Deadly trucking accidents continue to happen despite tightened federal regulations surrounding the trucking industry. While some accidents are caused by weather and other factors beyond the truck driver’s control, far too many are the direct result of trucking company negligence.
With so many rules in place, it’s often difficult to understand why trucking companies don’t always obey the law. At The Terry Law Firm, our Morristown truck accident attorneys have worked on countless cases, and we’ve seen why some trucking companies work outside federal regulations and how they avoid paying damages.
The trucking industry is extremely competitive. Trucking companies are always looking for ways to speed up deliveries the cheapest way possible and pay truck drivers the least amount for their work. In order to keep costs down, trucking companies often pay drivers by the mile and don’t compensate for “on-duty” time spent on inspections, mandated rest times, or time out of service due to safety and maintenance. Drivers, in turn, are encouraged to break the law by skipping required breaks and even vehicle inspections in order to maximize driving time and compensation.
In fact, in many cases a truck driver who is charged with negligent or reckless driving will admit that he or she drove past the legal number of hours in order to meet a deadline. This deadline, given to the driver by the trucking company, is often impossible to achieve without breaking regulations.
Trucking companies used to avoid lawsuits by distancing themselves from the driver and vehicle. Trucking companies would obtain permits to operate trucks, but lease the vehicle and equipment from owner/operators and hire drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. In past decades this protected companies from legal action. Current federal law has ended this practice, because now any company that owns a trucking permit can be held liable for any accidents involving a truck with its name displayed on the vehicle, even if the driver is a contractor or the equipment is leased.
Since trucking companies can no longer protect themselves from legal action through ownership and employment practices, they often turn to other methods. Trucking companies are required to maintain certain records, including logs of how many hours each driver was on the road, maintenance histories, etc. However, most records must be maintained for only 6 months and they may be destroyed earlier. It can be difficult to prove that key evidence was destroyed, and the trucking company can claim the logbook has been lost or hasn’t been properly kept, infractions that may result in a fine, but one that would be less than a substantial personal injury claim.
Many trucks now come equipped with devices that record information that can help investigators determine the cause of an accident, such as speed, brake usage, and how long the driver had been on the road. Global positioning devices (GPS) can also help provide valuable details about the location of the vehicle.
Inclinometers are devices that provide information about degree of slopes and help the driver round corners more safely. All of this equipment is designed to make vehicles safer to operate and to provide more detailed information following an accident. However, these devices as well as other records must be preserved immediately to ensure that important evidence is available if a case proceeds to trial.
Trucking companies know the law but they also know that breaking certain regulations may cost them less than a hefty lawsuit. The larger companies also employ their own in-house legal counsel who have years of experience defending their clients in serious injury claims. Their interest is protecting the bottom line at all costs, even if innocent people sharing the road with their vehicles get hurt.
Our Morristown personal injury lawyers know how to represent your interests against the tactics of trucking companies and their insurers, and will protect your rights every step of the way. For a free consultation, call us now at (423) 536-6220.