Frequently Asked Questions

Do I really need a Trucking Accident Attorney?

You wouldn’t go to a chiropractor for a heart transplant would you?

Any attorney is ‘allowed’ to handle a case involving a semi truck tractor trailer accident. Before hiring any attorney, however, you need to make sure that the attorney you are considering hiring is able to handle both the legal and practical aspects of your case.

From a legal perspective, there are any number of issues which may arise and your attorney needs to know how to handle.

Will your attorney know what documents to request?

Will your attorney know the retention periods applicable to all of the pertinent documents in order to ensure that they are not destroyed before the documents are ever requested. If your attorney fails to request the records, or demand that the appropriate records and information be preserved, before the applicable retention period expires, then the records and information which may have been necessary to prove or expand your case, will be gone forever.

Will you attorney know what to look for in site inspections, vehicle inspections, etc.?

Do they have experts with the appropriate knowledge and expertise to handle trucking cases, with the nuances Federal intricacies which are inherent?

Will your attorney know which hours of service rules apply, and the various ways which they may be broken?

Does you attorney know how to handle the prosecution of a case in the event a violation of State or Federal regulations is discovered?

From a practical standpoint, will the attorney have the experience in handling, and/or prosecuting these cases? Do you really want them to learn how to handle a trucking case on your case, potentially at your expense?

Will the attorney have the resources to finance and fund a trucking litigation case for potentially several years, with expenditures into the thousands of dollars?

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation. Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits. In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What Should I do After an Accident with a Semi Tractor Trailer Truck?

After a truck accident, there are many things you should do and several you should never do:

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Turn off your vehicle.
  3. Check for injuries to yourself and any passengers.
  4. Call 9-1-1.
  5. If anyone is hurt, do not move them unless they are in extreme danger.
  6. Do not move your vehicle until the police tell you to do so.
  7. Get out of your vehicle and out of the road way. Get as far onto the shoulder of the road as you are able.
  8. If you are able, take photographs of vehicles, license plates and persons involved.
  9. Get as much information from the truck driver as possible.
  10. Obtain witness contact information if possible.
  11. Don’t argue with the truck driver.
  12. Do not tell anyone that you are fine. Any injuries may not fully appear for several days.
  13. Obtain medical treatment for yourself or your passengers if necessary.
  14. File a police report.
  15. Do not discuss the accident or your condition with any insurance company representatives.
  16. Do not settle your case without speaking to an experienced and aggressive trucking accident attorney who is able to provide the correct and appropriate advise to you.
If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation. Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits. In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What are the Time Limits to Sue after a Semi Truck Accident?

In Florida, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit for injuries or death arising from a Semi Tractor Trailer or Trucking accident is generally four years.  Fla. Stat. §95.11.

There are, however, exceptions to this general rule, so it is important that you contact an experienced and aggressive Jacksonville Trucking Accident attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.
If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What are the causes of Semi Truck Accidents?

There are many causes of Semi Tractor Trailer Truck accidents.  Truck drivers will tell you one of the biggest causes of accidents are “four-wheelers,” meaning cars.  There may be some truth to that.  It is also true that many trucking accidents are caused by a multitude  of other factors, including:

  • Driver fatigue;
  • Poor vehicle maintenance;
  • Driver negligence;
  • Defective equipment;
  • Poor maintenance of equipment;
  • Poorly trained drivers; and
  • Many other possibilities.

The multitude of causes of trucking accidents are among the reasons it is so important that you or your loved ones retain an attorney who knows how to handle both the  legal and practical issues involved in trucking cases in order to effectively investigate and  handle your case.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

Are there Federal Trucking Regulations or Florida Laws regarding Semi Trucks?

Commercial Motor Vehicles operating on Florida’s highways must comply with Florida Statutes and Federal Laws.  Florida Statutes §316.302 governs vehicles traveling only on Florida’s highways and which are not involved in interstate commerce.  Similarly, sections 350-399 of Chapter 49 of the Federal Regulations (49 CFR §350-399) contains the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).  The FMCSRs are the federal rules set forth by the United States Department of Transportation, through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”).

