According to the Florida Bar Journal, “Not so long ago, the litigation of “traffic accidents” was relatively simple and straightforward. In some respects it still is. Whenever a commercial vehicle is involved in a truck accident, there must be a sensitivity to the federal regulations now incorporated into Florida law, as well as the posture of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. Both concepts share an underlying theme. Liability will rest upon a financially-responsible party having the right to control the operation of a vehicle” .
Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality doctrine
This principle is a common law doctrine that provides information whereby the owner of an inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool’s usage. As such, the Florida Supreme Court extended this notion to include motor vehicles in 1920, holding that owners may be held accountable for any damages suffered by third parties as the result of the negligent operation of their vehicles, when they are driven by others with their knowledge and consent. Moreover, whoever authorizes and permits an instrumentality that is markedly dangerous in its operation to be used by an individual on the public highway is liable in damages for injuries to third persons caused by the negligent operation of such instrumentality on the highway by any person so authorized by the owner of the instrumentality. Continually, for a person to be held vicariously liable under this doctrine, such a person must have an identifiable property interest in the vehicle —for the commercial trucking industry, this pegs the company who hired the trucker responsible for any incurring damages due to a negligent driver.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) necessitate that trucking companies sustain their driver’s files for all drivers associated with the company, and set a series of guidelines of what should be contained within the file. However, many don’t comply with the federal regulations. Additionally, hiring unsafe drivers who can be paid less than a driver with an excellent safe driving history is a flexible financial incentive for many companies to skip this regulation completely.
General Requirements for driver qualification files include:
- Each motor carrier must maintain a driver’s qualification file for every driver they employ. This may be combined with his/her personnel file.
- The driver’s application for hire.
- A copy of the motor vehicle record received from each state with information.
- The driver’s road test certificate; photocopy of the commercial driver’s license (CDL).
- A background check.
- A medical examiner’s certificate of approval .
At Dolman Law, we will examine the employment history of the driver and determine whether such individual was properly trained and experienced in operating a semi truck or commercial vehicle with the ability to weigh about 80,000 pounds. There are Federal and Florida provisions, as aforementioned, concerning the due diligence that must be applied by the trucking company in examining the driver’s safety history and criminal record. Trucking companies can face substantial liability for failing to adhere to such safety provisions.
All trucking companies have the duty to exercise reasonable care in hiring drivers due to the devastating consequences of not following guidelines set forth by the state and government. Negligent hiring and retention is based on the standard that the employer directing activity through an employee is subject to liability for the injury resulting from careless conduct. Negligent retention occurs when the driver has been working for a while and the trucking company has reason to know, or should have known, that the driver is incompetent or unsafe and still allows the employee to drive. Punitive damages may be available where the driver’s incompetence is deliberate and/or the employer’s knowledge of such hazardous driving has been known long enough to constitute for mindful disregard.
Cases Involving Negligent Hiring and Retention
- In 2007, An Atlanta based accident occurred when a commercial truck driver ran a red light and stuck two vehicles at the traffic light. One of these victims sued the driver and company because of the chronic extreme pain and discomfort that ensued due to the accident. The owner of the trucking company admitted that he failed to conduct a pre-employment background check on the driver as mandated by the FMCSA. As such, if the background check was completed, the company would have found out that the driver had already been involved in two previous rear-end accidents within commercial trucking world; his commercial driver’s license has been suspended for 60 days, and he had received a speeding citation while operating a tractor-trailer two months prior to the collision. The driver also admitted that he did not share this information with his current employer. The victim ended up receiving $566,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages against the trucking company for negligent hiring .
- In 2011, an Arkansas Federal Court awarded $7 million in damages to the family of an Arkansas 18 wheeler driver killed in a 2008 accident in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against a timber company and its truck driver who caused the accident. The timber company had negligently hired the truck driver who caused the accident without conducting a basic background search that the lawyers representing the family found it revealed a history of unsafe driving that included having his license revoked twice. Evidence also revealed that the timber truck driver lied on his application. However, if the company followed regulations and checked on the information the truck driver supplied, this accident wouldn’t have happened 19 days after the truck driver was supposedly hired. The jury found the timber company 75 percent liable and its driver 25 percent liable .
Truck Accident Attorney
Negligent hiring and retention is just one of the many issues surrounding the trucking industry. Ever since the economy has been improving since 2009, trucking accidents have gone up about 17% due to increasing demands on drivers and trucking companies . As such, companies hire employees at startling rates, sometimes overlooking basic federal guidelines to ensure the safeness of a driver. In general, if you were a truck accident victim due to someone else’s negligence, your chances of recovering something are high. Whether that will be covered medical bills, property damage repair, lost wages, or other personal injuries sustained will depend on the complexity of the truck accident case. Our experienced truck accident attorneys understand how to handle these cases of negligence. Please contact us for a scheduled free consultation and evaluation of your claim. Don’t be the victim of a trucking company’s improper due diligence. Call Dolman Law Group today at (727) 451-6900.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, Florida 33765