Over the years, we’ve received numerous messages from drivers who say that their employers are requiring them to drive unsafe equipment — we’ve even received messages from drivers who say that when they’ve reported the issues, or refused to drive the trucks, they’ve either been fired or threatened with termination.
It is a driver’s responsibility to perform a pre- and post-trip inspection. If a truck is pulled in for an inspection, and defects are found, the driver is held accountable; however, driver’s have no control over whether or not a company maintains its equipment. A driver is often faced with receiving a citation or losing his or her job.
In August 2013, a truck driver reported brake and transmission issues on his truck. The truck was placed in the shop and returned to service. Not long after, the driver was driving the truck down from a worksite when the brakes suddenly failed. The truck went off the road and crashed into a ditch. The driver suffered severe injuries. He later filed a lawsuit against the company for failure to maintain the equipment. If another vehicle had been involved in the accident, the driver would have likely faced severe charges.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established laws to help protect drivers from retaliation from an employer that requires them to operate unsafe equipment.
“The Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) gives whistle-blower protection to commercial motor carrier workers and prevents trucking companies from taking retaliatory measures. The Federal Motor Carrier Administration encourages employees to report safety violations,” Price said.
“The STAA protects drivers’ rights to enforce truck safety by making it illegal for a company to discipline, discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee for making a vehicle safety complaint. There are many situations that trigger protection under the STAA including refusing to drive unsafe equipment. To trigger protection in a refuse to drive situation two conditions must typically be met; 1) refusal must be based on reasonable apprehension that operation of vehicle would present a genuine safety hazard and 2) driver has asked the employer to correct the problem.”
In addition, the STAA is also triggered if the operation of the vehicle would violate federal motor carrier regulations.
Price explains that if the trucking company takes action against the driver for filing a complaint that triggers protection under the STAA the driver may file a complaint with OSHA.
If a driver is aware of these laws, or is intimidated or fearful of losing his or her job, and operates unsafe equipment, the driver could face a slew of charges.
“If a driver knowingly operates an unsafe vehicle and injures or kills someone in the process they could face numerous state criminal charges from reckless driving to murder. Further, Federal criminal charges can be brought against a driver who knowingly violates FMVCSR by the US DOT Office of the inspector general,” Price said.
“A driver can help protect him or herself from a negligence lawsuit if they make safety their primary concern when operating a Commercial Truck, has a working knowledge of the Federal Motor Vehicle Carrier Safety Regulations, and reports safety concerns. If concerns over the safety of a vehicle are not addressed following steps taken to trigger protection under the STAA a driver may refuse to drive,” Price said.
The potential loss of income can be scary; however, there are recourses against unjust termination.
Drivers can file a complaint with OSHA and should contact an attorney.
“If OSHA’s investigation finds evidence that support and prove a driver’s claim, then OSHA could issue an order that could result in reinstatement, back pay and benefits, attorney’s fees etc,” Price states.
If you have recently been fired from a job or are in fear of losing your job for refusal to operate unsafe equipment, contact Isaacs and Isaacs at 800-800-8888.
Isaacs and Isaacs regularly handles trucking incidents and offers free consultations. Don’t trust your livelihood with an inexperienced attorney, contact a law firm with a track record of success. Isaacs and Isaacs is rated one of the Top 100 National Trial Attorneys and has been featured on CBS, NBS, ABC and more.
Everyday spent operating unsafe equipment on the road is a gamble with a lawsuit. A wreck due to unsafe equipment could cost you your job, your life or your livelihood — it’s not worth the gamble.