Severe car accidents can be devastating enough. When you add the potential effects of a commercial vehicle – its added weight, cargo or passengers and size, then the consequences are beyond what anyone should have to go through alone.
In light of the potentially devastating consequences of a commercial vehicle accident, the government created various laws and official officers to hold commercial motor carriers responsible and accountable when they fail to uphold their duties.
In December 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) created the Compliance, Safety and Accountability System (CSA). Within the CSA, there is the Safety Management System (SMS) which collects data from truck drivers and motor carriers to help evaluate the safety of a specific motor carrier. There are seven factors that are evaluated when considering the safety measures of a motor carrier:
- Unsafe Driving: driving a vehicle carelessly or failing to drive safely
- Fatigued Driving: driving while tired, sick or outside the allowed hours of service regulations. Many lawsuits have been filed because a person was driving while the driver was falling asleep at the wheel after a long work day, and then caused a car accident. Federal regulations create a cap of the maximum number of hours a driver can be on duty a day or week. There are also require a driver to have a daily log that contains the work status of the driver.
- Driver Fitness: drivers who are not properly trained or educated, drivers who do not have enough experience, or because of medical issues that affect the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle. Drivers and employees need to be trained about complying with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR).
- Controlled Substances/Alcohol: driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and driving impaired. Federal law states that a driver cannot have alcohol within 4 hours of working, or even being in physical control of a motor vehicle. This means a commercial driver cannot have wine, spirits, beer or any alcohol when they operate a vehicle. The motor carrier should not allow their employees to operate commercial vehicles when the driver had alcohol within the last 4 hours. Drivers who do consume alcohol have to be put on hold and out-of-service for 24 hours.
- Vehicle Maintenance: not maintaining the vehicle’s conditions and standards. Equipment must be maintained according to all performance and design requirements set out by the FMCSA guidelines.
- Cargo Related: not loading the cargo into a commercial vehicle properly, dropping or spilling cargo, overloading a vehicle, or mishandling hazardous materials
- Crash Indicators: considers the overall driving history and past crashes, including how many crashes there were and how serious or severe the crashes were in terms of damages.
The collected information is over the course of 24 months (2 years). But the information collected in the SMS is limited to the public. Not all of the information on the system is openly available on the internet. The system is used to tell the FMCSA about low safety performance scores in the above areas. When a motor carrier falls below the standards, they can be issued a warning letter or even receive an out-of-service order.
Failing to meet certain safety standards and following all applicable regulations can expose the motor carrier company to be liable for the truck accidents caused by their employees and drivers.
How can a commercial driver be disqualified?
A commercial driver is disqualified when he commits serious violations, including:
- Speeding over 15 miles per hour
- Reckless driving
- Making sudden and improper lane changes
- Driving too closely behind the vehicle in front of it
- Committing any traffic violation that leads to the death of another person
- Texting and driving
- Driving without a valid commercial driver license.
Any one of these violations can cause the commercial driver to be unable to operate a commercial vehicle for 60 days after the driver commits a second violation within 3 year. In other words, the driver is only disqualified when there are two or more violations within the span of 3 years. If a commercial driver continues to drive despite being disqualified, he can be disqualified for a full year for driving while disqualified.
There are other ways for a driver to be disqualified for an entire year. When a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or for leaving the scene of an accident, he can be disqualified for 1 year whether it is in a commercial vehicle, or not.
There is a difference between an interstate motor carrier, which has to follow the above federal laws and regulations, and an intrastate motor carrier, which is held responsible under the laws of a particular state.
An interstate motor carrier’s vehicles and drivers cross state lines while the intrastate motor carrier travels within one state.
Federal laws and state laws may have different definitions of what is considered and defined as a commercial motor vehicle. Navigating the differences between which laws apply requires knowledge and experience. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today to ensure you protect your rights and receive the most amount of compensation for your injuries and damages.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) are federal laws that apply to call commercial vehicles. Most states adopted FMSCR measures and definitions. The FMSCR also requires that motor carriers have to obey the regulations, laws and ordinances of the states the commercial carriers work in, unless the federal laws have higher standards and are stricter than the state’s laws.
When the federal laws are stricter than the state laws, then the federal law controls. In other words, the state’s laws that apply to a commercial motor carrier cannot be more relaxed and hold its motor carriers to a lower standard than the federal laws. But, a particular state can increase the standards that a motor carrier has to meet.
A state cannot make a law that controls or regulates highway routes, rates or service for motor carriers. There are exceptions. For example, the state can impose route controls based on the motor vehicle’s size, weight or the cargo – such as hazardous material. A state can also change the amount of minimum insurance coverage that a motor carrier needs to have.
What kind of insurance is a commercial motor carrier required to have?
Insurance policy limits are the maximum amount an injured claimant can seek as compensation under the terms of the insurance policy.
Generally, federal law requires that a motor carrier that does not transport or carry hazardous materials has to have an insurance policy or surety bond of $750,000 dollars with coverage that includes injuries to the public. But the kind of insurance a particular motor carrier is required to have depends on what kind of carrier it is, and their cargo.
For example, a motor carrier that transports oil has to have an insurance policy with coverage of at least $1 million dollars. Motor carriers that transport hazardous materials have to have $5 million dollars in insurance coverage. If a motor carrier transports passengers and has a seating capacity of 15 or more people, then its insurance coverage must be at least for $5 million dollars. Smaller motor carriers must have at least $1,500,000 dollars in insurance coverage.
But the amount of insurance can be altered by specific statutes that are enacted. This is the reason it is important to consult a knowledgeable and skilled attorney when you have been hurt in a truck accident involving a commercial motor carrier.
Insurance companies are supposed to provide peace of mind. In the event of a commercial vehicle accident, the insurance company is supposed to carry out its duty to act in good faith, investigate a claim and pay any compensation owed to an injured claimant.
Unfortunately, while this is how the process is supposed to be, there is no absolute guarantee that the insurance company will not just use any information it gains to deny a claim or to support its defense against an injured claimant. The injured claimant’s focus should be on recovering and returning to his or her life. Hire the right attorney to handle insurance companies and at-fault commercial drivers.
Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer
Without experience in the insurance industry or legal experience, understanding which factors or evidence can help or hurt your case can be difficult to understand.
Are you trying to secure your financial recovery with the help of experienced attorneys? If so, we can help.
The Pusch & Nguyen Law Firm has helped countless Texans handle their insurance disputes. Our experienced trial lawyers have gone up against some of the biggest names in the insurance industry while successfully bringing home payouts for clients. Our successful reputation speaks for itself, and with offices in both Houston and San Antonio, we are well equipped to assist Texans who are in dire need of our services. Register online for a free case evaluation or call us today at 713-524-8139 (Houston) or 210-702-3000 to schedule an appointment with a member of our team.