The goal of the FMSCRs is to ensure that at a minimum:

  1. commercial motor vehicles are maintained, equipped, loaded, and operated safely;
  2.  the responsibilities imposed on operators of commercial motor vehicles do not impair their ability to operate the vehicles safely;
  3.  the physical condition of operators of commercial motor vehicles is adequate to enable them to operate the vehicles safely and the periodic physical examinations required of such operators are performed by medical examiners who have received training in physical and medical examination standards and, after the national registry maintained by the Department of Transportation under section 31149(d) is established, are listed on such registry; and
  4. the operation of commercial motor vehicles does not have a deleterious effect on the physical condition of the operators.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What are Florida’s Laws Regarding the Operation of Semi Truck Tractor Trailers?

As expressed in section 390.9 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, the regulations were “not intended to preclude States or subdivisions thereof from establishing or enforcing State or local laws relating to safety, the compliance with which would not prevent full compliance with these regulations by the person subject thereto” 49 CFR § 390.9.

Florida has chosen to regulate the operation of commercial motor vehicles on the public highways of Florida through enactment of Florida Statute 316.302.  Generally, owners and operators of commercial motor vehicles operated in Florida and engaged in either interstate commerce or intrastate commerce, are subject under Florida Statute 316.302 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations relating to the following areas:

  • Use of and Testing for Controlled Substances and Alcohol, 49 CFR § 382 et. seq.;
  • Driver Qualifications, 49 CFR § 391 et. seq.;
  • Operation of Commercial Motor Vehicles, 49 CFR § 392 et. seq.;
  • Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation, 49 CFR § 393 et. seq.;
  • Hours of Service, 49 CFR § 395 et. seq.;
  • Inspection, Repair and Maintenance, 49 CFR § 396 et. seq.; and
  • Hazardous Materials, 49 CFR § 397 et. seq.

Fla. Stat. § 316.302.  However, there are a number of exceptions to the general applicability of the regulations noted above which are set forth in Florida Statute 316.302 and which are applicable under the statute when the driver is engaged solely in intrastate commerce (the company’s business’ operations only affect commerce in Florida) and thus generally outside the province of the federal regulations.  See Fla. Stat. § 316.302.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What is considered a Commercial Motor Vehicle?

The Federal regulations (FMCSRs) define a commercial motor vehicle as “any self propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle[:]”

  1. Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
  2. Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
  3. Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  4. Transports hazardous materials.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

How Much Insurance do Semi Trucks / Tractor Trailers Need?

Most Semi Trucks traveling on US highways are required to have a minimum of $750,000.00 in insurance.  However, the larger the trucking company, the more insurance they generally have.  Our firm counsel has handled cases involving insurance policies which combine to provide more than $100,000,000 of insurance coverage.

In general, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations generally require for-hire motor carriers transporting property in interstate or foreign commerce, 49 CFR § 387.3, to maintain no less than $750,000 in minimum levels of financial security, 49 CFR § 387.9.  The knowing violation of this financial responsibility requirement may subject the violator to an $11,000 fine payable to the United States for each violation, with each day constituting a separate violation.  49 CFR § 387.17.

Similarly, when a for-hire motor carrier transporting passengers in interstate commerce has a seating capacity of less than 15, the carrier is required to maintain a minimum of $1.5 million in insurance coverage.  49 CFR § 387.27  If seating capacity is sixteen or more, the minimum required amount of insurance is $5 million.  49 CFR § 387.33.
There a number of specific exemptions and exceptions to the financial responsibility requirements which are beyond the scope of this page, but which illustrate the importance of retained qualified and experienced trucking attorneys to assist you and protect your rights.
If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

Do Semi Truck Tractor Trailers have to be Inspected before getting on the road?

Yes.  The FMCSRs generally prohibit the operation of a commercial motor vehicle in a condition in which the motor vehicle is likely to either break down or cause an accident.  49 C.F.R. § 396.7.  The FMCSRs also require pre-trip inspections, post-trip inspections and annual inspections.

The FMCSRs generally require a driver to conduct a pre-trip inspection of the commercial motor vehicle prior to engaging in the use of such vehicle in order to be satisfied that the vehicle is in a “safe operating condition.”  49 CFR § 396.13.  The same section FMCSRs also require a driver of a commercial motor vehicle to complete a written report at the end of each day relating to each vehicle operated by the driver during that day.  The driver is required to sign the report and the must identify the vehicle and any defects or deficiencies discovered by the driver which would affect the safety of operation of the vehicle or result in its mechanical breakdown unless no defects are discovered, in which case such shall be noted by the driver.  49 CFR § 396.11(a).  If a problem which would be likely to affect the safety or operation of the vehicle is identified, the vehicle may not be operated until the problem has been corrected and the carrier certifies on the original driver vehicle inspection report that the defect or deficiency has been corrected or is not in need of correction.  49 CFR § 396.11(c).

