As far as most people are concerned, the COVID-19 state of emergency is ancient history. But try telling that to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In March 2020, the FMCSA waived certain hours of service safety laws, to keep more trucks on the road. Bureaucrats just extended this waiver for another three months. The FMCSA claimed the extension was limited to vehicles that are “providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19.”
These vehicles include truckers hauling livestock and livestock feed, certain medical supplies, fuel, and any “equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19.”
Digital Evidence in Drowsy Truck Driver Claims
Drowsy truck drivers are by no means a new problem. Federal and state laws have been on the books for years in this area.
Both Kentucky and federal laws include daily and weekly driving caps as well as mandatory rest periods. One big difference between the federal and state laws is the way they define “rest.” In Kentucky, rest basically means no work. As far as the FMCSA is concerned, rest means not driving. Putting gas in the truck, inspecting the vehicle, loading/unloading, and filling out paperwork all qualify as rest.
Both federal and state HOS laws are quite clear. Enforcing these laws was always the problem. In the old days, truckers used paper log books to record their HOS. These log books were easy to fake.
Things started changing when comedian Tracy Morgan settled a major lawsuit with Walmart. In June 2014, a semi-truck rear-ended a car carrying Morgan and several other people on the New Jersey Turnpike. The wreck killed one person and seriously injured several others, including Morgan. A subsequent investigation revealed that the truck driver, who was literally asleep at the wheel at the time of the crash, had been on the road for twenty-four hours straight.
Shortly after the Morgan settlement, which reportedly included more than $10 million in punitive damages, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration floated the Electronic Logging Device mandate. This rule, which the trucking industry fought all the way to the Supreme Court, required most drivers to install ELDs in their vehicles.
These gadgets, which are connected to the truck’s drivetrain, digitally and automatically record service hours. There’s no data entry requirement. No electronic gadget is tamper-proof, but these devices are close. So, the information in an ELD database is almost bulletproof in court.
If truckers violate a federal or state HOS law, and that violation substantially causes injury, a Lexington personal injury attorney can use the negligence per se rule to obtain compensation for victims.
Circumstantial evidence in the collision itself and the trucker’s medical records could be almost as powerful as ELD evidence. Even if the trucker wasn’t legally fatigued, s/he could have been dangerously fatigued.
Largely because they work such irregular schedules, many truck drivers suffer from circadian rhythm fatigue. Most people who work erratic schedules are naturally drowsy during the day, especially when they first get up and shortly before they go to sleep. So, the time of day or night could be important.
Additionally, fatigued operators often cannot remember the last few miles traveled. Insurance company lawyers often try to blame such temporary memory loss on a head injury. However, most truck drivers are unhurt, even in very serious wrecks. Additionally, the burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). More likely than not, fatigue, and not a head injury, caused memory loss.
As for medical records, many truckers suffer from sleep apnea, normally because they sit a lot. This condition causes people to doze all night instead of falling into a deep, restful sleep. So, these individuals are almost always fatigued. That’s especially true if an affected trucker pulls over at a rest stop to sleep.
A Lexington personal injury attorney can use this circumstantial evidence to build an ordinary negligence case. Basically, negligence is a lack of care. Truck drivers and other commercial operators have a higher duty of care in California. As the old saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, or in this case, the higher the duty, the more compensation available.
This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. As we saw in the Tracy Morgan case, additional punitive damages are available as well, in some extreme cases.
Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.