Does a CDL licensed driver have a higher standard of duty than an ordinary motorist under Oklahoma law? This is a hotly contested issue in Oklahoma where Defendants want a jury to think a CDL licensed driver has the same duty as every other motorist. In fact, McIntyre Law recently finished litigating a trucking case where this exact issue was brought up by the Defendants via a Motion in Limine (a Motion seeking to exclude certain evidence or statements).
The requirements for obtaining a CDL license go far beyond the requirements for a driver’s license that normal motorist may obtain. There are strict physical requirements and training requirements that may take up to a year to obtain before an individual can be allowed to drive an eighty thousand pound (80,000 lbs) semi. Even the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recognizes this in its statement that "[it] is widely recognized that driving certain commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) requires special skills and knowledge."
The FMCSR set forth the minimum standards under which a tractor-trailer can be operated. There can be higher standards, but never lower standards. Specifically, FMCSR 49 C.F.R. 392.2 states:
“Every Commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ordinances, and regulations of the jurisdiction in which it is being operated. However if a regulation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes a higher standard of care than that law, ordinance or regulation, the Federal Highway Regulation must be complied with.
In addressing the proper standard of care under Oklahoma Law, the Court in Gaines-Tabb v. ICI Explosives USA, Inc. 995 F.Supp. 1304, 1319 (W.D.Okla.,1996) held “If there are criminal or regulatory statutes which limit or circumscribe defendants’ conduct, a court may adopt the standard prescribed by the statutes as that which would be expected of reasonably prudent persons, provided the court finds that the statutorily required conduct is appropriate for establishing civil liability.” citing Busby v. Quail Creek Golf & Country Club, 885 P.2d at 1329; Mansfield v. Circle K Corp., 877 P.2d at 1132. When a court adopts the statutory standard for a negligence cause of action, the violation of the statute is said to be negligence per se. Id.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court expanded on the above provisions by addressing the special circumstances or the duty of ordinary care in the performance of a person placed special employment situations, in Union Bank of Tucson, Arizona v. Griffin, 771 P.2d 219 (Okla. 1989) holding
“The law imposes upon a person engaged in the prosecution of any work an obligation to use ordinary care to perform it in such a manner as not to endanger the property of others. Whenever a person is placed in such a position with regard to another that it is obvious that if he did not use due care in his own conduct he will cause injury to the other, the duty at once arises to exercise care commensurate with the situation in order to avoid such injury.”
Oklahoma’s adoption of the FMCSR’s and the Commercial Carrier Code have recognized a higher standard of care for such commercial carriers and their drivers. As a result CDL licensed drivers are not held to the standard of an ordinary driver of a motor vehicle, but rather are held to the standard of a reasonable and prudent professional truck driver, subject to the statutory restrictions and conditions attendant to that profession.
REAL WORLD APPLICATION
In discussing the applicable “standard” for a “professional driver” it is important to have an experienced trucking attorney handling your trucking case. For example, the driver deposition is a place where an experienced trucking attorney can have a CDL licensed driver admit that he or she is a “professional driver” and that CDL licensed drivers have a higher standard of duty.
Case in point is in a recent case litigated by the trucking attorneys from McIntyre Law. In that matter, the Defendant kept attempting to analogize the case to an “ordinary car wreck” case when in fact it involved hours of service violations, fatigue and other Federal issues. The experienced lawyers at McIntyre Law spent over three hours of deposition time in establishing that the driver was indeed a “professional driver” who admitted to having a “higher standard of duty.”
When confronted with a Motion in Limine to exclude references to the higher standard the Court specifically took into the CDL licensed driver’s own testimony in allowing the reference to occur during trial.