Accidents Caused by Truck Drivers on Drugs: What the Law Says
We don't expect truck drivers to be perfect. However, we feel nothing but anger when we find out that a driver was high on drugs when he caused an accident. Many truck drivers work long hours, are away from their families and friends for extended periods of time, and don't make as much money as they should. Sometimes, their bosses push them to drive too many hours. This article isn't about those truckers, it's about the ones that use drugs (recreationally or to stay awake longer) and end up causing accidents as a result.
Truck driving is hard enough to perform safely while clean and sober. Drivers need fast reaction times, undivided attention, and a clear mind. Drugs are essentially designed to counteract the brain's ability to think. Even the ones that are used to keep drivers awake have nasty side effects that impair your ability to think clearly -- plus, the human body wasn't designed to stay awake for 36-48 hours at a time. Lots of things can cause a truck accident, as outline in the article below, but this post will focus on truck drivers who cause accidents while on drugs.
Below, we'll talk about how to determine if a trucker was on drugs and, if he was, what that means for your case. But be sure to check out our Comprehensive Guide to Truck Accident Law, which we developed for you to get a handle on the legal landscape.
Questions answered on this page:
- I think the truck driver was on drugs, how do I prove it to a jury?
- Do insurance policies cover illegal drug use?
- Will the trucking company take responsibility for their driver?
- Is it illegal for truck drivers to use drugs?
Finding Out If the Trucker Was on Drugs
If the Department of Public Safety ever found out a driver was on drugs, that's a "death sentence" for the driver's career. There's not a single trucking company that (should) hire him after that. So, it stands to reason that a driver who used drugs prior to your accident isn't simply going to own up and admit it. In the past 25 years of our firm's history, we've never had a truck driver flat-out admit to using drugs.
But drug use happens. So, how can we find out? After all, it's not fair to simply assume a driver was high, right? Your lawyer will need to secure a combination of the following:
- Drug Tests. After a major vehicle accident, Texas law requires anyone potentially involved to undergo a blood draw for drug and alcohol testing. The police take a driver to a hospital, secure a warrant from a judge, and then get a nurse to take blood from the driver. This sample is then tested. The results take a long time to come back, but can be invaluable.
- Medical Records. In many of these cases, the drivers are themselves injured. When they go to the hospital, doctors take blood samples as a matter of course. Generally, they test for substances like drugs not for police purposes, but for treatment reasons.
- Testimony. The driver himself is likely to refuse to answer any questions about drug use for 5th Amendment reasons, or just outright lie about his drug use. Nonetheless, those around him could provide invaluable testimony. We've had cases of co-drivers, friends, and girlfriends admitting that the driver told them that he was high at the time of the accident.
Who's Liable for Truck Drivers on Drugs?
The two main parties that you'll deal with in a trucking accident case involving a driver on drugs are:
- The trucking company that hired the truck driver, and/or
- The insurance company that represents the trucking company
First and foremost, the trucking and the insurance company are often thought of as the same thing. The insurance company provides legal counsel for the trucking company, so for all intents and purposes, they're the same thing. The problem is that neither of these companies want to take responsibility for the actions of an employee who was on drugs; it looks bad for them and it suggests that they don't run a very tight ship -- or they just don't care. The most common argument that we see is from insurance companies, who claim:
Our insurance policy doesn't cover acts of criminal negligence.
If that's true - if the trucking company bought an insurance policy and signed a contract that specifically indemnifies them from being held liable for the criminal actions of their employees - then there is no claim to be made against the truck driver's insurance policy. However, while that's often alleged, we've found that it doesn't often hold true. That is, lots of insurance companies bluff and say that their policy doesn't actually cover criminal negligence, but unless they can literally point out on paper where it says that, they're full of hot air. It's a convincing act and a lot of people are intimidated by it, but any lawyer worth their salt will see right through it. If the insurance policy covers criminal negligence and criminal acts (like drug use), then there's a claim to be filed against them.
Another common argument that we see involves whether or not the truck driver was in the "course and scope" of his terms of employment at the time of the accident. In other words, was he performing actual work at the time of the accident, or was he on his own time?
When a truck driver on drugs cause an accident, the trucking company starts looking for other people to blame -- sometimes, that ends up being their own truck driver. A trucking company will sometime argue that by being on drugs, their driver was not in the "course and scope" of his employment and was acting of his own accord. At first, it sounds like a viable excuse, but that's just what it is: an excuse. If the truck driver was on a delivery run, on the clock, or otherwise performing tasks for his employer's benefit, then he is considered within the course and scope of his duties. Ergo, the trucking company is by default liable for his actions, including drug use on the job.
Again, any attorney with experience ought to know how to defeat these arguments, as well as many others.
What a Trucker On Drugs Means To Your Case
It might seem like a pretty open-and-shut case once we get some evidence that the trucker had drugs in his system at the time of the incident, right? Unfortunately, that's only about half the battle, because it still needs to be presented to a jury in a convincing manner that places fault on the truck driver. You also have to consider that the trucking company and their insurance carrier are going to be arguing for their driver's innocence, which we just talked about.
Essentially, your lawyer has to prove three key things:
- There were enough drugs in the driver's system to matter. For drugs to have any impact on a person, there has to be a sufficient quantity in his system first. If you had a couple of drinks at lunch and then drove home 5 hours later, there might be a hint of alcohol left in your blood stream---but is that enough to make you a "drunk driver"? No. Same holds true for drugs. A minuscule amount of most drugs, likewise, isn't enough to automatically attach liability to the driver.
- The driver actually caused the accident. Your attorney needs to be able to show that the other driver did something wrong, and that mistake led to your accident. To use the opposite example, let's say a driver was blindingly high on cocaine, but legally parked on the side of the road. You swerve into him and get injured. The fact that he was high is, frankly, immaterial. YOU caused the accident, and you don't get a pass simply because he was on an illegal substance.
- The drugs were the cause of the driver's mistake. This is a tricky thing. Your attorney will not be able to adequately explain to a jury how the drugs impacted the driver's brain function anymore than you could. Instead, your attorney should hire a "toxicologist," a forensic expert in this field, who can tell the jury exactly what was happening in the driver's mind and body.
The bottom line? Just because the driver may have had some drugs in his system doesn't mean your case is "over." Instead, your lawyer will need to put in the many hours of work and investigatory "shoe leather" to win your case. If you suspect your accident was the result of a driver on drugs, make sure you call us as soon as possible at (855) 326-0000.
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