Pianko Law Group

FMCSA Rolls Back Important Safety Rule

Pianko Law Group
Maurice Pianko 
April 9, 2022

To no one’s surprise, carriers and drivers overwhelmingly supported a rule change allowing truckers to conceal their driving records.

The current rule requires drivers to report traffic tickets to carriers. In defense of its rollback, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration insisted that “This requirement is largely duplicative of a separate rule that requires each motor carrier to make an annual inquiry to obtain the motor vehicle record (MVR) for each driver it employs from every state in which the driver holds or has held a CMV [commercial motor vehicle] operator’s license or permit in the past year.”

The government estimated the change would save carriers and drivers, mostly carriers, over $3 million a year.

Injuries in Truck Crash Claims

The rolled-back rule may be redundant to some. But it’s also an important safety measure. Your apartment is much more secure if you use the deadbolt as well as the privacy lock.

Fully-loaded large trucks, like the ones that depart from New York Harbor practically 24/7/365, weigh at least 80,000 pounds. Furthermore, especially in the current environment, regulators hand out overweight waivers like candy on Halloween. The massive weight of these vehicles often causes injuries like:

  • Head Injuries: Newfangled airbags and other safety innovations have significantly reduced the number of collision-related head injuries. But no restraint system can possibly absorb the tremendous amount of force in a truck collision. Additionally, the motion of a wreck, as opposed to a trauma injury, often causes brain bleeding and/or swelling.
  • Broken Bones: This same force usually shatters bones instead of simply breaking them. Broken bones are especially common in arms and legs. Shoulder belts and anti-head injury airbags do little to prevent such injuries. These victims usually experience some permanent injury, such as long range of motion in a broken knee.
  • Excessive Blood Loss: Once again, the excessive motion in a truck crash often causes exsanguination (excessive blood loss). Heads and bones have protective skin layers which at least reduce the amount of bleeding. But internal organs have no such protection. As a result, even a slight abrasion usually causes serious bleeding.

The economic losses related to these injuries, like lost wages and medical bills, are bad enough. The emotional distress and other noneconomic damages are almost incalculable. A New York personal injury attorney can obtain compensation for both kidneys of injuries in court. Money doesn’t heal a broken body or spirit. But money does make it easier to pick up the pieces and move on. At this point, that’s the best possible resolution.

Evidence in Truck Crash Claims

This compensation is available if a victim/plaintiff establishes negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. Putting together a negligence case is a little like assembling a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture. Before you can say “it’s a giraffe”, you must put the pieces together. Especially in truck crash claims, these puzzle pieces come in various shapes and sizes.

In many ways, the evidence in a truck crash claim is a lot like the evidence in any other vehicle collision claim. Traditional sources, like medical bills and witness statements, are usually critical. Lack of physical evidence could be an issue. These wrecks are so destructive that there’s frequently almost nothing left. 

Fortunately for New York personal injury attorneys, a large truck’s Event Data Recorder is a very tough cookie. These EDRs are designed to withstand the most catastrophic wrecks and still retain the information they store. This information includes:

  • Steering angle,
  • Vehicle speed,
  • Brake application, and 
  • Engine RPM.

If medical bills and witness statements are edge pieces, bits of electronic information are usually the middle pieces. Attention to detail, like tapping an EDR, is often the difference between maximum compensation and settling for less.

Everything is not always wine and roses in this area. New York has very strong vehicle information privacy laws. Unless a New York personal injury attorney convinces a judge to issue a court order, those middle pieces will stay in the box, and jurors will never see them.

Furthermore, unless a lawyer acts quickly, this court order is a meaningless piece of paper. Wrecked trucks are very difficult to move and very expensive to store. Therefore, most insurance companies simply finish the job and destroy the wreckage. If that happens, the critical EDR evidence is lost for good.

To preserve this evidence, an attorney must also immediately send the insurance company a spoliation letter. This correspondence creates a legal duty to preserve any physical evidence, including the EDR, for future inspeaction.

EDR evidence is often the most useful in operational negligence claims. Errors like speeding and turning unsafely cause a significant number of truck crashes. Many truckers are in such a hurry to reach their destinations that safety takes a back seat to speed. Driver impairment also causes a significant number of truck wrecks. The Safety Measurement System report could be important in these cases. Basically, an SMS report is like a multistate driving record. The report covers things like prior:

  • Vehicle maintenance issues,
  • HOS (hours of service) compliance,
  • Traffic tickets,
  • Substance use, and
  • Serious collisions.

This evidence, which is usually admissible in court, is more reliable than judicial records. The SMS report usually draws on law enforcement sources. Dismissed citations that don’t show up in judicial records often pop up in law enforcement records.

Establishing Liability

Now, let’s briefly shift gears from the factual issues to the legal issues in a truck wreck claim. These legal issues include the duty of care.

Mostly because large trucks are so, well, large, the duty of care is different. Truckers must use extra caution when they’re behind the wheel. Following distance is a good illustration. Most noncommercial motorists should maintain about a two-second following distance. Truckers should maintain about an eight-second gap

The higher duty of care makes it easier to establish negligence, or a lack of care. SInce the truck driver duty of care is so high, most driving errors constitute negligence.

Drugged driving is one of the most common forms of driver negligence. Most drivers admit they take amphetamines to stay awake. This drug impairs judgment ability. Everything happens faster when you’re on speed. Therefore, truckers are more likely to oversteer or otherwise overreact to an emergency. Additionally, as soon as these drugs wear off, most truckers crash hard.

Accident victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced New York personal injury attorney, contact the Pianko Law Group, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.

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