Thousands of traffic accidents each year involve commercial trucks and trailers. These incidents occur involving heavy duty trucks and rigs such as:
- Tractor-trailers and semi-trucks engaged in interstate hauling
- Dump trucks working at construction sites
- Garbage and trash trucks removing a city’s refuse
- Delivery trucks transporting products to store customers
Their owners and operators are all governed by common rules when it comes to establishing liability for the negligence in the operation of their vehicles.
Each state has its own vehicle code and case law developed over the years. While these individual state laws may differ, the bottom line is that there must be negligence by the operator of the truck in the operation of the truck.
Negligence and Liability
Negligence is defined as careless conduct. That means conduct which falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. Negligence alone, however, does not establish liability. An injured person must also show a duty owed by the driver to the injured person, a breach of that duty and an injury caused by the breach of the duty.
A diesel truck driver must exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries to a person within the vehicle’s path. If the truck driver fails to do so, the driver, his employer and the truck’s owner is responsible for the slightest deviation from reasonable care. If a truck driver disregards the safety of others in the operation of his vehicle, this is considered a breach of duty of care.
Commercial Trucking Standards
While all drivers are required to know the rules of the road before getting into a vehicle, truck drivers are in a very special situation. 18-wheelers are heavier and more cumbersome than an automobile. If it is involved in a collision, it can cause more damage, greater injuries and even death. It is also a more complex piece of machinery than an automobile and it takes greater expertise to understand how to operate and drive it.
Truck drivers spend more time on the highway than most other drivers. Many of them engaged in long-distance hauling sleep in and live out of their trucks. These types of drivers, in particular, are under enormous pressure to deliver their cargo in a timely fashion. They encounter different road hazards and weather conditions requiring them to drive in a clear-headed fashion or risk disaster. A lapse of momentary careless will cause a collision.
The big-rig itself is an additional source of problems. Improperly maintained brakes, worn tires and other unsafe equipment may cause failures in a truck’s operation causing its owner and driver liability for property damage, personal injuries and wrongful death.
The New Mexico Motor Transportation Division (NM-DOT) carefully monitors commercial trucking in New Mexico for the protection of all New Mexicans. The Mission Statement of the NM-DOT states that its job is, “To promote safety on New Mexico highways by providing law enforcement traffic services to the motoring public, to ensure the safe and legal operation of commercial motor vehicles and to prevent the introduction of illicit contraband into New Mexico while facilitating trade.” The mission is accomplished by enforcing the NM Criminal Code, Motor Transportation Act, Motor Vehicle Code and federal/state commercial motor vehicle safety regulations.
Sometimes a commercial truck driver’s negligence is so severe that it reaches a different level in negligence and may expose the driver and his company to punitive damages. This conscious wrongdoing may be considered gross negligence or willful and wonton misconduct. One such industry-wide area that may subject a truck driver to punitive damages is driver fatigue. All too often there is a conscious decision by the owners and shippers to place high demands on performance from the driver that cannot be accomplished without violating federal maximum driving hour regulations.
Mark Caruso is an Albuquerque based personal injury and wrongful death law firm that represents the victims of accidents due to a truck driver’s negligence. For additional information regarding our attorneys and our firm please see our trucking accident page or contact us directly for a free consultation at 505-883-5000. We represent clients throughout the state of New Mexico in state and federal court.