Truck operators who drive for a living need proper training and job qualifications. They must pass tests that show that they have the required knowledge and skills and a clean driving record.
You can hold companies responsible for whom they hire and put behind the wheel. You can make them pay for the damages their drivers cause and their negligence in not hiring qualified candidates.
First, you must hire an experienced truck accident lawyer to help you prove your case and secure financial compensation.
New Training and Qualification Rules for CDL Licenses Are Going Into Effect
Not just anyone is allowed to drive a truck. Before one can get a CDL license, one must pass a series of tests. As of February 2022, truck drivers must take a training course from a provider registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Drivers cannot even take a skills or knowledge test if they cannot prove they took these training courses. In addition, drivers who have poor records should also not be allowed to drive a large truck that can injure or kill other people.
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The Truck Driver Shortage Pushes Companies to Put More Operators on the Road
A shortage of truck drivers (and drivers in general), combined with soaring amounts of cargo that need delivery and people who need transporting, has left trucking companies scrambling to find enough drivers. One recent change in federal law even allows truck drivers as young as 18 to make cross-country trips.
Without enough drivers, companies have unhappy customers, and that is the last thing that they want. As a result, companies may cut corners to get more drivers out on the road faster. They may look the other way if a driver does not have the full qualifications necessary for the job.
This is a selfish and careless way of doing things that puts you and your family at risk every time you go on the road. However, for these companies, business comes first and your safety second. For them, they must make their trucking runs, regardless of the driver making them.
Federal Truck Driver Qualification Requirements
There are federal regulations that list certain qualifications for truck drivers. They can include:
- Being of a certain minimum age
- The applicant’s driving history (including a review of all infractions and violations)
- The proper type of CDL license (there are several classes of CDL license and special designations for certain drivers)
- Passing a physical exam (certain medical conditions can disqualify one from driving a truck)
- Passing a drug test
A CDL license alone is not enough for a truck driver to operate the vehicle. For example, they need to pass special tests to drive passengers or transport hazardous materials. To drive a tractor-trailer, the driver needs a CDL Class A license. They need a Class B license to drive vehicles without hitched trailers. A truck driver can be driving a vehicle for which they do not have the proper CDL license.
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Drivers Also Need Proper Training
In addition, drivers must have proper training before they can get behind the wheel (although the new rules mandate training before the driver can even take their exam). There are no set rules for how many hours of training drivers must have. They only need to show evidence that they took a training course from an approved training provider.
The employer must pay close attention to the driving history and background check when they hire a driver. Their decisions can come under scrutiny later if the driver is in an accident. One of the first things that your lawyer will seek is the driver’s records to spot a bad driving pattern.
Any professional driver, especially those who drive trucks, needs experience and training to get the job done safely. They must drive long distances and operate dangerous vehicles. They have a legal duty to act reasonably, and they are responsible for your safety because they owe a duty of care to everyone else on the road.
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Mistakes that Unqualified Truck Drivers
Inexperienced drivers can make some of the following errors:
- Misjudging the distance between them and other drivers
- Not properly checking their blind spots when they change lanes
- Not knowing their vehicle well enough to know when there is a dangerous mechanical problem
- Driving when they should not because it is smarter to rest
- Driving too aggressively for the circumstances
- Not knowing how to handle inclement weather
- Missing road signs because they did not anticipate them or pay close attention
Driving any commercial vehicle requires precision. Inches matter when one drives for a living. While a trucking company does not know exactly what a driver will do once they get out on the road, proper qualifications are one way of telling them. Without these qualifications, companies should never hire drivers, regardless of the size of the vehicle that they are driving and what they are transporting.
Truck Drivers Must Stay Qualified to Keep Their Jobs
Qualified means much more than what the driver must have when they start driving. They must maintain their qualification while they are employed.
If they have a poor record of safety violations, their employer should take action against them. Drivers who rack up citations or fail drug tests should face disciplinary action that can include termination from their job. Keeping a driver employed requires the same level of scrutiny as hiring them in the first place.
Truck drivers can lose their CDL licenses when they break certain laws. For example, if law enforcement officers catch them driving a truck with a BAC over the legal limit, they can lose their ability to operate a truck. Drivers can have their CDL license suspended after certain violations. If certain things happen, the trucking company should fire the driver. However, companies may critically need the help and not terminate an operator when they must.
