Do The Laws Pertaining To Cellphone Usage For Commercial Drivers Differ From State To State?
The laws and regulations pertaining to cell phone usage can vary from city to city. For example, it’s almost uniform that you can’t use your cell phone while you’re in a school zone. That’s pretty much the same everywhere. Anyone that’s driving what they would consider to be interstate commerce is going to have to follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations prohibitions against use of cell phones, regardless of whether they’re in Texas or Louisiana. Safety is safety. If they are around Lake Charles and they drive across the border to where they’re closer to Orange County, Texas, the people in Texas need safety just like the people in Louisiana do. So why not have a uniformed safety standard?
What Are Some Penalties Imposed On Commercial Vehicle Drivers for Cellphone Usage?
Penalties imposed on commercial drivers for cell phone usage can include being disqualified from driving. There can be fines for the driver up to about $2,750, and up to $1100 for employers who allow their drivers to use handheld communication devices while driving. To be disqualified from driving, there typically has to be multiple violations of the prohibition against cell phone usage. The driver and the company that engage in this will have to pay damages if they are found negligent. Louisiana does not allow punitive damages, but Texas does for gross negligence. If it’s a habit and practice that the employer was aware of the driver using the cell phone while driving, there is a good claim being made for gross negligence. Typically you can get punitive damages over and above actual damages.
The actual damages would be medical bills, wage loss, money for pain and suffering. Punitive damages are awarded to make somebody who’s grossly negligent pay additional money in order to deter other defendants, other trucking companies, and other large companies from engaging in the same type of very unsafe practices.
Why Do Truck Drivers Generally Use Cellphones? How Serious Are the Accidents Caused?
Usually the truck driver is simply bored or lonely from the long hours on the road alone. These days most people are in the habit of checking their phone any time they get a chance. But when you’re driving a large truck the accidents that result can be especially serious. We had a case where an 18-wheeler in Texas was driving in the rain at 75 miles an hour. We subpoenaed his cell phone records, and it looked like he was constantly on his cell phone. He came up over a hill where he couldn’t see that there was a truck going much slower than he was on the other side. He slammed on his brakes, and the whole rear of the 18-wheeler fishtails across two lanes of traffic. He crashes into the truck in front of them, the trailer crushes the first car that it comes to, and then that car crashes into another car. It was a very bad accident, it looked like Godzilla had stepped on the cars involved in it.
There can be even have worse situations where the 18-wheelers flip. This is not even taking into consideration that those 18-wheelers can be carrying hazardous materials.
How Does It Impact the Value of the Claim if It Is Proved that the Accident Was Caused by Cellphone Use?
If you can prove that the accident was caused by cell phone usage, it makes your case more valuable. It makes the insurance company and the trucking company more likely to pay the full value of your case. A good semi-truck accident attorney will pursue the evidence needed to prove that the driver was on his cell phone. You would want your attorney to get the number of the driver, all of his phone numbers—both his company number and his personal number—and his email addresses. Send out a subpoena to the cell phone provider, and get not only the cell phone records for that day, but for as much time as you can before that. Try to show a habit and practice of using the cell phone while they’re driving. To do this, you take the driver’s logs and you compare those to the cell phone records. This should tell you how much they were using the cell phone. Ask for the cell phone itself, the whole kit that he was using—is there an earpiece to it, is it truly a hand’s free device, or is it just something that they’re picking up and looking at.
If you can prove that the truck driver was regularly on a cell phone, in violation of federal or state law while driving, it’s going to make your case a lot better. You also need to ask for texting records, to see when texts were sent and received while they were driving an 18-wheeler. You would not only want to look at was the driver texting and calling while driving, but also who they are texting and calling while driving. It’s one thing if they are calling their wife to check on their kids, but it’s another thing for them to be calling the company that they are working for, because that shows that the company itself has knowledge of the cell phone usage. In order to get damages for gross negligence in Texas, you have to prove that a vice principal at the company knew about what was going on. You’d want to show that the trucking company, at the very least a high level manager, was calling this person back and forth, and knew that he was using a cell phone while he was driving.
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