Trucking Accident Claims Based on Negligent Hiring and Retention of Commercial Drivers
Because big-rigs dwarf the average passenger car, the trucking industry is subject to extensive regulation. While these regulations are designed to ensure that commercial drivers operate big-rigs in a safe manner and that trucking companies properly inspect and maintain their tractor-trailer, another important aspect of these regulations is to ensure that commercial carriers do not cut corners when making hiring and retention decisions about employees. While most truck drivers are professional and dedicated, the hiring and retention of a truck driver that the trucking company knew or should have known could not be safely entrusted to operate a massive tractor-trailer is an independent basis for liability that may be asserted against commercial carriers as part of a trucking accident legal claim.
A legal claim based on negligent hiring and retention is essentially predicated on showing the following:
• The truck driver engaged in a negligent act or omission;
• The truck driver was not fit or competent to handle the rig or possessed a history of similar unsafe conduct from which the driver's lack of fitness could be inferred;
• The employer knew or should have known of the truck driver's incompetence;
• The driver caused injury, death and/or property damage to another because of his lack of fitness or competence.
Whether transporting products across state lines (interstate trucking) or within the boundaries of Georgia (intrastate trucking), commercial carriers have an obligation to exercise reasonable care when hiring commercial drivers because of the potential dire consequences of placing an incompetent driver behind the wheel of a forty ton vehicle. Big-rig companies that hire drivers to engage in interstate trucking are subject to the pre-employment screening standards set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These regulations mandate a reasonable background investigation of potential hires, including but not limited to the following:
• Screening for drugs and alcohol use
• Criminal background check
• Possession of a valid commercial driver's license
• Medical qualification
• Record of accidents or moving violations with prior employer
• Inquiry into past chemical dependency of the driver
Because of the financial pressure to cut costs and increase profitability, commercial carriers may be tempted to forgo appropriate background checks and pre-employment verification to avoid delays in getting a driver behind the wheel of a big-rig and generating revenue. When commercial carriers fail to conduct proper pre-employment inquiries or fail to remove an unfit driver from service, the trucking company may be liable for injuries or wrongful deaths caused by the incompetent driving of the company's employee.
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