A truck driver hits and nearly kills a pedestrian. There is cocaine in his system. And during discovery, it’s found by the plaintiff’s truck accident lawyers that the truck company employing the grossly negligent driver did not have a drug testing program in the first place.
As an attorney who has handled hundreds of very serious truck accident lawsuits throughout my career, and as past-president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group, I see versions of this scenario time and time again.
This week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Chicago Fox 2 News reporter Larry Yellen. Larry was looking for a national lawyer source on serious truck accidents cases caused by truck drivers who were drunk or high on illegal drugs. He was investigating the case mentioned above.
Here are some of the topics I covered with Larry:
Again, in the case Larry was investigating, the truck company responsible for the accident did not have drug testing protocol in place. But federal law requires that drivers operating any truck that’s more than 26,000 pounds must be tested after causing catastrophic truck accident.
Why aren’t trucking companies testing their drivers as they are legally required under 382.303 and 382.401 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations?
“Disappearing” Truck Drivers: The Lying Game to Avoid Serious Consequences
I’ve lost count of how many truckers I’ve deposed who caused a catastrophic truck accident and then “disappeared” immediately afterward; sometimes for days, and always when drugs or alcohol were suspected in the crash.
The truck drivers disappeared because the trucking company safety directors and owners knew full well that there would be almost no consequences for telling drivers strongly suspected of using drugs or alcohol to disappear for a few days. For example, according to a 2008 GAO report on motor carrier safety, the average fine for failure to perform post-truck accident drug testing is $1,802. There is very little in the way of civil fines, and the threat of criminal prosecution is nonexistent.
Compare that, with the very substantial threat of a large punitive damages verdict (in a state other than Michigan, which does not have punitives and therefore has some of the worst truck drivers on our roads) and the potential of a very large potential multi-million dollar liability for allowing a driver suspected of using drugs or alcohol to operate a truck.
And the average fine for failure to remove a driver with a positive drug test? $3,141. Almost nothing.
So, if a truck driver kills or seriously injures somebody because they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, there is almost no penalty.
There is a lying game being played here. If a trucking company owner or truck safety director strongly suspects drugs or alcohol involved in a crash, what do you think he or she will tell the drivers to do? What’s worse, a $1,802 fine, or a potential multi-million dollar punitive damages claim or civil judgment?
Like I discussed in my blog about experienced truck accident lawyers estimating 200,000 truckers under the influence, these truckers who just caused a catastrophic truck accident aren’t going home once they’ve caused an terrible accident, because it’s too easy to find and test them. It’s always the same story: They go to the home of a “friend” or “relative,” claiming they were so emotionally upset by the crash that they had to be consoled. For days. And then these truck drivers reappear after the alcohol in their system metabolizes, or they’ve taking masking agents to remove traces of the illegal drugs they’ve taken.
Or, my personal favorite. When these truckers know they’re going to busted, and there will still be traces of drugs in their system by the time they “reappear,” they claim they were so upset from the crash they caused that they took drugs AFTER – to cope.
And why not lie? The penalties are so much less, it’s literally easier for truck companies to break the law and ignore the mandatory requirement to perform drug testing.
– Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious truck accident injury cases. He is on the board of governors for the Association of Plaintiffs Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America and past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group. Recently, he was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his efforts to promote truck safety.
Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. For more information, please read our law firm quick facts. If you have been involved in a truck accident, call one of our attorneys for a free consultation at (248) 353-7575.