Finally, the FMCSRs require commercial motor carriers to “systematically inspect, repair, and maintain” all motor vehicles subject to their control, 49 CFR  §396.3, and requires that certain delineated components must pass an inspection at least once every twelve months.  49 CFR  §396.17.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

Do Trucking Companies have to Keep Track of the Accidents their Trucks and Drivers are involved in?

Records Relating to Accidents

The FMCSRs specifically require commercial motor carriers subject to the regulations to maintain an accident register including certain information relating to each accident for three years.  The accident register is required for accidents defined as involving either a fatality, bodily injury to a person requiring immediate medical treatment away from the scene, or disabling damage to one or more of the vehicles involved, requiring transportation away from the scene.  49 CFR §390.15.

When such an accident occurs, the commercial motor carrier is required to maintain an accident register noting all such accidents and which includes the following information:

  • Date of each accident;
  • Location, including closest city or town, of the accident;
  • The name of the driver
  • The number of injuries;
  • The number of fatalities; and
  • Whether hazardous materials, other than fuel spilled from the fuel tanks of motor vehicle involved in the accident, were released.

49 CFR §390.15(b).

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

Who is Allowed or ‘Qualified’ to Drive a Semi Tractor Trailer?

Section 391.11(b) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations sets forth the minimum requirements for a person to be eligible to operate a commercial motor vehicle and requires that an operator:

  • Is at least 21 years old;
  • Is able to read and speak English in order to converse and understand highway signs and signals in English and to complete entries on records and reports;
  • Can safely operate the type of commercial motor vehicle he/she drives;
  • Meets the physical qualifications set forth under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations;
  • Holds a valid commercial motor vehicle operator’s license in only one state;
  • Has prepared and furnished the motor carrier that employs him/her with the list of prior violations required under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations;
  • Is not disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle; and
  • Has successfully completed a driver’s road test and has been issued a certificate of driver’s road test, or has presented an operator’s license or a certificate of road test which the motor carrier that employs him/her has accepted as equivalent to a road test.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

Who is Not Allowed or ‘Disqualified’ to Drive a Semi Truck Tractor Trailer?

Similar to the manner in which the United States Code sets forth the requisite qualifications a person must satisfy in order to become a commercial motor vehicle operator, the United States Code also sets forth a number of items which will disqualify an individual from operating a commercial motor vehicle.

Under the USC and the FMCSRs, a person generally shall be disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle for one year:

  • for a first violation of operating a commercial motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, 49 USC § 31310(b)(1); 49 CFR 391.15(c);
  • for a first violation of leaving the scene of an accident involving a commercial motor vehicle operated by the individual, 49 USC § 31310(b)(1), ; 49 CFR 391.15(c);
  • for a first violation of leaving the scene of an accident involving a commercial motor vehicle; 49 CFR 391.15(c);
  • for a first violation of using a commercial motor vehicle while committing a felony, 49 USC § 31310(b)(1),
  • for a first violation of operating a commercial motor vehicle after the person’s commercial driver’s license has been revoked, suspended, or canceled as a result of the person’s operation of a commercial motor vehicle or when the individual is disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle based on the individual’s operation of a commercial motor vehicle, 49 USC § 31310(b)(1), OR
  • after a conviction of causing a fatality through negligent or criminal operation of a commercial motor vehicle, 49 USC § 31310(b)(1).

A driver is generally considered a first offender if he has not committed one of these violations in the three years prior to the date of the subject violation.  49 CFR 391.15(c)(3).  If an operator commits a first violation consisting solely of the transportation or possession of a controlled substance while on duty, then the period of disqualification is six months instead of one year.  49 CFR 391.15(c).

The commission of the above noted violations while operating a commercial motor vehicle transporting hazardous materials shall generally result in a three year disqualification.  49 USC § 31310(b)(2).

