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Weather-Related Truck Accidents

Yesterday, the high here in Austin was 81.   Today, and for the rest of the week, the highs will hover around freezing.  All because of an arctic air system.

Depending on where you are, there will be rain, snow, sleet and ice. What better time to talk about the duties that trucking companies owe in bad weather than now?

As we’ve talked about before, trucking companies are governed by a number of federal regulations that spell out the obligations of truckers and trucking companies.  Not surprisingly, there is a specific regulation dealing with weather. Section 392.14 of the regulations states

Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of passengers is assured.

Sadly, many trucking companies take these regulations as “suggestions” instead of requirements. As a result, profits are put ahead of people and drivers are encouraged (or required) to plow on despite unsafe weather conditions on the roadway. This is a huge problem, and weather conditions continue to be a leading cause of trucking accidents despite the requirements.

Also, this requirement has additional legal implications that might not be obvious to a lay person (or even many attorneys who don’t regularly handle trucking accidents). In a typical car wreck or trucking case, the jury is asked whether the driver of the truck failed to use “ordinary care” in operation of the truck. Because of this section, some courts have held that the proper question in these cases is whether the trucker used “extreme care” in the operation of his truck.

The difference in standards is important and might make a difference in your case.  The standard of “extreme care” is a much higher standard than one of “ordinary care.”   You can imagine situations where there is a question about what, if anything, the trucker or trucking company did wrong to contribute to the wreck.  In such a situation, a jury might say that the trucker used ordinary care, but not extreme care. Thus, this difference could make the difference between winning and losing your case.

This is just another example of why it’s so important to hire an attorney with experience in trucking litigation.  As we say, truck accidents aren’t just big car wrecks.

UPDATE:  Almost on cue, I received word of an overnight trucking accident that shut down I35 near San Antonio/Selma/Schertz.  At this time, it doesn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt.  While the news alerts don’t mention a cause, the wreck happened right aroound 3:30 a.m., right as the storms were moving through.  A San Antonio news report about the wreck is below:

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