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Truck Accident Lawyer Tip: Holding Former Employers Liable

June 18, 2008 by Steven M. Gursten

Truck accident lawyers have grown increasingly frustrated with this trend of unfit truck drivers coming to Michigan and causing serious crashes. Why Michigan? Dangerous truck drivers find work more easily here in comparison to other states. There are no punitive damages for trucking companies who knowingly hire drivers with a negligent history. However, there may be another source of additional compensation for victims and family members harmed by unfit Michigan truck drivers.

Michigan – No Punitive Damages
Without punitive damages, trucking companies do not face any punishment for hiring an unfit driver. Unfit truck drivers may have a long history of causing serious injuries, excessive speeding, driving too many hours, or a history of drug and alcohol abuse. These dangerous truck drivers are eventually fired in other states, and come to Michigan to find work. Trucking companies in other states will not hire these drivers, because unlike in Michigan, they know they can be punished and that a truck lawyer can ask for punitive damages for the company having knowingly hired an unfit driver.

Mandatory Employment History – Accurate Response Required
At a recent seminar for truck accident lawyers, a friend and very excellent lawyer, Morgan Adams (Tennessee lawyer) offered a potential solution to this problem. Morgan suggested that truck accident lawyers look to 391.53(b) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”). This critical, but often overlooked mandatory federal safety regulation, mandates that companies must contact all prior employers of a truck driver seeking new employment for the past 3 years. The regulation also mandates that the company that is contacted must give an accurate response when asked about the reason the driver was terminated.

Potential Source of Recovery for Truck Accident Victims
This may provide an invaluable source of additional compensation for Michigan lawyers who have grown increasingly frustrated with the problem of unfit truck drivers coming to Michigan and causing serious crashes. If a trucking company does not provide a truthful and accurate response, violating the FMCSR, Morgan suggested adding that previous employer as an additional defendant. For a person who has been seriously or catastrophically injured, or for a family that has had a loved one who has been killed in a truck accident, this additional defendant will provide an invaluable source of additional insurance.

How Would the Safety Director Respond?
This new liability theory raises some fascinating prospects: what does a trucking company safety director say, in deposition, when confronted with the fact that he hired an unfit driver who has caused 10 other truck accidents? Does the safety director testify that a truck driver’s previous history of truck crashes doesn’t matter? Or does the safety director say that he would never have hired this dangerous and unfit truck driver if he had known and if the previous employer had complied with federal safety regulations?

Presumably, most safety directors will testify that a safe trucking company would not have hired this driver if they had known about all the prior crashes, or who failed his Department of Transportation (“DOT”) drug/alcohol tests, etc (having litigated truck accident cases for 15 years, I have yet to depose the safety director who says he loves to hire dangerous, alcoholic truck drivers). When this testimony is obtained, a new negligence cause of action can then be brought against that driver’s previous employer who failed to disclose this information when they were contacted and the previous employer can be added to the lawsuit as an additional defendant.

Michigan lawyers do not have many weapons to confront bad trucking companies who knowingly hire bad drivers to save a few dollars, but perhaps this additional liability theory may help make our roads safer.

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