How Do Federal Regulations Impact Truck Accident Lawsuits?

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The trucking industry in the United States is heavily regulated. These regulations exist at both state and federal levels.

There were 117,300 large trucks involved in crashes in the United States in 2021. The number of truck crashes continues to rise in the United States.

Do federal truck regulations have an impact on your lawsuit? Our Greenville truck accident attorney at Bobby Jones Law can review what laws apply to your case during an individual consultation. Contact us today.

How Federal Regulations Can Impact Truck Accident Lawsuits

  • Violation of a federal regulation may impact a truck accident lawsuit.
  • The violation can make it easier for the victim to prove that the defendant acted negligently – negligence per se may apply.
  • For negligence per se to apply, the plaintiff must identify the regulation and prove that it was violated.
  • Proving the rest of the case (proximate cause and damages) is still required.

Note that a crash victim has the right to compensation regardless of whether the trucking company is charged with any regulatory violations.

What is the FMCSA?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a U.S. government entity. It’s a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The purpose of the FMCSA is to promote safety in commercial motor vehicle activity. To that end, the FMCSA conducts research, creates regulations, and enforces its regulations in an effort to reduce incidents and injuries involving commercial vehicles.

Functions of the FMCSA:

  • Research
  • Technology
  • Regulations
  • Enforcement
  • Education

The goal of the FMCSA is to reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths involving large trucks and buses.

How did the FMCSA get started?

In 1936, the U.S. Bureau of Motor Carriers issued the first truck safety regulations. Three decades after the Department of Transportation opened in 1967, Congress passed the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, creating the FMCSA. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration opened in 2000.

What does the FMCSA regulate about commercial truck operation?

FMCSA regulations for commercial truck operation cover the following topics:

  • Training – Part 380
  • Safety and operational fitness – Part 385
  • Insurance requirements – Part 387
  • General regulations – Part 390
  • Driver and instructor qualifications – Part 391
  • Operating regulations – Part 392
  • Required parts and accessories – Part 393
  • Driver hours – Part 395
  • Inspection, repair, maintenance – Part 396
  • Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace – Part 40, 382
  • Commercial driver’s licenses – Part 383
  • Hazardous material transportation – Parts 171-180, 397

What regulations apply depends on the following:

  • Whether the truck transports passengers
  • Vehicles in operation
  • Hazardous materials transported
  • Operating for hire

Consequences and Penalties of an FMCSA Investigation

The FMCSA has a compliance program for its regulations. Called the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, its enforcement efforts prioritize issues that pose the most significant safety risks.

There are three facets of the CSA enforcement program:

  • Safety Measurement System (SMS) – Data collection and analysis to determine enforcement focus areas.
  • Interventions – Warning letters or investigations of potential violations.
  • Safety Ratings – Evaluating operator compliance through onsite investigations. Ratings may be Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory. Drivers are not individually safety rated.

Common FMCSA violations

Common FMCSA violations include:

  • Failing to carry insurance
  • Not having an accident register on file
  • Record maintenance violations, outdated registration information
  • Driver qualification violations, failing to make required employee files, not performing required checks, falsifying records, hiring unqualified drivers
  • Not wearing a seat belt
  • Using a handheld device while driving
  • Equipment violations, including not having the right lights or a fire extinguisher, not conducting periodic inspections
  • Records falsification, not maintaining the correct logbooks, incomplete information
  • Maintenance violations
  • Drug and alcohol testing failures, including in pre-employment, random testing, and enforcement
  • Operating with a suspended or revoked commercial license, license restriction violations, improper vehicle class
  • Improper transport of hazardous materials, placarding violations

What are the consequences for FMCSA violations?

Potential consequences for FMCSA violations may include:

  • Written warnings
  • Fines
  • Civil penalties
  • Suspension of operating authority
  • Misdemeanor charges of operating without a valid CDL (S.C. Code § 56-1-2070)

Adjudication decisions are publicly available.

Does an FMCSA violation establish negligence by the trucking company?

Showing that an FMCSA violation occurred can be helpful for a trucking crash victim proving their right to compensation.

