An Illinois wrongful death lawsuit was filed recently for the deaths of a husband and wife who died March 7, 2007, in Will County. Unfortunately the heirs did not contact me until last month. They had retained a previous attorney shortly after the accident. For reasons that are unclear no lawsuit was filed. One of the major concerns of the lawyer representing the victims of crashes involving interstate trucking companies are securing the records that the trucking company retains regarding the on duty hours of the truck driver involved in the occurrence.
Federal Motor Carrier Regulations require that trucking companies involved in interstate commerce and their drivers maintain logs regarding the on duty status of the truck drivers. These logs are critical pieces of evidence for the lawyer to secure, because interstate truck drivers are frequently driving in excess of the federal regulations. Ever since the trucking companies were deregulated over 25 years ago, the trucking companies have been paying their drivers based on the number of miles they drive, so there is an incentive for both the truck driver and the trucking company to keep the wheels roling. It is true that drivers frequently avoid rest stops and actually urinate in containers in the truck so they can keep the wheels rolling.
Federal Motor Carrier Regulations mandate that a truck driver involved in interstate commerce cannot drive or be on duty no more than 70 hours in an 8 days, 49 CFR 395.3(b)2. On duty is defined in the federal regulations as being more than just driving, so time spent loading or unloading must be logged as being on duty. Traditionally logs were manually filled out by the drivers and they understandably wanted the logs to reflect that they were in fact operating their truck within the federal hours of service regulations.
Unfortunately, the federal regulations also provide: “..each motor carrier shall mantain records of duty status (logs) for 6 months from the date of receipt..” 49 CFR 395.8(k)(1). Filing a complaint against the interstate trucking company and its driver should be done as soon as practicable so that the trucking company is still required by federal regulations to preserve the logs of its driver. Attorneys should always file a motion for a protective order to preserve the logs shortly after filing suit. Why are the drivers daily logs so critical?
The answer lies in fuel receipts, GPS reports, toll receipts and many other indicia of where a driver is at a given point in time. Logs are frequently filled by the driver in such a fashion to show that he was actulally within the federal regulations hours of service regulations. Being able to cross check the drivers daily logs with the fuel receipts, GPS reports, toll receipts and other discoverable material will indicate that a drivers logs are accurate, or in many cases inaccurate and actually fradulent, e.g. logs show he was in St. Louis at 8PM on a certain date when the fuel receipts, GPS reports or toll receipts show that he was actually in Dallas. This powerful evidence that can also show that the trucking company knew and encouraged the driver to drive over the federal hours of service regulations thus permitting in some jurisdictions of the filing of a claim for punitive damages.
Victims and their attorneys should move rapidly to file suit to preserve critical data to verify whether the driver was driving over the hours of service regulations on a routine basis, which sleep experts can then opine that the driver was fatigued at the time of the crash and their employer knew it and encouraged it. This is critical in placing before the jury a compelling story of the trucking company’s greed posing a hazard to motorists and others on our nations highways due to their drivers operating their trucks while fatigued!