Truck Driver Hours of Service: Are Truckers Breaking the Law?

This video features Tad Thomas, a Medical Malpractice attorney based in Illinois.

Kentucky Truck Accident Lawyer Explains the Safety Risks

Video Transcript:

Tad Thomas:

The Constitution of the United States was set up so that if you were wronged by someone else, you shouldn't be the one footing the bill.

Rob Rosenthal:

Are you and your family at risk on the roads because truck drivers aren't following the rules about how long they're allowed to be driving? That's what we're going to find out, because that's what we're going to ask the lawyer on this episode.

Hi again, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com. Our guest is Kentucky attorney Tad Thomas. I want to remind you that if at any point you have questions about your specific case, you can go to askthelawyers.com, click on the “Ask a Lawyer” button at the top of the home page, and you can ask away right there. Tad, good to see again. Thank you for helping us out as usual.

Tad Thomas:

No problem, Rob. Good to see you.

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's just talk about regulations for trucking companies. Who regulates them? I'm guessing there's a lot of those regulations?

Tad Thomas:

Yeah, absolutely. The biggest one would be under the U.S. Department of Transportation; there's the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. And they're the primary regulator for commercial motor vehicles. You also have each state that has their own Department of Transportation as well, and then some localities but far less so.

Rob Rosenthal:

So there are rules about how long a driver can drive without taking breaks or rest. Why is that important?

Tad Thomas:

It's important because the studies show that these drivers try to go beyond what they're physically capable of doing, and they start to fall asleep. And as we all know, distracted drivers, tired drivers, drunk drivers, they’re hazards on the road. That's why regulations were put in place to put a cap on the number of hours that these drivers can drive; it’s no different than a pilot and how many hours they can fly in a week. There are new rules or different rules that apply to commercial motor vehicle drivers as well.

Rob Rosenthal:

It would seem, Tad, like common sense would figure in and a driver would go, “You know what? I'm too tired to drive. I'm not as alert as I should be. I'm going to take a rest.” But that isn't the case. And why not?

Tad Thomas:

You know, as with any business, these guys are trying to make money. Sometimes they push themselves beyond the limits, and sometimes they're pushed beyond the limits by their companies. Their companies say, “You have to get from point A to point B in a certain period of time.” And they have no choice but to go over hours in order to make that distance over that period of time. So the federal government put in these strict regulations about time limits.

You have some of the better carriers though, some of the bigger ones that actually have computer modules in their trucks, and so when they hit that limit or they're getting ready to hit the limit, they get an alert, and if they hit that limit the truck will actually shut down within a period of time so the drivers know that they can't go over. But those are the better companies. Some of the smaller fly-by-night companies obviously don't have that technology, and frankly, push their drivers more.

Rob Rosenthal:

Do some drivers still have to keep a written paper logbook, or is all of that usually computerized now?

Tad Thomas:

More and more computerized. Yes, there still are some paper books out there, but not many. I remember in the old days, it wasn't unusual to find a driver who had two sets of books; the ones they kept to turn in to the government at the way station and the other they kept to get paid, and amazingly enough there were more hours in the ones when they got paid. But now it's mostly all electronic. Again, the bigger companies have pretty highly technical computer systems that really try to crack down on cheating. But yeah, it's mostly electronic now.

Rob Rosenthal:

And those electronic black boxes, for lack of a better term, are those able to be used as evidence in a case?

Tad Thomas:

Absolutely. The better technology cuts down on the incidences of this happening, but when things do happen for us lawyers, it actually becomes a harder case because now we have to have computer scientists, and we have to know how to download the data without contaminating it, and we have to know what we're looking for in these computer systems. So yes, in just about any computer that's on board a vehicle, there's data that can be pulled from those computer systems; whether it's the time clock or the speed, or something called collision avoidance, they sometimes can be used. But yeah, just about any kind of computer can be downloaded to get that data to use in our cases.

Rob Rosenthal:

Is that one of the reasons why it's important to get started with someone like you fairly early, if you're injured in a collision with an 18-wheeler? Because I imagine that stuff can disappear if somebody doesn't tell them not to erase it.

Tad Thomas:

Yeah, that's a great point, Rob. What happens is you really need a specialized trucking lawyer in these cases, because we know to send out what's called a preservation of evidence letter to the company and to the driver. Because they have documents and they have data, but under federal regulations, they're only required to keep that information for specified periods of time. So if you have a lawyer who fails to send out that letter ordering them to preserve evidence, then the data can be lost and you've not done your job as a lawyer. So we have a lot of trucking cases and we make sure we send that letter out, we point to the federal regulations and say you have to preserve this kind of information, what information we want them to preserve; and that goes out in every case where we have a commercial motor vehicle.

