An Atlanta-based attorney recently won a lawsuit against a commercial truck driver who ran a red light and consequently struck two vehicles at the traffic light in May of 2007. One of the victims struck by the tractor-trailer was in perfectly healthy condition prior to the collision and ended up in a condition of extreme pain and discomfort as a result of the accident.
Initially, the owner of the trucking company did admit that he failed to conduct a pre-employment background check on the driver, as mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
If the background check had been conducted in accordance with the FMCSA regulations, the company would have discovered that the driver previously had been at fault for causing two rear-end collisions while driving a commercial vehicle; two citations were issued for following closely in those accidents; his commercial driver’s license had been suspended for 60 days, and he had received a speeding citation while operating a tractor-trailer two months prior to the 2007 collision.
The driver also admitted that he did not disclose the previous incidents on his employment application. In addition, the trucking company destroyed all documents related to the driver’s application and to the lawsuit one month prior to filing a response to the lawsuit.
Because the defendant destroyed the documents, the judge instructed the jury to presume that the documents would have ultimately been harmful to the trucking company’s case. During the trial, the owner of the trucking company changed his story, testifying that he was aware of the driver’s previous driving record but chose to hire him anyway.
Based on the owner’s testimony and other evidence, the judge allowed the jury to consider punitive damages against the company on the basis of negligent hiring and against the driver for having a pattern of reckless driving. The jury awarded the plaintiff in the case $566,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages against the trucking company for negligent hiring.
Prior to being considered for employment, the FMCSA requires a motor carrier to obtain three-year driving and employment histories on each driver. The Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees drug and alcohol testing programs on mandated employees, including CDLs. The DOT requires employers to conduct a pre-employment drug test and obtain a three-year drug/alcohol violation history.
Additional regulations set forth by the FMCSA and the DOT require employers to monitor their employees on an ongoing basis. Motor carriers who fail to conduct this screening could be subject to fines. While a variety of factors are considered when fines are assessed, record-keeping fines begin at $500 per day and the fine for knowingly falsifying records is $5,000. As evidenced by the case described above, monetary damages can extend far beyond those assessed by the FMCSA.
Now more than ever, companies should consider a screening program that goes beyond the minimum compliance requirements to maximize their return on screening investment. Motor carriers who develop a rigorous screening program may also protect themselves from penalties associated with non-compliance, cargo theft and risks associated with negligent hiring or retention litigation.
Because of the regulations surrounding background screening in the trucking industry, it’s important to choose a screening partner that specializes in services designed to assist you with DOT compliance while protecting against liability due to negligent hiring. HireRight can create screening packages based upon your individual company needs or specific job category requirements.