Florida has one of the highest truck driver populations in the country, with around nine of every 1,000 residents involved in the profession. The proximity of Tampa to cargo ports results in many truck drivers traveling through the city to deliver or pick up goods. Unfortunately, when they reach this area, they are likely to encounter traffic congestion, work zones, and other issues that increase the risk of an unqualified truck driver causing an accident on Tampa roadways.
If an unqualified truck driver injured you or a loved one, an experienced Tampa truck accident attorney can help. Your lawyer can obtain the evidence necessary to prove that the truck driver and/or the company who employs the truck driver is liable so that you can get compensation for the expenses and effects of your injury.
Individuals wishing to drive commercial trucks or buses must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This requires individuals to pass a basic skills test, a physical examination, agree to drug and alcohol screenings, keep a clean driving record, follow hours of service requirements for breaks and off-duty time, and follow all other local, state, and federal truck driver requirements.
If the driver does not have a CDL, they are not qualified to drive a truck. The consequences change if the driver is an owner/operator or a trucking company employee. For example, a truck driver caught driving without a CDL can be disqualified from obtaining a CDL for at least a year on the first offense. Subsequent offenses can result in a lifetime disqualification. Any offense subjects the driver or company to local, state, and even federal penalties.
The federal government requires trucking companies to maintain a driver qualification file that includes a certificate stating that their drivers passed the road test required for a CDL and meet other driver requirements.
Alcohol or Drug Use
To obtain a CDL, a driver must submit to a drug and alcohol screening. They must do this annually in addition to screenings throughout the year for other reasons, if they were in a crash, for instance.
Additionally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency responsible for regulating the trucking industry, set the legal impairment limit for CDL-holders at 0.04 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood.
This limit is half the blood alcohol content limit for most drivers over 21. If the driver has a BAC of 0.04 or higher—even when driving their personal vehicle off-duty—the law automatically disqualified them from operating a commercial truck.
Drivers obtaining their CDL must submit to a physical exam to ensure they are healthy enough to meet the job requirements. The Department of Transportation, using FMCSA guidelines, performs this exam.
The exam includes:
- A vision screening. CDL-holders must have at least 20/40 vision with or without correction. Additionally, the driver must be able to distinguish between the colors red, yellow, and green to readily interpret traffic signals.
- A hearing exam to ensure that the driver can hear a “forced whisper” from five feet away.
- Blood pressure and pulse rates to ensure that the driver does not have high blood pressure or irregular heartbeats.
- Laboratory tests to check for conditions such as diabetes. The FMCSA only qualifies diabetic drivers to operate a commercial vehicle if they treat and control their condition.
- A complete physical examination to check for conditions requiring treatment before the driver is qualified.
CDL-holders must obtain a physical every two years.
Hours of Service Violations
The FMCSA also regulates the hours a driver can be on-duty before taking an off-duty break.
These requirements include:
- An 11-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
- Drivers cannot drive past the 14th hour of being on-duty, with on-duty time including activities other than driving.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break if they drive eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute interruption.
- A limit of 60 hours on-duty in seven days, or 70 hours in eight days. The days restart after the driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.
Drivers must electronically log their hours, with the data kept and made available if the FMCSA wishes to see it.
No Pre-Trip Inspection
To be a qualified driver, the driver must ensure his truck operates safely. Commercial trucks travel hundreds of miles a day while carrying up to 40 tons of cargo. This high mileage while carrying heavy loads prematurely wears the truck. The parts most prone to wear include the brakes and tires, both of which pose a major risk to drivers losing control of the vehicle.
Because of this risk, truck drivers must perform a pre-trip inspection before every trip. This inspection must include all vehicle parts, including the truck’s cab, to find issues that could compromise the truck’s safety. Drivers must fix any issues before they drive the vehicle. If the driver fails to perform a pre-trip inspection or performs an incomplete inspection and an accident occurs, they face potential local, state, or federal consequences.
