Many of the truck accidents occurring on South Carolina’s roads and highways are caused by the careless and negligent behavior of truck drivers. Whether the truck driver is operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol or engaging in dangerous behaviors such as speeding or weaving in and out of traffic, or even failing to load and inspect the truck’s cargo to ensure safe transport during a haul, all such negligent conduct contributes to the hundreds of trucking accidents we see each year in South Carolina.
Commercial trucking companies can be held liable for an accident caused by one of their incompetent drivers under a theory of negligent hiring and retention. Negligent hiring and retention is a theory of liability whereby the victim of a truck accident places liability on the commercial trucking company as the employer of the truck driver, claiming it failed to exercise reasonable care in hiring or retaining the truck driver that caused the accident. The claimant is required to show that the trucking company knew or should have known of the driver’s incompetence.
Federal law mandates that a trucking company is required to exercise reasonable care in investigating potential employees’ background and past driving history before offering them employment as a truck driver. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Agency (“FMCSA”) has imposed strict requirements for hiring truck drivers. Trucking companies must create and maintain a “driver qualification file” which contains all documentation and evidence of what a trucking company knows about a truck driver before their hire and is maintained while they are employed. Some of the basic employee documentation contained in the driver qualification file required by the FMCSA rule includes:
- Original application for employment;
- Driving records from each state in which driver has held a license during the last three years, including license suspensions, traffic tickets, etc.;
- Safety performance history and accident history during the past three years; and
- Employment history for the past three years and the reason for leaving any prior employment.
The trucking company’s investigative duties do not end with simply obtaining all such records; the company is further responsible for making reasonable inquiries to ensure the driver does not have a history of safety and/or substance abuse issues. Trucking companies should reach out to prior employers to ensure that there are no issues that may not be apparent from records contained in the driver qualification file. The file must be updated each and every year.
Driving a commercial trucking vehicle is an incredibly important job that requires great skill, and carries with it a great deal of responsibility. The FMCSA regulations not only protect the general public from unsafe and incompetent drivers behind the wheel of these large and dangerous vehicles, but also serve to protect the trucking company from future liability. Because the trucking companies are in the best position to investigate their drivers before putting them behind the wheel, the FMCSA has set forth these rules to facilitate sound hiring procedures that will ensure competent and careful drivers are employed.