In the context of a serious trucking accident, hours of service violations and log veracity is a variable that must be considered by the personal injury attorney representing the injured and/or the family of a deceased. However, many attorneys are not well versed or have the relevant experience to do a thorough analysis of a CDL licensed drivers hours of service record (log book).
WHAT IS “HOURS OF SERVICE REGULATIONS”
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) the Hours-of-Service regulations (49 CFR Part 395) put limits in place for when and how long commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers may drive. These regulations are based on an exhaustive scientific review and are designed to ensure truck drivers get the necessary rest to perform safe operations. FMCSA also reviewed existing fatigue research and worked with organizations like the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies and the National Institute for Occupational Safety in setting these HOS rules.
The Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR §395) thus requires drivers engaging in interstate commerce to follow specific rules in making the prescribed Driver’s Daily Records of Duty Status, commonly called "logs." The principal reason for these logging requirements is to assist drivers and motor carriers in complying with federal and state hours of service regulations, and to permit law-enforcement officials to verify compliance. Compliance is important because the hours of service regulations are intended to improve highway safety by minimizing driver fatigue.
HOW DOES AN ATTORNEY ANALYZE HOURS OF SERVICE VIOLATIONS
While there are many experts an attorney can employ to evaluate compliance with Federal Rules corresponding to hours of service regulations, it is not practical to expend a client’s resources on a log compliance expert without the attorney first performing a knowledgably analysis of the logs. This first analysis should be made by an attorney intimately familiar with the varying hours of service rules including but not limited to split logging and sleeper berth logging.
However, as a practical matter, an experienced trucker can fabricate his or her logs so as to appear perfect on an non thorough examination. I have litigated two cases in the past year where defense attorneys were adamant that their driver had not fabricated his logs. These attorneys seemed focuses solely on the 70 hour rule and whether he received 10 consecutive hours off duty. They simply failed to compare the logs with objective evidence. So from an initial evaluation, its important for the Plaintiff attorney to be more thorough than the defense and to compare the drivers logs with objective evidence, not subjective evidence that is malleable and easily fabricated by a trucker.
So you may be wondering what is objective evidence in the context of a tractor-trailer accident and hours of service review. While I do not have the time or space to list a complete exhaustive review of what evidence may be available, I will try to touch on the items that are typically available. First, it is very desirable to have several days of consecutive logs ending on the day of the accident. The attorney should analyze available logbooks to determine compliance with applicable hours of service rules. However, as discussed above, analysis of logbooks is usually not sufficient. The driver’s logs may be missing important data, and the logs may be inaccurate with respect to the places and/or the times of day of changes in duty status. These inaccuracies may result from simple human error, inattention to detail, or willful falsification intended to conceal violations of hours of service rules. (Many drivers have an economic incentive to drive beyond the limits.)
Therefore, the attorney should take into account objective data in the driver’s logbooks, supporting documents, and any additional information available. The U.S. DOT defines in its interpretations that “supporting documents” are the records of the motor carrier which are maintained in the ordinary course of business and used by the motor carrier to verify the information recorded on the driver’s record of duty status in accordance with 49 CFR 395.8(k)(1), which also requires that they be retained for a period of six months after their receipt. These “supporting documents may include trip receipts, fuel receipts, satellite tracking data, communication data and other produced items and recreate the trip history of the driver.
In my practice, I have often found satellite data and communication data to be the best available objective evidence to show log falsification. I have found in past cases that Trucking Companies often audit drivers’ logs bases solely on fuel receipts and/or scale weight tickets. Drivers are informed of this by their employer and become very adept at making sure their logs are accurate in regard to these audited items. It sometimes takes me hours if not days to find the inaccuracies of a skilled drivers log fabrication.
For example, I will never forget a case I litigated where the Trucking Company never audited logs based upon satellite data. Drivers knew their logs were being audited based upon fuel receipts and weight tickets. In our particular case the driver went to great lengths to make sure these areas were accurate but did not know his truck was being tracked by satellite data. Both the trucking company and defense counsel had failed to review this data and the driver came into his deposition adamant that he had never falsified his logs. In fact, during the course of the deposition the defense attorney kept saying we were on a fishing expedition as it related to log falsification. However, when confronted with the satellite data it turned out the driver was still driving six (6) hours into his logged “off duty” rest period. This is a prime example of why you need an experienced log evaluation.
If you or someone you love has been injured in an Oklahoma car accident, please contact an Oklahoma personal injury lawyer of McIntyre Law by calling toll free 1-877-917-5250.