We have all been behind a truck on the highway with a big sticker plastered on the back asking “How is my driving?” While it is comforting to know that the trucking company is concerned regarding the safe operation of its vehicle, even the most alert and cautious truck driver on the road may be in imminent danger of a crash if the equipment is improperly maintained. Lack of proper maintenance is a prevalent cause of serious truck crashes in California and across the nation.
Federal Safety Maintenance Regulations for Truckers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) can be of significant help in proving negligence by a driver or trucking company in a truck crash injury or fatality case
The FMCSR applies to all commercial motor vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 lbs. or are used to transport hazardous materials, and are engaged in interstate commerce. Both the trucking companies and their employees are held to minimum safety standards under the FMCSR. An employee can be a full-time driver for the company or an independent contractor hired by the trip.
The driver, when hired by the trucking company, must show the ability to proficiently perform pre-trip safety inspections and properly use emergency equipment. The trucking company must have a safety program in place to ensure compliance with the FMCSR as required by the Federal Highway Safety Administration. The trucking company is required by the FMCSR to inspect, maintain and repair all equipment. This equipment includes, but is not limited to lighting, signals, brakes, tires, wiring, reflective sheeting, windows, fuel systems, frames, emergency equipment and cargo retention equipment. Inspection records are required to be kept for a period of one year per vehicle.
If an injured victim or the family members of a deceased victim, of a truck accident, can prove that greater care would have been provided by a reasonable driver or trucking company, the driver and/or company can be considered negligent and therefore liable for the injuries or death. To be considered liable, the company itself does not necessarily need to have been negligent in its duties, if the driver failed to do what was required. The company can be held responsible for negligent acts of its drivers due to agency rules making employers liable for the acts of their employees.
The Theory of Negligence Per Se
Liability for an injury of death caused by improper maintenance may also be applied to the driver or company under a legal theory called negligence per se. If a defendant violated a law, such as the FMCSR, and a resulting injury occurred, a presumption of negligence on the part of the defendant is created. In cases of negligence per se, the plaintiff no longer bears the burden of proof, as the violation of a law regarding maintenance to ensure safety was violated. The defendant may still argue that he or she was not negligent but the fact that a law was violated shifts the burden of proof to the defendant.
In California, the rules on trucking safety have a major impact on truck accident litigation due to the negligence per se doctrine. The plaintiff is ensured that he or she can collect damages or compensation following a truck accident caused by improper or insufficient maintenance.
Hiring a Truck Accident Attorney
Anyone involved in a truck crash should retain an experienced truck accident attorney. The trucking company will have a skilled legal team that will often try to direct the blame to the equipment manufacturer, the truck driver or even the plaintiff. The driver will fight vehemently to protect his livelihood. An experienced truck accident attorney will closely examine the maintenance record of any truck involved in a truck crash, as well as the truckers driving record. He may even have the accident professionally reconstructed. The attorney will thoroughly investigate all the facts on behalf of the plaintiff to achieve the highest possible damages and compensation.
If you wish to pursue a claim for injuries or wrongful death due to a truck accident, contact a qualified truck accident attorney at Vititoe Law Group today for a free, confidential consultation.