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Truck Lawyers Must Investigate Trucker’s Background and Accident History

March 4, 2010 by Steven M. Gursten

Tip from my recent trucking lawyer seminar: Teaching truck accident attorneys what info a trucking company should have gathered on drivers before hiring – but didn’t or just ignored

The unfit truck driver who never should have been placed behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound tractor-trailer is often the key to trucking accident cases. Remember that under 49 CFR ? 391.23, an interstate commercial motor carrier has the responsibility to conduct investigations into the background of each commercial truck driver it employs.

An employing truck company must make an inquiry into each state where an applicant driver previously held or currently holds a motor vehicle operator’s license or permit for the last three years – and obtain that driver’s motor vehicle record. The carrier must also investigate the driver’s safety performance history with other interstate motor carriers he had worked for within the preceding three years.

Rule of the Road No. 3 – Pursue Negligent Trucking Companies for Failing to Properly Investigate the Unfit Driver

More often than not, trucking companies fail to adequately investigate an applicant’s background and character, if they do so at all.

Here’s what truck accident lawyers should do: When you depose the safety director of a trucking company, or whoever is doing the hiring, you need to ask whether the truck driver’s previous employment with other motor carriers was fully investigated.

Have them show you the driver personnel file and what they do to investigate drivers. See if they do medical checks and checks into that driver’s accident history and driving record. If the trucking company has not followed the law, the trucking company is liable for negligently entrusting, supervising and training the unfit trucker who has caused the crash.

Visit my website for more info on discovery of the truck driver.

Check with the Trucker’s Previous Employers, Too

Taking a closer look at the rule, a compliant ? 391.23 investigative review may consist of personal interviews, telephone interviews, letters or any other method for investigating that the carrier deems appropriate.

Each motor carrier is required to make a written record with respect to each previous employer contacted, or (at the minimum) some good faith effort to do so. The record must include the previous employer’s name and address, the date the previous employer was contacted (or the attempts made), and the information received about the driver.

Most importantly, under 49 CFR ? 391.53, the safety performance histories received from the previous employers must be retained for as long as the driver is employed by that motor carrier and for three years thereafter.

Most carriers violate this rule. Some fail to even take the initial steps in performing an investigation, but of those that do, most rarely keep records of this investigation throughout the duration of the driver’s employment.

Before stepping into a deposition with a carrier’s safety director, evidence of a pre-employment investigation must be requested in discovery. If the carrier has failed to produce any documentation of a pre-employment investigation, chances are the carrier is non compliant with ? 391.23 and ? 391.53, and also may be liable.

My next blog on rule of the road no. 4 will cover the motor carrier’s duty to keep a complete truck driver qualification file.

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.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Rugged

Related information:

Truck Accident Investigation: What You Need To Know

Truck Driver Rules and Regulations

Previous blogs from “Rules of the Road Every Truck Accident Lawyer Needs to Know” Series:

Rules of the Road: Intro for Truck Lawyers

Truck Driver Fatigue

Truck Lawyers: Get Your Hands on Those Discovery Documents!

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit to better serve you. Call (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation from one of our attorneys.

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