The victim of a motor vehicle accident or any personal injury must show that the defendant acted negligently. They must prove the standard of a reasonable person and then show that the defendant violated that standard.

However, when the defendant violates a law or regulation, the violation can be proof of negligence. The legal term is negligence per se. To apply, the regulation must exist to protect people from the type of harm that occurred. Rather than explaining how the defendant’s behavior was unreasonable, the plaintiff can just admit the regulation into evidence and prove that it was violated. (Evidence Rule 201 – Judicial Notice of Adjudicative Facts may be used to admit the regulation. The party seeking admission must supply the needed information for the court to take judicial notice.)

See Coleman v. Shaw, 281 S.C. 107 (1984), explaining negligence per se and how it applies in personal injury cases.

Proving the case

Remember that you must prove the entire case to receive compensation — legal duty, breach of duty, causation of harm, and damages. An FMCSA violation can establish a breach of duty, which makes it easier for the victim to prove their case.

However, you must prove every element. Overlooking a single element may result in less compensation than you deserve or no compensation at all.

How do you know if the trucking company violated a federal regulation?

When you’re in a crash that involves a trucking company, you know very little at the time of the crash. You know that you are hurt. You may have the basic information about the events in the immediate moments before the crash. But you don’t know if the trucking company violated a federal regulation.

Trucking companies are private organizations. Their employee files and maintenance records might be relevant — but they’re not public. The trucking company likely isn’t going to volunteer the information.

Fortunately, there are ways that you can uncover a history of violations in a lawsuit for compensation.

Using the discovery process

Uncovering regulatory violations can be done through the discovery process. In addition, some enforcement records are publicly available through the FMCSA and may assist you in building your case.

After you file your legal claim, you can begin a process called discovery. The purpose of discovery is to give both sides a fair opportunity to gather evidence. In the process, the issues in the case become known. That makes it easier for the parties to discuss case settlement.

South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 26 explains that parties may obtain discovery. Discovery is information in the hands of the other party that may be relevant to your case. There are many types of discovery that may be useful, including:

  • Production of records, including trucking logs, employment files, and maintenance history
  • Depositions, where people in the company with knowledge answer questions orally, under oath
  • Written questions and answers that the defense must answer under oath, including identifying investigations and regulatory actions that have been taken
  • Admissions, where you ask the defense to admit violations that have occurred
  • Inspections, allowing you to physically inspect the truck or an operating location

Generally, you may seek discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the case. Even if the information itself isn’t going to be admissible at trial, if it can lead to admissible evidence, you may seek discovery.

Discovery can be a complex process. There are court rules that govern how to undertake discovery and how to resolve disputes that arise in the process. Your lawyer can assist you in using discovery effectively to identify federal regulations violations that may impact your case.

Pursuing Truck Accident Compensation – What You Need to Know

  • The trucking company may have violated federal regulations, and you may be completely unaware of it. You must investigate and build your case.
  • Law enforcement and civil authorities may investigate the truck crash. You can use their investigation, but you should build on it, too. They are investigating the crash for other reasons, not focusing on your compensation.
  • Whether or not the defendant is issued regulatory violations, you may still have a claim. The outcome of enforcement proceedings doesn’t impact your right to compensation.
  • Investigating potential violations of federal truck regulations is procedurally complex. You must understand the rules of discovery.
  • Once you have the information, you must prepare to enter it into evidence according to court rules.

Federal regulations may be one of many issues that are important to you in a truck accident claim. With legal help, you can identify and address the things that are especially critical to receiving the compensation that you deserve.

You can have a lawyer represent you with all aspects of your claim.

Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer About Potential Federal Regulation Violations

Robert “Bobby” Jones is an experienced trucking accident lawyer. He understands how federal regulations may impact your claim for compensation. He represents clients in investigating, building the claim, and pursuing justice.

For a free consultation and to start your case today, contact our firm online or by phone at 864-362-2640.

The team at Bobby Jones Law LLC works tirelessly for the injured in South Carolina. His achievements include:
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We’re humbled to be considered one of the top firms in the Upstate and invite you to learn what sets our award-winning legal services apart. Call or request a consultation online.
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