With so many port cities shipping freight into and out of the country, it’s no wonder Florida has one of the country’s highest numbers of professional truck drivers.
Eighteen-wheelers are a common sight on Florida highways. But for people involved in a collision with a semi-truck, these vehicles are anything but mundane. Cars and SUVs often come off much worse than the semi-truck, and drivers and passengers in the smaller vehicle often suffer catastrophic, life-changing injuries after a wreck.
If a semi-truck collision injured you, a truck accident lawyer can help you recover compensation from the driver that hit you. Contact an experienced truck accident attorney in your area to learn more.
Risks of Encountering an Unqualified Driver in Port Richey
The proximity of Port Richey to the larger port cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa means the city sees many truck drivers passing through.
Unfortunately, when driving through the greater Tampa area, they’re likely to encounter traffic congestion, including tourists unfamiliar with the area, road construction, and other issues that can increase the chances of an unqualified driver causing an accident.
An unqualified driver is less likely to engage in defensive driving to avoid causing a collision with a passenger car or SUV. Similarly, the driver may not realize when their truck is malfunctioning and may therefore be driving a vehicle that isn’t safe to operate.
Between traffic conditions, inadequate operating skills, and lack of safety training, unqualified drivers are a serious threat to drivers in Port Richey and Tampa.
What Makes Drivers Unqualified to Drive Commercial Trucks?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the trucking industry in the U.S., including setting regulations for carriers and their drivers. It ensures that interstate commerce is safe and that trucks are fit for travel.
Regulations like hiring qualifications, the number of hours drivers can travel before a mandatory rest break, and the logs they’re expected to keep are all standardized for every state. Drivers must comply with these regulations to maintain their commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Trucking carriers must also comply with federal regulations, including the methods they use to hire, train, and supervise their drivers. The companies that own the vehicles also have to maintain their fleet to certain standards, keeping the vehicles in good repair and ensuring that unsafe vehicles don’t make it out on the roads.
Failure to meet FMCSA standards can result in fines for the company and suspension of the CDL for drivers. Furthermore, truck drivers may be considered unqualified if they don’t meet the safety standards of the FMCSA or maintain compliance with the standards of commercial driver’s license holders.
If an unqualified truck driver caused your accident, retaining the services of a truck accident lawyer can help you achieve financial restitution for your injuries and trauma.
There are many ways in which a truck driver could be considered unqualified.
No Commercial Driver’s License
Truck drivers have to hold a CDL to operate the truck. The tests for a commercial license are more difficult and specialized than those of a regular driver’s license and include a written basic skills test and a practical exam.
Additionally, commercial truck drivers must pass a physical exam and agree to regular screenings for drug and alcohol use. While operating the vehicle, drivers must adhere to FMCSA regulations for hours of service, log their driving hours, breaks, and off-duty times, and have the log current and ready to present to a police officer if asked.
A driver without a CDL isn’t qualified to drive a truck. If the driver is found operating a commercial truck without a valid CDL, they’ll be disqualified from holding a CDL for at least one year for the first offense. Subsequent violations may result in a lifetime CDL suspension.
The trucking company may also face fines or other penalties if they knowingly allowed a driver to operate a truck without a valid CDL or failed to verify their employees’ CDLs.
Every trucking company in the U.S. must have individual driver qualification files for all its employees. These files should include a certificate of passing the road test for a CDL and proof that the driver met other federal requirements.
If the driver doesn’t have a valid CDL, your truck accident attorney may have a case for negligence against the driver and their company.
The legal limit for a commercial truck driver’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0.04 percent, half the legal limit for a personal passenger car driver, which is 0.08 percent in nearly all states, including Florida. The BAC limit doesn’t just apply to the driver when they’re operating a commercial vehicle they’re also expected to maintain a BAC under 0.04 percent when driving their personal vehicles during their off time.
The Presence of Certain Medical Conditions
Unlike private drivers, commercial drivers must have regular physical exams to ensure they’re healthy enough to operate their vehicles. These exams are performed by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) representatives, following the guidelines set forth by the FMCSA.
The physical exam includes:
- Vision screening, with a pass threshold of 20/40 vision either naturally or with correction
- Ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and green
- Hearing screening, with the pass threshold of hearing a forced whisper from five feet
- Blood pressure and pulse screening to detect irregular heart rhythms; drivers with high blood pressure may be excluded
- Lab checks for diabetes; diabetic drivers may only qualify if they’re actively treating and controlling their condition
All drivers must undergo this physical exam every two years to maintain their CDLs.
