Commercial trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. They are hard to maneuver, and they are very hard to stop when traveling full speed down a highway or interstate freeway. Because of their reduced ability to react, fatigued drivers are particularly likely to have difficulty making quick life-saving decisions on the road. They may be less able to think clearly under pressure. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board has stated that truck driver fatigue may be a contributing factor in 30-40% of commercial truck accidents.
Driver fatigue can be the outcome of lack of sleep, driving too many hours in a row, and pressure to deliver loads on time. Losing even a few hours of sleep can result in driver fatigue.
Hours of Service Rules
Regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require truck drivers to take rest breaks. Specifically, truck drivers are only allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours in a row after taking 10 consecutive hours off. They cannot drive beyond the 14th hour after going on duty. They cannot drive trucks for more than 60 hours in one week or more than 70 hours in eight days.
Unfortunately, not all truck drivers follow the rest break rules. However, another regulation protects against truck drivers' failure to follow this rule. Drivers are required to maintain a log book for every 24-hour period of service. Trucking companies must make sure their drivers keep a log book. Based on the loads actually delivered, trucking companies have the ability to determine whether a truck driver has falsified the log book. Thus, the log book can be a crucial piece of evidence of truck driver negligence in a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and the trucking company.
Negligent Hiring or Supervision of a Truck Driver
The injuries after a truck accident caused by a driver's fatigue may be catastrophic. For example, a truck driver who falls asleep at the wheel may kill multiple people in a single accident, and all those people may sue the driver for compensation. Although a truck driver is likely to be insured, the coverage under that policy may not be sufficient for catastrophic injuries or death, especially when there are multiple people injured or killed.
A plaintiff's attorney can pursue the truck driver's employer for the greatest possible chance of recovering the full amount needed by an accident victim. Trucking companies often carry insurance coverage with higher limits. When a fatigued truck driver causes an accident in the course and scope of employment, his or her employer can be held responsible under the theories of respondeat superior or vicarious liability. A plaintiff suing under these theories need not prove that the trucking company was negligent.
In the case of a fatigued driver who does not follow the federal regulations on rest breaks or falsifies log books, it may be appropriate to proceed against his or her employer on a theory of negligent supervision. This theory does require a plaintiff to prove affirmative negligence by the employer.
Many states follow § 213 of the Restatement (Second) of Agency, which provides that someone who conducts an activity that involves a risk of harm through agents will be subject to liability if he or she is negligent or reckless by employing improper agents or instrumentalities. Truck driving is an inherently dangerous activity. Therefore, it is critical that trucking companies hire people who are qualified to work as truck drivers.
In order to get around the rules regarding employer liability, some trucking companies do not hire drivers as employees but keep them as independent contractors. However, experienced personal injury attorneys can often use state or federal law to show that the driver is actually an employee under the law, even though he or she may be formally designated as an independent contractor.