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Truckers, Accidents and the Wizard of Oz: Looking Behind the Curtain

I. Trucking Wrecks

Accidents involving big rigs or semi-tractor trailers are among the worst, most expensive, and challenging of cases for injured people to fully recover from. Part of this complication comes from the fact that there’s not always equally shared, or clearly shared, responsibility for the accident, between the trucker and the company employing a trucker.

There are occasional cases, often led by the work of lawyers who specialize in these truck accident liabilities cases, which give us a peek behind the curtain of responsibility. For example, truckers may often have their own complaints about how they’ve been treated or managed by a company. Obtaining these records is often a key part in proving liability and responsibility: it is also a set of skills that’s peculiar to lawyers who become experts as truck accident attorneys.

II. “I’ve been everywhere, man…”

Mr. Coman went to work part-time for a North Carolina trucking corporation. It took him six years, but eventually he was given a full-time job as a long-distance trucker. His route brought him all over the United States and into Canada, with the company operations based out of Davidson County, here in North Carolina. Because it was an interstate route, US department of transportation rules—as well as some North Carolina laws—also applied, according to a truck accident attorney.

Because there are special complications when both federal and state rules overlap, it is vitally important that you work with an experienced and knowledgeable truck accident attorney. This specialized legal skill set is able to blend these many different variations; variations that use not only different federal and North Carolina trucker safety laws, but a plethora of State administrative regulations and even industry practices. One interesting case even involved the status of a whistleblower trucker under North Carolina’s “at will” employment rules.

III.   Truck driving and public policy: protected workers?

At-will employment has been given credit for expanding a lot of state economies. On the other hand, courts are often reminded by specialists – such as trucks accident attorneys – just how important it is that wrongs not be hidden by terminating employees with serious grievances. Digging out these trucking industry hazards is also part of the important investigative process of truck accident attorneys. Being able to obtain information from truckers who are aware of internal, sometimes even secretive, truck company policies can be instrumental in successful lawsuits…lawsuits that help make these companies fully responsible.

The truck accident attorney may find proof of wrongful conduct in many ways. Sometimes, these relate to the most basic safety procedures in trucking: keeping logs, length of shifts, requirements regarding rest periods. Let’s look at details from a whistleblower: Mr. Coman. These facts are the sort uncovered by a truck accident lawyer, made evident because of a workplace dispute between the company and Mr. Coman. For whatever reason, Mr. Coman boldly refused to go along with inaccurate reporting. A truck accident attorney often looks first into accuracy of travel logs. This can include extensive evaluation of routes that are traversed, and what mileage is actually shown. Digging even deeper and matching these elements can reveal that the amount of time is inconsistent.

In this particular case, the worker, along with other drivers, was specifically ordered to “violate the departments regulations,” by being on the road clearly in excess of regulatory rules. If any accident had occurred, this is powerful evidence showing potential liability on the part about the trucker and the company. It is why dealing with these large companies require special expertise of truck accident attorneys.

It was established in this case that if Mr. Coman refused to go along, his pay would be slashed by at least 50%…essentially, firing him.

IV.  Free Will vs. At Will: Whistleblowing

The court had to wrestle with the differences between the public’s need to be protected and employers’ broad rights to terminate an at-will worker. This is one of the many kinds of legal balancing acts, which require getting advice from a truck accident attorney can help with.

A truck accident attorney often has to investigate whether or not there are any exceptions to at-will employment, in order to obtain vital information. In this case, the North Carolina Supreme Court was asked to basically put a loophole in the North Carolina “at will” provisions. Truck accident attorneys have been among those who say that breaking employment contracts needs to have some practical restrictions. One reason would be if there was an unlawful reason for breaking the contract. A second reason would be that there is a purpose behind the firing that undermines “public policy.”

In this case, the truck accident attorney can point to two specific laws that were being broken by the trucking company. As already mentioned, federal law requiring proper login and interstate traffic was being violated. An experienced truck accident attorney is also aware of public policy behind North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicle rules. These safety rules have been adopted in the North Carolina Administrative Code as well: 19A NCAC 3D.0801.  These North Carolina rules, in addition to federal law, gave the court reason to believe that there should be an exception to at-will firing in these kind of truck safety cases.

Around the country, truck safety attorneys have had similar success in arguing for exceptions to at-will firings. Almost 4 out of 5 states in America recognize some kind of cause of action for a wrongful discharge, at-will or not. Thus, the truck safety attorney can point to other cases where at-will employment takes a backseat to protecting the public highways.

Conclusions:   

The North Carolina Supreme Court seemed specially compelled to act in this case, based upon an important number. Truck accident attorneys are aware of the high potential of a tractor-trailer or semi being involved catastrophically. In fact, the court noted that “more than 600 people have been killed on the highways of North Carolina during this [year].” The court went on to affirm the common argument of truck accident attorneys: “(A)ctions committed against the safety of the traveling public are contrary to this established public policy.”

It’s important to know, this was not an easy case to win. These cases take the special expertise of attorneys who specialize in truck safety. Truck accident attorneys can look at these wrongful firing cases as an important investigative tool in their work. Additionally, there was a strong dissent in this case, which would’ve protected the trucking company. Because every case can be so different, and no result is guaranteed, it is vitally important that you use an experienced trucking accident attorney your rights in every case. If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in an auto/trucking accident—or have questions involving related injury involving a semi-truck, or about your legal rights or insurance, please contact us.  You will speak with a truck accident attorney who can best answer your questions about how to protect your rights.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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