Violations of Trucking Law in Truck Wreck Cases
Many of the “rules of the road” for truck drivers are set forth in state and federal laws and regulations. Violations of laws and regulations can be an important part of proving liability on the part of a trucker and his employer.
Let’s take an example. Suppose a person driving a car is seriously injured after a commercial truck pulls out in front of her, leaving the car driver insufficient time to stop. The trucker may be found negligent for violating one of several different “rules of the road” that can be found in trucking industry guidelines. But in addition, let’s suppose it turns out that the trucker has been driving 12 hours straight without a break; he may have violated a federal regulation, 9 CFR § 395.3(3)(ii), which—with limited exception—requires truckers to take a 30-minute break for every eight hours of driving.
Is this violation helpful to the victim’s case? Or even better, does it definitively demonstrate negligence on the part of the trucker and his employer?
The second question is easy to answer. Some states have a doctrine called “negligence per se,” which means that violations of laws or regulations that are relevant to a crash definitively constitute negligence. However, Maine is not a negligence per se state. Rather, in Maine, a violation of a law or regulation is simply evidence of negligence.
Although Maine does not have negligence per se, violations of regulations and law can, and often are, critical to proving trucking negligence in Maine. Violations of law give the jury an objective fact to consider when determining fault. Truck drivers are required to abide by the law, and this driver didn’t. Although a jury is permitted to determine that this didn’t constitute negligence, it’s difficult (and dangerous) for a trucker and trucking company to downplay a violation of law at trial. It is one thing for a trucker to claim that a rule set forth in a company driving manual is only a “guideline.” It is quite another to argue that following a regulation or law is not important.
Moreover, if a rule has been codified in federal or state law, there’s a reason for that: it is an important enough rule of the road that regulations or legislators want to ensure all drivers are following it. At trial, a victim in a trucking case can use an expert to explain not only that the rule has been broken, but also why the rule is so critical to the safety of people on the road. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration‘s requirement that a 30-minute break be taken every eight hours is not an arbitrary recommendation based on a hunch; it is a rule borne out of experience regarding the danger of having tired drivers on the road.
Keep in mind that your lawyer may decide not to raise every violation of law at trial, particularly if there is little evidence that they were a cause of the crash. For example, in a case where a truck driver made an unsafe left-hand turn, the victim’s lawyer may not want to dwell on the trucker’s failure to properly secure his cargo.
Like most things in a trucking case, a determination that a trucker violated a state or federal law will typically come about as a result of a lawyer’s investigation. That is why, if you or someone you love has been a victim in a truck wreck. it is critical to hire a lawyer as soon as possible.