Rob Rosenthal:

But if somebody is, say, injured and they maybe have a hospital stay and they wait to contact an attorney until maybe they're out of the hospital or something like that, sometimes that can be too late.

Tad Thomas:

Yeah, it can. You have evidence issues at the scene. We really need to get, in a lot of cases, accident reconstruction out to the scene as soon as possible. Just because you waited two weeks though, it doesn't mean you don't have a case. You still contact a lawyer because there's certain things that we can do; and if there's been a police investigation where they've gone in and done a reconstruction, things like that, a lot of times we can use their data. But it's always the sooner the better, so that we can get our experts. I'll tell you, with every trucking company that's out there, their insurance companies have contracts with experts and law firms where they have these rapid response teams and if there's a serious collision, I can promise you their experts and their attorneys are on scene the day that it happens; whereas sometimes we can't get there until days later, weeks later, so the sooner the better.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's good to know. So let's talk specifically about Kentucky, Tad. Kentucky has no-fault insurance. How does that affect these kinds of cases?

Tad Thomas:

Sure. What no-fault insurance in Kentucky does—and you have that on your vehicle as a vehicle owner if you have proper insurance and you have $10,000 on your insurance policy. The reason why it's called no-fault is that you can use that money regardless of who is at fault, even if it's your own fault. So you can get your medical bills paid; you can get some of your lost wages taken care of up to that $10,000. There's tricks to maximizing that if you have health insurance that your attorney can walk you through to help you maximize the use of that $10,000. That's another reason you want to get to an attorney quickly. You can also reserve that $10,000 specifically for lost wages if you know you're going to be off for a long period of time. But that is there on your policy, and your attorney should know how to handle that for you.

Rob Rosenthal:

If after using your services I get some sort of an award through the courts, do I have to then pay back the insurance company for what they may have paid?

Tad Thomas:

It all depends. Typically on no-fault, the answer to that is maybe. If you settle the case and you reach what we call their policy limits, the most money that they can pay you on a liability policy, you may not. And in a lot of circumstances, you don't have to. In Kentucky that's worked out between the insurance companies on the back end. So sometimes if you go to trial you may have to include that.

Rob Rosenthal:

Tad, some people, specifically commercial trucking companies, will say that lawsuits against their carriers are bad for business and it runs up prices for everybody. What do you say? What is your perspective on it?

Tad Thomas:

You know, look. The Constitution of the United States was set up so that if you were wronged by someone else, you shouldn't be the one footing the bill for your medical expenses, your lost wages, and your pain and suffering. It shouldn't fall on the victim; it needs to fall on the person who's responsible. And yes, that trucking company may have to raise their rates in order to pay for the damage they've done, but one thing everybody agrees on is it should not fall on the victim. So you should reach out to a lawyer, you should get what you're entitled to.

Rob Rosenthal:

Do you feel like without the specter of, “Hey, we could face a considerable lawsuit,” that there would be more rule-breaking?

Tad Thomas:

Oh, absolutely. We get really concerned about any legislation, for instance, that's enacted that gives someone immunity. If they get immunity, why would they have any reason to follow the rules? Why would they have any reason to make things safer? The answer is they wouldn't. So yes, a lot of times these lawsuits don't only compensate the victim, but they deter conduct in the future.

I'll give you one example. We settled a wrongful death trucking case, and one of the things in the settlement we required was for them to change their policies and procedures, and change the way they train their drivers. So that's a specific example of where the civil litigation system not only compensated the victim, but actually made changes to protect other people on the road.

Rob Rosenthal:

I'm sure you've heard it time and again; a lot of times, people who are victims in these kinds of accidents, some money isn't going to make their life whole again, but oftentimes they'll say, “I just want to keep it from happening to somebody else.”

Tad Thomas:

Absolutely. In the family that I represented in that case, that was their biggest concern. They didn't want to see someone else die on the road at the hands of this trucking company. So they required that changes be made, and it's a good thing, and it makes you feel good representing a family for which that’s their priority.

Rob Rosenthal:

Absolutely. Lots of interesting and helpful information as always, Tad. Thank you for making some time to answer our questions.

Tad Thomas:

Anytime, Rob.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's going to do it for this episode of Ask a Lawyer. My guest has been Kentucky attorney Tad Thomas. Remember, if you have questions about your specific situation, you can go to askthelawyers.com, click on the Ask a Lawyer button up at the top of the home page, and ask away right there. Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers™.

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