Lack of Training
While drivers who obtain their CDL must have basic knowledge of the vehicle, many new CDL-holders are untrained to handle the difficulties of traffic congestion, unfamiliar roadways, and inclement weather. If a driver doesn’t have the training to deal with the job, they are unqualified to drive the truck.
Who Is Liable if an Unqualified Truck Driver Causes an Accident?
If the truck driver is an owner/operator (meaning they own or lease the truck and work as an independent contractor), they generally bear liability for accidents they cause from failure to meet FMCSA regulations. However, if a trucking company employs the driver, the company bears liability in addition to, or instead of, the driver.
Trucking companies have many responsibilities when hiring drivers, such as:
- Checking the background and driving history of applicants.
- Ensuring their drivers are properly licensed and adequately trained.
- Checking physical exam documentation to determine if the driver has medical conditions that need treatment before they are qualified to drive.
- Ensuring the truck is properly insured and on a schedule for routine maintenance.
- Ensuring the driver understands the pre-trip inspection procedures and adequately performs all pre-trip inspections.
- Checking the drivers’ hours of service laws and refraining from scheduling the driver beyond the maximum on-duty hours.
How to Prove Liability in a Truck Accident Involving an Unqualified Driver
To show that an unqualified driver or trucking company is liable for the accident that caused your injury, you must show:
- The at-fault party had a duty to take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to others. The duty owed by truck drivers and trucking companies includes obeying traffic laws and complying with FMCSA driver requirements.
- There was a breach in the duty of care, such as failing to obey traffic laws or meet driver requirements to protect the public.
- This breach resulted in a truck accident where you sustained physical harm, property damage, and impacts on your quality of life.
The Type of Evidence Needed to Prove a Driver Was Unqualified
To prove your claim, your attorney and their legal team will evaluate and potentially:
- The police or other investigatory reports.
- Photos from the accident scene depicting vehicle damage.
- Eyewitness testimony.
- Expert testimony, including that provided by accident reconstruction specialists.
- The driver qualification file FMCSA requires the owner/operator or trucking company to keep. This file includes documents such as annual driving record, the driver’s certification of traffic violations in the past year, the physical exam report and medical certification, the driver’s CDL certification, an inquiry to previous employers about the driver’s safety record, and the results of pre-employment or annual drug and alcohol screenings.
- The truck’s data recorder, often referred to as the black box. The black box records information about how the driver was driving when the accident occurred, including their acceleration, speed, and braking.
- The electronic log of the driver’s hours.
How Can a Lawyer Help You?
Relevant evidence is extensive in truck accident claims. The most important quality an experienced truck accident lawyer brings to your claim is legal experience and knowledge of the type of evidence used to prove that your accident resulted from the driver’s/ company’s failure to meet federal regulations.
Other services your lawyer provides include:
- Establishing a value to your claim that provides compensation for expenses such as medical bills, wage loss, lost earning capacity, and property damage to your vehicle. Your claim’s value can also include non-economic damages such as physical pain and suffering or emotional distress.
- Managing communication with the at-fault party’s insurance provider to protect the value of your claim from insurance company tactics and to negotiate a settlement on your behalf.
- Filing your lawsuit within the statute of limitations. In Tampa, plaintiffs must generally file truck accident claims within four years of the accident. If you lost a family member in a truck accident caused by an unqualified driver and wish to seek compensation for the expenses and effects of your loss through a wrongful death claim, you must file your claim within two years of the date your loved one died.
- In lieu of a fair settlement offer, performing litigation services including the preparation of exhibits, the arranging of expert witnesses, the examination of witnesses, and the presentation of evidence.
- Collecting your settlement or court award after your claim closes.
Truck Accident in Tampa? Call a Truck Accident Attorney Today
Commercial trucks frequently contribute to Tampa’s traffic congestion and are an important part of the economy. Unfortunately, they’re a source of injury and death on Tampa’s roadways. If an unqualified truck driver injured you, seek compensation for your injuries with the help of a free consultation with a truck accident lawyer near you.