A person shall be disqualified for life from operating a commercial motor vehicle if a person commits any of these violations a second time,  if a person commits any combination of more than one of these violations, 49 USC § 31310(c)(1), or if a person uses a commercial motor vehicle in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance, or possession with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance.  49 USC § 31310(d).
If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What are Hours of Service for Truck Drivers?

In order to reduce the effects of tired and fatigued drivers operating 80,000 lb. vehicle on the public roadways, Congress has limited the time truck drivers are permitted to drive.  It is important to note that the Hours of Service Regulations have recently changed.  The below hours of service rules are the most current.  If your accident occurred several years ago, however, these rules may not be the rules which apply.

Maximum Drive Time for Property Carrying Commercial Motor Vehicles

In general, the driver of a commercial motor vehicle (semi tractor trailer) must abide by the following:
  • A driver may not drive without first taking 10 consecutive hours off duty;
  • A driver may drive only during a period of 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty following 10 consecutive hours off duty;
  • A driver may drive a total of 11 hours during the 14-hour period;
  • Rest breaks. After June 30, 2013, driving is not permitted if more than 8 hours have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes.
  • If the Trucking company does not operate trucks every day of the week, a driver may not drive after having been on duty 60 hours in any period of 7 consecutive days if the employing motor carrier does not operate commercial motor vehicles every day of the week; of
  • If the trucking company does operate trucks every day of the week, a driver may not drive after having been on duty 70 hours in any period of 8 consecutive days;
  • Until June 30, 2013, a driver may restart the clock on a period of 7 consecutive days by taking an off duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours.  After June 30, 2013, the 34 hour period must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
  • Until June 30, 2013, a driver may restart the clock on a period of 8 consecutive days by taking an off duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours.  After June 30, 2013, the 34 hour period must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
  • After June 30, 2013, a driver may not use a 34 hour period to reset the clock until one week has passed (168 hours) since the beginning of the last 34 hour period taken by the driver.

In addition to the confusing nature of the above regulations, there are additional requirements and rules applicable to drivers whose trucks have sleeping berths, drivers who transport passengers instead of cargo, drivers who operate within a 100 air-mile radius, drivers who operate only within a 150 mile air-radius of the normal work reporting location and various other exceptions with limited applicability.

In addition, depending on when the accident occurred, the above hours of service rules may or may not apply to your case.  These are the most current rules.  If your accident occurred several years ago, the driver may have been subject to different hours of service regulations at the time of your accident.

As a result, in cases involving semi tractor trailer accidents and potential hour of service violations by their truck drivers, it is imperative that in the trucking attorney handling your case fully understand and appreciate the hours of service regulations, including which version will apply to your case.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What Records do Trucking Companies have to Keep on their Drivers?

This is a complicated question which involves many considerations, including the company in question, the driver in question and when the driver was hired and how the driver was hired.  In general, most trucking companies are required to maintain a “Qualifications File” and for drivers hired after October 29, 2004, an “Investigations File.”  These files may or may not be the same or included within a driver’s personnel or employment file.

Qualifications File

49 CFR §391.51requires trucking companies to maintain a driver qualification file on every driver it employs.  The driver’s qualification file is required to include, at minimum, the following materials:

  • The driver’s application for employment completed in accordance with § 391.21;
  • A copy of the response to the annual inquiry into the driver’s driving record which is received from each State agency;
  • The certificate of driver’s road test issued to the driver, or a copy of the license or certificate which the motor carrier accepted as equivalent to the driver’s road test;
  • The note relating to the annual review of the driver’s driving record indicating the person who performed the review;
  • The list or certificate relating to violations of motor vehicle laws and ordinances provided by the driver; and
  • The medical examiner’s certificate or a legible photographic copy of the certificate.

Investigations File

A trucking company is required by 49 CFR §391.53 to maintain an “Investigation File” for each driver hired after October 29, 2004.  The Driver Investigation History File includes information which may only be considered during the application process and must include the following:

  • A copy of the driver’s written authorization for the motor carrier to seek information about a driver’s alcohol and controlled substances history as required under section 391.23(d)
  • A copy of the response(s) received from previous employers for investigations regarding the driver’s previous safety history or documentation of good faith efforts to contact the previous employers.

The importance of the drivers qualification and driver’s investigation history files to litigation relating to accidents involving commercial motor vehicles cannot be overstated.  These files are required to be maintained under federal safety regulations which set forth certain documentation of investigations which must be maintained by the commercial motor carriers.  The absence of these files, or the information which is supposed to be included within these files, may speak volumes to the Trucking Company’s tendency towards safe operations.

