Published On: Mon, Mar 26th, 2018

Know the Rules: What the Rules of the Road Mean in Large Truck Crash Cases

In vehicle collision claims, victim/plaintiffs always have the burden of proof to establish liability for damages. This burden is easier to meet if the negligence per se shortcut applies. This doctrine is available if:

  • The tortfeasor (negligent driver) violates a safety law, and
  • Said violation substantially caused the damages.

In some cases and in some states, negligence per se is only a presumption of liability. An experienced semi-truck accident lawyer can fill you in on the specifics.

Negligence per se is inherently difficult to establish in large truck crash cases. Most over-the-road drivers operate in several different states. It is very difficult to collect information from multiple states, especially since these individuals usually operate multiple vehicles in multiple states.

There are some physical limitations as well. The electronic measuring devices in many large trucks are difficult to work with. That increases the likelihood that an inexperienced attorney might overlook critical evidence. Since the victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof, every bit of evidence matters a lot.


The federal government makes the multi-state process a little easier. For several years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has used the Safety Measurement System. The SMS provides objective information about a driver’s fitness in seven different areas. This Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories score measures things like:

  • HOS Compliance: Hours of Service is a major point because fatigued truck driving is such a major problem. Each state usually has different rules regarding maximum operating hours in a week and mandatory rest periods. The HOS element of a driver’s BASIC score keeps track of all these nuances.
  • Driver Fitness: Truckers must meet certain medical qualifications to stay on the road. A physical or mental issue often affects their performance. Furthermore, a technicality like an expired medical certificate indicates that the driver is not very safety-conscious.
  • Alcohol/Substance Abuse: In addition to DUIs and other alcohol-related infractions, thie part of the BASIC score keeps track of other potential areas of substance abuse. These problems do not mean that the driver is a bad person, but they do mean that s/he should probably not be operating a large truck.
  • Vehicle Maintenance: Significantly, the FMCSA usually uses law enforcement information to compile a score on things like broken tail lights and overweight violations. So, if the driver goes to court and gets the ticket dismissed based on subsequent compliance, the item still shows up in the BASIC score.

Elisabeth McCullough car accident video screenshot

The SMS also keeps track of unsafe driving, crash history, and hazardous materials compliance. So, with just one record, the victim/plaintiff’s attorney gets a complete picture of driver fitness.

Why an ELD Matters

The trucking industry has fought the Electronic Logging Device mandate tooth and nail. The ELD provides near-absolute proof of a driver’s hours of service. ELDs also keep track of the times that the person drives. That’s important because, no matter how well-rested they are, people are naturally sleepy at certain times of the day and night.

Accessing the ELD is not always easy. These are large, complex devices that usually require special equipment and expertise. Furthermore, the insurance company often tries to deny access, either by “accidentally” destroying the ELD or insisting on a court order for inspection.

If you were hurt in a large truck crash, reach out to an experienced attorney today. That is the best way to ensure fair compensation for your injuries.

Author: Laura Brown

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