Crashes involving large, commercial vehicles are statistically more dangerous than those involving passenger vehicles alone. The higher chance of danger is elevated by such contributing factors including the large size and weight of commercial vehicles, truck driver skill levels, truck maintenance, and the type and amount of cargo being hauled.
The legal weight for most 18-wheelers is around 80,000 lbs., while typical passenger vehicles weigh about 5,000 lbs. Due to this size variance, upon impact, a passenger vehicle absorbs more force, often resulting in serious injuries. Commercial vehicles also have a higher tendency to roll during a collision due to size and cargo. Hazardous cargo such as flammable material, heavy equipment, and oversized loads can also make a collision more dangerous for all involved and can also be the cause of a collision in such cases where the load is not secured properly, causing the truck to roll or lose its load.
There are good and bad drivers in all walks of life, and we are all guilty of being occasionally distracted while on the road. When a truck driver is found at fault for a collision, the trucking company may also be held legally responsible under the doctrine of respondeat superior – which holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts committed by its employee or agent.
Transportation companies mandate strict delivery schedules, compelling their drivers to drive for too many hours, ignoring hazardous weather, traffic, and other road conditions, and when they are too fatigued to safely operate their vehicle.
In addition to being held accountable for employees’ (drivers’) actions, a transportation company may also be held liable under the negligent hiring doctrine. Unlike respondeat superior, this doctrine extends to circumstances where a company’s employee intentionally harms someone. For this doctrine to be applicable, the company must have known or reasonably should have known that its employee posed a risk of inflicting harm.
Negligent hiring in the trucking industry can be the act of hiring drivers with criminal records (such as a history of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs). In 2019, an Illinois state appellate court affirmed a jury verdict awarding damages of more than $54 million in a personal injury suit against a trucking company for negligent hiring, where it was determined the truck driver was speeding and operating on a suspended license.
Negligent hiring also applies to other commercial vehicles, such as company vans, trucks, and box trucks, and can include negligent acts such as failing to properly train and supervise drivers and knowingly retaining an unsafe employee. When transportation companies make a new hire, they are obligated by common law and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to investigate the driver’s background. 49 C.F.R. requires a company to make inquiries and obtain the driver’s driving history in all states where a license was held during the three years prior to an application. 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(a)(1)(i) provides that a person cannot drive a commercial vehicle unless he is medically certified as physically qualified to do so.
49 C.F. R. § 391.11 establishes the general qualifications for commercial drivers which include the following:
- A person shall not drive a commercial motor vehicle unless he/she is qualified to drive a commercial vehicle
- Must be at least 21 years old
- Can read/speak English sufficiently to converse with the public, understand highway traffic signs and signals, and respond to official inquiries and make entries on reports and records
- Can, by reason of experience, training, or both, safely operate the type of commercial motor vehicle he/she drives
- Is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle under physical qualifications and examinations
- Has a currently valid commercial motor vehicle operator’s license issued only by one State or jurisdiction
- Has prepared and furnished the motor carrier that employs him/her with a list of violations or required certificates
- Is not disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle
- Has completed a driver’s road test or has presented an operator’s license or a ce3rtifiate of road test which the motor carrier that employs him/her has accepted was equivalent to a road test
Also, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, driver disqualifying offenses include:
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol; including while the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.04 percent or more, driving under the influence of alcohol, as prescribed by State law, or refusal to blow.
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle under the influence of a Schedule I controlled substance, an amphetamine, or a derivative of a narcotic drug
- Leaving the scene of an accident while operating a commercial motor vehicle
- A felony involving the use of a commercial motor vehicle
There are varying penalties for disqualified drivers, such as license suspension and jail time based upon the driver’s record and the seriousness of the violation. Often, disqualified commercial drivers
are terminated by employers and can reapply for employment if and when their license is reinstated.
Many transportation companies fail to recognize disqualified drivers, ignore their qualification status, or hire them when they have a history of unsafe behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse and/or reckless driving.
If you or your loved one has been seriously injured or killed in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, specialized knowledge and skill level are needed to hold transportation companies liable for such careless actions. Kendall Law Group has handled many successful transportation injury cases and is not afraid to stand up for you against large companies. Often such large injury claims require litigation, where experience matters.
If you have or your loved one has been injured in an accident involving a transportation company, give us a call for a complimentary case evaluation with an experienced attorney or sign up HERE.