In many situations, a truck driver’s negligent actions are the sole cause of an accident. However, even in these cases, the driver is not the only individual that can be held accountable for injuries resulting from a truck accident. This is because trucking companies have a legal responsibility to ensure that their drivers are thoroughly vetted during the hiring process, are appropriately trained, and are held accountable for any company violations. This is good news for anyone injured in an accident with a large commercial truck because trucking companies often have more funds at their disposal and so are in a better position to fully compensate injured parties for their losses.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), enacted a series of regulations to help prevent accidents involving commercial trucks. Under these rules, drivers are required to inspect their vehicles regularly, abide by traffic laws, and use appropriate cargo loading procedures. However, the regulations also require the trucking companies who hire drivers to create policies that help drivers comply with the regulations. To this end, trucking companies are responsible for:
- Using reasonable care when hiring drivers;
- Developing an effective training program to ensure that drivers are able to safely operate their vehicles;
- Establishing procedures for completing proper truck maintenance;
- Developing inspection procedures; and
- Creating policies regarding how to properly load and unload cargo.
Negligent Hiring and Retention
When companies fail to take these steps, they can be held accountable for the actions of their drivers. For instance, a company that failed to complete a background check on a driver and so hired someone who had a history of traffic violations or of driving while intoxicated can be held liable for injuries resulting from that driver’s negligence. Trucking companies can also be held accountable for failing to discipline or terminate a truck driver who is found to be unqualified or incompetent. When determining whether a company negligently hired or retained a driver, courts will look at the driver’s past record, including whether there is evidence of:
- Medical conditions;
- A history of accidents or traffic violations; and
- Drug or alcohol use.
Furthermore, a single training will not suffice to satisfy the requirements of the FMCSA. This is because trucking companies are required by law to have ongoing training policies that will ensure that drivers remain qualified to operate commercial vehicles.
Federal law also limits the amount of time that a truck driver can work, which is meant to ensure that fatigued drivers are kept off of the road. To this end, drivers are also required to keep a logbook of the hours that they work, although some companies or drivers may falsify their records in an attempt to escape liability. When trucking companies give their drivers deadlines that cannot be met without violating the hours of operation regulations or overlook the falsification of log books, they can be held accountable for resulting accidents.
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