As of the fall of 2021, the worst of the corona virus pandemic seems to be over. Yet the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is supposed to be a safety watchdog, continues to roll back safety laws, citing the effects of the pandemic. Some of these changes include waiving some HOS (Hours of Service) rules, expanding the list of pandemic-related goods, and changing the definition of short haul vs. long haul trips.
These rollbacks ignore the obvious dangers of operating a big rig while fatigued. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s well above the legal limit for commercial drivers in Georgia and most other states.
The FMCSA may be unwilling to put public safety above corporate profits. But a Marietta personal injury attorney is always on duty in this area. Normally, shipping and transportation companies pressure truck drivers to stay on the road as long as possible. Now, given the current regulatory environment, these pressures are even stronger. If you were hurt in a large truck accident, you need and deserve compensation for your medical bills and other economic losses, as well as your pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses.
Duty of Care
The compensation is available if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) had a legal duty of care to keep people safe. Most noncommercial drivers have a duty of ordinary care. They must drive defensively and avoid accidents if possible. Commercial drivers in Georgia have a higher duty of care. They must take additional steps to keep people safe.
Following distance illustrates the difference between these two duties. To comply with their duty of care, noncommercial motorists usually must stay two seconds behind the vehicles in front of them. Since their duty of care is higher, the large truck following distance is usually eight seconds. Adverse conditions, like bad weather, increase the recommended following distance.
Evidence in Fatigued Driver Cases
Establishing a legal duty is on the beginning. To obtain maximum compensation, a Marietta personal injury attorney must prove negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. What does “proof” consist of in a drowsy driver truck accident claim?
A large truck’s Electronic Logging Device contains direct evidence of fatigue. Basically, an ELD is a timer that’s connected to the drive train. So, when the truck is in motion, the ELD clock is ticking. Shipping and transportation companies fought the government’s ELD installation requirement all the way to the Supreme Court. That’s how important this evidence could be in a drowsy driver claim.
Attorneys must act quickly and decisively in order to use this proof. Most insurance companies destroy wrecked trucks within a few days. Once that happens, any physical evidence the truck contained, including the ELD, is lost. So, a Marietta personal injury attorney usually sends a spoliation letter to the insurance company. This legally binding letter instructs the insurance company to preserve all physical evidence, including the ELD, for future inspection.
The time of day or night is sometimes just as important as ELD records. Everyone has a circadian rhythm. Most people are naturally drowsy at certain times, such as early morning, midday, and late night, regardless of how long they’ve been awake. Most truckers are on the road at these times.
Medical records are often important in these claims. Since they sit for such long periods of time, many truckers struggle with sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea cannot breathe normally at night. Mild sleep apnea is basically snoring. In more severe cases, people actually stop breathing. In either case, sleep apnea robs people of the deep, restorative sleep they need to function normally.
The Safety Maintenance System report, which is basically a multistate commercial driving record, could be relevant as well. A truck driver’s SMS report includes information like:
- HOS compliance,
- Crash history,
- Substance abuse records, and
- Vehicle maintenance history.
Driving records and other such documents are usually, but not always, admissible in a personal injury claim.
Now, let’s look at the negligence portion of an injury claim. Legally, drowsy driving could involve the negligence per se rule or the ordinary negligence doctrine.
Although the FMCSA has watered down the rules, there are still some federal HOS standards in place. These standards include daily and weekly driving limits, as well as mandatory rest periods. Georgia and other states have similar laws. If a trucker violates a federal or state HOS requirement, and that violation causes injury, the driver could be liable for damages as a matter of law.
Typically, victims must use the ordinary negligence doctrine in these cases, since drowsy driving usually is not against the law. Usually, jurors are willing to excuse mild fatigue. Things are different if the driver was so sleepy that s/he was almost literally asleep at the wheel. Nearly everyone would agree that this behavior is negligent.
Truckers are legally responsible for drowsy driver and other accidents. The company which owned the truck or the cargo it carried is often financially responsible for the aforementioned damages.
The respondeat superior doctrine usually applies in these cases. Employers are financially responsible for damages if their employees are negligent during the course and scope of their employment. Georgia law broadly defines these key terms. “Employee” is a good example. Most truckers are independent contractors or owner-operators for most purposes. But since the employer has some control over the driver, s/he is an employee for negligence purposes.
Drowsy truck drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.