CMV Hours of Service: Observations & Case Law

Observations And Hours Of CMV Service

Starting with the premise that all drivers are subject to the HOS regulations, there are some significant exceptions, particularly as to local drivers and drivers who encounter unforeseen adverse conditions. There are other exemptions, many of a technical nature, that come into play on a fairly rare basis, but nevertheless may be encountered. When involved in a claim with a local driver, be mindful that this exception pertains to recordkeeping only. The driver is still prohibited from driving over eleven hours following ten hours off duty. The driver must have at least ten hours off duty after being on duty for fourteen hours. Similar rules apply to drivers of passenger vehicles, with slightly different time periods in line with HOS rules pertaining to those drivers. Note that an unexpected delay in loading or unloading does not qualify a driver for an “adverse condition” or “emergency” extension of driving time, and instead is considered “on-duty, not driving” for purposes of calculating the time he may drive.

Pertinent Case Law

Peterson v. Transport Corp. of America, Inc.

The great majority of reported cases that construe regulation involve employment law claims, such as actions for overtime or workers’ compensation. However, the public policies underlying the HOS regulations have been explored in these cases, creating dictum that may be helpful when trying to persuade the court of the significance of a single violation of the regulations. In Peterson v. Transport Corp. of America, Inc., 2008 WL 4299934 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 23, 2008), a motor carrier fired a driver who failed to take a required ten-hour break after being on duty for fourteen hours. The driversought unemployment benefits, which the employer resisted paying. Finding the driver was not entitled to such benefits, the Minnesota Court of Appeals addressed the importance of rest for a CMV driver:

[W]e reject Peterson’s single-act argument in light of Transport’s significant responsibility to require that its drivers always follow regulations established to protect the lives of its drivers and those who share the highways with them. Peterson’s violation by disregarding Transport’s policy, her supervisor’s directives, and a federal regulation requiring her to take the break constitutes a single act with a significant adverse impact on her employer.

Torres v. North American Van Lines, Inc.

Peterson may be helpful in a discovery dispute or when addressing an evidentiary ruling that turns on a single violation of the HOS regulations. Torres v. North American Van Lines, Inc., 135 Ariz. 35, 658 P.2d 835 (1982) provides an older yet still significant example of a court finding that a motor carrier was directly negligent for failing to require its drivers to properly log their time. In Torres, the Arizona Supreme Court confronted a motor carrier that had knowledge its drivers were flouting the HOS rules and failed to identify and regulate those drivers despite the means and opportunity to do so. In affirming an award of punitive damages against the motor carrier, it held:

The issue of punitive damages was also properly submitted to the jury on the theory that North American’s failure to police and enforce the 70-hour rule and the federal regulations pertaining thereto, constituted gross negligence. It had been put on notice on several occasions that its drivers were not complying with the regulations. The problem had existed for a number of years and no attempt to take corrective measures had been undertaken. North American’s failure to monitor the logs through an appropriate log verification procedure when it had the equipment and personnel to do it expeditiously and without too much additional cost permitted the practice of filing false logs. The company also took no measures, despite the facilities to do so, to establish a proper control of driving time while the drivers were enroute. It should have known that its failure to enforce the 70-hour rule could result in sloppy logging of on-duty time with the concomitant risk of exceeding the time limitation, thus causing fatigue. Submission of the punitive damages issue to the jury was proper.

This analysis, other comments by the court, and the expert testimony referenced in the opinion, provide a virtual roadmap for an investigation into a motor carrier’s HOS monitoring practices, while providing examples of the type of questions that should be addressed and answered in discovery.

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