One of the central questions in trucking accident cases is the question of fault. Who should and could have prevented the crash? Naturally, the first focus is on the truck driver. However, liability doesn’t always stop there.
The driver’s employer can also be liable for the accident due to negligent hiring. Motor carrier employers – or anyone hiring a truck driver – must adhere to certain requirements to ensure drivers are capable of safely operating a commercial motor vehicle. When those responsibilities are neglected, the motor carrier employer can also be found at fault for the trucking accident.
Anyone looking to employ a truck driver is responsible for gathering and considering as much information as is reasonably available about the driver’s experience and qualifications, including involvement in motor vehicle accidents and any violation of traffic or criminal laws. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure their drivers are not a threat to public safety.
Motor carrier employers are required to obtain the following from all drivers:
Additionally, employers must document their inquiries and attempts at obtaining this information, as well as any lack of cooperation from the driver or other sources.
When hiring truck drivers, motor carrier employers are required to consider more than just a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure the driver is adequately trained to operate the employer’s truck or bus and handle the employer’s freight or passengers.
According to 49 CFR 391.11, a person is qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle only if he/she:
These qualifications don’t just apply to drivers of semi trucks. According to Part 391 of CFR Title 49, the regulations for a commercial motor vehicle driver apply to anyone operating the following vehicles in interstate commerce:
In addition to pre-employment drug screenings, motor carrier employers are required to investigate to see if a driver has any drug or alcohol violations within the past three years prior to hiring. If there are violations, the employer must confirm that the driver completed a rehabilitation program prescribed by a substance abuse professional (SAP). The employer must also investigate if there have been any positive drug or alcohol tests or refusal to test after completion of the rehabilitation program.
In trucking accident cases, documentation is key. Motor carrier employers are required to keep a Driver Qualification File for each driver to help prove he/she meets the minimum qualifications.
The Driver Qualification File must contain the following:
Once a motor carrier employer determines that a driver is qualified and safe to hire, their responsibilities are not finished. After all, once the driver is on staff, it is easier for the employer to observe the driver’s behavior and performance.
Employers are required to perform annual performance reviews with drivers. During this time, the employer is to review the driver’s safety record, including MVR, DOT violations, and accidents. When these minimum requirements are not met, a motor carrier employer could be guilty of negligent retention. Negligent retention is when an employer becomes aware – or should have become aware – of issues with the driver that indicate he/she is not fit to safely drive and fail to take action.