As such, these files should be among the first items and documentation which are requested from a commercial motor carrier in a trucking accident lawsuit.  Due to the potentially short retention periods for these and other records, it is imperative that the attorney handling  a trucking accident lawsuit know what records are needed and take the appropriate steps to ensure such records are preserved.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

Who Enforces the Federal Regulations and State Laws which apply to Trucks?

Technically, the US and various states’ Departments of Transportation are tasked with enforcing the FMCSRs and the various state equivalents.  Local and State Law Enforcement officers are generally also permitted to enforce the FMCSRs.

Practically speaking, the work of trial lawyers in fighting for victims and those injured in trucking accidents has a profound impact on truck safety and safety on the interstate and roadways.  Trial Lawyers seek to hold trucking companies accountable when they operate in a negligent, careless and sometimes reckless manner, sometimes even with a complete disregard for safety of the drivers or anyone unfortunate enough to have to share the road.  Trucking companies may not pay much attention to a ticket issued by a highway trooper, but when their dangerous conduct results in injuries or death and they are faced with multi-million dollar lawsuits, be assured that they pay attention.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

What are the Consequences for Violating Federal or State Trucking Regulations?

Both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and Florida Statute 316.3025, which sets forth penalties for violations of Florida Statute 316.302, are subject to schedule type fine systems.  49 USC § 521; Fla. Stat. § 316.3025.  In addition to the schedule established for violations of regulations promulgated under authority granted to the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, various of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations themselves also establish certain penalties for violations of particular regulations as well.

However, while there is certainly potential for substantial fines or complications in business operations as a result of fines levied under these schedules, for the purposes of this discussion the more important question is how can a violation be used against the operator and / or the motor carrier which is vicariously liable, in a subsequent lawsuit?

The background of Florida law with regard to whether a statutory violation may constitute negligence per se was well stated by the Honorable Senior Judge Gagliardi, with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in Tierney v. Black Bros. Co.,:

 In evaluating civil claims based on statutory violations, Florida courts first categorize a statute into one of three types before determining the nature of proof necessary to such actions. The first type of statute is one “designed to protect a particular class of persons from their inability to protect themselves.” deJesus v. Seaboard Coast Line R.R., 281 So. 2d 198, 201 (Fla. 1973). Violation of such a statute obviates any need for proximate cause proof.  Id.; Hurd v. Munford, Inc., 378 So. 2d 86, 89 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979) (concurring & dissenting opinion).  However, the beneficiary of such a statute still needs to establish that he or she is a member of the class that the statute was designed to protect. See Sloan v. Coit Int’l, Inc., 292 So. 2d 15, 17 (Fla. 1974).  The second type of statute is one “which establishes a duty to take precautions to protect a particular class of persons from a particular injury or type of injury.” deJesus, 281 So. 2d at 201. Violation of such a statute constitutes negligence per se but requires proof that a plaintiff was a member “of the class of persons that the statute was intended to protect, that [the plaintiff] suffered the type of injury the statute was designed to prevent, and that violation of the statute was the proximate cause of [the plaintiff’s] injury.” Id.; see also Hurd, 378 So. 2d at 89.  The final type of statute is one that does not fit within either of the aforementioned categories.  Violation of such a statute constitutes prima facie evidence of negligence, nothing more; the claimant still needs to prove all elements of actionable negligence. deJesus, 281 So. 2d at 201; Hurd, 378 So. 2d at 89.

852 F. Supp. 994, 999 1000 (M.D. Fla. 1994).  Florida courts have held that this rationale used in evaluating the impact of a statutory violation upon a negligence claim resulting therefrom also applies to the violation of administrative regulations where the regulations satisfy the criteria for establishing prescribed duties.  Scott v. Midyette Moor, Inc., 221 So. 2d 178 (Fla. 1st DCA 1969); Alford v. Meyer, 201 So. 2d 489 (Fla. 1st DCA 1967).

