Struck by a Sleeping Truck Driver? What Are Your Legal Options?

Law Articles

Being involved in an injury-causing car crash can be a life-changing experience, even if the injuries you've suffered aren't likely to leave any long-lasting damage. If you've spent time in the hospital or have been forced to take a leave of absence from your job after an auto accident, you may be incensed upon learning that the truck driver who struck you had fallen asleep at the wheel after spending a dozen or more hours on the road within a single day. Do you have any legal recourse against a driver whose negligence caused you injury? Read on to learn more about the regulations governing truck drivers' hours of work, as well as how you can recover against a driver (or even his or her parent company) for violating these regulations and causing a car crash. 

What regulations govern the number of hours a trucker can be on the road?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a nationwide agency responsible for promulgating and enforcing regulations specific to the transportation industry. After many auto accidents caused by drivers who had been on the road for a staggering number of consecutive hours without a break or sleep, the FMCSA enacted "hours of work" regulations to cover semi truck drivers and others who operate heavy trucks on public roads, as well as drivers of passenger vehicles. 

The hours of service (HOS) regulations cover several periods of time ranging from a single day to a week. Semi drivers who have been off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours may drive for 11 consecutive hours without having to take a rest break; however, after 14 hours, these drivers must pull over or otherwise go off duty (for example, by shifting driving responsibilities to another driver). There are some exceptions for "short haul" drivers who are traveling only a short distance, giving them greater opportunity for more frequent breaks than might otherwise be available.

In addition to this daily limit, there exists a 60/70-hour limit for drivers who are on duty for more than seven consecutive days. Under this limit, a driver may not drive after spending more than 60 hours on duty in the previous seven-day period (or 70 hours on duty in the previous eight-day period), even if the 10 hour rest period is otherwise adhered to. After spending at least 34 consecutive hours off duty, a driver may return to begin another 60-hour shift to cover the next week.

What are your legal options if you're struck by a sleeping truck driver? 

If you've been struck by a semi driver who has fallen asleep at the wheel, it's likely he or she may have been in violation of the applicable HOS regulations at the time of the accident. If so, you may have a much easier path to recovery than you might have if you're required to prove negligence in some other way; violating these regulations that were created to improve driver safety can often be seen as per se proof of negligence, giving you a much stronger case in a personal injury lawsuit.

In some cases, you may also be able to add the truck driver's employer as a defendant to your lawsuit. Proving that this employer either knew its employees were violating HOS regulations or that the employer actually encouraged these regulations to be violated (or covered up violations when they did take place) can provide a path to much deeper pockets. In addition to the compensatory damages meant to compensate you for the injuries and lost wages you've suffered, this could open up the trucking company to punitive damages designed to curb this type of irresponsible behavior in the future. 

For more information, contact a professional such as Carl L. Britt, Jr.


3 July 2017