Tractor-Trailer Accidents: Federal and Georgia Laws and Regulations
Truck accidents have devastating effects. Having a Georgia truck accident lawyer on your side can at least ease the devastation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hit by a truck owned by a Georgia company, or whether you’re hit by a truck belonging to an out-of-state company, you’ve been hit and you have questions. Our truck accident lawyers are here to help.
Tractor-trailers are big, heavy, and dangerous. For that reason, they’re governed by certain rules that do not apply to normal cars. A Georgia truck accident lawyer handling a tractor-trailer case must understand both the state laws that apply to all motor vehicles and the federal laws that apply specifically to tractor-trailer companies.
MOTOR CARRIER SAFETY REGULATIONS
In order to keep other drivers safe, tractor-trailer companies are regulated by the federal and state governments. The federal government’s rules are called the “Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations,” or “FMCSR” for short. The FMCSR apply to motor carriers operating in multiple states. Georgia has adopted essentially the same set of regulations and applied them to Georgia-only companies. Virtually all of the regulations are the same. The differences are mostly in name. For example, if a federal rule is called 49 CFR § 390.4, the Georgia rule is called “DPS 1-390.4.” The Georgia Department of Public Safety is the state agency responsible for enforcement of truck driving laws.
We have handled this issue in Georgia courts again and again. We are confident in our work—so confident that we have made much of our written work product available online for you to see. Our spoken work product, including trials and depositions, is also available on our firm’s YouTube page.
After an accident involving a truck, an experienced Georgia truck accident lawyer will work to determine what happened, why it happened, who is responsible, and what rules apply. Most of the time, both federal laws and state laws apply. Both Georgia and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration define a “commercial motor vehicle” as any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in intrastate and interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:
Has a gross vehicle weight rating, gross combination weight rating, gross vehicle weight, or gross combination weight of 10,001 or more pounds;
Is designed or used to transport more than eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation;
Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
Is used to transport material determined to be hazardous by the secretary of the United States Department of Transportation under 49 U.S.C. Section 5103 and transported in a quantity that requires placards under regulations prescribed under 49 C.F.R., Subtitle B, Chapter I, Subchapter C.
O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1(8.3); FMCSR § 390.5.
LIGHTWEIGHT COMMERCIAL VEHICLES
Some trucks don’t qualify as a commercial vehicle, but are still bound by many of the same rules. A good Georgia truck accident lawyer knows that these vehicles are called “lightweight commercial vehicles”. O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1 explains that if the truck is used by a Georgia business to transport property for compensation; is used to transport passengers for compensation, other than a taxicab; or is a wrecker or tow truck, then the vehicle qualifies as a lightweight commercial vehicle.
FILING A LAWSUIT IN A TRUCK ACCIDENT IS DIFFERENT
In a car accident lawsuit, a personal injury lawyer is legally not allowed to identify the driver’s car insurance even though the driver’s car insurance is paying for the driver’s defense and paying for the driver’s coverage. Truck accidents are different. In a truck accident case, a Georgia truck accident lawyer knows that he can and should identify the driver, the truck company, and the insurance company that insures the trucking company in the title of the lawsuit.
We include the company because the company was responsible for hiring, supervising, training, and/or employing the driver who caused the crash. The trucking company is usually also liable under the legal doctrines of “vicarious liability” and “respondeat superior.” In simplified terms, those doctrines mean that when the driver was an employee of the company and was driving within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision, the company is liable for the driver’s actions. See PN Express, Inc. v. Zegel, 304 Ga. App. 672 (2010).
GEORGIA DIRECT ACTION STATUTES
A good Georgia truck accident lawyer also knows to list the insurance company as a defendant under Georgia’s “direct-action” statutes. Georgia law authorizes direct actions in two places. O.C.G.A. § 40-2- 140(d)(4) permits a plaintiff to “join in the same cause of action the motor carrier and its insurance carrier.” O.C.G.A. § 40-1- 112(c) uses almost the same language—it permits a plaintiff “to join in the same action the motor carrier and the insurance carrier.”
The “caption”—or heading—of one of our legal filings is below. Notice that the named defendants include the trucking company (Staples, Inc.), the at-fault truck driver (Sanders Baugh), and the trucking company’s insurer (Ace American Insurance Company).
WHERE TO FILE A TRUCK ACCIDENT LAWSUIT
We also investigate where to file the lawsuit. The county in which a lawsuit is filed is called the lawsuit’s “venue.” The details vary from case to case, but in general, a top Georgia truck accident lawyer knows to file a commercial truck case in the county where the trucking company has its registered agent, where the at-fault driver lives, or where the wreck occurred.
Trucking companies have a legal duty to hire honest, competent drivers and keep their trucks in good working order. Coe v. Carroll & Carroll, Inc., 308 Ga. App. 777, 785-86 (2011); Fouts v. Builders Transport, Inc., 222 Ga. App. 568, 570 (1996). Most trucking companies honor these responsibilities. Most hire competent drivers, maintain their trucks well, and ensure that their drivers stay rested. But some trucking companies don’t—and when that happens, the consequences can be tragic.
“Jeb and his team are extremely attentive. I was well informed throughout my entire legal process which helped me feel very comfortable. You’ll not find a more caring law team then [Butler Law Firm].”
GEORGIA TRUCK ACCIDENT LAWYER
Our Georgia truck accident lawyers have litigated against truck companies and taken them to trial. We know how to hold trucking companies and their drivers responsible for the damage that they cause.