In our personal injury law firm, many of our cases implicate the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) because we routinely handle crashes involving commercial vehicles. The most common cases where the regulations apply involve tractor-trailer accidents. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are not just limited to big semi trucks. The Regulations apply to all “commercial motor vehicles” operating in interstate commerce. The “interstate commerce” requirement is found in the federal regulations, but in many states, including Georgia, the state applies the federal standards to intrastate carriers as well. As a result, the interstate commerce part is important to know and analyze in every case, but it is also important to remember that the regulations still may apply if it is one of the federal standards a state applies to carriers operating exclusively within its borders.
The regulations, and the applicable federal statute, utilize a specific definition of “commercial motor vehicle” that depends on the weight of the vehicle, how many passengers it carries, or whether it is transporting hazardous materials. Under the definition, a pick-up truck hauling a trailer could be a commercial motor vehicle and subject to the regulations. Not only would this come as a surprise to many drivers, but it would come as a surprise to many lawyers as well.
What Do The Regulations Cover?
The regulations are designed to reduce fatalities and serious injuries involving larger motor vehicles. The regulations attempt to do this by imposing a number of requirements on drivers and their employers.
The types of regulations included within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations include the following:
- Hours of service rules. These apply to limit the amount of time a commercial motor vehicle driver, such as a trucker, can drive or be on duty.
- Qualification of drivers. Regulations apply to the qualifications and responsibilities of drivers, including the physical qualifications.
- Disqualification of drivers. Certain offenses or incidents can disqualify a driver from operating a commercial motor vehicle.
- Maintenance and inspection of vehicles. There are specific requirements that apply to the maintenance of vehicles, as well as their routine inspection.
- Vehicle operation. Drivers have to comply with certain requirements while driving a commercial motor vehicle, and certain practices are prohibited.
- Equipment requirements. The regulations impose a variety of requirements on the type, quality, and condition of various pieces of equipment on a commercial motor vehicle, such as lighting and reflectors, tires, and underride guards, just to name a few.
- Recordkeeping. The regulations require that different types of records be kept for specified periods of time, such as maintenance records and driver’s logs.
- Drug and alcohol testing. The regulations specify when drug and alcohol tests must be conducted, and how they must be conducted.
What Happens if a Company or Driver Violates the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations?
Just like any other laws or traffic regulations, there are consequences for failing to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The driver may receive a citation from a governmental agency, such as a law enforcement authority or DOT inspector, if the driver or their truck are caught violating any of the federal regulations. A trucking company may get in trouble with a state or federal agency, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, for a pattern and practice of failing to comply with the regulations.
When an accident is involved, a violation of the regulations can be an important part of a personal injury case. The first step is determining whether the regulations apply. In certain obvious situations, like a tractor-trailer driving in interstate commerce, it is clear that the regulations apply. However, the regulations may apply to a range of other vehicles, such as buses, shuttle vans, or even a pick-up truck hauling a trailer. If a vehicle falls within the definition of “commercial motor vehicle,” the regulations apply.
If the regulations do apply, the next step is proving a violation occurred. This requires knowledge of the regulations, as well as the relevant evidence to determine whether a violation occurred. The knowledge and experience of working with the regulations is important. This is why it is important for anyone injured in a commercial truck wreck to hire an experienced trucking attorney. The evidence can be gathered during the discovery process of a personal injury lawsuit. Depositions, written interrogatories, document requests, and witness statements can all be used as tools to gather the evidence.
If one or more violations of the regulations are proven, then somebody injured in an accident can use that to show that the defendant was negligent. Numerous violations of the regulations, or even just one really egregious violation, can result in the value of the case going up. This is because insurance companies know that juries commonly award more money when a defendant, especially a corporate defendant, has acted irresponsibly. Violations of the regulations may also entitle an injury plaintiff to punitive damages or attorney’s fees and expenses. Every case is different, but generally speaking, an experienced attorney will want to show as many violations of the regulations as possible. The violations increase the chances of success on the injury claim and increase the value.
The Champion Firm has handled numerous cases involving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. We know how to determine which regulations apply, how to gather the evidence, and how to prove the violations. If you have questions about an accident involving a commercial motor vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer or a bus, call us today to schedule a free consultation and have one of our experienced Georgia personal injury attorneys review your case.