Violating Hours of Service Limits
Drivers must follow the hours of service limits set forth by the FMCSA. Tired driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The FMCSA driving hours regulations include:
- Mandatory 11-hour drive time limit after ten consecutive rest hours
- Drivers may not drive after the 14th hour of “on-duty” time, with the on-duty time including activities unrelated to driving, such as loading or unloading or weigh station validation
- Drivers are required to take a 30-minute break after driving eight consecutive hours
- Drivers may operate a maximum of 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days; the days reset after the driver has had at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty
- The driver must log their hours electronically, and these hours must be current and readily available for FMCSA review at any time
It’s the trucking company’s responsibility to verify that drivers comply with all FMCSA regulations for driving limits. If the carrier allowed their personnel to operate outside of these regulations, your truck accident lawyer might hold both driver and their company responsible for the accident.
Failure to Complete a Pre-Trip Inspection
Qualified drivers are expected to ensure that their vehicle is safe to travel, whether the driver is operating their own rig or a company fleet vehicle.
The high mileage that commercial vehicles see and the extra weight on the tires and chassis mean these vehicles require repairs and maintenance more often than standard vehicles. Their tires need to be replaced and rotated more often as well.
Before starting a trip, the driver must perform a thorough inspection of the vehicle to visually ascertain that it’s safe to travel. If there are potential issues, the driver must address them before they can set out.
A commercial trucker may have a valid CDL and trip log, but they would be considered an unqualified driver if they aren’t operating a safe vehicle. Consequently, your truck accident attorney may name them a defendant in your accident lawsuit.
Proving Liability in an Accident if the Driver Is Unqualified
Any driver may face liability in a collision, whether they’re an owner-operator or employed by a commercial trucking company. The company employing the driver may also share in the liability for the accident.
These cases can be complicated, which is why representation from an experienced truck accident attorney is an important factor for success in your case.
Commercial carriers have a duty of care to ensure that their fleet is safe and their drivers are qualified. Failure to do so may mean the company is liable for the collision and the injuries you suffered as a result.
Some of the responsibilities trucking companies have to ensure their drivers are qualified include:
- Performing adequate background checks
- Verifying the validity of a driver’s CDL
- Ensuring the driver is properly trained to operate the vehicle
- Verified results of the physical exam
- Maintain current records of each driver’s trip logs and truck inspections
Commercial carriers must also keep maintenance logs of each vehicle in their fleet. A malfunctioning vehicle could have been the cause of your accident, and responsibility for this may rest with the company, not the driver.
How Your Truck Accident Lawyer Proves Liability in a Collision Involving an Unqualified Driver
Liability in personal injury cases rests on your truck accident attorney proving the party that caused the wreck was negligent and that the accident could have been avoided with reasonable precautions or actions.
In the case of a commercial truck collision, it can safely be assumed that the accident could have been avoided if the driver had been properly qualified.
Your lawyer will evaluate the company’s safety and training records, or if the driver was an owner-operator, the records they kept themselves. Lack of a CDL, violation of CDL requirements, or failure to abide by any FMCSA regulations for truck driver safety may indicate negligence on the part of the driver and company, making them negligent.
If it can be demonstrated that their negligence caused your accident and resulting injuries, they may be required to make restitution for your losses.
How Can a Florida Truck Accident Attorney Help You?
Commercial truck accident lawyers understand the obligations the driver and their employer have to ensure road safety. Your lawyer will therefore initiate the case by investigating the actions of the driver and the carrier, checking driving logs, reviewing training records, and even assessing the results of the driver’s last physical.
Your lawyer will then begin constructing a case against the defendants, seeking to prove that their negligence caused the crash. Their knowledge of state and federal trucking safety laws benefits you, as they’ll be able to find legal reasons why the company or driver should pay for your medical bills and other losses.
Your attorney can also accurately value your claim, using their years of experience to estimate the right dollar amount for your suit.
Many times, truck accident victims are approached by the other driver’s insurance company, which offers a meager settlement in exchange for a quick resolution. If the victim is in the hospital with mounting medical bills and has no idea when they’ll be released or return to work, such a settlement can look appealing.
However, the figure proposed by the other party will likely be far less than your case is actually worth. If you accept a low settlement, it may cover only some of your medical bills you’ll be stuck paying for any additional treatment or surgery you may need to recover.
Furthermore, your lawyer will handle all necessary communication with the other party, their lawyers, and their insurance adjusters, allowing you to focus on recovery and healing. They’ll negotiate a settlement in mediation or litigate on your behalf in court if the other party refuses to offer a fair settlement for the harm they caused you.
Bottom line: if you’ve been hurt in a commercial truck accident, an experienced truck accident attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve.