A semi-truck driver was recently awarded $80 million by a Texas jury after his employer instructed him to falsify his log book and drive when he should have taken his 34-hours of rest pursuant to federal regulations. During the May 2015 trip, the driver fell asleep at the wheel and rear-ended another tractor-trailer on Interstate 59 in Alabama, causing him severe debilitating injuries.
The jury voted to award the driver $5 million in compensatory damages. Additionally, the three companies owned by his employer were ordered to each pay $25 million in punitive damages, which serve to punish defendants and prevent them and others from committing similar acts of wrongdoing in the future. During the trial, multiple company drivers had testified that the employer required them to drive in excess of hours of service (HOS) regulations and instructed them to falsify log books to cover up those violations.
Following the trial, the driver’s attorney said that the jury approved the monumental award because it “specifically wanted to get the attention of all commercial motor carriers and remind them of the importance of the safety rules.”
Falsification of driver log books is one of the reasons why the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) is now mandated by federal regulations. It should be noted, however that while ELDs help eliminate human error in log entries and make falsification of log books more difficult, they create a data trail that can become the focus of plaintiff attorneys after an accident. If the data shows that a carrier and/or a driver are not operating safely and compliantly, they will likely face an uphill battle in the courtroom.
Even if violating federal regulations, such as HOS as in this case, does not result in an accident and a lawsuit, any serious violation can wreak havoc on your transportation operation including:
Drivers and vehicles may be placed out of service.
State and local enforcement officials may assess fines.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may levy civil penalties on the driver or carrier.
Federal criminal penalties can be brought against the driver and carrier.
Driver and carrier scores under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) enforcement program may be severely impacted and result in a variety of enforcement actions. Poor CSA scores may also have a negative impact on a motor carrier’s reputation, and on its ability to attract new drivers and obtain insurance.
Of course, the best way to avoid such serious consequences lies in actively and aggressively pursuing safety, and by making regulations and compliance an integral part of daily company operations. The cost for not doing so is something you simply can’t afford.