Two recent Atlanta area auto crashes involving tractor-trailers raise questions regarding the safety, regulation and liability of drivers, operators and owners. On October 13th the driver of a tour bus was killed and dozens of passengers injured in Gilmer County when the bus collided with a tractor-trailer that had come to a stop in the Northbound lanes of Highway 515, about 75 miles north of Atlanta. According to Gilmer Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, the intersection where the accident occurred has a “limited sight distance” and the tractor trailer was illegally blocking traffic after failing to clear the intersection during an attempt to make a left turn into the southbound lanes. On Friday, October 14th the driver and passenger of a compact car escaped with only minor injuries after a tractor-trailer carrying a load of potatoes on I-85 in Gwinnett County overturned, crushing the top of the vehicle. While claiming that his breaks had failed, the driver of the tractor trailer has since been charged with reckless driving.
Regulation of Drivers
In addition to specific licensing requirements for commercial drivers required by Georgia State Regulations, tractor-trailer drivers who are involved in interstate commerce must comply with a variety of federal regulations which are overseen by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Among other things, the FMCSA provides limits for daily and weekly driving hours, guidelines for mandatory rest breaks and various driver testing and safety certification requirements.
Truck drivers who break traffic laws face penalties similar to regular auto drivers. Fines, points on your license or even potential jail time are all consequences of breaking traffic laws, including those specific to large trucks or commercial vehicles. In many instances, the penalties for tractor-trailer drivers are often harsher and laws can be more restrictive. For example, while laws on texting while driving and hands-free driving may vary from state to state for normal auto drivers, Federal law prohibits commercial truck or bus drivers from texting, regardless of in which state they are currently operating a vehicle or where they are licensed. The FMCSA also has various penalties, including monetary fines, for operators and individual drivers who fail to comply with regulations or safety requirements.
Liability of Carrier
In the case of an accident involving a tractor-trailer, liability for any damage or injuries could fall to a number of different parties. While the driver will certainly be held responsible for any traffic or other legal violations, the carrier itself, the employer of the driver, and oftentimes the insurance company, may also be accountable both criminally and civilly. This is often called “vicarious liability” and can be proven through a number of ways. Some ways we prove that the company is responsible for the driver is through the process called “discovery”. We take depositions of company executives, directors, and the driver himself. We also engage in “written discovery”.
Companies that do not implement rigorous driver background checks or that have a past history of accidents, violations of State or Federal safety regulations or that fail to properly maintain fleet vehicles may also face additional penalties called “punitive damages”.
If you have questions, call us. Our consultations are free and we don’t charge anything until we get to work. Even then, we only get paid at the end of the case once the case is resolved at trial or settlement.