How federal laws can determine liability in truck accident cases
Passenger vehicle drivers in California are expected to follow traffic laws put into place by state and local authorities, but commercial vehicle operators are also required to abide by federal regulations enforced by agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Among these rules are what are known as hours of service regulations, which were implemented to prevent dangerously fatigued truck drivers from remaining behind the wheel.
Monitoring truck driver hours
When truck drivers or trucking companies are sued by accident victims, violations of federal rules are sometimes used to establish liability in court. Proving that hours of service regulations were flouted was once quite difficult because truck drivers kept paper records of their shifts that could be manipulated fairly easily, but tractor-trailer operators are now required to use electronic devices to keep track of this data. This is important because establishing that hours of service regulations were ignored could be enough to convince a jury that a truck driver was likely fatigued at the time of a collision.
On duty for 24 hours
Government accident investigators also check hours of service records. In December 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that fatigue caused a fatal crash after learning that a truck driver had been on duty for 24 hours when he turned onto railroad tracks in Ventura County. The ensuing accident killed a train engineer and injured dozens of passengers. Hours of service records were used to support a charge of vehicular manslaughter brought against the driver.
Liability in truck accident lawsuits
Reports compiled by agencies like the NTSB and violations records from the FMCSA could be used by experienced personal injury attorneys to determine liability in lawsuits filed on behalf of truck accident victims. Attorneys may also use subpoenas to obtain cellphone records if the facts suggest that truck drivers could have been distracted when they crashed.