A truck driver's driving record is an important piece of evidence in most truck accident cases.When prosecuting a case involving an 18-wheeler, we must be able to prove that either the truck driver, the trucking company, or both, were liable (responsible) for causing the accident. Proving this requires hard evidence that there was negligence or even intent on the driver or trucking company. One of the most important pieces of evidence an attorney will use in a truck accident case is a truck driver's driving record or background check. In this article we'll describe the two ways that lawyers most commonly use this information to help win your case.
Questions answered in this article:
- What role does a driver's background check play in a truck accident case?
- Do juries judge drivers more harshly if they show a pattern of legal troubles in their background?
- What kind of information do attorneys look for when looking through a driver's background?
- If we happen to find driver background issues, are they able to be used in court?
How background checks should help avoid accidents:
Trucking companies have a federally-mandated duty to make a cursory examination of every new hire's background. In our experience past performance is indicative of future incidents. If a trucking company happens to find that a driver was found to have been convicted of DWI two months prior to applying for their open truck driving position, it would seem that common sense would dictate that that candidate probably isn't suited for any job that involves driving. Even after hiring the driver, trucking companies are required to annually review their driving record according to FMCSA § 391.25.[iparticle id=1]
How background checks work in reality:
Unfortunately, many trucking companies either don't do background checks on their drivers, or when they do actually do a background check, it's all window dressing, and they're going to put the perspective driver behind the wheel anyways. Why is it like this? The simple answer is that there is considerable money to made in the trucking business and there aren't enough truckers to go around, so a lot of companies will hire unqualified truckers even with a history of drug abuse and moving violations. In summation, even though background checks, when done properly to vet drivers, should keep accidents from happening, the role they usually play is that after an accident the background check can become a piece of evidence to show what the company should have done.
How lawyers conduct a background check:
There are a couple of tools that our attorneys have their disposal to learn this kind of information:
- We subscribe to a public record database that is ridiculously detailed and we can learn quite a bit via this method.
- We use a discovery tool called "Interrogatories" which allow us to ask questions about the driver's background that he is obligated to answer, lest he be held in contempt of the court.
- We can use another discovery tool called a "Request for Production" to force the trucking company to hand over the records that they have on the driver's background.
- We can pull a "S.A.F.E.R." report from the D.O.T.
- Like most people, truckers usually have normal drivers licenses as well, and we can file a Freedom of Information Act request with the driver's home state DMV.
- We will perform an internet and social for any evidence of shenanigans on the driver's social media profiles.
How lawyers use this information:
There are two things we're looking for. We want to look at their:
- Driving record
- Criminal background check
It's obvious why we want to look at their driving record: If they've caused accidents or have had their license suspended, that can show a pattern of driving errors on their part. However, you may be wondering what their criminal background has to do with a truck accident case. Two things: One, certain criminal offenses have a direct tie-in with certain accidents. for instance, if a driver has a history of drug arrests or DWIs, a lawyer should strongly consider the possibility that the trucker may have been under the influence of those same substances at the time of the accident. Two, certain crimes, like bouncing a check, petty theft, failure to maintain insurance, arrests related to unpaid child support, and/or any crime of moral turpitude can show to a jury that a person is generally irresponsible or lacking in trustworthiness.
Now, we're not allowed to go on a witch hunt. If, for instance, the truck driver has a statutory rape charge from 20 years ago, it would be overly-prejudicial for the judge to allow that evidence into the courtroom. But if that same truck driver had two recent DWI arrests, then that evidence would prove to be fruitful to your case, and we can probably get it admitted.
What kinds of things do we look for in a background check?
- Speeding and any other kinds of moving violations.
- Maintenance schedule violations or fix-it tickets.
- Prior accidents or lawsuits brought against the driver.
- Any other legal trouble, even when not related to driving.
Here are some examples of how background checks have played a role in the cases we've tackled:
- Recently, a motorists was struck by an 18-wheeler and was maimed by the accident resulting in severe facial injuries that has required multiple surgeries. The driver of that truck was involved in a single-vehicle accident a few moths before getting hired as a truck driver, yet she failed to mention that on her employment forms. However, trucking companies should not rely on a potential employee to divulge this information; they need to check for themselves. Their failure to conduct a proper and thorough background investigation allowed her behind the wheel, and when she caused another accident -- one that hurt our client -- we took them to task.
- In another case, a trucking company knowingly hired a truck driver even though they had prior knowledge that the driver had been fired from a previous employer due to being under the influence of cocaine on the job. That driver then later rear-ended and killed a motorist (our client's father) while under the influence of cocaine again. Naturally, we made the trucking company pay dearly for their negligence in putting that driver behind the wheel.
Trucking companies don't always follow through with their responsibilities, and when such conduct hurts people, our attorneys are here to help. We have the skill and the experience to help you obtain the compensation that you deserve. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a truck accident, call one of our truck accident lawyers for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000. Our firm never charges our clients money out of pocket, and the only way we ever get paid is if we recover money for you.
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