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Trucking Laws & Legal Duties: What are the Responsibilities of Trucking Companies?

By: Allan M. Siegel

In a recent blog post, we discussed a proposed bill designed to ease safety regulations which apply to trucking companies that transport livestock and agricultural goods. Like many of the proposed laws or legislative efforts that apply to the trucking industry, that bill is seen as one more focused on allowing trucking companies to skirt critical safety regulations and increase their profits rather than ensuring the safety of public citizens with whom these trucks share the road.

While the trucking industry and its lobbyists may always be hard at work finding new ways to benefit their interests at the expense of safety, the fact remains it is still subject to many important safety regulations and responsibilities to reduce risks of preventable truck accidents. Those are the same laws and legal duties our team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. focus on when fighting for truck accident victims and their families in personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Although every accident case is unique, knowing the general responsibilities of trucking companies when it comes to safety can help victims better understand their rights after being harmed in preventable truck accidents. Below, we discuss a few of the most important responsibilities trucking companies have when it comes to public safety:

  • Regulatory Compliance – Trucking companies are obligated to comply with applicable local, state, and federal regulations. From criminal and traffic laws to safety rules, these regulations are critical to public safety, which is why violations can result in liability when accidents cause harm.
  • Duty of Care – In personal injury cases, successful claims must prove a defendant (such as a trucking company they allege caused them preventable harm) failed to meet the “duty of care” they owed victims. This duty of care varies from case to case depending on who is involved and their relationship to a defendant. In truck accident cases, this duty of care may generally include the legal obligation drivers have to safely operate their vehicles, or the obligations of trucking companies to take reasonable steps that reduce risks of avoidable crashes. Driving or operating a trucking business negligently in a way that endangers others, in whatever specific way it occurs, may therefore constitute a breach of this duty.
  • Vehicle Maintenance – Commercial trucks and tractor-trailers are massive, complex machines that can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, which means poor maintenance and unaddressed or unfixed issues can spell disaster on public roads. Trucking companies are ultimately responsible for taking care of their fleet through regular and appropriate maintenance and by fixing potential hazards. When they fail to do so, they increase the risk of vehicle issues or malfunction that can increase accident risks, and potentially make them liable for any resulting damages.
  • Hours-of-Service Rules – Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules are among the most important safety regulations in the trucking industry, as they apply directly to drivers and how long they are allowed to be on duty, behind the wheel, and on break. While truckers have a responsibility to comply with these rules in their day-to-day work, the trucking companies which employ them are ultimately accountable for any failures to ensure their drivers are in compliance, or for condoning violations in order to maximize their profits.
  • Cargo Regulations – Tractor-trailers in and of themselves are a hazard on the road, but so is the cargo they carry. Trucking companies are responsible for ensuring their rigs carry cargo as safely as possible, especially when it comes to complying with regulations regarding proper securement of cargo, weight restrictions, and any special rules for transporting particular cargo (such as hazardous materials).
  • Hiring of Qualified Employees – Trucking companies have a legal duty to ensure the employees they hire and retain are fit for duty, and that they do not pose unreasonable risks for causing foreseeable harm. In addition to specific trucking industry regulations, this responsibility includes ensuring drivers who are hired and retained are properly trained and licensed, and that they do not have a history of poor driving behaviors or unreasonable inexperience that may make them dangers on the road. It can also include regular drug and alcohol testing, performance reviews and disciplinary action, and health certifications.

When trucking companies fail to abide by safety regulations, fail to properly train or supervise their employees, or commit acts of negligence that lead to preventable accidents, they can and should be held accountable for their failures, and financially liable for the damages any victims suffer. At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Washington, DC truck accident lawyers are highly focused on handling serious truck accident cases, and have the experience and resources to help victims address the challenging issues they create, fight back against powerful corporations, and pursue the compensation they deserve.

If you or someone you love has been involved in a commercial truck or tractor-trailer accident anywhere in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC, contact our firm for a free consultation about your rights.