In addition, trucking companies may keep a driver employed who is not in the physical health or shape necessary to operate a truck. Many drivers live unhealthy lifestyles, and their health can deteriorate, even if they pass an initial exam. A company should continue to monitor this over time.
Companies have ongoing requirements to supervise and monitor their drivers. Just because they are initially qualified does not mean that they remain that way permanently. Companies can be responsible when they should have fired a driver and did not. Prior incidents and a lack of action are telling about the level of care that the company used.
Calling Drivers Independent Contractors does Not Avoid Liability
In many cases, companies are vicariously liable for the conduct of their employees but not independent contractors performing work for the company. Trucking companies try to escape legal liability by classifying their drivers as independent contractors or stating they are owner-operators instead of employees.
They might attempt to defeat lawsuits for truck driver negligence by saying that these drivers are not company agents. The good news is that federal law eliminated this loophole for trucking companies to escape liability, and the law does not distinguish between employee and contractor truck drivers for these legal purposes.
Additionally, when a trucking company allows an unqualified driver to transport cargo on its behalf, the trucking company itself is negligent. Negligent hiring is another way that you can hold a business responsible when it tries to outsource roles to contractors. The business must screen contractors when it hires them, then properly supervise and train them.
Before hiring the driver, the business must check their:
Companies cannot blindly hire anyone, as they must investigate the driver first. They cannot simply call anyone that they want an independent contractor to avoid liability. Your truck accident lawyer can identify when the trucking company is vicariously liable, liable for negligence, or both.
Your Lawyer Must Investigate the Truck Driver’s Qualifications
Several things must happen between an accident due to an unqualified driver and you receiving a check for your injuries. It is not just enough to say that a truck driver was unqualified, and this is something that you must prove, and your lawyer can usually find this evidence in employer records. Without evidence, any claims that the truck driver was unqualified will just be speculation.
The company will not willingly give you these records after the accident. They have every incentive to keep these from you because the records can contain evidence of their negligence. However, companies do not have the final say over what records they can keep to themselves in the litigation process.
The crucial first step is to direct them to preserve these records in anticipation of litigation. Although there are federal recordkeeping requirements, never underestimate what a company will do if they face significant liability.
Your truck accident lawyer will act quickly to send a letter to the potentially responsible party to direct them to keep these records. Then, your attorney will move aggressively in the discovery process to obtain these records to build your case. Your lawyer can independently investigate the driver and their qualifications in the meantime.
The necessity of a complete investigation is one thing that makes a truck accident case more complex. The next challenging issue is that you are often suing a company. Employees are agents of their company when they act within the scope of their employment. Unless they are taking the company car or truck for a personal errand, the chances are that they are on the company’s time.
Suing a Company for the Injuries Their Driver Caused
When this happens, your primary defendant in the case will be the company. In general, this is a good thing for you. Chances are that there is a much higher level of insurance coverage and assets to pay your judgment when you are suing a company than when you are taking legal action against an individual.
The flip side of this is that your claim can be more difficult. First, the insurance company faces the prospect of writing a larger check because of the amount of coverage. This is not something that they do willingly. They may try to throw up every roadblock that they can to cut down the amount of money that you can receive.
Second, the higher the dollar value of the potential claim, the more the defendant (and their insurance company) will lawyer up to make your life harder. High-dollar value claims require a tough and experienced lawyer who knows how to go after and take the legal fight to the large companies. This is exactly what we do at Zanes Law Injury Lawyers. We are not afraid to fight as hard as necessary on your behalf.
Proving Negligence in Your Truck Accident Claim
You will also need to prove an act of negligence to receive financial compensation. The unqualified driver needs to have done something wrong to cause your accident. The driver’s qualifications will be another way that you can go after a defendant to get financial compensation.
The best time to call a truck accident lawyer is right after your injuries. If you are too injured to handle this, have a family member call on your behalf. Too much happens in the days immediately following an accident to be unprotected legally. In addition, your lawyer will need to get to work on the legal process.
The quicker you begin, the sooner that you can get your check. In general, the legal process takes time. In some cases, it can take years to get your financial compensation, so this is not something that you can delay.