If you or a loved one has been in a crash caused by a tired semi-truck driver, you need a lawyer who has knowledge of the FMCSA “Hours-of-Service” regulations. If these regulations were violated by the semi-trailer driver who hit you or your family member, there may be a claim for “punitive damages,” which means a lawsuit would seek significant amounts of money meant to punish the driver, trucking company and owner of the freight being hauled for bad behavior.
There is no excuse for the driver of a 50,000 to 80,000-pound 18-wheeler to fall asleep at the wheel.
FMCSA Hours of Service Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations were enacted to prevent injury and wrongful death resulting from crashes involving semi trucks (car vs. semi truck crash cases, commercial truck rollovers, etc.). Violations of the HOS regulations can prompt FMCSA to take action, including a warning letter, investigation or roadside inspection.
Please note that your lawyer should know FMCSA regulations inside out. Before you hire a lawyer, ask about his or her experience winning cases using these regulations.
FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) compiles and analyzes safety violation data, including HOS violations, from state and local sources. SMS methodology involves detailed calculations of safety violations, and specific HOS violations are given varying “violation severity weights” based on the crash risk.
Below is a list of some of the HOS violations with their violation severity weights (10 being the highest):
- State and local HOS violations (7): States and some cities have HOS laws that semi-trucks in both interstate and intrastate commerce must follow.
- Operating a semi-truck or other commercial motor vehicle (CMV) while fatigued or ill (10): This seems a bit vague, which in my experience often leans in favor of the trucking companies.
- Requiring or permitting a driver to driver more than 11 hours (7): This is a clear violation of federal HOS regulations, yet some trucking companies have schedules that require drivers to drive more than 11 hours or create a culture where drivers are expected to do so.
- Requiring or permitting a driver to drive after 14 hours on duty (7): Being on duty can include more than driving a big rig. For example, a truck driver is on duty when he or she is unloading freight. The point of the HOS regulations is to prevent crashes caused by driver fatigue. To prevent fatigue, driver’s need time off duty when they can sleep.
- 60/70-hour rule violation (7): The number of allowed total hours on duty per week depends on the commercial vehicle driven.
- No driver’s record of duty status (5): Drivers are required to record whether they are driving or performing other duties.
- False report of driver’s record of duty status (7): Any false report should be given a safety violation weight of 10. Even better would be having any false reporting trigger an automatic investigation.
- Driver failing to retain previous 7 days’ logs (5): This is tantamount to a false report and at the very least should be given a weight of 10. Again, this should trigger an automatic investigation. This violation is particularly egregious when there has been an accident involving personal injury or wrongful death.
- Driving after being declared out-of-service (10): This is inexcusable and should result in a truck driver permanently losing his or her commercial license and a trucking company being immediately and permanently shut down. Accidents involving out-of-service vehicles give rise to punitive damages claims.
- Electronic onboard recording (EOBR) device violations (1): EOBR devices are used to record hours of service. FMCSA has proposed a new rule to require EOBR devices in most interstate commercial vehicles in lieu of paper logbooks. If this new rule is finalized, it will be necessary to give more weight to EOBR violations.
With the passage of the new HOS rules, it is time for FMCSA to review the SMS HOS violation calculations and violation severity weights. The new rule puts more limitations on truck driver road time. For example:
- A commercial truck driver may drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes.
- Driving (or allowing a driver to drive) 3 or more hours beyond the driving-time limit may be considered an egregious violation and subject to the maximum civil penalties. Also applies to passenger-carrying drivers. “Egregious violations” were not previously defined.
Any false HOS records or a history of HOS violations (or other safety violations) is potentially evidence of negligence and could be grounds for a claim for punitive damages. This could mean a larger financial recovery for the accident victim and his or her family, which obviously doesn’t undo the suffering, but does send a strong message to the truck driver, the trucking company and the trucking industry.
Can I Sue a Trucking Company if a Tractor-Trailer Driver Falls Asleep at the Wheel?
If the evidence supports your claim, yes, you can sue a truck company if the tractor-trailer driver that caused your crash fell asleep at the wheel or was drowsy but did not fall asleep. It is not necessary for there to have been a violation of the Hours-of-Service regulations; however, as discussed above, if there is a violation, there may be a punitive damages claim.
A trucking company is generally legally responsible for accidents caused by its drivers. In addition to the HOS regulations, which these companies must follow, there are many other regulations, including requirements regarding driver training and qualifications, load limits, etc.
If you are the family member of someone who died in the crash, you need to talk with a lawyer about a wrongful death claim. If you were injured, your lawyer should take the time to get to know you and how the crash has affected your life. One of our clients was severely burned, with second and third-degree burns on over 60% of his body. The pain and suffering this newly-married man endured was unimaginable. Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman obtained a settlement for this client of over $10 million.
As stated above, if the driver violated the HOS regulations, you may have a punitive damages claim.
Contact semi-truck accident lawyer Eric Hageman for a free consultation if you or a loved one has been hit by a semi truck. Eric represents clients in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits throughout the United States.