innocent motorists at risk of harm. We believe that they should be held fully responsible for their negligence.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a commercial vehicle accident, call us today at (423) 586-5800 and schedule a free initial consultation.