Truck Driver Asleep at the Wheel Causes Fatality in Falmouth

Fatigue is a consistent factor in many road accidents. There are few of us who drive who can say that we have never felt so tired while driving that we considered pulling off to the side of the road to rest or turned the radio volume up to ward off sleep. Fatigue is often a problem for over the road truckers who log many hours in their cabs and are under pressure to keep to tight schedules.

In a recent roadway tragedy in Falmouth, Massachusetts, a truck operator was driving a Freightliner box truck at just over 60 mph in a 25-mph speed zone when he struck a vehicle with 5 family members. The collision killed the driver of the car and caused traumatic brain injuries to the driver’s daughter. Police reported that the truck driver never engaged his brakes before the collision. The truck operator’s attorney informed that the driver had awakened at 2:00 am that day, intimating that fatigue had played a factor. The accident occurred 14 hours later at 4:00 p.m.

In an unusual resolution, the decedent’s surviving family members asked the court to not sentence the truck driver to jail after he pled guilty to misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide. The court granted the request with the sentencing judge expressing his surprise but appreciation to the decedent’s family who said they had forgiven the truck driver, recognizing that his actions were unintentional. The driver was placed on 5-years’ probation but did lose his driving privileges for 15-years and had to perform 300 hours of community service. The family had not yet decided whether to pursue a wrongful death claim and personal injury claim against the driver and the trucking company which employed him.  The statute of limitations gives them three (3) years from the date of the collision to file.

Hour and Driving Regulations for Truck Drivers and Trucking Companies

Truck drivers and the companies that employ them are heavily regulated regarding loads, drug testing, and the hours they drive. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), drivers are limited to the following regarding hours in-service:

  • May only drive a maximum of 11-hours after 10 consecutive hours off-duty
  • May not drive beyond 14-hours after 10-consecutive hours off-duty with no extension of the 14-hours if the driver was off-duty for a time
  • May drive only if 8-hours or less have passed since end of driver was last off-duty or had sleeper berth period of at least 30-minutes
  • May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 days consecutive days driving—may not resume a 7/8 consecutive day period unless driver took at least 34-hours off-duty
  • If driver uses a sleeper berth, he/she must take at least 8-hours in the berth, plus a separate 2-hours either off-duty, in the sleeper berth, or any combination thereof

If the family of the decedent in the Falmouth truck accident decides to file a claim against the driver and trucking company, the car accident lawyer handling the matter will look at the driver’s logs to determine if any of the FMCSA’s regulations were violated, including hours of driving and rest periods. Many trucks are now required to install an ELD, or electronic logging device, like the “black boxes’ that airplanes carry, that provides data on driving time and records the driver’s hours of service.

From the comments made by the driver’s attorney, it appears that the driver may have exceeded the 11-hour limit of driving, depending on when he began driving. The data and other records might also reveal that the driver had not been off-duty for at least 10-consecutive hours before he began driving that morning.

High Standard of Care for Commercial Carriers

Truck drivers and trucking companies are commercial carriers and have a high duty of care when transporting goods or passengers. This includes providing having conducted background checks of drivers and providing proper training. Federal regulations dictate how a trucking company is to investigate its drivers before hiring them. If minimum requirements for hiring were not met, the company can be held liable if compliance would have shown that the hired driver was unfit or incompetent. For instance, an investigation may have uncovered a record of prior accidents, traffic violations, or other indications that should have alerted the company to the driver’s lack of competency.

Damages in Truck Accidents

Damages in trucking accidents can be substantial since a 90,000-pound truck colliding with a passenger vehicle can be catastrophic. Damages can include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Decreased earning capacity
  • Permanent disability
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Cost of vocational rehabilitation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

In a wrongful death claim, brought by the administrator for the decedent’s estate, damages can include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses if incurred during final treatment
  • Value of income the decedent could reasonably have been expected to earn in his or her lifetime
  • Pain and suffering of the decedent but only if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered before succumbing to injuries
  • Loss of the decedent’s love, care, companionship, comfort, guidance and counsel as provided to family members
  • Punitive damages for gross negligence or conduct that is willful, malicious, wanton or reckless

Retain Boston Attorneys Burns & Jain

Truck accidents can have complex issues of liability as well as those concerning proof of damages. The car accident lawyers and truck accident lawyers at Burns and Jain have decades of experience with injury and death claims involving truck drivers and trucking companies and the considerable resources they bring in defending against claims

Call a car accident lawyer at Burns and Jain today at (617) 227-7423 today for a free consultation about your personal injury claim.