Truck accident victims must be fully prepared when they file their claims or lawsuits as these settlements and jury verdicts will normally result in high damage amounts. Unlike a standard car accident, truck accidents actually give plaintiffs a measuring stick to help establish the fault of the driver involved in the accident through the application of safety regulations.
This is why it is vital for you and your personal injury lawyer to be familiar with the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA).
What Is the FMSCA and What Do They Do?
The FMSCA is the federal agency that regulates trucking in the United States. It is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FMSCA drafts and enforces rules that truckers and trucking companies must follow in their daily business of operating commercial motor vehicles.
If the truckers do not follow the regulations, they can be subject to actions as part of the enforcement program. These are more than just best practices. They are binding rules that must be followed by every motor carrier. The FMCSA rules are found in CFR Part 49 at 300-399.
FMSCA regulations in the CFR touch upon nearly all aspects of the trucking business. Here are some examples of their rules:
- Truck drivers are limited in terms of the hours of their shifts and must take rests at certain intervals.
- Trucks are required to undergo periodic inspections and follow specified maintenance standards for motor carriers. This is assessed through a safety measurement system.
- Drivers are required to be licensed in accordance with state law and must follow commercial driver’s license standards.
- A large truck in interstate commerce is limited to a certain weight
Why Are FMSCA Rules Important to Your Truck Accident Lawsuit?
Ordinarily, you would need to follow the standard four-part negligence test in order to prove that the truck driver was responsible for the crash that injured you or your family member. While this is always possible, it is not always easy. In most truck accident cases, especially those that do not settle immediately, you will need expert witnesses to reconstruct the accident in order to prove liability.
The presence of regulatory rules and laws is another way of protecting drivers on the road. When the regulation has been violated, it is another way of the injured motorist or passenger to prove that the driver was responsible without having to go through the entire process of establishing negligence.
FMSCA Rules and Negligence Per Se
When there is a law that is broken, the defendant is considered to be automatically negligence. Instead of the jury determining whether the defendant violated the duty of care, the fact that a law was broken short-circuits the entire determination. This is a concept called negligence per se.
While FMSCA regulations are not statutes and do not have the force of criminal laws, they are still considered laws for the purposes of negligence per se. Thus, if the truck driver is driving beyond their shift time or if the truck has not been properly maintained, it will automatically be considered negligence.
This concept would also apply to the insurance company’s determination of fault for the accident if the claimant settles before trial.
How FMCSA Rule Violations Can Cause Your Truck Accident
It is easy to see how failure to follow federal regulations can put other drivers on the road in danger. For instance, a driver who is behind the wheel well beyond their shift will be drowsy and more likely to have slower reaction times. A truck that is poorly maintained is more likely to have a tire blowout that can cause a serious accident.
FMCSA regulations are mostly aimed at safety. They are meant to ensure that trucks do not become a danger to everyone else on the road. These regulations recognize that motorists must share the road with large and potentially hazardous vehicles that also need the highways to get their cargo where it is going.
What the Personal Injury Attorney Must Do
After you have been in a truck accident, it is crucial for your lawyer to get as much information as possible about the circumstances of the accident. Of course, they will need to learn who did what that led to the accident, but they will also need to learn about the driver and the truck. In other words, there are two parallel ways to establish fault for the accident.
The lawyer will also consult the Code of Federal Regulations to research the FMCSA’s safety compliance program. They may also check the Federal Register and federal government websites to learn about possible upcoming changes to the rules.
If the case reaches court, it is important for the driver to obtain driver logs and other maintenance information for the driver and the truck involved in the accident. The attorney can also build a case if they can obtain the records to establish that the trucking company never should have hired the driver.
Why Establishing a Rule Violation Is Important
There are very high stakes in a truck accident case. Not only can you file a lawsuit against the driver of the truck, but you can also sue the trucking company under a theory of vicarious liability if certain conditions are met. This can increase the size of your settlement or jury award because the trucking company will have a bigger insurance policy and more assets to satisfy your judgement.
In general, truck accidents will lead to more money for plaintiffs than car accident exactly because there is a party with deeper pockets to sue. The trucking company usually tries to settle the case because they do not like to take the risk of going in front of a jury.
However, it is important to establish the degree of culpability of the truck driver. When the driver or their company breaks a law, it makes them even more blameworthy.
Even if the trucking company has not violated a FMCSA regulation, there is still a possibility that they could have violated a state law. States are free to impose their own rules on trucks since they are the entity that provides the licensing and registration. A violation of a state rule or law can also be negligence per se.
Of course, even if you cannot show that the trucker broke a federal regulation, you can still show that they were negligence if you can prove that they failed to uphold their duty of care and it caused your injury.