Semi-truck accident investigations are more detailed and involved than routine car accident cases.  When a semi-truck causes a crash, there are numerous documents from the trucking company that must be reviewed to determine the root cause of the accident.  A thorough investigation can reveal facts that enhance the value of the claim and may support an award of punitive damages.  For purposes of this article, the term “truck” will be used to refer to any large interstate cargo truck such as a semi-truck, semi-trailer, 18-wheeler, tractor-trailer and box truck.

Trucking Company Liability

As a result of State and Federal regulations, interstate trucking companies are required to maintain certain documentation that other commercial carriers are not required to maintain.  Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) require the following documentation:

  • Logs to show that the driver complied with maximum driving time restrictions.
  • Records showing that the driver holds a valid CDL license.
  • Records showing the driver has had a bi-annual physical exam.
  • Vehicle maintenance and inspection records.
  • Drug and alcohol testing records.
  • The driver’s personnel file.

The FMCSRs set minimum standards for record-keeping.  Some trucking companies maintain additional important data, such as GPS records of drivers’ routes and “black box” devices that record information about the driver’s actions before a crash.

As one truck accident attorney recently wrote, “a shortage of qualified drivers and fierce competitive forces motivate carriers and drivers to take short-cuts and violate the regulations.”  As a result of dangerous trucking industry practices, trucks and buses account for over 4,000 traffic fatalities and 126,000 injuries each year.  The personal injury cases frequently involve serious injury such as brain injury, amputation, disfigurement or other injury.

Under Ohio law, a trucking company is automatically liable for the negligent acts of its employee-drivers.  The company’s records are not needed to prove fault on the part of the company independent of the driver’s negligence.  However, the records can be useful to show that the company had systematically violated trucking regulations and thereby put the public at unnecessary risk.  Records can also be used to extend liability to shippers and brokers.

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