A Federal Court in Ohio has issued an opinion that rejects a common argument affecting employers of truckers. Often in truck accident cases, plaintiffs’ attorneys claim that commercial drivers should be held to a higher standard of care than ordinary drivers.
This argument typically centers upon the language provided in the CDL manual and, in some cases, upon the employer’s own safety handbooks, which generally provide for drivers to apply a high degree of care. However, this recent case held in the Northern District of Ohio rejected this argument and found that no higher standard of care exists for commercial drivers.
In this case, the CDL manual in question instructed commercial drivers to develop a plan and to take evasive measures in the event of hazards. Additionally, drivers were instructed to make use of the right shoulder when necessary to avoid a collision. The plaintiff, in this case, presented an expert who stated to the court that the commercial driver was negligent in not adhering to the level of care described by the CDL manual. According to the plaintiff’s argument, the truck driver was subject to a greater standard of care than ordinary drivers would have been in the same instance.
The federal court rejected this argument holding foremost that CDL manuals do not hold the weight of law and that it would simply be illogical to place part of the responsibility for any accident on a commercial driver simply because they have been instructed to be a defensive driver. The court also noted that there is no case law that provides a higher standard of care for CDL holders and that previous case law had, in fact, provided that truck drivers are only held to an ordinary standard of care. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations also do not provide for a heightened standard of care for such drivers either. As a result, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment concerning the defendant’s counterclaims.
This is a significant development that is highly beneficial for commercial drivers and their employers. Though these drivers always should be defensive drivers and adhere to the standards of the CDL manual, this case should help to reduce the liability these drivers bear in the event of personal injury lawsuits.