A tragic hit-and-run accident near Sullivan Square in Charlestown, Massachusetts happened this past Thursday, April 3, 2014. A Boston biker was killed at the intersection of Cambridge Street and Spice Street by the driver of a garbage truck who then fled the scene. Police later identified and charged Ricky Prezioso of Swampscott with leaving the scene of an accident after causing death.
Tragedies like these leave a wake of legal questions. Whenever a hit-and-run accident happens and a commercial truck driver flees the scene, I automatically wonder what the motives were of the truck driver who left the scene (avoiding detection, did not know the accident occurred or is the driver hiding something like drugs or alcohol in his system). The post-accident investigation should focus on these issues, as well as a thorough expert reconstruction of the accident. The more quickly an expert can view the scene, the truck involved and the evidence, the better his/her analysis will be.
When an accident involves a commercial truck, there are questions about the responsibility of the business owner that arise. Generally, if a business uses trucks over a certain weight on the roadways and one of its driver’s injures, maims or even kills someone, not only does the conduct of the driver come under examination, but the conduct of the business should too.
It is essential in a truck accident case that all the evidence be properly preserved. One tool for doing that is a detailed notice letter to the driver, his employer and to law enforcement officials. The notice letter lists all the evidence that needs to be preserved. The list should be as exhaustive and detailed as possible and needs to cover the truck, other physical evidence and any and all data contained in computer systems that monitor the truck and the driver.
Commercial truck drivers and their employers are subject to detailed federal and state motor carrier regulations designed to protect the public. The federal regulations are known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations and have been adopted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Those regulations require proper qualifications for all drivers, random drug testing and extensive driver training. Trucking employers are also required to have written policies and procedures governing driver training and the safe operation of their vehicles.
When these regulations are violated and an accident occurs, there can be serious liability exposure to the owner of the truck. Ultimately, whenever handling a truck accident case, a lawyer should ask questions like these:
Did the business have a driver safety training/orientation program in place?
Was the driver qualified under federal and state regulations?
Did the business maintain an accident register?
Did the business keep informed about DOT regulations governing driver qualifications?
Did the business have a system in place for overseeing driver qualification requirements?
Did the business have policies and procedures that were consistent with DOT safe drving regulations that included regular vehicle inspections, repairs and maintenance?
Did the business have a system in place for complying with DOT alcohol and controlled substance testing requirements?
Did the business have a pre-employment drug testing system that it used before hiring its drivers?
Did the business properly re-qualify drivers who had a history of failed substance abuse testing?
Federal and state regulations, at their core, are designed to keep unsafe commercial trucks and unsafe drivers off of the roadway to protect everyone. When a business fails to follow these regulations, it not only exposes bicyclists and the general public to danger, it also exposes itself to civil liabilities and potentially large money damages.