However, in the course of examining whether a specific Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation relating to the placement of bumpers on commercial motor vehicles, the Fifth District Court of Appeal noted that while it was “not satisfied that a federal regulation should necessarily control state law questions of negligence by enlarging common law duties or creating new duties[,]” Murray v. Briggs, 569 So. 2d 476, 481 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990) emphasis added, citing Cadillac Fairview of Florida, Inc. v. Cespedes, 468 So.2d 417, 421 (Fla. 3d DCA), rev. denied, 479 So.2d 117 (Fla. 1985), it recognized that other Federal and State Courts had determined that a violation of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation amounted to negligence per se, including the Fifth Circuit, Georgia, Delaware, Colorado, and Mississippi.  Murray at 481, citing Wallace v. Ener, 521 F.2d 215 (5th Cir. 1975) (violations of 49 C.F.R. sections 392.22 and 939.95 are negligence per se under Georgia law); Taylor v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 246 F. Supp. 604 (D.Del. 1965) (violation of federal motor carrier regulation requiring stop before railroad crossing is negligence per se under Delaware law); Hageman v. TSI, Inc., 786 P.2d 452 (Colo. App. 1989) (violation of federal regulations requiring disabled vehicle to place warning devices for approaching traffic and to pull onto shoulder of road constitutes negligence per se under Colorado law); Stong v. Freeman Truck Line, Inc., 456 So.2d 698 (Miss. 1984) (violations of 49 C.F.R. sections 392.21 .22 are negligence per se under Mississippi law).

In either event, the Murray Court also noted that at the very least, “any regulation that purports to establish a duty of reasonable care must be specific.”  Murray, at 481 citing King v. Avtech Aviation, Inc., 655 F.2d 77 (5th Cir. 1981); Fagerquist v. Western Sun Aviation, Inc., 191 Cal.App.3d 709, (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1987).  The Murray Court continued to note that a regulation which “sets out only a general or abstract standard of care cannot establish negligence.”  Id., citing Short v. Spring Creek Ranch, Inc., 731 P.2d 1195, 1198 (Wyo. 1987).

However, even if the violation of an administrative regulation is not found to constitute negligence per se, evidence of the violation of the regulation may nevertheless be presented to the jury as evidence of the standard of care a reasonably prudent person would apply in the circumstances.  Scott v. Midyette Moor, Inc., 221 So. 2d 178 (Fla. 1st DCA 1969).  Obviously, the more regulations to which a plaintiff is able to point and allege, or even prove, a violation of, even if none rise to the level of negligence per se, the more the plaintiff’s chances of obtaining greater damages, or even successfully seeking punitive damages, increases.

With specific regard to whether a violation of Florida Statute 316.302 itself, which requires compliance with many of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, has been found to be negligence per se, there are very few cases affirmatively construing this section of the Florida Statutes.

In sum then, it should be kept in mind that while courts in Florida, Federal courts, and other states have found violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to rise to the level of negligence per se, the determination under Florida law will involve the consideration of a number of issues, and includes the following questions:

  1. Is the regulation designed to protect a particular class of persons from their inability to protect themselves?

If the answer to this question is yes, and the person injured is a member of the particular class of persons, then the violation results in strict liability.  However, if the answer to this question is no, then the following questions must be addressed:

  1. Does the regulation establish a specific duty to take precautions to protect a particular class of persons from a particular type of injury?
  2. Is the alleged victim a member of the class of persons the regulation was designed to protect?
  3. Was the injury of the type which the regulation was designed to prevent?
  4. Was the regulatory violation the proximate cause of the injury?

If the answer to the last four questions is yes, then the regulatory violation may be deemed to constitute negligence per se.

If the answer to any of the last four questions is no, then at most, the plaintiff will be permitted to present the regulatory violation as evidence of negligence.

In either event, the evidence of the regulation is likely to be found admissible (if relevant to the subject motor vehicle accident or some element of the negligence claims asserted therein) even if it does not rise to the level of negligence per se.

This is the fundamental reason that any attorney handling a trucking case needs to have familiarity with the FMCSR and other laws implicated by and applicable to semi truck tractor trailers when handling a trucking case.

If you or your loved one(s) has been injured or killed as a result of a trucking accident with a semi tractor trailer or commercial motor vehicle, contact the aggressive and experienced Jacksonville trucking attorneys at Holbrook Law for a no obligation, free consultation.  Holbrook Law’s trucking accident lawyers have years of experience successfully handling trucking litigation and lawsuits.  In such cases, there is no fee unless a recovery is made in your case.

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